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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

7 Things To Look For In The Redacted Mueller Report (Thursday, We’re Told)

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

1. To what extent did Americans assist or cooperate with Russians or other foreign agents in hacking Democratic National Committee emails, in trying to break into American voter registration databases, or in efforts to spread “dirt” on President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent, Hillary Clinton? We know from earlier government reports that Russian agents did all three of these things, but we do not know whether any Americans were involved or might have known at the time of the interference. Barr’s summary of Robert Mueller’s report, meanwhile, stated that Mueller’s investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Did members—or affiliates—of the campaign, though, coordinate with any Russian cutouts, such as Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks?

Maybe this tweet is a good place to start…

2. Were any of the people involved in this collusion investigation somehow connected to the Trump campaign or the Trump family? Alternatively, to what extent were campaign or family members duped by foreign agents? The Barr summary is very careful to say that there was no finding in Mueller’s report of “coordination,” which it defined in a particular legal way as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” As Ben Steinberg suggests, there’s plenty of room for cooperation short of this legal standard that could be described in the report. For example, Mueller might believe that winks and nods suggested both sides were cooperating but doing so in a subtle enough way to prevent prosecutors from proving an illegal conspiracy.

3. How successful were the hacks into American voter registration databases and other election-connected computers? We have seen conflicting reports of the extent of Russian success in these endeavors, but the details have not been confirmed in an official government report. More importantly, what can be done to prevent such hacking efforts again?

4. If Americans cooperated with Russians in procuring or spreading opposition research, why did Mueller not charge any Americans with any crime in this area? As was explained in an earlier Slate piece, we must learn why Mueller declined to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort or Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. for apparently violating laws prohibiting the solicitation of foreign contributions to American campaigns, based on those campaign surrogates’ June 2016 meeting with Russian agents at Trump Tower. According to the Slate piece, “How Mueller answered this question could have profound ramifications for what federal law enforcement will do to stop foreign involvement in the upcoming 2020 elections.”

5. Does Mueller’s report use any language suggesting that a reasonable prosecutor acting in her discretion could have charged Trump with obstruction but for Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president? We know Mueller refused to make the call on whether Trump obstructed justice, but we do not know why he made that decision and whether it had to do with the strength of the evidence. All we know is that Mueller’s report says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” and Barr took the subsequent step of exonerating his boss.

6. Does Mueller point to new specific evidence Congress might consider in pursuing possible impeachment charges against Trump based upon obstruction? If Mueller left the issue for Congress, does he do so laying out clear not previously public evidence for possible impeachment, or is there not much more than a judgment call about whether Trump’s publicly known actions rise to the level of impeachable offenses?

7. To what extent does it look like Barr is trying to protect Trump and Trump’s family, such as Donald Trump Jr.? Despite his expected redactions, has Barr made it possible to evaluate Mueller’s reasoning or the evidence collected? Already Barr has given Trump a great gift by releasing a summary that has allowed Trump to claim his “exoneration” for weeks without anyone being able to raise a counterargument based on the actual evidence collected and analyzed by Mueller. We all are waiting to see if the redaction leaves a credible report, or more reason to be suspicious of Barr and a longer list of questions. We should at least know the answer to this question in a matter of days. 

UPDATE: Reports are saying that the redacted Mueller Report will be available to the public on Thursday morning.

And Trump, who claimed three weeks ago that the report “exonerated him”, seems to be running scared…

BEFORE THE NEWS THAT THE REPORT WAS COMING THURSDAY:

AFTER THE NEWS THAT THE REPORT WAS COMING THURSDAY:

Weekly List 126

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week, Trump’s frustration with migrants coming to the southern border boiled over, as he purged the Department of Homeland Security, and empowered immigrant hardliner Stephen Miller to be in charge of the regime’s immigration policy. As the week ended, 12 of the 30 senior roles at DHS were either vacant or filled with “acting” leaders. Departures of senior officials at the cabinet level and below are at record levels. Meanwhile, Trump continues to consolidate power, act unilaterally, and welcome the “flexibility” of using “acting” directors whom he can hire and fire at will — without needing the oversight of the Senate to confirm them.

Troubling reporting this week indicated Trump instructed his incoming Secretary of DHS to break the law, assuring him he would be pardoned. Reporting also indicated Trump and Miller had contemplated releasing migrant detainees into sanctuary cities as a means to punish political enemies. When confronted with the story, the White House pushed back, only to have Trump say indeed that was his plan. Trump also looked for ways to increasingly use military troops at the border, including in ways that violate the law.

Attorney General William Barr delivered concerning Congressional testimony, refusing to answer if he has briefed the White House on the Mueller probe, and said he believed “spying” by the FBI on the Trump campaign did occur. Trump seized on Barr’s words to claim he was a victim of an “attempted coup,” and continued this week to discredit Mueller and his team. Three weeks after Mueller delivered his report to Barr, it has yet to be released to Congress or the American people.

