Trump’s Twitter Meltdown This Morning

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Lord help us.

Greg Sargant explains why he think Trump is so enraged:

Democrats have now subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before Congress and testify about his direct involvement in some of the most explosive revelations in Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.

Trump’s allies, led by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have ramped up their attacks on McGahn. The New York Times reports that they are escalating for a very specific reason: Because they fear that McGahn will help build the case for Trump’s impeachment.

As the Times reports, some White House officials believe the attacks on McGahn are counterproductive. But the most important White House official of all sees things quite differently:

Mr. Giuliani’s attacks on Mr. McGahn have unnerved some senior White House officials, who have argued privately that the president and his legal team should stop drawing attention to damaging episodes in the report, according to two people close to the White House.

But Mr. Trump has privately complained about the accounts, particularly the ones given by Mr. McGahn, and has said the only way to protect himself from impeachment is to attack Mr. Mueller and Mr. McGahn, the people said.

Why would Trump fear such a thing, if the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump? Because Mueller’s recounting of episodes involving McGahn are profoundly damning, and highlight Trump’s corruption, bottomless capacity for official deception and contempt for our democracy and the rule of law with great vividness.

***

We don’t know whether Democrats will finally launch an impeachment inquiry. But, with Trump throwing up so many roadblocks to legitimate scrutiny on oversight on so many fronts, they will simply have to use every tool at their disposal to expose as much of Trump’s corruption and misconduct as possible — and, equally important, to dramatize it before the American people.

Trump’s worry at the possibility of McGahn dramatizing his obstructive conduct is a key tell — an indication that Democrats do have such tools at their disposal, and that if they use them properly, there’s no telling where all this could lead.

Let’s hear McGahn.

Post-Mueller Report Polls Show Public Is Tepid On Impeachment

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., holds that impeachment would be a massive gift to President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election effort. President Bill Clinton famously stayed popular throughout his impeachment proceedings, and since any effort to remove Trump would likely fail in the Senate, many people believe impeachment would be doomed from the start.

But we really shouldn’t be so sure.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report lays out a powerful case for obstruction of justice for at least four different categories of acts, with potentially strong cases in several others. Moreover, Trump has already been implicated in court in criminal campaign finance violations, which may itself give rise to additional charges. Mueller’s investigation also led to to numerous still-redacted related investigations, and we know Trump’s conduct in other arenas is being probed by various investigatory bodies.

So if the House begins impeachment hearings, there will be a lot to cover and uncover. And while a plurality of voters oppose impeachment, according to a new poll from HuffPost and YouGov, there is a lot of malleability in the numbers.

Only 41 percent of people said Trump should not be impeached, according to the poll (37 percent favor impeachment). This presumably corresponds tightly with the 41 percent or so of people who approve of Trump in most polls. A surprisingly large portion of the population — 22 percent — says it’s unsure about whether Trump should be impeached.

While Trump’s base support appears to be quite solid, there’s a lot of risk for him in the “unsure” population. It wouldn’t be surprising, after all, if there were many people who didn’t approve of Trump for any number of reasons but thought that impeachment would be too extreme, that Democrats’ criticisms were unfair, or that the path would just be too difficult for the country. Instead, the poll suggests, there are few people outside of Trump’s core supporters who are ruling out impeachment. (The poll was conducted on April 18 and 19; Mueller’s report was released on April 18.)

That means, in other words, that the case can be made to the country that impeachment is worthwhile. Of course, it can be made both ways — if Trump and his defenders are convincing, he may be able to paint an impeachment push as extreme overreach and turn a majority of the country against impeachment.

But even in crass political terms, this should be an acceptable risk for Democrats. Doing something big and bold in politics is always a gamble, and you may end up giving ground to your opponents. But if you’re not willing to stand your ground and fight for important principles, what’s the point of being in Congress?

The polling also presents some evidence about how the House could use impeachment hearings to make the case against Trump. It found that only 35 percent of people believe Trump “committed crimes.” Another 21 percent said Trump did not commit crimes but people on his campaign did, 20 percent said no one on his campaign committed any crimes, and 25 percent said they weren’t sure.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll only muddies the results. The first finding of that poll shows that Trump’s approval rating has dropped 5 points, equaling his presidency’s low-water mark, since last week’s release of the special counsel report into the 2016 election.

But while views of Trump have tumbled since the publication of Robert Muller’s redacted report, so has support for impeaching him. Only 34 percent of voters believe Congress should begin impeachment proceedings to remove the president from office, down from 39 percent in January. Nearly half, 48 percent, say Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings.

But we should remember, as Kevin Krause points out, views on impeachment proceedings can change as the process moves forward:

Even if, as seems most likely, impeachment didn’t lead to Trump’s ouster, it might better inform the public about the kind of president he is and what he’s done. And that might be worth it in its own right.

14 Tidbits Of The Mueller Report That May Have Gotten Lost In All The Analysis

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

1. This was as much a counterintelligence investigation as a criminal one. One of the new details in the report is that the FBI “embedded” approximately 40 personnel in the Special Counsel’s Office. Their role was not to contribute to the criminal probe, but instead to pore over the collected materials and pass written summaries of key counterintelligence findings to FBI headquarters and other agencies across the country.

2. Jerome Corsi isn’t out of the woods. One of the most surprising decisions at the close of the Mueller investigation was the lack of further indictments. But conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, at least, appears to still be very much in the sights of prosecutors. In fact, the very first mention of Corsi’s name appears in a redaction labeled “Harm to Ongoing Matter.” (We know that because we only see the “second” reference to Corsi’s name appear in a paragraph on page 54 of the first volume of the report.) Elsewhere, Corsi’s name is clearly hidden in other redactions, as context clues make clear he’s the “ongoing matter” under question.

3. Anyone demanding the unredacted version of the report is stalling. Democrats have spent the last four days hemming and hawing about impeachment, saying they need to read the unredacted report before they make a decision. That’s baloney. For the most part, the redactions aren’t that material to the underlying narrative. Mueller establishes all the damning evidence he needs to point to a pattern of obstruction in unredacted portions of Volume II of the report. (The clear exception where redactions could shed substantial new light: The six-page Appendix D, where Mueller lists the 12 still-secret ongoing cases referred to other prosecutors.) Throughout the remainder of the document, many redactions clearly deal with either Roger Stone or Jerome Corsi. The bulk of the rest appear focus on operational details of the GRU and the Internet Research Agency.

Two of the most intriguing redactions come on page 12, where the report outlines five (or maybe six) individuals Mueller was specifically authorized to investigate. Two (or maybe three) of those are redacted. Because of the alphabetical list and way the lines fall—there’s a tiny two-letter redaction that spills over to the next line—the final redacted name is almost certainly “Donald Trump Jr.” The other is still unknown, falling somewhere in the alphabet between “Gates” and “Stone.”

4. The Trump campaign really wanted Hillary’s emails. The role of Michael Flynn aide Peter Smith has long been unclear. Smith evidently tried to mount an effort in 2016 to find Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails through the dark web, and later apparently killed himself days after the Wall Street Journal reported on those efforts in 2017. Mueller makes clear that Smith’s actions were extensive, well-funded, and part of multiple initiatives by people connected to the Trump campaign to find Hillary’s emails—all of which were then overtaken by the Russian theft and email dumps of DNC and Clinton campaign emails.

5. The Trump Tower Moscow Project was a big deal. While Donald Trump has long tried to downplay his company’s overtures to Russia, Trump fixer Cohen and associate Felix Sater actually saw the Trump Tower Moscow as potentially helpful to Trump’s campaign. In one email in November 2015, the day after the Trump Organized sent Russia its “letter of intent” to proceed with the project, a highly detailed document that outlined precisely how much money Trump would earn and when, Sater emailed Cohen, “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”

6. Mueller never understood why Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik. If you’re only going to read one section of the Russia-focused Volume 1, tune into pages 129 through 144. That’s where Mueller lays out the still-puzzling actions of campaign chair Paul Manafort, and makes clear that Mueller might not have ever gotten to the bottom of the core question of a Trump-Russia conspiracy.

The final report is the first time that Mueller has ever addressed the incident, which only came to light because Manafort’s lawyers are bad at technology. Mueller adds detail and breaks new ground by saying that the data-sharing “continued for some period of time,” but comes up empty on the most important questions. “The Office could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik during the campaign period,” Mueller writes, adding also that “the Office could not assess what Kilimnik (or others he may have given it to) did with it.” Given that the polling data has always been one of the most suspicious actions during the campaign—did Russia’s Internet Research Agency use it to aid in their own targeting of American voters?—that leaves a glaring hole in the center of the conspiracy investigation.

It’s indicative of a point Mueller makes throughout the report. He remains puzzled, he writes, about the sheer volume of seemingly unnecessary lies that emanated from Trump world, and notes that his investigation was stymied by lying witnesses, deleted evidence, and the sheer complexity of investigating shadowy entities and people beyond the reach of US law enforcement. As Mueller phrased it, “While this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.” That’s a long-winded, prosecutorial way of making clear that the report isn’t exactly a “total EXONERATION” of the idea of Russian collusion—more that they were never able to establish evidence of such beyond a reasonable doubt.

7. Donald Trump runs his White House like a Mafia boss.When Michael Cohen testified before Congress earlier this winter, he made clear how much Donald Trump operated his family business like a mob boss: speaking in code, refusing to have written agreements, prizing loyalty. Mueller’s report is littered with examples that read more like the behavior of a Mafioso than a commander-in-chief, from pushing FBI director James Comey for “loyalty,” to chastising White House counsel Don McGahn for writing down notes, to private messages through intermediaries asking for continued silence, to public attacks on those, like Cohen, who “flipped.” Just because it’s familiar behavior from Trump by now doesn’t make it any less troubling.

8. Maria Butina and the National Rifle Association aren’t mentioned at all. More conspiracy-minded Muellerologists have long zeroed in the “pee tape” and Michael Cohen’s trip to Prague—a rumor specifically debunked by Mueller in his report. But the odd case of the alleged Russian spy arrested in the midst of Mueller’s investigation has left observers wondering if a larger Russian effort, involving the National Rifle Association, was also afoot. In the end, Butina’s name doesn’t appear in Mueller’s report at all, unless it’s redacted. Neither do two other key unresolved threads, the Alfa Bank server and Trump’s data firm, Cambridge Analytica. Based on redactions it also seems unlikely—although not impossible—that any of those matters are part of the 12 still-secret investigations handed off to other prosecutors. Mueller does have one intriguing, newsy footnote on page 14, where he says “other Russian entities” may have engaged in active-measure operations against the US.

In fact, one of the conclusions drawn from the totality of Volume I is that while the GRU and Internet Research Agency efforts were clearly well-funded, coordinated, and well-executed, there really doesn’t seem to have been a sweeping conspiracy on the Russian side either. Many of the Russian contacts to the Trump campaign appear too haphazard to be part of an active intelligence effort. Even the suspicious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting comes across in Mueller’s report more as a bungled miscommunication than a key part of a conspiracy. If one of the takeaways of the report is that the Trump campaign was simply never organized enough to engage in a conspiracy—that they had the motive and the willingness to collude, but never got their act together to do so—it seems possible that the Russians weren’t organized on their side enough either.

9. Mueller goes to great lengths to demolish William Barr’s theory of obstruction. One of the major overlooked sections of the report is the roughly 20-page portion—akin almost to a Harvard Law Review article—at the end, where Mueller’s team makes clear how vigorously they disagree with attorney general William Barr’s controversial memo last year. At the time, Barr argued that the obstruction statute doesn’t apply to the president. It’s easy to imagine Mueller team member Michael Dreeben, perhaps the Justice Department’s best appellate lawyer, laboring long and hard over pages 159 to 181 of Volume II. The report argues the idea that the president can’t obstruct justice “is contrary to the litigating position of the Department of Justice and is not supported by principles of statutory construction.”

10. Google was a problem for everyone. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have received plenty of attention for the way Russia’s Internet Research Agency weaponized their platforms. But reading through the Mueller Report, it’s hard not to escape how Google caused problems for the Trump campaign in 2016. The pages are littered with examples of how the scattershot Trump team, full of neophytes, haphazardly relied on Google when they got in over their heads, and how those answers led them astray.

There’s the moment George Papadopoulos thought he was meeting privately with Putin’s niece (he wasn’t), a fact the special counsel corroborates because Papadopoulos searched for, among other phrases, “putin’s niece.” Sam Clovis, the campaign co-chair, recruited Papadopoulos to the campaign after only a Google search, which showed that he’d worked with conservative think tank the Hudson Institute—a credential that alone wouldn’t have impressed most GOP campaigns. Meanwhile, both Ivanka and Michael Cohen struggled to understand who they were dealing with in the Trump Tower Moscow project. According to the special counsel, Ivanka Trump in November 2015 received an email from a woman who identified herself as “Lana E. Alexander,” which said in part, “If you ask anyone who knows Russian to google my husband Dmitry Klokov, you’ll see who he is close to and that he has done Putin’s political campaigns.” Yet when Cohen did, he somehow concluded, incorrectly, that Klokov was a weightlifter. When Putin ally and the head of Russia’s development bank Sergey Gorkov met with Jared Kushner after the election—a meeting that would cause no end of headaches for Kushner once it was publicized—Kushner’s team did little prep work beyond a Google search that determined Gorkov was a “banker,” leaving out his key role in the Kremlin hierarchy.

11. The US has an important political and policy question ahead: Is accepting known help from a foreign power something we want to prohibit in campaigns? Mueller’s team obviously wrestled with the help that Russia offered the Trump campaign, including at the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. Similarly, the Trump campaign “expecting” help from Russia—via the WikiLeaks dumps and perhaps even having Donald Trump solicit it, with his “Russia, if you’re listening” comment—doesn’t appear to be a conspiracy in the way that Mueller legally defined it, since it didn’t involve a formal agreement of cooperation. The president’s defense attorney Rudy Giuliani said as much Sunday on CNN, tellingJake Tapper “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” He continued, “Who says it’s even illegal?”

It’s hard to imagine that would be the GOP’s interpretation if Hillary Clinton had accepted similar help from the Chinese Ministry of State Security. So maybe there should be policy changes to make it illegal—before foreign governments line up behind the 2020 candidates of their choice.

12. The Atlanta traveler might still matter. I’ve always been particularly interested in the possibility that Mueller and the US government has a cooperator from inside the Internet Research Agency itself, one of the three people who traveled to the US in 2014 as part of the original scouting for their information operations. Mueller in his IRA indictment named and charged two of the three travelers, but left out the third, despite highly detailed knowledge of the third’s travels and role. On page 4 of Volume I of the Mueller report, there’s a redaction where Mueller appears to discuss the details about that trip, citing “Harm to Ongoing Matter.” The IRA case is continuing in court, as one of the corporate entities Mueller charged has shown up to defend itself.

13. Sergey Kislyak was perhaps totally irrelevant. One of the biggest red flags in the opening stages of the reporting on Trump’s Russia ties in 2017 was how the Russian ambassador kept popping up in odd places. He met with Jared Kushner, with Jeff Sessions, and appeared (maybe!) at Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in 2016. The ghost of Sergey Ivanovich does swirl through the final Mueller report, as the special counsel’s office sought to understand his mysterious appearances, but it appears he might not really have had a role in anything of consequence.

14. Mueller was deeply conservative in his approach. In almost every section, Mueller makes clear how legally and investigatively conservative he was. He pursued every avenue—racking up more than 2800 subpoenas and 500 search warrants along the way—but also stopped short of charging any case where he wasn’t 100 percent certain of a crime. Far from the “Witch Hunt” that Trump spent two years attacking, Trump should be deeply grateful that Mueller isn’t his own equivalent of a Ken Starr. The report is bad enough for Donald Trump as it is. Almost any other prosecutor, especially one who likes to grandstand, would have brought far more charges against the president’s world, including, most likely, charging the President himself with obstruction. As it stands, Mueller has clearly left that question instead to Congress.

Trump And His Businesses Go To Court To Block Oversight

Ken AshfordCongress, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

What is he hiding?

President Trump is seeking a court order to prevent his accounting firm from complying with what his lawyers say is an illegitimate use of congressional subpoena power by congressional Democrats.
In a filing Monday morning, the president claims, “Democrats are singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically.”

Last week, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) subpoenaed Mazars, an accounting firm used by Trump.

The Trump lawsuit against Cummings argues that Congress only has the authority to conduct oversight and investigations in order to further legislation, which is an interesting interpretation.

Weekly List 127

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week Attorney General William Barr publicly released a redacted version of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, almost a month after he delivered it to Barr. The redacted report differed substantially from Barr’s March 24 letter, as well as from statements delivered by Barr at a press conference hours before the report’s release — casting Barr more as a defense attorney for Trump than an attorney general. Concerns grew further when it was revealed Trump’s White House attorneys had previewed the report in consultation with the Justice Department days earlier.

On Thursday, as the redacted report was released, Trump, who had expressed no interest in reading the report, seemed confident he had turned the corner and was in the clear. As the press and public finally dug into the contents of the redacted report and statements by current and former White House official witnesses, by Friday, Trump shifted back to anger and attack mode, starting by retaliating against former White House counsel Don McGahn. After reading the report, Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first 2020 contender to call for impeachment hearings.

Trump’s attorneys continued to stonewall and seek to block requests from House Democrats for information, alarming even Senate Republicans who this week spoke out on his empowering his office at the expense of Congress. Republicans also for the first time publicly spoke out on Trump’s reliance on acting secretaries, with the regime shrinking, and power increasingly consolidating to Trump, his family, and a few trusted aides’ hands.