  1. On Sunday, Trump renewed his attacks on Mueller, tweeting: “Looks like Bob Mueller’s team of 13 Trump Haters & Angry Democrats” are illegally leaking information to the press.
  2. Trump also tweeted that the “Fake News Media” makes up stories, adding, “sources no longer matter to our corrupt & dishonest Mainstream Media,” and, “they are a Joke!”
  3. On Sunday, Rudy Giuliani also attacked Mueller’s team, telling the AP “You’re darn right I’m going after them again,” adding, “they were forced to admit they couldn’t find anything on him. They sure tried.”
  4. On Monday, Trump quoted Charles Hurt, an opinion writer at the Washington Times, tweeting: “The reason the whole process seems so politicized is that Democrats made up this complete lie about Collusion.”
  5. Trump also quoted Katie Pavlich, editor of Townhall.com, tweeting: “Jerry Nadler is not entitled to this information. He is doing this to get it to the Democrat 2020 nominee.”
  6. Trump later tweeted: “The Democrats will never be satisfied, no matter what they get, how much they get, or how many pages they get,” adding, “It will never end, but that’s the way life goes!”
  7. On Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told “Fox New Sunday” that House Democrats will “never” see Trump’s tax returns, saying, “That’s an issue that was already litigated during the election.”
  8. Axios reported former White House counsel Don McGahn told a group of senior Republican Senate aidesTrump uses a “hub and spokes model” — with no staff member empowered and Trump making all the decisions.
  9. On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned, bowing to pressure from Trump over his frustration over the failure to stop the flow of immigrants crossing the southern border.
  10. Trump tweeted about her resignation, with her formal letter following shortly after. Tension between the two was exacerbated by Trump withdrawing Ronald Vitiello’s nomination to be the director of ICE without consulting Nielsen last week.
  11. Fox News’ anchors had repeatedly called for Nielsen’s resignation in recent weeks. DHS is the subject of numerous House subpoenas and more than 20 investigations by the agency’s inspector general.
  12. Nielsen’s resignation marked the 15th Trump cabinet member to depart — a faster turnover pace than Obama, W. Bush, or Clinton, as nearly 50 senior officials have departed since Trump took office.
  13. Nielsen was also the third woman to resign from Trump’s cabinet, leaving just three women out of 24 positions — the least diverse cabinet by gender since President Reagan.
  14. On Monday, NBC News reported Trump’s renewed support for months of reinstating large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border put him at odds with Nielsen and was part of what led to her resignation.
  15. Nielsen told Trump federal court orders prohibited DHS from reinstating the policy. Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Protection whom Trump is likely to name secretary, has not ruled out family separation.
  16. On Monday, Randolph “Tex” Alles was removed as U.S. Secret Service Director. After his departure, Alles sent a message to the Secret Service saying he had not been fired by Trump. Alles reported to Nielsen.
  17. Alles was a retired Marine Corps general and former acting deputy commissioner of CBP — the first Secret Service Director not to come up the agency ranks in at least 100 years, and the latest general to depart.
  18. On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley warned Trump to stop ousting top immigration officials, saying he was “very, very concerned” Lee Francis Cissna, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, could be next.
  19. Reports indicated Cissna and DHS’s general counsel, John Mitnick, could be the next to go in Trump’s purge of DHS leaders. Grassley told WAPO he planned to go on Fox News to make his case for keeping Cissna.
  20. On Monday, WSJ reported Trump has been pushing to reinstate the family separation policy since the day it stopped. Recently, Trump reportedly told Stephen Miller: “You’re in charge” of the regime’s immigration policy.
  21. CNN reported in an Oval Office meeting three weeks ago, Trump, while “ranting and raving” ordered Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day. Mulvaney talked him out of it.
  22. Also, last Friday during his visit to Calexico, Trump reportedly told border agents to not let migrants in. When Trump left, their leaders said if they did so, they would take on personal liability, and to instead follow the law.
  23. On Monday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking a Trump regime experimental policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases made their way through immigration courts.
  24. Under the policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), several hundred migrants had been returned to Mexico. The judge’s ruling took away one of the regime’s remaining tools to stem the flow of migrants.
  25. On Monday, Florida Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Donna Shalala vowed to take legal action against the regime after they were denied entry to the Homestead facility in Miami.
  26. An estimated one-in-six migrant children will be housed at for-profit Homestead. The Congresswomen cited a new law which affirms members of Congress “must be given access to conduct oversight.”
  27. On Tuesday, Trump told reporter he was continuing an Obama policy, saying “Obama had child separation,” adding, “Obama had the law. We changed the law.” The claim that Obama separated families is false.
  28. Trump claimed because he changed Obama’s policy, “once you don’t have it, that’s why you have many more people coming,” adding, “They’re coming like it’s a picnic, like ‘let’s go to Disneyland.’”
  29. Trump also denied he planned to reinstate family separation, and told reporters, “I never said I was cleaning house.”
  30. On Tuesday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called for militarization of the southern border, saying “we need martial law on the border,” and claiming large-scale migration “is how countries collapse.”
  31. On Tuesday, NYT reported the Trump Organization has begun to quietly take steps to eliminate any remaining undocumented workers from its workforce at its properties in South Florida, facing charges of hypocrisy.
  32. Seven veteran maintenance workers at Trump National Jupiter were told they had to show proof of legal residency to keep their jobs. Only one was legal — and six were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.
  33. On Tuesday, Claire Grady, the acting number two at DHS, resigned in the evening. Grady had 28 years of experience at the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. Nielsen tweeted out Grady’s resignation.
  34. TIME reported Grady, who was next in line to become acting secretary, was forced to resign as Trump chose Kevin McAleenan to take the role.
  35. On Wednesday, Ronald Vitiello, who was acting director of ICE since June 2018, and had his nomination to head ICE suddenly withdrawn by Trump last week, told staffers his last day of work will be on Friday.
  36. Described as a “purge” of DHS leadership, roles of Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary for Management, CBP Commissioner, ICE Director, Secret Service Director, and FEMA Administrator were vacant.
  37. Overall within DHS, 12 of the 30 leadership positions on the department’s organization chart are “vacant” or filled by an “acting” leader.
  38. Several Senate Republicans publicly expressed concern about the purge at DHS, and the growing leadership void. Several, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Nielsen on her way out.
  39. WAPO reported Trump’s agencies have spent much more time being led by acting directors than any in history — and with Nielsen’s departure, he has the second most acting agency heads in modern history.
  40. Acting roles included: DHS, Interior Secretary, Budget Director, Chief of Staff, U.N. Ambassador, FEMA Administrator, ICE Director, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and CBP Commissioner.
  41. Trump has said he likes to have acting directors, saying in January: “It gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that? I like acting.” Acting directors have become a feature of the Trump regime.
  42. On Wednesday, at a roundtable in Texas, Trump lamented troops cannot get “rough” at the border, saying “our military…can’t act…like they would normally act…or like…another military from another country would act.”
  43. On Thursday, a  former Trump campaign chairman told Politico if Trump wins in 2020, the country is going to get “pure Trump off the chain,” and the second term will be “four years of Donald Trump in payback mode.”
  44. On Thursday, Trump named acting deputy director Matthew Albence, an immigration hardliner who has compared migrant detention centers to “summer camps,” to become the director of ICE.
  45. On Thursday, WAPO reported White House officials pressured U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to retaliate against Trump’s political adversaries.
  46. According to DHS officials and emails reviewed, the Trump regime has proposed doing this at least two times: in November with “caravans” approaching and in February during his standoff with Democrats.
  47. The Trump regime considered targeting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district and other Democratic strongholds, and told ICE the plan was meant to alleviate a shortage of detention space and to send a message to Democrats.
  48. A whistleblower told the Post the Trump regime believed it could punish Speaker Pelosi and Democrats by busing detainees into their districts before their release. Stephen Miller discussed the proposal with ICE.
  49. Asked for comment, the White House and a DHS spokesperson sent similar messages to the Post, saying, “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.”
  50. A spokesperson for Speaker Pelosi accused the regime of “cruelty,” adding, “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
  51. Later that evening, a White House official characterized the idea of steering migrants to sanctuary cities as being “informally asked,” adding, “The idea was briefly and informally raised and quickly rejected.”
  52. On Friday, Speaker Pelosi told reporters the idea was “just another notion” showing Trump is “unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges we face.”
  53. On Friday, Trump contradicted statements by the White House and DHS, tweeting that the regime is “indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only”
  54. Trump tweeted he is considering this plan “due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws,” adding, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders…so this should make them very happy!
  55. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen continued to warn the media, “there is no White House. Not as conventionally defined. Now it’s just Trump… and people who work in the building.”
  56. On Friday, NBC News reported that at a Tuesday meeting of Trump’s top national security advisers at the White House, advisers discussed increasingly military involvement at the border.
  57. Advisers discussed using the military to build tent city detention camps for migrants, and also whether the military could run the camps. U.S. law prohibits the military from directly interacting with migrants.
  58. The military may also be used to assess land before the construction of new tent cities in Texas. A new processing center is also being built similar to the one in McAllen, where children were kept in cage-like areas.
  59. The new tent cities will hold the overflow, while ICE detention facilities are at capacity. An official said using the military allows for faster construction than private contractors, who can protest decisions.
  60. On Friday, NYT reported that Trump privately urged Kevin McAleenan, during his visit to Calexico last week, to close the southwestern border to migrants, despite Trump saying last week he would delay for a year.
  61. Trump also reportedly told McAleenan he would pardon him if he encountered legal challenges for closing the border. Federal judges have blocked the regime’s efforts to limit asylum as unlawful.
  62. Nielsen had refused to carry out Trump’s order to close the border, saying it was not illegal. Trump told McAleenan to disregard Nielsen’s concern. Two days later she resigned. Trump has been eager to stop immigration.