  1. For the third year in a row, U.S. standing in Reporters Without Borders’ annual World Press Freedom Index declined. The U.S. fell three spots to 48th of 180 countries, just below Romania.
  2. For the first time since the index was established, the U.S. fell into the ranks of countries whose treatment of journalists is considered “problematic.” The group cited Trump’s rhetorical hostility.
  3. TIME reported it has been over 300 days since the Pentagon held a press briefing. Defense officials have also stopped identifying senior officials given prominent assignments.
  4. Part of the shift is from Trump’s penchant for surprises. There is also a reluctance to deal with the media. The role of Defense Secretary, vacated by Jim Mattis in December, remains with an acting secretary.
  5. White House daily press briefings have also been dramatically cut back: there have been just two briefings so far in 2019 — the last one took place 38 days ago.
  6. On Saturday, Trump tweeted the NYT story on him offering a pardon to his incoming Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan was “wrong on almost every fact,” adding the Times “will lie & cheat anyway possible.”
  7. Trump also tweeted the Times had to beg their fleeing subscribers for forgiveness in that they covered the Election (and me) so badly,” and, “they even apologized to me,” and, “now they are even worse, really corrupt.”
  8. Trump also tweeted the false claim that he “never ordered anyone to close our Southern Border, adding, “although I have the absolute right to do so, and may if Mexico does not apprehend the illegals coming to our Border.”
  9. Trump also sent a series of tweets about sending detainees to sanctuary cities, saying “The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities.”
  10. Trump also tweeted, “Democrats must change the Immigration Laws FAST,” adding if not, they should take care of migrants including “Gang Members, Drug Dealers, Human Traffickers, and Criminals of all shapes.”
  11. On Sunday, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told NPR Trump’s remarks are “not political retribution,” but rather recharacterized them, saying Democrats should consider the remarks “to be an olive branch.”
  12. On Sunday, reporter Jon Karl said on “This Week” that the White House has been briefed about the Mueller report and “there is significant concern on the president’s team about what will be in this report.”
  13. Karl also said “what worries them most is what Don McGahn told the special counsel.”
  14. On Sunday, as the country braced for release of the Mueller report, press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox New Sunday, “We consider this case to be closed. There was no collusion. There was no corruption.”
  15. On Sunday, WSJ reported lawyers for Trump have been working on a counter report which is 140-pages long, but according to Rudy Giuliani, the lawyers plan to whittle down to 50-pages.
  16. On Sunday, NYT reported that since the Barr letter, Trump has felt emboldened, confident and liberated. As staffers brace for the redacted report to be released, Trump has no interest in reading the full report.
  17. Aides say Trump plans to act as if the redacted report is extraneous to the Barr letter, which in his mind said case closed. He is escalating his language to feed his base, and also to enrage the media and political rivals.
  18. On Sunday, Sanders on “This Week” denied Trump ordered McAleenan to close the border and would pardon him, saying Trump “is not asking anybody to do anything outside of those bounds.”
  19. Sanders also said of Trump’s attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, that he wishes her “no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone,” but added he is calling her out for her “history of anti-Semitic comments.”
  20. On Sunday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the extraordinary step of asking the U.S. Capitol Police and the House sergeant-at-arms to work to “safeguard Congresswoman Omar, her family and her staff.”
  21. An aide to Rep. Omar told Politico “there has been an increase in threats” against the Congresswoman since Trump’s Friday tweet. Omar’s office reported the threats to the FBI and Capitol Police.
  22. NYT reported Trump has stepped up his attack of Rep. Omar ahead of 2020 and has privately said his attacks on Muslims are being well received by his base — similar to his success with this line of attack in 2016.
  23. On Monday, Trump tweeted again about Rep. Omar, saying Speaker Pelosi should look at Omar’s “anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements,” adding, “she is out of control.”
  24. Later, Trump said in an interview with a local news affiliate in Rep. Omar’s home state, “She’s been very disrespectful to this country” and to Israel, adding, “She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad for our country.”
  25. On Monday, former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Rep. Omar “is infatuated with al Qaeda, with Hamas, Hezbollah,” and that she “should be removed from Congress.”
  26. On Friday, federal authorities arrested a Florida man, John Kless, 49, for leaving voicemails threatening to kill Rep. Omar, the other freshman Muslim woman Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Eric Swalwell, and Sen. Cory Booker.
  27. Kless’s voicemails were laced with bigotry and profanity, including telling Rep. Tlaib, “It was your Taliban bitch, the one who opened up her fucking towel-head mouth…She’s lucky she’s just getting death threats, bitch.”
  28. Politico reported that Trump will not nominate anyone to serve on a United Nations committee on racism, continuing the regime’s retreat from international bodies that monitor human rights.
  29. On Sunday, AP reported a Wisconsin middle school gym teacher was placed on indefinite leave after she separated students by race and asked black students to research games enslaved children played.
  30. On Tuesday, the Advocate reported the California National Guard will not discharge transgender troops. Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers said, “as long as you fight, we don’t care what gender you identify as.”
  31. On Wednesday, Map Pesqueira, a student at UT-Austin, told NBC News he is set to lose his army scholarship following Trump’s transgender military ban, saying, “I’m so far into my transition, I’m unable to serve.”
  32. On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reversed its decision to deport Jose Gonzalez Carranza, the spouse of a soldier killed in Afghanistan and parent of a 12 year-old, allowing him to return to the U.S.
  33. On Tuesday, in a lawsuit brought against DHS and ICE by two migrant families, a federal appeals court in the 4th District ruled detainees do not have to be held in the same state as their children.
  34. On Tuesday, Daily Beast reported a draft report released to McAleenan by members of an advisory council recommended “emergency action” to implement what the report dubbed as the “Flores Fix.”
  35. The report recommended Congress enact emergency legislation to make it easier for the Trump regime to detain children with their parents indefinitely — calling for legislation to roll back the Flores agreement.
  36. On Tuesday, in a written decision and policy reversal, Barr ordered immigration judgesto stop allowing asylum seekers to post bail while they wait months or years for their cases to be heard.
  37. Trump has attacked the policy he derides as “catch and release.” Advocates are expected to challenge the policy which they say will unlawfully jail people who have establisheda “credible fear of persecution or torture.”
  38. On Thursday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that most of California’s “sanctuary” laws can be enforced, rejecting the bulk of a lawsuit brought by the Trump regime.
  39. The decision was authored by a Republican appointee. The panel refused to block California’s law prohibitingpolice from notifying federal immigration authorities of the release dates of immigrant inmates.
  40. On Thursday, a new Housing and Urban Development proposal rolled out by Secretary Ben Carson would evict families from public housing if just one member is considered to be undocumented.
  41. The current practice is to adjust families’ benefits, while the new policy would evict entire families. Carson tweeted, “Thanks to Donald Trump’s leadership, we are putting America’s most vulnerable first.”
  42. On Monday, as the centuries-old Notre Dame cathedral was engulfed in flames, Trump tweeted, encouraging France, “perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out,” adding, “Must act quickly!”
  43. The French government responded in a series of tweets in French and English, dismissing the suggestion, saying “The drop of water by air on this type of building could indeed result in the collapse of the entire structure.”
  44. Several far-right pundits and websites started conspiracies on what caused the blaze, with some attempting to blame racial or religious minorities for the outbreak of the fire.
  45. Later at a roundtable, Trump invoked conspiracy theories as the cause, saying “they think it was caused by — at this moment, they don’t know. But they think it was caused by renovation, and I hope that’s the reason.”
  46. On Saturday, NYT reported that although Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has denied Trump is influencing Fed policy, the central bank has largely moved in the direction that Trump wants in recent months.
  47. On Sunday, Trump again attacked and blamed the Federal Reserve, tweeting, “If the Fed had done its job properly, which it has not, the Stock Market would have been up 5000 to 10,000 additional points.”
  48. Trump also tweeted, “GDP would have been well over 4% instead of 3%…with almost no inflation,” adding, “Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite!”
  49. On Monday, WSJ reported former Federal Reserve officials and foreign central bankers at the International Monetary Fund event expressed concern Trump has weakened the central bank and its global role.
  50. Officials expressed concern that Trump has interfered with the Fed’s independence, with his continued public criticism and nominating cronies who are extremists and loyal to him.
  51. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported the White House is talking to candidates to replace Stephen Moore and Herman Cain as Trump’s nominees for the Federal Reserve Board.
  52. On tax day CNN noted with changes under the GOP tax bill, the 10 states with the largest increase in refunds for 2018 were all red states in 2016, and the 10 states with the largest decrease in refunds were all blue states.
  53. On Wednesday, AP reported that Ivanka said Trump asked her if she was interested in the job of World Bank chief, but she passed on the opportunity, saying she was “happy with the work” she is doing.
  54. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he planned to hire Fox News contributor Monica Crowley as his spokeswoman. The hire comes as House Democrats demanded Trump’s tax returns.
  55. Crowley previously withdrew her nomination by Trump for a position at the National Security Council after allegations she plagiarized portions of her 2012 book and 2000 Ph.D. thesis, which she called a “political hit job.”
  56. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported Rick Perry is planning to resign as Energy Secretary in the coming weeks. Perry would become the 16th member of Trump’s cabinet to depart.
  57. On Monday, the Interior Department’s internal watchdog said in a letter that it has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against Secretary David Bernhardt, who was confirmed by the senate last week.
  58. On Monday, the House’s Intelligence and Financial Services committees subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and other banks for documents related to Trump and the Trump Organization’s finances.
  59. The committees also subpoenaed banks including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citigroup, and is also seeking information related to possible money-laundering by people in Russia and Eastern Europe.
  60. Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s lawyer, said the company is weighing trying to block the subpoena. While Deutsche Bank has been cooperative, its lawyers said they will consult with the White House.
  61. On Monday, Politico reported Trump lawyers William Consovoy and Stefan Passantino urged Mazars USA not to comply with a subpoena House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings issued Monday.
  62. The lawyers warned of potential legal action, putting Mazars “on notice,” and calling the subpoena a politically motivated scheme by Democrats to take down Trump.
  63. On Monday, CNN reported Republican lawmakers are concerned with the White House snubbing House Democrats, saying the failure to comply bolsters the power of Trump’s office at the expense of Congress.
  64. Several Senate Republicans also voiced concern with Trump’s growing reliance on using acting secretaries, circumventing the Senate process, and his threats to send migrants to sanctuary cities.
  65. On Tuesday, WAPO reported Trump’s attorneys are not planning to comply with Congressional requests for information, likely resulting in a protracted legal fight that could test the power of congressional subpoenas.
  66. Trump’s lawyers have already refused to turn over information on granting security clearances and meetings with foreign leaders. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone is also preparing for legal battles over subpoenas.
  67. Protracted legal fights will drain lawmakers’ times and resources, and the cases could drag beyond the end of the Congressional session. Trump has told aides he is furious with the inquiries and does not want to cooperate.
  68. On Tuesday, Rusal, the aluminum company partially owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska which was recently removed from the U.S. sanctions list, announced it will invest in a Kentucky aluminum mill.
  69. Rusal will invest $200 million in a taxpayer-backed aluminum mill Braidy Industries plans to build in exchange for a 40% stake. Braidy would not have been able to form the partnership if sanctions were still in place.
  70. On Tuesday, Trump vetoed a resolution to end military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen — his second veto. Trump said the measure harms bilateral relations and interferes with his power as commander in chief.
  71. On Monday, the DOJ announced a redacted version of the Mueller report will be released on Thursday, the day before Passover and Easter Weekend, and during the two weeks when Congress is out of session.
  72. Shortly after, Trump tweeted, “Since there was no Collusion, why was there an Investigation in the first place!” adding, “Answer — Dirty Cops, Dems and Crooked Hillary!”
  73. Trump also tweeted the report “was written by 18 Angry Democrats who also happen to be Trump Haters (and Clinton Supporters)…who SPIED” on his campaign and others “who fabricated the whole Russia Hoax.”
  74. On Tuesday, NBC News reported former and current White House officials are concerned the Mueller report will expose them as a source of damaging information on Trump, and his wrath will follow.
  75. Some officials and their attorneys sought clarity from the DOJ on whether names of those who cooperated would be redacted from the public version, but said the DOJ refused to provide a response.
  76. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, in response to a lawsuit by BuzzFeed to release the full Mueller report said Barr has sowed public mistrust with his handling of the report.
  77. Judge Walton said Barr “created an environment that has caused a significant part of the public … to be concerned about whether or not there is full transparency,” but denied BuzzFeed’s request.
  78. Monmouth polls found 28% say the country is headed in the right direction and 62% say things are on the wrong track. Trump’s net approval fell from -7 in March to -14 in April (40% approve/54 disapprove).
  79. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted the “FBI made 11 payments to Fake Dossier’s discredited author,” adding the “Witch Hunt has been a total fraud…brought to you by Dirty Cops, Crooked Hillary and the DNC.”
  80. On Wednesday, Trump said in an interview he is considering doing his own news conference after attorney general Barr, saying “Barr is going to be giving a news conference. Maybe I’ll do one after that; we’ll see.”
  81. Trump also said “You’ll see a lot of very strong things come out,” indicating he has apparently been briefed ahead of the news conference.
  82. Shortly after, the DOJ announced Barr would hold a press conference at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday ahead of the release of the report. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein will join, but Robert Mueller and his staff will not.
  83. The DOJ said the press conference will take place before the release of the redacted report to the media and the public. Journalist noted the unusual nature of holding a press conference without providing materials.
  84. On Wednesday, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll found 38% believe Trump’s campaign was spied on. The spying allegations were revived in Week 126 when Barr testified to lawmakers he believed “spying did occur.”
  85. On Wednesday, NYT reported DOJ officials have had numerous discussions with White House lawyers about conclusions in the Mueller report in recent days.
  86. The talks have helped Trump’s legal team prepare its strategy and response. The discussions have added to concerns about how Barr has conducted himself since he received the Mueller report four weeks ago.
  87. There is also a sense of paranoia among Trump aides about his reaction, and that the report will provide a road map for retaliation by Trump against current and former officials who spoke to Mueller’s team.
  88. DOJ rules do not require Barr to make the report public. The House Judiciary Committee has already voted to authorize a subpoena of Barr to release the full report — which could be sent within a day.
  89. On Wednesday, House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler told reporters Congress will receive a copy of the redacted report hours after the press conference, adding he is troubled the White House has been briefed.
  90. In the evening, Rep. Nadler held an impromptu press conference, saying Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign” on behalf of Trump, “the very subject of the investigation at the heart of the Mueller report.”
  91. Shortly after, WAPO reported according to anonymous sources the DOJ will be releasing a lightly redacted version of the Mueller report, offering a granular look at the ways Trump may have obstructed justice.
  92. The DOJ also revealed in a court filing that a “limited number” of lawmakers would be allowed to review, in a private setting, part of the Mueller report related to the criminal case against Roger Stone.
  93. On Thursday, days after positive tweets by Trump about Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s Central News Agency said it test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon.”
  94. On Thursday, BuzzFeed reported for the first time, Australian officials confirmed in a letter a meeting between former high commissioner Alexander Downer and former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos.
  95. At the March 2016 meeting in London, Papadopoulos told Downer that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting led to the FBI opening an investigating into Trump’s links with Russia.
  96. On Thursday, ahead of Barr’s new conference, Trump sent a total of 11 tweets, some quoting Fox News shows hosts and conservative group Judicial Watch.
  97. Trump also tweeted, “The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” and, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”
  98. On Thursday, Barr held a news conference, hours before the Mueller report was released and without Mueller of a member of his team present. He said the report will be released to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon.
  99. Barr made repeated reference to the phrase “no collusion,” echoing language frequently used by Trump, even though collusion is not a legal term.
  100. Barr also said Trump was “frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.” Journalists noted the tone sounded more like a defense attorney than a U.S. Attorney General.
  101. Barr said that he and Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law,” but that used their “legal framework.”
  102. Fox News host Chris Wallace said Barr “seemed almost to be acting as the counselor for the defense, the counselor for the president, rather than the attorney general, talking about his motives, his emotions…making a case for the president.”
  103. After Barr’s conference, Trump tweeted a “Game of Thrones” type image of him staring into the mist with the words, “No collusion, no obstruction … For the haters and the radical left Democrats … Game Over.”
  104. HBO rebuked Trump for using a “Game of Thrones” meme, saying in statement we “prefer our intellectual property not be used for political purposes.” Nonetheless, Trump pinned the tweet to his page for two days.
  105. Axios reported Jay Sekulow said he first saw the Mueller report on Tuesday afternoon, and that Trump’s legal team made two visits to the DOJ to view the report securely late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
  106. In a letter, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, said they wanted testimony “as soon as possible” from Mueller. Rep. Nadler released a letter to Mueller seeking his testimony no later than May 23.
  107. There were several major inconsistencies between what was in the redacted Mueller report, and what Barrcited in his March 24 letter and news conference. WAPO gave Barr a “Three Pinocchios” rating.
  108. False statements included saying the White House “fully cooperated” with Mueller, saying Barr followed precedent releasing the report to Trump’s lawyer early, and indicating he and Rosenstein should have the last word.
  109. Of the 448-page redacted version report released, more than one-third of the Mueller report’s pages contain at least one blacked-out word. Some pages were almost entirely blacked out.
  110. The redacted report was released on April 18, almost a full month after Mueller delivered his report to Barr on March 22.
  111. Barr heavily redacted the sections relating to evidence of the Trump campaign’s outreach to WikiLeaks. Much of what was included in the unredacted report had been previously reported by the media.
  112. The report summarized Trump’s written responses to Mueller’s questions as “inadequate.” Trump said he either could not remember, could not recall or could not recollect a total of 36 times.
  113. Mueller said “we had the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena” for Trump’s testimony, but chose not to because “of the substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce.”
  114. The report did not exonerate Trump on obstruction, stating “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”
  115. The report found 10 episodes involving Trump potentially obstructing justice. The report also found a pattern of behavior by Trump to harm the Mueller investigation.
  116. Mueller did reach a conclusion on obstruction, citing under DOJ practice, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, and has a great deal of constitutional authority to give orders to other government employees.
  117. Mueller said “Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances,” adding, “no person is above the law.”
  118. The report said the term “collusion” does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law and was not used. Mueller instead looked for “coordination” between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
  119. The report found that in May 2017, when then AG Jeff Sessions told Trump a special counsel had been appointed, Trump responded, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”
  120. Trump then said to Sessions, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?” adding something to the effect of, “You were supposed to protect me…This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
  121. The report found Trump told Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions to curtail the investigation. Lewandowski set up a meeting but it never happened, then delivered the message to Sessions through an intermediary.
  122. The report found Trump also told then chief of staff Reince Priebus to secure Sessions’ resignation, but he did not follow through. Sessions carried a resignation letter whenever he visited the White House.
  123. Mueller found “numerous” links between the Trump campaign and Russian government as it carried out its social media influence and hacking campaigns, but evidence was not sufficient for criminal charges.
  124. The report found “several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions” and those lies “materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.”
  125. The report found the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” and that Internet Research Agency (IRA) began targeting the U.S. in early 2014.
  126. The report identified “two different forms of connections between the IRA and members of the Trump Campaign” — including with Donald Jr. and Eric — “linking, retweeting” or other reposting, and “communications.”
  127. The report found Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump campaign had received an explicit offer from Russia for help by releasing Hillary’s hacked emails.
  128. The report found Trump repeatedly asked campaign aides to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. As part of that effort, Michael Flynn reached out to GOP operative Peter Smith and former Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen.
  129. The report found that Paul Manafort discussed with Konstantin Kilimnik a plan to let Russia control part of Ukraine, and discussed Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states.
  130. The report found Trump’s legal team told Michael Cohen to keep his Congressional testimony “short and tight, not elaborate, stay on message, and not contradict” Trump, but made no mention of Trump’s involvement.
  131. The report found Trump’s “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” but largely because the people surrounding Trump “declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
  132. The report found Erik Prince arranged his 2017 Seychelles meeting with Russian Kirill Dmitriev in advance with George Nader. Nader told Dmitriev, “This guy is designated by Steve [Bannon] to meet you!”
  133. The report found Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to lie to the media and say he had not directed him in June 2017 to fire Mueller. McGahn refused and took notes during the conversation.
  134. The report found Trump directed Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland to draft an internal letter saying he had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Russia ambassador Sergey Kislyak. She refused.
  135. The report found Trump’s personal lawyer told Flynn’s lawyer after he refused to share information about what Flynn was telling the special counsel that Trump would be informed of his “hostility.”
  136. The report found Trump tried to limit what was disclosed about Donald Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting, including his role in drafting a statement that the meeting was about adoptions. His lawyers denied he played a role.
  137. Days before the Trump Tower meeting, Donald Jr. said he was pursuing a lead to get negative information about the Clinton foundation. At the meeting were Rick Gates, Eric Trump, Manafort, Hope Hicks, Ivanka, and Kushner.
  138. The report found Sarah Sanders said she lied — calling it a “slip of the tongue” — to the White House press on two occasions saying “countless” FBI agents had told her they were thankful Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
  139. The special counsel found evidence of other crimes, and made 14 criminal referrals. Only two of the 14 — cases involving Michael Cohen and Gregory Craig in Week 126 — are publicly known.
  140. The report said in March 2017, after Comey briefed the “Gang of Eight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr shared “information about the status of the FBI investigation” with the White House counsel’s office.
  141. As the report was released, Trump told reporters at the White House it was a “good day,” adding “this should never happen to another president again. This hoax should never happen to another president again.”
  142. Conservative media matched Trump’s take on the report, with Fox News writing “AG BARR: Special Counsel Found No Collusion,” and Breitbart writing, “MORE EXONERATION! NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION.”
  143. As the report was released, Georgy Borisenko of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North America Department, said, “Not a single piece of evidence is there,” adding investigators “confessed they have nothing to report.”
  144. Rolling Stone rewrote Barr’s four-page letter to include full quotes from the Mueller report which Barr has selectively edited down to partial quotes. The meaning of several passages was dramatically different.
  145. The NYT Editorial Board called for the release of the uncensored Mueller report, saying Trump has not earned the benefit of the doubt, nor can people “depend on the word of Mr. Trump’s handpicked attorney general.”
  146. On Thursday, reporters waited at the White House South Lawn to ask Trump about the Mueller report as he left for the holiday weekend for Mar-a-Lago. Trump avoided his customary stop to take a few questions.
  147. White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway called Thursday the “best day since he got elected,” while Trump’s legal team decided not to publish a counter-report they had spent months compiling.
  148. Later Thursday, Trump tweeted “Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President,” adding Obama “did nothing,” but “the vote was not affected.”
  149. Mueller’s report covered possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the team did not investigate whether Russian attempts to access voting systems, which occurred, were successful.
  150. Trump also tweeted a series of four quotes from Fox News hosts and contributors, including Jesse Watters saying “‘Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction.”
  151. Trump added, “I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to,” adding, “I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!
  152. Trump also tweeted a quote by Tucker Carlson, saying, “The Mueller Report is perhaps the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House Press in the history of this Country. They know they lied.”
  153. WAPO reported the Mueller report revealed how Trump bred an atmosphere of chaos, dishonesty, and malfeasance in the upper echelons of the regime, not seen since the Nixon administration.
  154. Trump spent months plotting to thwart the Mueller probe and enlist his senior aides to help — most refused orders. Trump repeatedly ask regime members to lie to the public, deny true stories, and craft false storylines.
  155. Bloomberg reported Trump grew angry by Friday, particularly at McGahn and former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who both spoke extensively to Mueller. Aides wondered if Trump might seek retribution against the two.
  156. On Friday, Trump sent a series of angry tweets, saying that statements made about “in the Crazy Mueller Report,” which was “written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters,” are “fabricated & totally untrue.”
  157. Trump also “because I never agreed to testify” it was not necessary for him to respond to “statements made in the “Report” about me, some of which are total bullshit,” adding, “this was an Illegally Started Hoax.’
  158. Trump also tweeted “Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes never existed until needed,” in apparent reference to McGahn and possibly his chief of staff Annie Donaldson.
  159. The report revealed Trump asked McGahn, “Why do you takes notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” and McGahn responded because he was a “real lawyer.”
  160. Trump then headed to play golf with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who defended Trump on his show saying, “It was an attempt at a coup. It was an attempt to…nullify the election results of 2016.”
  161. Eight hours later, Trump finished the series of tweets which had ended with “a….,” adding “big, fat, waste of time, energy and money — $30,000,000 to be exact,” adding, “This should never happen again!”
  162. Trump also threatened, tweeting, “It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason.”
  163. On Friday, Dmitry Peskov, the top spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the report “does not present any reasonable proof at all that Russia allegedly meddled in the electoral process in the U.S.”
  164. On Friday, Sanders tried to defend her Comey comment on “Good Morning America,” saying “Actually, if you look at what I said, I said the ‘slip of the tongue’ was in using the word ‘countless.’”
  165. When asked about her other false statement to the media that Trump did not dictate Donald Jr.’s Trump Tower statement, Sanders responded, “That was the information I was given at the time.”
  166. On Friday, Rep. Nadler’s committee issued a subpoena to the DOJ demanding access to the full Mueller report, including grand jury testimony and other material not made public, by May 1.
  167. On Friday, a DOJ spokesperson called the request “premature and unnecessary,” claiming Barr released the report with only “minimal redactions,” and would allow lawmakers to see a less-redacted version.
  168. On Friday, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer rejected a DOJ offer for 12 senior lawmakers to see a less-redacted version of the report, demanding all members of Congress be able to see the full report.
  169. On Friday, Rudy Giuliani pushed back on McGahn’s account, saying in an interview, “It can’t be taken at face value. It could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or could be the product of something else.”
  170. On Friday, the Trump campaign hired its own in-house attorney for its 2020 reelection bid, shifting the business away from Jones Day, the law firm where McGahn is a partner.
  171. Jones Day has represented Trump since his first run for president. Trump advisers said the switch was payback, with one commenting, “Why in the world would you want to put your enemy on the payroll?”
  172. On Friday, Sen. Mitt Romney became the first GOP lawmaker to speak out, saying “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land.”
  173. Romney also said he was “appalled” that the Trump campaign welcomed help from Russia, and called the report “a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”
  174. On Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the first 2020 candidate to call for Congress to begin impeachment hearings after reading the redacted report and citing the “severity” of “misconduct” detailed.
  175. Warren warned of normalizing Trump’s behavior, tweeting, “To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country.”
  176. On Friday, Trump attacked the media, tweeting, “The Washington Post and New York Times are, in my opinion, two of the most dishonest media outlets around,” adding, “Truly, the Enemy of the People!”
  177. Trump also retweeted a post by a fantasy football league owner who slammed WAPO’s front page, adding, “This is why nobody but the @DNC circle jerk takes this seriously anymore.”
  178. On Friday, in the first poll conducted since the redacted Mueller report was released, Reuters/Ipsos poll found Trump’s approval fell to 37%, down 3 points from an April 15 poll, and the lowest level in 2019.
  179. The same poll found Trump’s approval at 43% shortly after the Barr letter, which shared a much more flattering and limited version of the report.
  180. On Friday, lawyers for Maria Butina asked in a court filing that when she is sentenced next Friday, after spending nine months in jail for acting as a foreign agent of the Russian government, that she be sent back to Russia.
  181. On Friday, House Democrats said they will examine Prince’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017, which is different in several key respects from the Mueller report, for possible perjury.
  182. Inconsistencies include that Prince told Congress the meeting with Dmitriev happened by chance, and that he was not acting as a representative for the Trump transition team or the campaign.
  183. On Saturday, NYT reported the Mueller report revealed that contact by Russians like Dmitriev was part of the Kremlin’s outreach efforts during the campaign, which then shifted into high gear after Trump’s victory.
  184. The report revealed Putin sought back-channels of contact and influence with Trump’s team, and many Americans participated on topics from Trump’s desire to build a Moscow hotel to U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
  185. The report also revealed in December 2016, Putin convened an “all-hands” meeting of his top oligarchs to discuss the risk of the U.S. imposing further sanctions to retaliate for Russia’s interfering in the election.
  186. On Saturday, Trump attacked the Mueller report in a series of tweets, saying the report “should not have been authorized in the first place,” and “was written as nastily as possible”
  187. Trump added the report was written “by 13 (18) Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters” including “highly conflicted Bob Mueller” but found “No Collusion, No Obstruction!”
  188. Trump also attacked the media, saying “The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to stir up and anger,” adding they seldom mention “there was NO COLLUSION WITH RUSSIA. The Russia Hoax is dead!”
  189. Shortly after, Trump tweeted, “The end result of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history is No Collusion with Russia (and No Obstruction),” adding, “Pretty Amazing!”
  190. On Saturday, McGahn broke his silence on MSNBC, confirming that details within the Mueller Report were “accurately described.”
  191. The Congressional Budget Office estimated an increase of 1.4 million uninsured Americans from 2016 to 2018, with much coming from Medicaid where the Trump regime has imposed new work requirements.
  192. America Media Inc. sold The National Enquirer to James Cohen, the CEO of Hudson News, ending the publication’s longtime association with Trump and its efforts to promote him and bury embarrassing stories.

To Impeach or Not?

Ken AshfordCongress, Democrats, Election 2020, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Okay, we have the Muller Report, which — as everyone says — is a roadmap for Congress to start impeachment proceedings, or at least go forward with investigations leading to impeachment proceedings.

Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House, even after the long-awaited Mueller report, is not on board. “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” he said yesterday to CNN’s Dana Bash. 

Other Democrats are treadling lightly on the subject. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement.” Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that impeachment would be pointless “barring a bipartisan consensus,” because “you don’t bring a case if you don’t think you’re going to be successful just to try the case.”

Me? I have moved into the “yes” category, even with the understanding that Trump will not be removed from office by Congress.

Democrats who preemptively declare impeachment off the table are mistakenly (or intentionally) conflating one possible end result of the impeachment process for the process itself. The Republican members of Congress who voted to open an impeachment inquiry into Nixon’s conduct didn’t necessarily want it to end in his removal from office; even up until his resignation, it was an open question whether there were enough votes in the Senate to remove him. They were trying to get at the truth about the administration’s actions, and using impeachment to gather evidence. (They didn’t even limit themselves to Watergate. The committee eventually also voted on whether to impeach Nixon for the illegal bombing of Cambodia and for failure to pay taxes.)

As Patrick Blanchfield says, impeachment, even if it “fails” in the Senate, is a chance to take a moral stand against corruption and unaccountable elites. That is something you can run on.

As Jeff Hauser writes, it is a chance to weave the disparate (and quickly forgotten) scandals of the entire Trump presidency into a single narrative that the easily distracted (and even more easily spun) mainstream press can follow.

But for reasons surpassing my understanding, Democrats’ reflexively pursue a mindset whereby fearing potential downsides of action is always deemed wise and passivity is always the outcome.

The Trump era demands better from the opposition if the rule of law is to win out. No more learned helplessness.

The problem is, Hoyer apparently doesn’t want to do those things. What Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who ruled out impeachment well before anyone read the Mueller Report) want is to write op-eds about how many bills they are passing, despite the fact that those bills (like, uh, impeachment) will never get through the Senate.

Democratic leadership seemingly believes that the party can’t let its candidates campaign on promises to materially improve the lives of voters while also letting its elected officials carry out the responsibilities of their offices. They also believe, deep in their bones, that the country is not on their side. They believe going after Trump too directly will stir his mighty base, rather than imagining that full and transparent investigations into his various fraudulent and corrupt activities may demoralize his staunchest supporters—just as Trump himself was demoralized at the prospect of Mueller’s investigation—while also persuading those people who aren’t already in the cult of MAGA that this administration, and the party that abets it, need to be soundly defeated.

“We shouldn’t impeach because it isn’t what the voters want” is an extremely blinkered vision of politics that presupposes a world where public opinion cannot be moved and political parties cannot shape the political landscape through coordinated action.

We live in partisan times. We shouldn’t pretend we don’t. This is what the founders created. In my view, looking to 2020, it is better to win the war, rather than avoid it. You can’t run against Trump as an enemy, promise to fight him, and then demur, punting responsibility back to voters: the voters who elected YOU to fight him, NOW.

The Mueller Report is an armory of ammunition. We need to use the Mueller report to launch investigations, send out subpoenas, and hold public hearings. All of that could lead to revelations that tilt the public toward impeachment, it could prove that the public doesn’t consider these revelations important enough to merit impeachment, or it could simply inform the public to help them make a decision in the 2020 election.

Either way, it keeps the focus on Trump’s crimes and his lies, rather than overwhelming that conversation with a debate over removing Trump from office at a time when there’s no prospect of marshaling the votes to actually remove him from office. What’s the downside of that?

The Mueller Report: The Day After

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Clearly, the pro-Trump spin attempts have failed. And they know it.

The day after the Justice Department released the Mueller report, President Donald Trump tweeted that, in his opinion, parts of the report are “total bullshit.” That’s quite a departure from Trump’s earlier comments, in which he claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was a “total exoneration” of him.

Last month, Trump repeatedly proclaimed his own exoneration after Attorney General William Barr released a memo which concluded that the Mueller report did not find the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

However, the redacted version of the Mueller report released Thursday impliedthat impeachment and removal from office could be the more suitable consequence for the president’s decisions, detailed 10 instances in which the president tried to hinder the investigation into him, and revealed more information on Russia’s interference campaign.

Now, the president is changing his tune.

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Trump referred to the report as the “Crazy Mueller Report,” the fruits of an “Illegally Started Hoax.” He tweeted, “it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).”

In his tweets, Trump seemed particularly incensed at one section of the report, that documented an occasion in which he asked White House lawyer Don McGahn why he was taking notes during a conversation.

According to the Mueller report, Trump said of McGahn’s notes, “Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” When McGahn said he is a “real lawyer” who keeps records, Trump reportedly said, “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.”

Despite Trump’s previous insistence that he was exonerated by the report, his legal team has been working for months on producing a counter-report attacking the investigation’s legitimacy. That counter-report, is expected to be 34 pages in comparison to the 448-page Mueller report, and may be released next week. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Daily Beast in August that there is nothing in it “that isn’t publicly available in some form or another.”

Barr’s statements about the report repeatedly downplayed the factors that went into Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump.

Barr said on Thursday morning that Mueller “made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime,” even though the report does not state that at all. Instead, Mueller mentions Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions, one of which said, “the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions” in violation of “the constitutional separation of powers.”

In addition, Mueller made it clear that he was unable to reach the judgment that the president did not commit obstruction of justice.

Nunes says not to read it:

And now I share Lawfare’s analysis:

Really the best day since he got elected,” said Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, about a day on which 400 pages dropped into the public’s lap describing relentless presidential misconduct and serial engagements between his campaign and a foreign actor. The weeks-long lag between Attorney General William Barr’s announcement of Robert Mueller’s top-line findings and the release of the Mueller report itself created space for an alternate reality in which the document released today might give rise to such a statement. But the cries of vindication do not survive even the most cursory examination of the document itself.

No, Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and no, he did not conclude that President Trump had obstructed justice. But Mueller emphatically did not find that there had been “no collusion” either. Indeed, he described in page after damning page a dramatic pattern of Russian outreach to figures close to the president, including to Trump’s campaign and his business; Mueller described receptivity to this outreach on the part of those figures; he described a positive eagerness on the part of the Trump campaign to benefit from illegal Russian activity and that of its cutouts; he described serial lies about it all. And he described as well a pattern of behavior on the part of the president in his interactions with law enforcement that is simply incompatible with the president’s duty to “take care” that the laws are “faithfully executed”—a pattern Mueller explicitly declined to conclude did not obstruct justice.

The Mueller report is a document this country will be absorbing for months to come. Below is a first crack at analyzing the features that are most salient to us.

The report answers a great many questions, resolving a raft of concerning issues that had cried out for public resolution. Some of these questions it resolves in Trump’s favor, thereby reducing the long list of concerns that reasonable people will harbor about the president. But by creating a rigorous factual record concerning both Russian intervention in 2016 and presidential obstruction of the effort to investigate that intervention, the report poses other questions acutely. Most importantly, it poses the question of whether this conduct is acceptable—not whether it’s lawful or prosecutable or whether the evidence is admissible, but whether as a nation we choose to accept it, and if not, what means we exercise to reject it. Mueller is not a political figure, but the record he has created puts these fundamentally political questions squarely before us.

Before turning to what’s in the Mueller report, let’s pause a moment to note something that’s not in it: classified information. The document contains no so-called “portion marking,” which denotes classified material. While it describes sensitive intelligence matters, it does so in an unclassified manner. What’s more, it is almost entirely devoid of discussion of the counterintelligence equities at issue in the Russia matter. This is a prosecutor’s report, focused entirely on application of fact to criminal laws and to assessment of whether legal standards were met. Whether this absence is because the counterintelligence elements of the investigation were handled in some other format or because they were entirely sublimated to the criminal investigation is unclear. But this is a document summarizing a criminal probe and the thinking of the prosecutors who ran it—not a document describing the management of threats to the country.

Like the report itself, we begin with Mueller’s resolution of matters related to Russia.

Results of the Russia Investigation

Consistent with the special counsel’s mandate, the first volume of the Mueller report focuses on “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” Toward this end, its first two substantive sections go into depth on Russia’s “active measures” social media campaign, as well as the “hacking and dumping” operations through which it accessed and disseminated private emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others. Both provide a fascinating account of Russian influence operations, but neither adds much to the indictments that the Mueller team has previously filed against involved persons. Instead, the important element of Volume 1 is the discussion of “Russian government links to and contacts with the Trump campaign”—or the possibility of what some might describe as “collusion.”

As the report is careful to explain, “collusion” is neither a criminal offense nor a legal term of art with a clear definition, despite its frequent use in discussions of the special counsel’s mandate. Mueller and his team instead examined the relationships between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government through the far narrower lens of criminal conspiracy. To establish a criminal conspiracy, a prosecutor must show, among other elements, that two or more persons agreed to either violate a federal criminal law or defraud the United States. This “meeting of the minds” is ultimately the piece the Mueller team felt it could not prove, leading it not to pursue any conspiracy charges against members of the Trump campaign, even as it pursued them against Russian agents.

This conclusion is far from the full vindication that chants of “no collusion” imply, a fact driven home by the detailed factual record the Mueller report puts forward. In some cases, there was indeed a meeting of the minds between Trump campaign officials and Russia, just not in pursuit of a criminal objective. In others, members of the Trump campaign acted criminally—as evidenced by the guilty pleas and indictments that the Mueller team secured—but did so on their own. At times, these efforts even worked toward the same objective as the Russian government, but on seemingly parallel tracks as opposed to in coordination. None of this amounted to a criminal conspiracy that the Mueller team believed it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But the dense network of interactions, missed opportunities, and shared objectives between the Trump campaign and the Russian government remains profoundly disturbing.

This report shows that the Trump campaign was reasonably aware of the Russian efforts, at least on the hacking side. They were aware the Russians sought to help them win. They welcomed that assistance. Instead of warning the American public, they instead devised a public relations and campaign strategy that sought to capitalize on Russia’s illicit assistance. In other words, the Russians and the Trump campaign shared a common goal, and each side worked to achieve that goal with basic knowledge of the other side’s intention. They just didn’t agree to work together toward that goal together.

Importantly, the report includes several areas in which the Mueller report really does meaningfully exonerate the Trump campaign.

First, while the report notes that some Trump campaign members shared tweets from Internet Research Agency (IRA)-controlled accounts and even agreed to assist in promoting IRA-devised rallies, the special counsel investigation did not conclude that any official of the Trump campaign was aware the solicitations were coming from foreign persons. Being duped is not the same as committing a crime, and Mueller conclusively puts to rest the question of whether the Trump campaign was somehow aiding the Russian social media operation.

Second, the Mueller report answers lingering questions about a number of previously reported events about which people harbored reasonable suspicions. The Mueller team examined the reported contacts between campaign members, including Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions, with Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 and found that the conversations were brief and nonsubstantive, and took place in public. Similarly, Mueller examined contacts between then-Senator Sessions and Kislyak at Sessions’s Senate office in September 2016 and determined that the two did not discuss anything related to the election. That is consistent with Sessions’s account of the matter and effectively clears him on the question; nothing untoward seems to have occured.