  63. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told the Times, “At no time has the president indicated, asked, directed or pressured the acting secretary to do anything illegal,” adding nor would they.
  64. On Tuesday, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee released a 152-page transcript of former FBI general counsel James Baker, as part of entering testimony from last year’s investigation into the congressional record.
  65. Baker also told lawmakers there was widespread concern inside the FBI that Trump had attempted to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s links to Russians when he fired former FBI director James Comey.
  66. Baker testified he was told by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe that Rod Rosenstein told McCabe two members of Trump’s cabinet had endorsed the notion of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
  67. Baker also said last October that he not did think deputy attorney general Rosenstein was joking about wearing a wire or invoking the 25th Amendment — but that he did not connect the two discussions.
  68. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin mocked the Mueller probe at a forum in St. Petersburg, saying, “It was clear for us from the start that it would end like this,” adding, “a mountain gave birth to a mouse.”
  69. Putin also said, “Trump knows better than us what a ‘witch hunt’ is. We know that this is a black page in American history,” adding, “I don’t want [this page] to ever be repeated.”
  70. On Tuesday, Barr testified before the House Appropriations Committee for 2 1/2 hours. Barr said the Justice Department will release the Mueller report “within a week,” reiterating his promise of a mid-April release.
  71. Barr admitted Mueller’s team may have preferred for him to release more information up front, and they “did not play a role in drafting” his letter. Mueller was offered to review the letter, but declined.
  72. Barr said he would redact grand-jury material, information on intelligence sources and methods on ongoing investigations, and details that would affect the privacy of people “peripheral” to Mueller’s investigation.
  73. Notably, Barr refused to answer whether whether he has briefed the White House on the report. He said he would color-code redactions, so the reason would be more clear.
  74. Barr said Congress will not receive the unredacted report, and that he will not ask the judge for an exception in order to release secret grand-jury information to Congress.
  75. Barr also asked the committee for an additional $72.1 million to fund 100 new immigration judges, but claimed he was “not familiar with” discussions of Trump’s renewed push to separate families at the border.
  76. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported Barr has assembled a team to review counterintelligence decisions made by DOJ and FBI officials, including actions taken related to the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016.
  77. On Monday, the White House threatened that Trump would veto the Democrats’ bill to reinstate net neutrality rules, claiming it would “return to the heavy-handed regulatory approach of the previous administration.”
  78. On Monday, Guardian reported the Trump regime has quietly withdrawn federal funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, a large conservation program, putting years of scientific study at risk.
  79. On Tuesday, Trump threatened to put $11 billion of tariffs on the E.U. over subsidies given to Boeing’s European rival Airbus, tweeting: “The EU has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade for many years. It will soon stop!”
  80. On Tuesday, Twitter disabled a video tweeted by Trump featuring “The Dark Knight” music, after Warner Bros. said it would be filing a copyright infringement complaint.
  81. On Tuesday, Fox News reported Rep. Devin Nunes filed a $150 million lawsuit against The McClatchy Company, alleging it conspired to derail his oversight of the Clinton campaign and Russian election interference.
  82. On Tuesday, in House appropriations subcommittee testimony, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin revealed lawyers from his agency consulted with the White House general counsel’s office about Trump’s tax returns.
  83. Conversations took place before the House Democrats made their request for Trump’s returns. Mnuchin said he personally did not participate in the conversations and was not briefed on the discussions.
  84. On Tuesday, Mnuchin squabbled with House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters at a hearing, saying she should dismiss the meeting, “take the gavel and bang it,” since he had a “very important meeting.”
  85. Rep. Waters responded, “Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.” Mnuchin also said, “I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here.”
  86. On Tuesday, YouTube disabled comments on a livestream of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on hate crimes and white nationalism on social media, after being flooded with racist and anti-Semitic comments.
  87. What was meant to be a serious inquiry by the committee devolved into a circus type atmosphere when Republicans invited Candace Owens, a 29-year-old African American provocateur to testify.
  88. Owens was named as “the person who has influenced me above all” in the manifesto of the New Zealand killer, and said in December, “if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay, fine.”
  89. On Tuesday, more than 80 House Democrats unveiled a resolution condemning white supremacy at a news conference. Although the sponsors did not name Trump, they referenced the impact of his rhetoric.
  90. On Tuesday, the Charlotte Observer reported Brandon Lecroy, a 26 year-old white man, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trying to hire a hitman from the South Carolina Klu Klux Klan to kill a black neighbor.
  91. On Tuesday, the president of the NAACP called a series of four suspicious blazes at historically black churches in Louisiana in a 10-day span an act of “domestic terrorism” emboldened by racial rhetoric across the country.
  92. KVUE ABC News reported a principal in Austin, Texas was removed after allegations she discriminated against immigrant parents and joked in a newsletter about Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
  93. On Wednesday, WAPO reported the Texas House heard debate on a bill that could impose the death penalty for women who get abortions. A similar measure was not brought up for debate in 2017.
  94. WAPO reported students at George Mason University, including sexual assault survivors, have petitioned school leadership to remove Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from teaching and issue an apology.
  95. On Thursday, Forbes reported a new policy proposal being considered by the Trump regime would monitor the social media profiles of disabled people and flag content that shows them doing physical activities to root out false claims.
  96. On Wednesday, a man wearing a Trump t-shirt yelled disparaging words at members of a Muslim community gathering at one of the mosques targeted in the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand.
  97. On Monday, Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted, “Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.”
  98. On Tuesday, Trump responded, tweeting a quote from Fox Business show “Varney & Co.”: “What’s completely unacceptable is for Congresswoman Omar to target Jews, in this case Stephen Miller.”
  99. On Wednesday, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade slammed Rep. Omar over her 9/11 comments at a Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet, saying “You have to wonder if she is an American first.”
  100. On Thursday, the New York Post cover featured a take-off of a partial quote by Rep. Omar — “some people did something” — writing “Here’s your something,” with a photo of the Twin Towers after the planes hit.
  101. On Friday, Trump tweeted an edited video showing Rep. Omar’s speech to the CAIR interspersed with video of the 9/11 attacks, and Trump added the words: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”
  102. Shortly after, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted Trump “is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman– and an entire group of Americans based on their religion,” and called on other elected officials to condemn it.
  103. On Saturday, other Democrats came to Rep. Omar’s defense, saying Trump’s tweet was endangering her life. Trump pinned the tweet to his profile to highlight it.
  104. On Friday, the Houston Chronicle reported Laura Maradiaga, 11, who was apprehended in October 2018 along with her mother and sister, could be deported back to El Salvador without her family because of a clerical error.
  105. On Tuesday, Democratic chairs of five House committees sent a letter to the White House, DOJ, and top regime health officials seeking information on the shift in the DOJ’s legal strategy on the Affordable Care Act.
  106. The letter noted the DOJ seeking the elimination of the ACA constituted a “sudden and significant reversal” that violated the federal government’s long standing precedent of defending its own laws.
  107. On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced the “PENCIL” resolution, after Trump referred to Rep. Adam Schiff as a “pencil neck,” calling for Schiff to be ousted as committee chair and have his security clearance revoked.
  108. On Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings threatened in a letter to Barr to hold John Gore, a principal deputy assistant attorney general, in contempt of Congress.
  109. Rep. Cummings said in his letter that Barr appears “to be instructing” Gore “to defy a duly authorized congressional subpoena” requesting his testimony about a citizenship question added to the 2020 census.
  110. On Wednesday, at a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee budget hearing, Barr seemed to embrace talking points used by Trump’s Republican allies casting doubt on the origins of the Mueller probe.
  111. When asked about his investigation into officials who investigated Trump, Barr parroted a right-wing conspiracy theory about the FBI, saying, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” and, “I think spying did occur.”
  112. When pressed, Barr said, “I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now,” saying he was not launching an investigation of the FBI, but “there was probably a failure among a group of leaders” at the upper echelon.
  113. When asked specifically whether the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt, Barr responded, “it depends on where you sit,” adding people who were “falsely accused” could see it that way.
  114. Barr later walked back claims of spying on the Trump campaign, saying at the end of the hearing, “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and I’m looking into it.”
  115. At the same time, Trump spoke to reporters on the White House South Lawn, saying the investigation into Russian election interference and obstruction of justice was “an attempted coup” against his presidency.
  116. Trump claimed the Mueller probe was “started illegally” and “every single thing about it” was “crooked,” adding, “we fight back” because we know “how illegal this whole thing was, it was a scam.”
  117. Trump also said it “all started, because this was an illegal witch hunt,” adding, “there were dirty cops, these were bad people,” naming former FBI officials Comey, McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page.
  118. On Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi said in an interview with the AP that she was “very concerned” about Barr’shandling of Mueller’s report, saying “I don’t trust Barr, I trust Mueller.”
  119. Pelosi also said of Barr’s testimony that he will pursue Trump’s claims about “spying” during his 2016 campaign, “He is not the attorney general of Donald Trump. He is the attorney general of the United States.”
  120. Later, at a news conference, Pelosi told reporters, regarding Barr, that she found it “very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails, yesterday and today.”
  121. On Wednesday, including Speaker Pelosi, all four Democratic members of the Gang of Eight condemned Barr’s comments about intelligence officials “spying.” The four Republicans did not comment publicly.
  122. On Thursday, Trump told reporters he was pleased with Barr’s claim there was spying on his 2016 campaign, saying “Yes, I am,” adding, “I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying.”