Additionally, the special counsel’s office describes a set of interactions between campaign members—in particular, Kushner—and the head of a D.C.-based think tank, the Center for the National Interest (CNI). The investigation found no evidence that CNI facilitated back channels between the campaign and the Russian government.

Finally, the special counsel’s report puts to rest suggestions that the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine was altered at the direction of Trump or Russia. While Trump advisor J.D. Gordon did champion an effort on behalf of the campaign to soften a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform on supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, the report makes clear that Gordon was not directed to seek the change by Trump. He did so after deciding that the change would better align the platform with Trump’s stated policy.
So that’s all good news for Trump. Reporting on these matters had accurately described these events as having occurred, but the Mueller report should end speculation that they were evidence of collusion or anything untoward.

The rest of the report is far less rosey for Trump World.

While the report does not find criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia, it describes a set of contacts that may not involve chargeable criminality but might reasonably be described as “collusion.” In some of these cases, there was a clear “meeting of the minds”—or an effort to establish one—between members of the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government, but the object of that agreement was not a federal crime. If these episodes fall short of a criminal conspiracy, they nonetheless reveal an alarming reality.

The report details numerous contacts during the presidential campaign, some of which are well known—for example, the cases of George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, two low-level recruits to the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team who became the focus of efforts by Russian agents to cultivate a relationship. A higher profile case is that of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The report describes Manafort’s extensive ties to Russia in detail, ties he cultivated through his prior work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and the former Russian-backed government in Ukraine. Throughout his time with the Trump campaign—Manafort resigned in August 2016 but continued to advise the Trump campaign through at least November—Manafort maintained consistent contact with his “longtime” associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian who, according to the report, “the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.” Kilimnik attempted to have Manafort pass along a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to be friendly to Russian interests, though the Mueller team was unable to identify evidence that Manafort did so. Manafort in turn instructed his deputy Rick Gates to provide Kilimnik with polling data and other information regarding the Trump campaign’s electoral strategy, which he understood would be passed on to Deripaska and others.

A particularly troubling example is the protracted negotiation over the Trump Tower Moscow project, in which President Trump was personally involved. In September 2015, the Trump Organization, acting through attorney Michael Cohen, restarted negotiations over a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow that had fallen through several years prior. Trump himself signed a letter of intent for the project in October 2015, on the same day as the third Republican primary debate. One of Cohen’s interlocutors on the deal, businessman Felix Sater, repeatedly raised the prospect of using the deal to enhance Trump’s electoral prospects. In January 2016, Cohen reached out to Russian officials in an attempt to contact Putin and secure support for the project, which ultimately resulted in an invitation for Cohen to visit Moscow to discuss. Cohen also raised the prospect of Trump himself visiting Russia to discuss the deal, once in late 2015 and again in spring 2016—a possibility that Cohen indicated Trump was open to if it would facilitate the deal. Neither trip ultimately came together. Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about how long into 2016 the Trump Tower Moscow project was negotiated and Trump’s personal knowledge of it.

There are other examples too. The Mueller report lays out in detail a sustained effort to obtain a set of emails which figures associated with the campaign believed hackers might have obtained from Hillary Clinton’s private server before she deleted them. The trouble is that it appears the emails didn’t exist. It has previously been reported that now-deceased Trump supporter Peter Smith went to extreme lengths to try and track down Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails. According to today’s report, after candidate Trump stated in July 2016 that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails,” future National Security Advisor Michael Flynn reached out to multiple people to try and obtain those emails. One of the individuals he reached out to was Peter Smith. Smith later circulated a document that claimed his “Clinton Email Reconnaissance Initiative” was “‘in coordination’ with the Trump Campaign” specifically naming Flynn, Sam Clovis, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. While the investigation found that Smith communicated with both Flynn and Clovis, it found no evidence that any of the four individuals listed “initiated or directed Smith’s efforts.” So essentially, a bunch of people in Trump’s orbit tried very hard to obtain stolen emails but came up empty. Mueller decided that chasing this particular ghost did not constitute criminal conduct.

There are also a series of events for which the special counsel’s office appeared to have seriously considered the possibility of bringing charges but ultimately determined that not all of the elements were met or that the evidence was otherwise insufficient.

Most seriously, the special counsel’s office examined possible criminal charges related to the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting in significant depth. The report’s account of the meeting between senior representatives of the Trump campaign and Russian attorney Natalya Veselnitskaya and other Russian government-linked individuals largely tracks with widely reported accounts. The meeting was proposed to Donald Trump Jr. in an email from Robert Goldstone, who said that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump Campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded that “if it’s what you say I love it” and arranged the meeting through a series of emails and telephone calls. Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner attended. The meeting lasted approximately 20 minutes and left the campaign officials frustrated because the Russians were not able to offer any concrete information and instead talked about adoptions and the Russian Magnitsky Act. The report indicates that Mueller could not establish that Donald Trump knew in advance about the meeting, and Trump’s submitted written answers say he has no recollection of learning of the meeting at the time.

Mueller ultimately concluded there was not sufficient evidence to pursue campaign finance charges against campaign officials regarding the Trump Tower meeting. He cites the government’s “substantial burden of proof on issues of intent,” raising questions about whether the participants knew the activity was illegal at the time as is required by the statute, and then explores whether Veselnitskaya’s offer of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton qualifies as a “contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” under campaign finance laws. While the report recognizes that opposition research could be considered a “thing of value,” no judicial decision has considered this issue. Rather than tackle that issue himself, Mueller declined to pursue criminal campaign finance charges.

At least one other section of the report clearly alludes to potential criminal conduct, but it is so redacted (presumably because of the ongoing Roger Stone indictment) that it is hard to say why the activities did not rise to the level of criminality. The report spends more than 20 pages detailing how the Russian intelligence services hacked the Clinton campaign, the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and then coordinated with WikiLeaks to release the hacked information in ways that would hurt Clinton and help Trump. The GRU had initially set up its own websites, including DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, but later transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and campaign Chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks “[i]n order to expand its interference” in the 2016 election. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks implied publicly that Seth Rich, a former DNC staff member who was killed in July 2016, was the source of the material in order to throw suspicion away from the GRU as the source of the material. But the involvement of the Trump campaign in the dissemination of the stolen material is largely redacted. It’s clear that Manafort, Gates, Jerome Corsi, Ted Malloch, and at least one other person—presumably Roger Stone, whose name does not appear in the redacted version of the report—were involved in some way. The document also seems to make an ominous reference to a phone call while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia, after which Trump told Gates that “more releases of damaging information would be coming”—but the details of the call are redacted. The ongoing case against Stone for lying to Congress about his involvement with WikiLeaks is likely the source for much of the “Harm to Ongoing Matter” redactions in this section.

Despite the overwhelming number of contacts and ties, Mueller concludes this section by noting that the investigation did not “yield evidence sufficient to sustain any charge that any individual affiliated with the Trump Campaign acted as an agent of [the government of Russia] within the meaning of FARA.”

In light of the hundred pages the redacted Mueller report spends recounting the contacts between Russian government-linked individuals and entities, it is worth taking a moment to recall the frequency and certitude with which President Trump and members of his campaign told the American people that there had been no contact with Russians during the campaign:

Paul Manafort on ABC’s This Week, in response to a question of whether there were any ties between Trump, Manafort, or the campaign and Putin and his regime: “No, there are not. That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”

Donald Trump Jr. told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the Clinton campaign’s suggestion that Russia was helping Trump was “disgusting” and “phony,” noting, “Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie.”

Kellyanne Conway, asked whether anyone involved in the Trump campaign had any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election, responded, “Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Fox News Sunday, in response to a question of whether there was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, stating, “This is a nonstory because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”

Asked at a press conference whether he could say definitively that nobody on his campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign, Trump himself said, “No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”

All of these statements were false, and they are only a few of the many examples of campaign officials making such comments.

Those contacts did not end with Trump’s election to the presidency. The Mueller report devotes a substantial number of pages to chronicling Russia’s post-election efforts to make contact with the Trump administration, through both official and unofficial channels.
Some of the contacts are not necessarily untoward. Russia’s official outreach efforts began at 3:00 am following the election, when a Russian Embassy official reached out to Trump campaign press secretary Hope Hicks with a message of congratulations from Putin. This ultimately led to the first Trump-Putin call just days later, on Nov. 14, 2016. A message of congratulations and phone call with a foreign head of state isn’t especially surprising or even necessarily inappropriate.

However, shortly thereafter, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reached out to Jared Kushner to arrange an additional meeting, which took place on Nov. 30 at Trump Tower in New York. At that meeting, which Michael Flynn also attended, Kushner reportedly requested a good point of contact through which they could directly reach Putin. He also raised the possibility of receiving a briefing from Russian generals through a secure communications line at the Russian Embassy, though Kislyak rejected the idea. Kushner subsequently handed off further meetings with Kislyak to a subordinate—but did take a meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the sanctioned Russian government-owned bank Vnesheconombank (VEB). The report notes conflicting accounts over the purpose of the meeting, with Kushner claiming it was diplomatic while VEB claimed it was related to possible business with the private company of which Kushner was CEO, Kushner Companies.

Flynn, meanwhile, continued to engage with Kislyak. In December 2016, he contacted Kislyak as part of an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Russia to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to cease settlement activities that the Obama administration refused to oppose. A few days later, Flynn—apparently acting on his own initiative, though the report notes that President-elect Trump and others may have been made aware that the call was happening—also spoke to Kislyak to discourage an escalatory response to the Obama administration’s imposition of economic sanctions over Russian election interference, the tack that Putin ultimately pursued. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI regarding both interactions, as well as to false statements on a FARA filing regarding his prior work on behalf of Turkey.

At the same time, several self-described Russian oligarchs actively reached out to establish their own contacts with the Trump administration, in part in response to discussions with Putin. Two such oligarchs—Petr Aven and Kirill Dmitriev—worked through business associates in unsuccessful attempts to arrange a meeting with Kushner, though Dmitriev was able to successfully pass a paper on U.S.-Russian relations to him. Through another associate, George Nader, Dmitriev also made contact with Erik Prince, a financial supporter and close associate of the Trump campaign, though he had no official position. The three met in Seychelles in January 2017, but redactions in the Mueller report leave substantial ambiguity regarding the subject matter of their discussions. Prince claims that he reported on his meeting with Dmitriev to Trump campaign official Steve Bannon, but Bannon disputes this—a discrepancy, the report notes, that investigators were unable to resolve.

In the end, there was clearly criminality here: criminality on the Russian side and criminality on the U.S. side in lying about interactions with Russian actors. And there was also activity that was plainly innocent. Between those two extremes, there was also a large quantity of engagement that was apparently not chargeably criminal but that did involve covert attempts to engage with a hostile foreign government for the benefit of Trump’s campaign and business.

Whether one calls it collusion or calls it something else, it isn’t pretty.

Findings on Obstruction of Justice

The second volume of the report, focusing on obstruction of justice, begins with an explanation of one of the most confusing aspects of the report: Mueller’s decision not to make a determination one way or the other as to whether to prosecute or decline to prosecute the president of the United States for obstruction of justice. As Barr indicated, this is a fundamental deviation from the traditional role of the prosecutor. But the opening pages give important context for this choice by the special counsel’s office.

The introductory section is structured around on the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) guidance against indicting a sitting president—despite Barr’s suggestion to the contrary at a press conference just prior to the report’s release. Mueller’s analysis focuses on three main points. First, he accepts that the OLC opinion is binding on the special counsel’s office. He also writes that “a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.” On this latter point, he cites the OLC opinion’s reasoning that a criminal prosecution of a sitting president would encroach on Congress’s constitutional duty to serve as the check on an unfit executive through impeachment proceedings. In other words, though subtly, Mueller is pretty clearly deferring—at least in part—to Congress: His office chose not to evaluate whether to bring charges against the president, he suggests, both because indictment of the president while he remains in office is off limits to him and because the decision regarding how to handle such conduct by a sitting president is, in any event, more properly left to the legislature.

At the same time, Mueller notes the OLC opinion’s conclusion that a criminal investigation of a president during his term is permissible and that the president may be prosecuted after leaving office. The special counsel’s office thus “conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available,” the report states, implying that this material will now be in the hands of any future Justice Department should it choose to bring charges against Trump when he leaves office.

Mueller also points to the Justice Manual, which holds that prosecutors should only assess whether a person’s conduct “constitutes a federal offense”: Given that the president cannot be indicted while in office and would not immediately have the opportunity to clear his name through a “speedy and public trial,” the manual counsels against making that initial assessment.

All this leads to Mueller’s key conclusion, quoted only in part in Barr’s initial letter: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. … Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” This reasoning makes clear the disconnect between Mueller’s approach to the obstruction investigation and that of Barr, who independently chose to evaluate the evidence against Trump and determine that it was not sufficient to establish an obstruction offense.

This is not, in short, a circumstance in which Mueller summed up all the evidence for obstruction and all the evidence against it and just couldn’t make up his mind—or decided to defer to the attorney general for judgment. Mueller’s decision not to reach a traditional prosecutorial judgment in no sense indicates that the evidence of possible obstruction by the president was weak—“No Collusion, No Obstruction,” as the president tweeted. To the contrary, the more time one spends with the obstruction section of the report, the more it suggests that the Mueller team believed the evidence of obstruction to be very strong.

The special counsel describes some overarching factual issues and general conclusions that affect his entire obstruction discussion. The report notes that this case is “atypical compared to the heartland obstruction-of-justice prosecutions brought by the Department of Justice” for several reasons. First, “the conduct involved actions by the President” and any factual analysis of Trump’s conduct “would have to take into account both that the President’s acts were facially lawful and that his position as head of the Executive Branch provides him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses.” Second, as discussed in the first half of the report, “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” but “does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct,” including “concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events … could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.” And third, “many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view.” Though it’s unusual for obstructive acts to be public-facing, “if the likely effect of [Trump’s] acts is to intimidate witnesses or alter their testimony, the justice system’s integrity is equally threatened.”

Additionally, the special counsel writes that “it is important to view the President’s pattern of conduct as a whole” because it “sheds light on the nature of the President’s acts and the inferences that can be drawn about his intent.” The investigation “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” but which were “mostly unsuccessful … because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” The team viewed the obstruction investigation as looking at two distinct phases: before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, when Trump “deemed it critically important to make public that he was not under investigation”; and after he “became aware that investigators were conducting an obstruction-of-justice inquiry into his own conduct.” During this latter period, Trump “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the President” and, “in private, … engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.” In the special counsel’s view, “judgments about the nature of the President’s motives during each phase would be informed by the totality of the evidence.”