  123. Trump also said “I’ll go a step further…it was illegal spying and unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
  124. Trump said of the Mueller probe, “You’re just lucky I happen to be the President because a lot of other presidents would have reacted very differently than I’ve reacted,” adding, “no collusion no obstruction.”
  125. On Thursday, Trump tweeted a video of Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo saying “Biggest scandal of our time — the coup that failed!
  126. On Thursday, deputy attorney general Rosenstein defended Barr, telling the WSJ Barr is “being as forthcoming as he can,” and “this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre.”
  127. On Thursday, Rep. Nunes told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he plans to meet with Barr to send eight “criminal referrals” against individuals involved in the investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
  128. Barr told lawmakers “I haven’t seen the referrals yet” but added “if there’s a predicate for an investigation it’ll be conducted.” Nunes was formerly chair of the House Intelligence Committee (recused then returned).
  129. Democrats on the committee cried foul, with one aide saying we expect the DOJ to follow appropriate protocol, and for Barr to hold “any such meeting only with representatives of the majority and minority present.”
  130. Trump also retweeted a video from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claiming his approval was up to 55%, tweeting “Great news! #MAGA.” His actual approval was 43% — the 55% was actually Trump’s disapproval number.
  131. On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would support a bill that would permit the NY Dept of Taxation and Finance to release any state tax returns requested by leaders of three congressional committees.
  132. On Tuesday, Trump’s IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, told the House Appropriations Committee during testimony that there are no rules prohibiting taxpayers under audit from releasing their tax information.
  133. On Wednesday, Trump also said he would not release his tax returns on the day of the deadline set by House Democrats, falsely claiming, “I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit.”
  134. On Thursday, the Illinois state senate passed a bill requiring presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to get on the ballot in 2020. Similar legislation is in play in 17 other states.
  135. On Wednesday, Mnuchin said in letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal that the Treasury would miss the deadline for Trump’s tax returns, and would consult with the DOJ on how to proceed.
  136. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported recent filings reveal a new DOJ stance on the emoluments clause, allowing Trump to accept unlimited amounts from foreign governments if it comes through commercial transactions.
  137. The new stance would exempt Trump’s hotels, including Trump Hotel DC. The DOJ shift started in June 2017, and now closely paralleling arguments made in a January 2017 by Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon.
  138. On Tuesday, Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, sued the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming the agency is blocking access to its website, in violation of the First Amendment.
  139. On Monday, Roll Call reported recently posted versions of acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s daily schedules contained at least 260 entries differing from his original schedules.
  140. In the newer version, meetings previously described as “external” or “internal” were actually meetings with representatives of the fossil fuel, timber, mining, and other industries.
  141. The new schedule included a keynote address at the Trump Hotel DC for Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, meetings with oil company executives, and a group focused on weakening the Endangered Species Act.
  142. On Thursday, Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate as Interior Secretary, even as more than a dozen Democrats and government ethics watchdog groups called for formal investigations into his past conduct.
  143. On Thursday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested after being expelled from the Ecuadoran Embassy on U.S. hacking charges, seven years after his group published classified information on the internet in 2010.
  144. U.S. officials acknowledged they had secretly charged Assange last year with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to illegally obtain secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents, by hacking a government password.
  145. Assange’s lawyer said he will fight extradition to the U.S. She called the action against him “a dangerous precedent for all news media.” Assange was told by the Ecuadoran ambassador his asylum was being revoked.
  146. In Mueller’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers, he charged they “discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases” with WikiLeaks. Assange has not been charged.
  147. The indictment said stolen emails were released “to heighten their impact on the 2016 presidential election.” Wikileaks began releasing emails on the same day in October 2016 the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.
  148. On Thursday, when asked about Wikileaks and the arrest of Assange, Trump told reporters, “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing. I know there is something to do with Julian Assange.”
  149. During the campaign, Trump mentioned WikiLeaks 141 times at 56 events in the final month before the election, saying at events, “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks,” and, “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
  150. Trump also said he did not “really have an opinion” about Assange’s arrest by British authorities in response to a U.S. extradition request, adding the matter was being handled “mostly by the attorney general.”
  151. Vice President Mike Pence told CNN on Trump’s past comments on Wikileaks, “I think the president always, as you in the media do, always welcomes information,” adding, “but that was in no way an endorsement.”
  152. Lawmakers from both parties condemned Assange and called for his immediate extradition for hacking classified information and his role in the 2016 election. He will face extradition hearings on May 2 and June 12.
  153. On Wednesday, CNN reported Jeff Bezos will meet with federal prosecutors in New York, indicating the inquiry into Saudi Arabia’s involvement with the National Enquirer story is moving forward.
  154. On Thursday, Gregory Craig, former Obama White House counsel, was charged with lying to federal prosecutors about legal work for Ukraine he did for Paul Manafort while a partner at law firm Skadden, Arps.
  155. Craig was charged with two felony counts for alleged false statements made to DOJ officials and later Mueller’s prosecutors over whether he should have registered as a foreign agent. The case grew out of the Mueller probe.
  156. Legal experts noted the charges indicate cases farmed out from the Mueller probe could continue to yield new evidence and even more charges for months or even years.
  157. In his testimony to lawmakers, Barr said DOJ lawyers are working with the special counsel’s office to redact information before its release, such that it does not harm “a number of cases that are still being pursued.”
  158. On Monday, prosecutors told the judge that Sam Patten, a lobbyist who steered foreign money to Trump’s inaugural campaign, provided “substantial assistance” to Mueller and other investigators, asking for no jail time.
  159. On Friday, Patten was sentenced to three years of probation with no jail time. Patten pleaded guilty in August, and has cooperated with still unknown investigations which grew out of Mueller’s work.
  160. On Wednesday, a court filing revealed Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, 82, retired as a federal appellate judge after an investigation was opened into whether she violated judicial conduct rules.
  161. The investigation came after four citizens filed complaints arising from a NYT story from October which alleged Trump and his siblings evaded inheritance taxes by participating in fraudulent tax schemes.
  162. In February 2017, Barry told the court that she would stop hearing cases, without specifying the reason why. By retiring, she ends the court inquiry into her role in the tax scheme.
  163. On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu narrowly won re-election for a fifth term as prime minister of Israel, securing 65 of the 120 seats in Parliament. Several world leaders, especially nationalists like Trump, rushed to congratulate Netanyahu.
  164. On Thursday, in an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump told reporters he is considering a third nuclear summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
  165. Trump also said, “I enjoy the summits, I enjoy being with the chairman,” adding, “I really believe over a period of time, a lot of tremendous things will happen. I think North Korea has a tremendous potential.”
  166. On Friday, Herman Cain withdrew his name from consideration for appointment to the Federal Reserve, after several Republican senators came out against his potential nomination.
  167. On Friday, CNN reported in past speeches, Trump’s other Fed pick, Stephen Moore, has described himself as “radical” and said he is not “a big believer in democracy,” adding, “capitalism is a lot more important.”
  168. Moore said in February Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was one of Trump’s “worst appointments” and said hundreds of employees at the Fed whom he called “worthless” economists should be fired.
  169. On Friday, WAPO reported federal investigation found rampant sexual harassment and retaliation at AccuWeather under the leadership of Barry Myers, Trump’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  170. Trump nominated Myers in 2017, but his nomination stalled in the Senate. Republican leaders had planned to renominate him without a hearing, despite ethics concerns raised when he first went through the process.
  171. On Friday, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Tim Kaine demanded in a letter that the DOJ “make public all findings” of an investigation into Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s conduct in the Jeffrey Epstein case.
  172. On Friday, in a memo to his committee, Rep. Cummings said he is moving forward on Monday to issue a “friendly” subpoena to accounting firm Mazars USA to obtain 10 years of Trump’s financial records.
  173. On Friday, after a lengthy battle with multiple federal court injunctions, Trump’s controversial transgender military ban took effect. Trump first tweeted about the idea of the ban in July 2017.
  174. The version of the ban that went into effect prohibited new military recruits from transitioning, and also allows the military to discharge troops who do not present as their birth gender.
  175. On Friday, prosecutors indicted Yujing Zhang, who was arrested on the ground of Mar-a-Lago, on charges oflying to a federal officer and entering restricted grounds, but does not include espionage charges.
  176. The Miami Herald reported a source claims Zhang knew before leaving China that the function she claimed she was attending had been canceled. Zhang will likely move to a detention and be scheduled for deportation.
  177. On Saturday, in a letter, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal gave the IRS a deadline of April 23 to turn over Trump’s tax returns, threatening otherwise to bring the dispute into federal court.
  178. Rep. Neal argued in his letter to IRS Commissioner Rettig the 1920-era law that says the IRS “shall furnish” any tax return requested by Congress “is unambiguous and raises no complicated legal issues.”
  179. Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, cited “complicated legal issues” and complained of the “arbitrary deadline” set by House Democrats, but said he would answer in that time frame.
  180. On Saturday, Trump again teased a third summit, tweeting “I agree with Kim Jong Un of North Korea that our personal relationship remains very good, perhaps the term excellent would be even more accurate.”
  181. Trump also blasted Democrats for demanding release of the Mueller report, tweeting: “Why should Radical Left Democrats in Congress have a right to retry and examine the $35,000,000 No Collusion Mueller Report.”