The report identifies and analyzes ten episodes of concern in the obstruction investigation.

conduct involving then-FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn;
the president’s reaction to the continuing Russia investigation;
the president’s termination of Comey;
the appointment of a special counsel and efforts to remove him;
efforts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation;
efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence;
further efforts to have the attorney general take control of the investigation;
efforts to have White House Counsel Don McGahn deny that the president had ordered him to have the special counsel removed;
conduct toward Flynn, Manafort, and a redacted individual (likely Roger Stone); and
conduct involving Michael Cohen.

Each episode includes a detailed set of factual findings and then analyzes how the evidence maps onto the criminal charge of obstruction, which requires (1) an obstructive act; (2) a nexus with an official proceeding; and (3) a corrupt intent. We have summarized all of the episodes and Mueller’s analysis of them under the obstruction statutes here.

For present purposes, the critical point is that in six of these episodes, the special counsel’s office suggests that all of the elements of obstruction are satisfied: Trump’s conduct regarding the investigation into Michael Flynn, his firing of Comey, his efforts to remove Mueller and then to curtail Mueller’s investigation, his campaign to have Sessions take back control over the investigation and an order he gave to White House Counsel Don McGahn to both lie to the press about Trump’s past attempt to fire Mueller and create a false record “for our files.” In the cases of Comey’s firing, Trump’s effort to fire Mueller and then push McGahn to lie about it, and Trump’s effort to curtail the scope of the investigation, Mueller describes “substantial” evidence that Trump intended to obstruct justice. Only in one instance—concerning Trump’s effort to prevent the release of emails regarding the Trump Tower meeting—does the special counsel seem to feel that none of the three elements of the obstruction offense were met. It is not entirely clear how Mueller would apply his overarching factual considerations, discussed above, to the specific cases, but he does seem to be saying that the evidence of obstruction in a number of these incidents is strong.

In addition to spelling out damaging accounts of Trump’s conduct in great detail, the report also contains a lengthy section addressing the legal arguments made in his defense. The report describes letters sent by Trump’s personal counsel to Mueller’s team detailing both statutory and constitutional defenses regarding 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), the general obstruction of justice statute. On the statutory matter, Mueller’s team responds to the suggestion that the statute should be interpreted narrowly, to cover only “acts that would impair the integrity and availability of evidence”; Mueller, rather, adheres to the Justice Department’s view that § 1512(c)(2) “states a broad, independent, and unqualified prohibition on obstruction of justice.”

More interesting is the report’s constitutional analysis: Pursuant to a separation of powers analysis and contra the president’s lawyers and Barr’s own memo on the subject, Mueller takes the view that presidential actions taken under Article II authority can constitute obstructions of justice.

The argument is complex, but it is notable that Mueller emphasizes the role of the president’s obligations under the Take Care Clause as effectively harmonizing the corrupt intent requirement under the obstruction statutes with Article II: “the concept of ‘faithful execution’ connotes the use of power in the interest of the public, not in the office holder’s personal interest.” This suggests that “corrupt” activities are incompatible with good-faith adherence to the duties of the presidency such that prohibiting them cannot violate Article II. One interesting, if subtle, implication here is that a violation of the obstruction statute by the president thus necessarily violates the Take Care Clause—which links criminality under the statute to impeachability.

Barr’s Bad Day

The devastating nature of the report makes the performance of the attorney general in characterizing it at his press conference prior to its release a particularly inappropriate spectacle.

Not content to release a document that he had—contrary to many people’s expectations—not redacted beyond readability, he characterized it in a fashion that sounded remarkably like the president’s own spin. “The bottom line,” Barr concluded, in a statement that seemed designed to vindicate the Trump campaign’s claims of innocence, “After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.”

Barr had to elide a lot of Mueller’s actual findings in order to describe them this way. In addressing the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in the dissemination of hacked DNC materials through WikiLeaks, the attorney general concluded that the report found that no one associated with the Trump campaign had “illegally participated” in the dissemination, while noting that doing so would be criminal only if those involved in publishing them also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy. Similarly, in discussing contacts between the Trump campaign and those connected with the Russian government, Barr observed only that Mueller “did not find any conspiracy to violate U.S. law,” without characterizing the actual interactions that the investigation uncovered. Instead, Barr focused on the narrow question of whether the Mueller investigation found that there was a criminal conspiracy.
Barr then moved on to whether President Trump had obstructed justice in his removal of former FBI Director James Comey and other interactions with law enforcement. Without elaborating, he noted areas of disagreement with the legal framework that Mueller presented in his report, but claimed that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein nonetheless applied it in concluding that “the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Later, in response to a question, Barr emphasized that Mueller had avoided reaching a conclusion as to whether or not Trump had committed an obstruction crime on the basis of OLC’s view that a sitting president was not subject to indictment. Yet it’s hard to square this account with Mueller’s own description of his reasoning, which we described above. Barr went on an extended riff on his assessment of Trump’s state of mind in evaluating the potential obstructions described in the report, noting that “the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.” Suffice it to say these factors loom larger in Barr’s assessment of the evidence than they do in Mueller’s account.

On their face, Barr’s remarks were not a neutral recitation of the report’s principal conclusions. Instead, by drawing broad conclusions from narrow legal analysis, the attorney general provided the president’s supporters with an abundance of sound bites and talking points for the weeks to come. Trump could not have asked for a friendlier summary of a deeply unfriendly document.

Barr, however, did himself no service, despite having done a reasonable job shepherding the report itself to public release. A great many people will be more skeptical of his future actions as a result of his words.

The Political Reaction

“I’m having a good day,” said Trump in his first remarks following the report. “No collusion, no obstruction.” Trump’s victory lap actually began hours earlier in a series of triumphant tweets. The president’s most ardent congressional defenders have repeated the line.
Senate Republicans have been more muted. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he looked forward to reading the documents. Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr praised Barr’s commitment to publicly releasing the report and said he was carefully reviewing the material.

Meanwhile, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Mueller’s report painted “a disturbing picture of a president who has been weaving a web of deceit, lies and improper behavior and acting as if the law doesn’t apply to him.” The majority of their statement, however, was devoted to criticizing Barr, who they allege has “misled the public.” “It is imperative,” they said, “that the rest of the report and the underlying documents be made available to Congress and that Special Counsel Mueller testify before both chambers as soon as possible.”

For his part, House judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler agreed that Congress needs access to the unredacted report and underlying evidence. Nadler’s reaction to the unredacted report’s content, however, were unequivocal: “Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct.” In noting Mueller’s decision not to exonerate the president, he added, “the responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions.” He said impeachment was “one possibility” but that it was “too early” to make that decision.

But impeachment is still a hot potato on Capitol Hill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “Based on what we have seen to date,” impeachment is “not worthwhile at this point.” He added, “there is an election in eighteen months and the American people will make a judgment.” (Hoyer later walked back his statement, saying “all options ought to remain on the table.”)

Political judgment is precisely what the circumstances require. Whether that judgment takes the form of an impeachment inquiry, an election campaign, or both is a question with which the political system will wrestle over the coming months. But no longer can the country escape the question of the acceptability of the president’s conduct by saying that it is under investigation, that we will wait until the facts come out, or that we won’t proceed on the basis of anonymous sources in news stories.
Mueller has put on the record a remarkable litany of opprobrious behaviors by the president and the people around him. He has also determined, for a variety of different reasons—legal, factual and prudential—not to proceed criminally against any more subjects. That leaves the judgment of those behaviors in other hands.

The Mueller Report: Text Versions Of Executive Summaries, Volume I & II

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TO VOLUME I

RUSSIAN SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out the earliest Russian interference operations identified by the investigation—a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and received funding from Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin and companies he controlled. Prigozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter]

In mid-2014, the IRA sent employees to the United States on an intelligence-gathering mission with instructions [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter]

The IRA later used social media accounts and interest groups to sow discord in the U.S. political system through what it termed “information warfare.” The campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the U.S. electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton. The IRA’s operation also included the purchase of political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities, as well as the staging of political rallies inside the United States. To organize those rallies, IRA employees posed as U.S. grassroots entities and persons and made contact with Trump supporters and Trump Campaign officials in the United States. The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons conspired or coordinated with the IRA. Section II of this report details the Office’s investigation of the Russian social media campaign.

RUSSIAN HACKING OPERATIONS

At the same time that the IRA operation began to focus on supporting candidate Trump in early 2016, the Russian government employed a second form of interference: cyber intrusions (hacking) and releases of hacked materials damaging to the Clinton Campaign. The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out these operations.

In March 2016, the GRU began hacking the email accounts of Clinton Campaign volunteers and employees, including campaign chairman John Podesta. In April 2016, the GRU hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks. Around the time that the DNC announced in mid-June 2016 the Russian government’s role in hacking its network, the GRU began disseminating stolen materials through the fictitious online personas “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.” The GRU later released additional materials through the organization WikiLeaks.

The presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign” or “Campaign”) showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton. Beginning in June 2016, [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter] forecast to senior Campaign officials that WikiLeaks would release information damaging to candidate Clinton. WikiLeaks’s first release came in July 2016. Around the same time, candidate Trump announced that he hoped Russia would recover emails described as missing from a private server used by Clinton when she was Secretary of State (he later said that he was speaking sarcastically). [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter] WikiLeaks began releasing Podesta’s stolen emails on October 7, 2016, less than one hour after a U.S. media outlet released video considered damaging to candidate Trump. Section III of this Report details the Office’s investigation into the Russian hacking operations, as well as other efforts by Trump Campaign supporters to obtain Clinton-related emails.

RUSSIAN CONTACTS WITH THE CAMPAIGN

The social media campaign and the GRU hacking operations coincided with a series of contacts between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. The Office investigated whether those contacts reflected or resulted in the Campaign conspiring or coordinating with Russia in its election-interference activities. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the Campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for Campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations. Section IV of this Report details the contacts between Russia and the Trump Campaign during the campaign and transition periods, the most salient of which are summarized below in chronological order.

2015. Some of the earliest contacts were made in connection with a Trump Organization real-estate project in Russia known as Trump Tower Moscow. Candidate Trump signed a Letter of Intent for Trump Tower Moscow by November 2015, and in January 2016 Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen emailed and spoke about the project with the office of Russian government press secretary Dmitry Peskov. The Trump Organization pursued the project through at least June 2016, including by considering travel to Russia by Cohen and candidate Trump.

Spring 2016. Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos made early contact with Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor who had connections to Russia and traveled to Moscow in April 2016. Immediately upon his return to London from that trip, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. One week later, in the first week of May 2016, Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to candidate Clinton. Throughout that period of time and for several months thereafter, Papadopoulos worked with Mifsud and two Russian nationals to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government. No meeting took place.

Summer 2016. Russian outreach to the Trump Campaign continued into the summer of 2016, as candidate Trump was becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for President. On June 9, 2016, for example, a Russian lawyer met with senior Trump Campaign officials Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to deliver what the email proposing the meeting had described as “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” The materials were offered to Trump Jr. as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The written communications setting up the meeting showed that the Campaign anticipated receiving information from Russia that could assist candidate Trump’s electoral prospects, but the Russian lawyer’s presentation did not provide such information.

Days after the June 9 meeting, on June 14, 2016, a cybersecurity firm and the DNC announced that Russian government hackers had infiltrated the DNC and obtained access to opposition research on candidate Trump, among other documents.

In July 2016, Campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page traveled in his personal capacity to Moscow and gave the keynote address at the New Economic School. Page had lived and worked in Russia between 2003 and 2007. After returning to the United States, Page became acquainted with at least two Russian intelligence officers, one of whom was later charged in 2015 with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of Russia. Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow and his advocacy for pro-Russian foreign policy drew media attention. The Campaign then distanced itself from Page and, by late September 2016, removed him from the Campaign.

July 2016 was also the month WikiLeaks first released emails stolen by the GRU from the DNC. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks posted thousands of internal DNC documents revealing information about the Clinton Campaign. Within days, there was public reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the DNC. And within a week of the release, a foreign government informed the FBI about its May 2016 interaction with Papadopoulos and his statement that the Russian government could assist the Trump Campaign. On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government reporting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.

Separately, on August 2, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik requested the meeting to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine; both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent to succeed (were he to be elected President). They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states. Months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.

Fall 2016. On October 7, 2016, the media released video of candidate Trump speaking in graphic terms about women years earlier, which was considered damaging to his candidacy. Less than an hour later, WikiLeaks made its second release: thousands of John Podesta’s emails that had been stolen by the GRU in late March 2016. The FBI and other U.S. government institutions were at the time continuing their investigation of suspected Russian government efforts to interfere in the presidential election. That same day, October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint public statement “that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Those “thefts” and the “disclosures” of the hacked materials through online platforms such as WikiLeaks, the statement continued, “are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

Post-2016 Election. Immediately after the November 8 election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new administration. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts. The Russian Embassy made contact hours after the election to congratulate the President-Elect and to arrange a call with President Putin. Several Russian businessmen picked up the effort from there.

Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive officer of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, was among the Russians who tried to make contact with the incoming administration. In early December, a business associate steered Dmitriev to Erik Prince, a supporter of the Trump Campaign and an associate of senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Dmitriev and Prince later met face-to-face in January 2017 in the Seychelles and discussed U.S.-Russia relations. During the same period, another business associate introduced Dmitriev to a friend of Jared Kushner who had not served on the Campaign or the Transition Team. Dmitriev and Kushner’s friend collaborated on a short written reconciliation plan for the United States and Russia, which Dmitriev implied had been cleared through Putin. The friend gave that proposal to Kushner before the inauguration, and Kushner later gave copies to Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

On December 29, 2016, then-President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for having interfered in the election. Incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn called Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and asked Russia not to escalate the situation in response to the sanctions. The following day, Putin announced that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions at that time. Hours later, President-Elect Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).” The next day, on December 3 I, 20 I 6, Kislyak called Flynn and told him the request had been received at the highest levels and Russia had chosen not to retaliate as a result of Flynn’s request.

***

On January 6, 2017, members of the intelligence community briefed President-Elect Trump on a joint assessment—drafted and coordinated among the Central Intelligence Agency, FBI, and National Security Agency—that concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the election through a variety of means to assist Trump’s candidacy and harm Clinton’s. A declassified version of the assessment was publicly released that same day.

Between mid-January 2017 and early February 2017, three congressional committees—the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), and the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC)—announced that they would conduct inquiries, or had already been conducting inquiries, into Russian interference in the election. Then-FBI Director James Comey later confirmed to Congress the existence of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference that had begun before the election. On March 20, 2017, in open-session testimony before HPSCI, Comey stated:

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. . . . As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. The investigation continued under then-Director Comey for the next seven weeks until May 9, 2017, when President Trump fired Comey as FBI Director—an action which is analyzed in Volume II of the report.

On May 17, 2017, Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed the Special Counsel and authorized him to conduct the investigation that Comey had confirmed in his congressional testimony, as well as matters arising directly from the investigation, and any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a), which generally covers efforts to interfere with or obstruct the investigation.

President Trump reacted negatively to the Special Counsel’s appointment. He told advisors that it was the end of his presidency, sought to have Attorney General Jefferson (Jeff) Sessions unrecuse from the Russia investigation and to have the Special Counsel removed, and engaged in efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation and prevent the disclosure of evidence to it, including through public and private contacts with potential witnesses. Those and related actions are described and analyzed in Volume II of the report.

***

THE SPECIAL COUNSEL’S CHARGING DECISIONS

In reaching the charging decisions described in Volume I of the report, the Office determined whether the conduct it found amounted to a violation of federal criminal law chargeable under the Principles of Federal Prosecution. See Justice Manual § 9-27.000 et seq. (2018). The standard set forth in the Justice Manual is whether the conduct constitutes a crime; if so, whether admissible evidence would probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction; and whether prosecution would serve a substantial federal interest that could not be adequately served by prosecution elsewhere or through non-criminal alternatives. See Justice Manual § 9-27.220.

Section V of the report provides detailed explanations of the Office’s charging decisions, which contain three main components.

First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations—violated U.S. criminal law. Many of the individuals and entities involved in the social media campaign have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by undermining through deceptive acts the work of federal agencies charged with regulating foreign influence in U.S. elections, as well as related counts of identity theft. See United States v. Internet Research Agency, et al., No. 18-cr-32 (D.D.C.). Separately, Russian intelligence officers who carried out the hacking into Democratic Party computers and the personal email accounts of individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign conspired to violate, among other federal laws, the federal computer-intrusion statute, and they have been so charged. See United States v. Netyksho, et al., No. 18-cr-215 (D.D.C.). [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter, Personal Privacy]

Second, while the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation. Further, the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

Third, the investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference. The Office charged some of those lies as violations of the federal false statements statute. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about his interactions with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the transition period. George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor during the campaign period, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about, inter alia, the nature and timing of his interactions with Joseph Mifsud, the professor who told Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt on candidate Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Trump Moscow project. [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter] And in February 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that Manafort lied to the Office and the grand jury concerning his interactions and communications with Konstantin Kilimnik about Trump Campaign polling data and a peace plan for Ukraine.

***

The Office investigated several other events that have been publicly reported to involve potential Russia-related contacts. For example, the investigation established that interaction between Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Trump Campaign officials both at the candidate’s April 2016 foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C., and during the week of the Republican National Convention were brief, public, and non-substantive. And the investigation did not establish that one Campaign official’s efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia. The investigation also did not establish that a meeting between Kislyak and Sessions in September 2016 at Sessions’s Senate office included any more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign.

The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information—such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media—in light of internal Department of Justice policies. See, e.g., Justice Manual §§ 9-13.400, 13.410. Some of the information obtained via court process, moreover, was presumptively covered by legal privilege and was screened from investigators by a filter (or “taint”) team. Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete, leading to some of the false-statements charges described above. And the Office faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence as well-numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad, and documents were held outside the United States.

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated—including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TO VOLUME II

Our obstruction-of-justice inquiry focused on a series of actions by the President that related to the Russian-interference investigations, including the President’s conduct towards the law enforcement officials overseeing the investigations and the witnesses to relevant events.

FACTUAL RESULTS OF THE OBSTRUCTION INVESTIGATION

The key issues and events we examined include the following:

The Campaign’s response to reports about Russian support for Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, questions arose about the Russian government’s apparent support for candidate Trump. After WikiLeaks released politically damaging Democratic Party emails that were reported to have been hacked by Russia, Trump publicly expressed skepticism that Russia was responsible for the hacks at the same time that he and other Campaign officials privately sought information [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter] about any further planned WikiLeaks releases. Trump also denied having any business in or connections to Russia, even though as late as June 2016 the Trump Organization had been pursuing a licensing deal for a skyscraper to be built in Russia called Trump Tower Moscow. After the election, the President expressed concerns to advisors that reports of Russia’s election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election.

Conduct involving FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn. In mid-January 2017, incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn falsely denied to the Vice President, other administration officials, and FBI agents that he had talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Russia’s response to U.S. sanctions on Russia for its election interference. On January 27, the day after the President was told that Flynn had lied to the Vice President and had made similar statements to the FBI, the President invited FBI Director Comey to a private dinner at the White House and told Comey that he needed loyalty. On February 14, the day after the President requested Flynn’s resignation, the President told an outside advisor, “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over.” The advisor disagreed and said the investigations would continue.

Later that afternoon, the President cleared the Oval Office to have a one-on-one meeting with Comey. Referring to the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, the President said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Shortly after requesting Flynn’s resignation and speaking privately to Comey, the President sought to have Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland draft an internal letter stating that the President had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. McFarland declined because she did not know whether that was true, and a White House Counsel’s Office attorney thought that the request would look like a quid pro quo for an ambassadorship she had been offered.

The President’s reaction to the continuing Russia investigation. In February 2017,

Attorney General Jeff Sessions began to assess whether he had to recuse himself from campaign-related

investigations because of his role in the Trump Campaign. In early March, the President told White House Counsel Donald McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing. And after Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an Attorney General who would protect him. That weekend, the President took Sessions aside at an event and urged him to “unrecuse.” Later in March, Comey publicly disclosed at a congressional hearing that the FBI was investigating “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” including any links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. In the following days, the President reached out to the Director of National Intelligence and the leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) to ask them what they could do to publicly dispel the suggestion that the President had any connection to the Russian election-interference effort. The President also twice called Comey directly, notwithstanding guidance from McGahn to avoid direct contacts with the Department of Justice. Comey had previously assured the President that the FBI was not investigating him personally, and the President asked Comey to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation by saying that publicly.

The President’s termination of Comey. On May 3, 2017, Comey testified in a congressional hearing, but declined to answer questions about whether the President was personally under investigation. Within days, the President decided to terminate Comey. The President insisted that the termination letter, which was written for public release, state that Comey had informed the President that he was not under investigation. The day of the firing, the White House maintained that Comey’s termination resulted from independent recommendations from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General that Comey should be discharged for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But the President had decided to fire Comey before hearing from the Department of Justice. The day after firing Comey, the President told Russian officials that he had “faced great pressure because of Russia,” which had been “taken off’ by Comey’s firing. The next day, the President acknowledged in a television interview that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Department of Justice’s recommendation and that when he “decided to just do it,” he was thinking that “this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” In response to a question about whether he was angry with Comey about the Russia investigation, the President said, “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” adding that firing Comey “might even lengthen out the investigation.”

The appointment of a Special Counsel and efforts to remove him. On May 17, 2017, the Acting Attorney General for the Russia investigation appointed a Special Counsel to conduct the investigation and related matters. The President reacted to news that a Special Counsel had been appointed by telling advisors that it was “the end of his presidency” and demanding that Sessions resign. Sessions submitted his resignation, but the President ultimately did not accept it. The President told aides that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and suggested that the Special Counsel therefore could not serve. The President’s advisors told him the asserted conflicts were meritless and had already been considered by the Department of Justice.

On June 14, 2017, the media reported that the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice. Press reports called this “a major turning point” in the investigation: while Comey had told the President he was not under investigation, following Comey’s firing, the President now was under investigation. The President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s investigation. On June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn at home and directed him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.

Efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation. Two days after directing McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed, the President made another attempt to affect the course of the Russia investigation. On June 19, 2017, the President met one-on-one in the Oval Office with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a trusted advisor outside the government, and dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions. The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was “very unfair” to the President, the President had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the Special Counsel and “let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.” Lewandowski said he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do.

One month later, in another private meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President asked about the status of his message for Sessions to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference. Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon. Hours after that meeting, the President publicly criticized Sessions in an interview with the New York Times, and then issued a series of tweets making it clear that Sessions’s job was in jeopardy. Lewandowski did not want to deliver the President’s message personally, so he asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it to Sessions. Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through.

Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence. In the summer of 2017, the President learned that media outlets were asking questions about the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between senior campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer who was said to be offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” On several occasions, the President directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails setting up the June 9 meeting, suggesting that the emails would not leak and that the number of lawyers with access to them should be limited. Before the emails became public, the President edited a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with “an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign” and instead said only that the meeting was about adoptions of Russian children. When the press asked questions about the President’s involvement in Trump Jr.’s statement, the President’s personal lawyer repeatedly denied the President had played any role.

Further efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation. In early summer 2017, the President called Sessions at home and again asked him to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation. Sessions did not reverse his recusal. In October 20 17, the President met privately with Sessions in the Oval Office and asked him to “take [a] look” at investigating Clinton. In December 2017, shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement, the President met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested, according to notes taken by a senior advisor, that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation, he would be a “hero.” The President told Sessions, “I’m not going to do anything or direct you to do anything. I just want to be treated fairly.” In response, Sessions volunteered that he had never seen anything “improper” on the campaign and told the President there was a “whole new leadership team” in place. He did not unrecuse.

Efforts to have McGahn deny that the President had ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. In early 2018, the press reported that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed in June 2017 and that McGahn had threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. The President reacted to the news stories by directing White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn told those officials that the media reports were accurate in stating that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed. The President then met with McGahn in the Oval Office and again pressured him to deny the reports. Tn the same meeting, the President also asked McGahn why he had told the Special Counsel about the President’s effort to remove the Special Counsel and why McGahn took notes of his conversations with the President. McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the President to be testing his mettle.

Conduct towards Flynn, Manafort, [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter]. After Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement with the President and began cooperating with the government, the President’s personal counsel left a message for Flynn’s attorneys reminding them of the President’s warm feelings towards Flynn, which he said “still remains,” and asking for a “heads up” if Flynn knew “information that implicates the President.” When Flynn’s counsel reiterated that Flynn could no longer share information pursuant to a joint defense agreement, the President’s personal counsel said he would make sure that the President knew that Flynn’s actions reflected ” hostility” towards the President. During Manafort’s prosecution and when the jury in his criminal trial was deliberating, the President praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon. After Manafort was convicted, the President called Manafort “a brave man” for refusing to “break” and said that “flipping” “almost ought to be outlawed.” [Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter]

Conduct involving Michael Cohen. The President’s conduct towards Michael Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive, changed from praise for Cohen when he falsely minimized the President’s involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project, to castigation of Cohen when he became a cooperating witness. From September 2015 to June 2016, Cohen had pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project on behalf of the Trump Organization and had briefed candidate Trump on the project numerous times, including discussing whether Trump should travel to Russia to advance the deal. In 2017, Cohen provided false testimony to Congress about the project, including stating that he had only briefed Trump on the project three times and never discussed travel to Russia with him, in an effort to adhere to a “party line” that Cohen said was developed to minimize the President’s connections to Russia. While preparing for his congressional testimony, Cohen had extensive discussions with the President’s personal counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should “stay on message” and not contradict the President. After the FBI searched Cohen’s home and office in April 2018, the President publicly asserted that Cohen would not “flip,” contacted him directly to tell him to “stay strong,” and privately passed messages of support to him. Cohen also discussed pardons with the President’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of. But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the President publicly criticized him, called him a “rat,” and suggested that his family members had committed crimes.

Overarching factual issues. We did not make a traditional prosecution decision about these facts, but the evidence we obtained supports several general statements about the President’s conduct.

Several features of the conduct we investigated distinguish it from typical obstruction-of-justice

cases. First, the investigation concerned the President, and some of his actions, such as firing the FBI director, involved facially lawful acts within his Article II authority, which raises constitutional issues discussed below. At the same time, the President’s position as the head of the Executive Branch provided him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses—all of which is relevant to a potential obstruction-of-justice analysis. Second, unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. Although the obstruction statutes do not require proof of such a crime, the absence of that evidence affects the analysis of the President’s intent and requires consideration of other possible motives for his conduct. Third, many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, took place in public view. That circumstance is unusual, but no principle of law excludes public acts from the reach of the obstruction laws. If the likely effect of public acts is to influence witnesses or alter their testimony, the harm to the justice system’s integrity is the same.     

            Although the series of events we investigated involved discrete acts, the overall pattern of the President’s conduct towards the investigations can shed light on the nature of the President’s acts and the inferences that can be drawn about his intent. In particular, the actions we investigated can be divided into two phases, reflecting a possible shift in the President’s motives. The first phase covered the period from the President’s first interactions with Comey through the President’s firing of Comey. During that time, the President had been repeatedly told he was not personally under investigation. Soon after the firing of Comey and the appointment of the Special Counsel, however, the President became aware that his own conduct was being investigated in an obstruction-of-justice inquiry. At that point, the President engaged in a second phase of conduct, involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation. Judgments about the nature of the President’s motives during each phase would be informed by the totality of the evidence.

STATUTORY AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEFENSES

The President’s counsel raised statutory and constitutional defenses to a possible obstruction-of-justice analysis of the conduct we investigated. We concluded that none of those legal defenses provided a basis for declining to investigate the facts.

Statutory defenses. Consistent with precedent and the Department of Justice’s general approach to interpreting obstruction statutes, we concluded that several statutes could apply here. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503, 1505, 1512(b)(3), 1512(c)(2). Section 1512(c)(2) is an omnibus obstruction-of-justice provision that covers a range of obstructive acts directed at pending or contemplated official proceedings. No principle of statutory construction justifies narrowing the provision to cover only conduct that impairs the integrity or availability of evidence. Sections 1503 and 1505 also offer broad protection against obstructive acts directed at pending grand jury, judicial, administrative, and congressional proceedings, and they are supplemented by a provision

in Section 1512(b) aimed specifically at conduct intended to prevent or hinder the communication to law enforcement of information related to a federal crime.

            Constitutional defenses. As for constitutional defenses arising from the President’s status as the head of the Executive Branch, we recognized that the Department of Justice and the courts have not definitively resolved these issues. We therefore examined those issues through the framework established by Supreme Court precedent governing separation-of-powers issues. The Department of Justice and the President’s personal counsel have recognized that the President is subject to statutes that prohibit obstruction of justice by bribing a witness or suborning perjury because that conduct does not implicate his constitutional authority. With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.

Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice through the use of his Article II powers. The separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source. We also concluded that any inroad on presidential authority that would occur from prohibiting corrupt acts does not undermine the President’s ability to fulfill his constitutional mission. The term “corruptly” sets a demanding standard. It requires a concrete showing that a person acted with an intent to obtain an improper advantage for himself or someone else, inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. A preclusion of “corrupt” official action does not diminish the President’s

ability to exercise Article Il powers. For example, the proper supervision of criminal law does not demand freedom for the President to act with a corrupt intention of shielding himself from criminal punishment, avoiding financial liability, or preventing personal embarrassment. To the contrary, a statute that prohibits official action undertaken for such corrupt purposes furthers, rather than hinders, the impartial and evenhanded administration of the law. Tt also aligns with the President’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President’s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.

CONCLUSION

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

The Mueller Report: Highlights and Hot Takes

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It’s out. (searchable version here)

This is a bad document for Trump and terrible for Barr who clearly was running interference for Trump.

Trump upon learning of Mueller’s appointment: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”:

About collusion:

Mueller team considered Trump’s written answers ‘inadequate,’ but decided against subpoena fight for interview.

Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to call the acting attorney general and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest.

Peter Smith is the guy who committed suicide.

From AG Barr’s summary letter, quoting the Mueller Report:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The full paragraph in Mueller’s report:

The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through the Russian efforts,the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

It’s Mueller Report Day! Part One: Barr Press Conference

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I suggest lowering expectations for the Mueller Report. I expect it to show evidence — evidence — of Trump’s obstruction, but since his motivation is an element that must be proven for an obstruction conviction, and since his motivation rests only in his head (or can at best be inferred, but not proved beyond a reasonable doubt), the report will likely conclude that an obstruction charge would be hard to prosecute. We already knew that.

Politically, of course, it will be damaging, but again, no new revelations. At the end, it will be fodder for impeachment talks, but in the end, nothing will come of it.

To the extent there is anything to look for, here are the questions:

Trump on obstruction and conspiracy

  • Did Mueller consider Trump’s enthusiastic encouragement of Russia’s operation and his move to offer Russia sanctions relief from a prosecutorial standpoint (that is, a quid pro quo trading the Trump Tower deal and election assistance for sanctions relief)? If so, what were the considerations about potential criminality of it, including considerations of presidential power? If not, was any part of this referred?
  • What was the consideration on Trump and obstruction? Did Mueller intend to leave this decision to Congress? [The report will not answer the second question; if Mueller did intend to leave the decision to Congress, as his predecessors Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr did for good Constitutional reasons, he will not have said so in the report.]

Paul Manafort on quid pro quo

  • Was Mueller able to determine why Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016? Did he know it would be shared with Russians close to the election interference operation? Did he agree to a quid pro quo involving the Ukrainian peace deal as sanctions relief he pursued for another 20 months? Did Manafort’s lies prevent Mueller from answering these questions?
  • What was the nature of and what was ultimately done with that polling data?
  • Why didn’t Mueller charge this as conspiracy or coordination? Did it have to do with Manafort’s lies and Gates’ limited credibility?

The June 9 meeting and follow-up

  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging this as an instance of conspiracy or coordination?
  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging the public claims about this meeting as an instance of false statements?
  • Did Trump know about this meeting and if so did that change the calculus (because of presidential equities) on a quid pro quo?
  • Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?
  • Did Mueller consider (and is DOJ still pursuing) prosecutions of some of the members of the Russian side of this meeting? [Note that Barr did not clear all US persons of conspiracy on the hack-and-leak; Emin Agalarov canceled his concert tour this year because his lawyer said he’d be detained, SDNY’s indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya treats her as a Russian agent, and Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze may both have exposure that the Trump flunkies would not.]

The Seychelles meeting and related graft

  • Did Mueller decide the graft he uncovered was not criminal, not prosecutable, or did he refer it?

It is 9:30 a.m. now and Congress is expected to get the report at 11:00. News reports are saying that the White House has seen the report, or at least discussed it with DOJ officials.

AG Barr is about to give a press conference. This came as a late night surprise to reporters. He is expected to talk about the process of redaction.

Trump is plugging it.

… not to mention…

The Trump WH staff hope to make Mueller Report news a “slow burn” that will blow over by “next week,” (after the Holiday weekend). And they may well succeed. Certainly the rollout is being down to Trump’s benefit.

Barr is now speaking. My notes —

  • “no collusion” by Trump campaign or any American
  • Russia clearly tried to affect elections
  • Barr says he and Rosenstein ‘disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories.’
  • On obstruction, the report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense
  • He says evidence shows non-obstructive intent, but this seems to be HIS conclusion
  • He says President Trump’s personal lawyer was allowed to read Mueller’s redacted report before release.

Please note this: Barr is confirming an extensive Russian effort to sabotage our democracy that Trump himself largely still refuses to acknowledge happened at all, for corrupt purposes. But he is doing HUGE pre-spinning.

Barr argues Trump didn’t do anything to prevent Robert Mueller from finishing his investigation, and contends that his actions can be explained by sincere frustration and anger that the probe was undermining his presidency. THAT’S NOT A DEFENSE!

And now Trump…

Embedded in Barr remarks is an important qualifier: Trump campaign collusion with WikiLeaks could not be an illegal conspiracy because WL publication of the emails was not a crime since WL didn’t help hack them. pic.twitter.com/4E9TpxhUx0— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) April 18, 2019

Barr’s repeated use of the term “no collusion” only shows he is in the pocket of Trump.

Indulge me while I put on a lawyer hat. If I heard AG Barr correctly, he said that Trump could not be held liable for obstruction of justice because he acted (i.e., fired Comey) out of frustration and anger about an investigation which Trump honestly believed was brought for political purposes by his political enemies. In doing so, Barr has made a classic law school student mistake (although lawyers and even judges sometimes make this mistake too). Barr is conflating “intent” with “motivation”
To prosecute for obstruction of justice, intent must be proven. Although the word “intent” is often used synonymously with “motivation”, they are not the same thing. “Motivation” alludes to the ulterior cause, that induces a person to do a particular act. “Intent” refers to a purposeful action and a conscious decision to perform an act, that is forbidden by law.
Take a shoplifting case where Jane Doe walks off with mascara in her purse without paying for it. Her motivation may be obvious: she wanted the mascara. But wanting the mascara is not illegal. It’s her intent that matters. She could have wanted the mascara, but absent-mindedly put it in her purse, INTENDING to pay for it at the counter. That would make her innocent of shoplifting. On the other hand, if she put it in her purse INTENDING to hide it so she could leave without paying, that is a criminal intent.
Barr seems to be saying that Trump’s motivation (to end an investigation that was dogging him) is a defense. I am happy to agree Trump’s MOTIVATION may have been “legal” or reasonable, just as it is legal and reasonable to “want mascara”. But it is the INTENT that matters. And Trump’s firing of Comey was, it seems, INTENDED to cut off an investigation. (The fact that it failed to do so is also irrelevant). Barr actually seems to agree (without saying so) that the intent was to end the investigation, which leads me to suspect that Mueller concluded the same thing.

f an investigation. (The fact that it failed to do so is also irrelevant).

White House Staff Fears Trump Recriminations Regarding Mueller Report

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

NBC:

Some of the more than dozen current and former White House officials who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller are worried that the version of his report expected to be made public on Thursday will expose them as the source of damaging information about President Donald Trump, according to multiple witnesses in the investigation.

Some of the officials and their lawyers have sought clarity from the Justice Department on whether the names of those who cooperated with Mueller’s team will be redacted or if the public report will be written in a way that makes it obvious who shared certain details of Trump’s actions that were part of the obstruction of justice probe, people familiar with the discussions said. But, they said, the Justice Department has refused to elaborate.

Of particular concern is how Trump — and his allies — will react if it appears to be clear precisely who shared information with Mueller, these people said.

“They got asked questions and told the truth, and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” one former White House official said.

I’m not sympathetic. These people chose to work for this madman. That should come with a cost. The idea of presidential advisers cowering to a President — any president, but especially an unhinged one — should be of concern to every American who is interested in efficient government as well as government transparency.

More than that, it sends a message to every future White House worker — you work for the people; not for the president. You should expect to be held accountable to the people; not the president.

Notre Dame Will Go On

Ken AshfordDisasters, HistoryLeave a Comment

There are few events that can so transfix the world that it seems everyone is watching, but as flames poured out of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, the world definitely seemed to be holding its collective breath. Fortunately, with a human chain of people reaching into the smoky interior as flames crackled above, many of the cathedral’s art treasures and relics were saved. The bells, and the bell towers, did not fall. And though the span of fire across the whole of the roof, and the heart-breaking fall of the iconic spire, made it seem impossible at times that anything might survive, at the end of the night all but one end of the massive 850-year-old stone vault remained intact. Images from inside the building show a structure that, for all the damage, seems remarkably whole. 

Lost almost completely were Notre Dame’s lead-lined roof and a support structure composed of 800-year-old oak beams. When that roof collapsed almost along its full length on Monday afternoon, images showed the entire structure shrouded in flames, and it seemed impossible that anything would persist. But firefighters brought the flames under control, and the stone vaults appear to have sheltered the building’s interior—a feature that was actually designed into Notre Dame from the beginning.

Other than a collapse that occurred at one end, it is unclear at this point how much damage was suffered by the stone vault. Intense heating of the stone just below the roof may still lead to additional failures, or require some very careful removal of weakened material, but it appears that the massive columns and buttresses that support the 12th-century structure are intact.

Notre Dame will be rebuilt.

The New York Times reports that the family of Bernard Arnault, who owns the luxury brands Hennessy and Louis Vuitton, plans to contribute €200 million toward rebuilding Notre Dame. The family of François-Henri Pinault, owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and husband of actor Salma Hayek, has pledged €100 million. A public fundraising drive is being organized to bring in still more.

Relics that spared destruction include the Crown of Thorns, all three Rose windows, the Tunic of Saint Louis, the original Great Organ , and
the cathedral’s main bell (named Emanuelle, which lives in the South tower). Reports are mixed or unknown regarding the “True Cross” (wood purported to be part of Jesus’s crucifixion cross” and one of the Holy Nails.
There were also numerous sculptures, statues and paintings inside the cathedral depicting Biblical scenes and saints whose fate remains unknown at this time.

NY Post:

A hero priest made a daring dash into the burning Notre Dame cathedral Monday night to save the Crown of Thorns, a religious relic dating back to the 13th century, according to reports.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, also rescued the Blessed Sacrament, the devotional name for the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of consecrated bread and wine, Ireland’s radio station NewsTalk reported.

“Father Fournier is an absolute hero,” a member of the emergency services told the station. “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”

Fournier was among the responders who formed a human chain to save some of the most precious artifacts stored at Notre Dame.

The Crown of Thorns, said to be placed on the head of Jesus Christ at crucifixion, was brought to Paris by French King Louis IX in 1238. The ornate headpiece — which is rarely displayed to the public — was stored in a gold case in the cathedral’s treasury.

Trump Tells His Accountants To Disobey The Law

Ken AshfordCongress, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The ongoing fight for Trump’s tax returns. Here’s where we are now:

President Donald Trump’s attorneys are warning of potential legal action if an accounting firm turns over a decade of the president’s financial records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Trump attorneys William S. Consovoy and Stefan Passantino are urging Mazars USA not to comply with a subpoena that Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued on Monday for Trump’s financial documents, calling it a politically motivated scheme to take down the president.

“It is no secret that the Democrat Party has decided to use its new House majority to launch a flood of investigations into the president’s personal affairs in hopes of using anything they can find to damage him politically,” Consovoy and Passantino wrote to Jerry D. Bernstein, Mazars’ outside counsel, before the subpoena was officially served.

The attorneys said they were formally putting Mazars ”on notice” — an implicit threat of legal action. They also urged Bernstein to hold off on providing the documents to Cummings until the subpoena can be litigated in court, suggesting that a protracted legal battle is likely to ensue.

“The Democrats’ fervor has only intensified after the special counsel squelched their ‘Russia collusion’ narrative,” the attorneys continued, outlining a series of legal precedents that they argue prevents Mazars from complying with Cummings’ subpoena.

Last month, the committee formally requested that Mazars turn over 10 years of Trump’s financial records, related specifically to the Trump Organization, the president’s revocable trust and other subsidiaries.
In response, Mazars asked for a so-called friendly subpoena so that it could comply. Cummings told the firm that it was seeking the documents to corroborate the testimony of Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, who alleged that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the value of his assets for his personal benefit.

Consovoy and Passantino questioned the committee’s legal authority to conduct such an investigation.

“The House Oversight Committee is not a miniature Department of Justice, charged with investigating and prosecuting potential federal crimes. It is a legislative body, not ‘a law enforcement or trial agency,’ and the chairman’s attempt to assume for Congress the role of police, prosecutor, and judge is unconstitutional,” they wrote.

Bernstein, Mazars’ outside counsel, did not respond to a request for comment on the Trump attorneys’ letter. In a separate letter to Cummings, Consovoy and Passantino echoed Republicans’ criticism of the Mazars subpoena.

It’s right there in the article. The financial records are being sought “to corroborate the testimony of Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, who alleged that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the value of his assets for his personal benefit.”

I didn’t think it was possible but this is an even weaker formulation of the legal argument than the theory advanced in the first letter. Hard to come up with an explanation other than that there is something in those returns they are really desperate to hide from Congress.

Meanwhile, the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees have subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, which has long provided loans to President Donald Trump despite “a long history of defaults and bankruptcies,” according to the New York Times.

During the course of his business career, Trump has reportedly received more than $2 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank. As the president took office, he had more than $300 million in outstanding loans from the financial institution, which was his largest creditor.

And since Deutsche Bank does not work for Trump, he can’t stop it.

Breaking: Notre Dame Burning Down

Ken AshfordBreaking News, Disasters, HistoryLeave a Comment

Just happening. Cause unknown, but it may be related to renovations.

Idiot chimes in…

The steeple collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. – A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)

No deaths reported. No reports of injuries either.

This is clearly a response to Trump’s stupid tweet:

Notre Dame contained what is purported to be (1) Jesus’ crown of thorns (2) nail used in crucifixion; (3) part of Jesus’ cross. Not to mention invaluable artwork, tapestry, and other artifacts.

And as night falls in Paris, they are singing psalms in the street.

French Deputy Interior Minister states that saving Notre Dame “is not certain”