Assange Arrested And Charged

Ken AshfordCrime, Cybersecurity, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This is your reminder that the President of the United States “loves Wikileaks”.

So, what happens next? The folks who reserve their harshest condemnations of the U.S. government for Democratic administrations — a crowd that when combined with Assange groupies forms a perfect circle in a Venn diagram — may get an object lesson in the difference between Democratic and Republican Party governance.

Assange, who is only 47, did not go willingly. And he looked like he was 70.

There is a fine line between being a whistleblower and a security threat. Assange, in my view, is a little of both, depending on the issue. But you can’t be a security threat, period.

I agree with Josh Marshall:

We’re living in a dark period in which rights created to protect citizens from abuses of government power are routinely turned inside out and weaponized to help those in power attack their critics and enemies; brazen coverups are repackaged as privacy rights and fidelity to the law. It probably goes without saying that Assange is set to be charged with publishing US national security secrets the theft of which may have been wrong or misguided in some people’s eyes but almost certainly weren’t part of any conspiracy against the United States. Participating in an actual conspiracy on the part of a foreign party which played some role in installing the current President in power won’t be part of the story.

As a person, Assange is a loathsome, destructive, megalomaniacal figure. These tendencies, apparent from the start, have undoubtedly been accentuated by years in self-imposed captivity which started and for many years was an effort to escape a legitimate sexual assault investigation. 

That said, Assange is being indicted for the least criminal of his crimes: the publication of documents stolen by Chelsea Manning. I’m not convinced that Manning’s action were something other than whistleblowing. He exposed the collateral damage that was being done to civilians and reporters in Afghanistan. I wrote about the leak at the time, and posted the leaked video where US military fires upon and kills several civilians and reporters. Among the injured are two children. There is no doubt that the pilots in question violated the 2007 U.S. Rules of Engagement for Iraq, which permit the use of “deadly force” only against individuals who “pose a threat to Coalition Forces by committing a hostile act or demonstrating hostile intent.”

His leaks also exposed other acts of civilian deaths, and friendly fire deaths — all of which would have gone unnoticed to the public.

Slate is right:

The Justice Department was clever in drawing up its single-count indictment against Assange. It charges him with “conspiring to commit computer intrusion,” a crime carrying a punishment of up to five years in prison.

Assange is not being indicted for publishing the material—a charge that any competent defense lawyer could swat by appealing to his First Amendment rights. Rather, the indictment states, Assange “agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications.”

***

This goes well beyond the constitutionally protected practices of journalism.

Manning, then a U.S. Army intelligence analyst on a military base in Iraq, did not have high-enough clearance to decode the password. Had Assange not encouraged Manning to send him the file containing the password, he wouldn’t have opened himself up to the count in this indictment.

AG Barr To Look Into Improper FBI Actions Relating To Russia Probe

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This is a waste of time and its sad that Fox News tripe is being taken seriously:

The investigation was predicated on what Papadapolous said to an Australian ambassador. The first FISA warrant, against Carter Page, was taken out AFTER Page left the campaign. Now, the FBI may have looked into contacts that the Trump campaign had with foreign bad people, but you kinda have to expect that if you’re dealing with foreign bad people. If that’s all we’re talking about, investigate away.

But it is odd that Barr is refusing to state the basis for his suspicions of DOJ wrongdoing.

Leaving aside the fact FBI did brief both campaigns on the threat of Russian interference, Barr should be troubled that the campaign never picked up the phone & told the FBI about any, let alone all, of the outreach it had from Russians.

But Trump is spinning this to the hilt…

On a related note, Barr is coming under scrutiny once more for the Mueller Report as he testifies for his second day before the House Judiciary:

Well, let’s get Mueller in and ask him!

Well, that’s good at least.

WSJ: SDNY Has Much More Evidence In Hush Money Probe Than We Thought

Ken AshfordStormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Federal investigators have uncovered more evidence of President Donald Trump‘s involvement in illegal 2016 hush money payments than previously known, according to a new report.

Wall Street Journal reports prosecutors have spoken to former Trump communications director Hope Hicks and former Trump security chief Keith Schiller about their contacts with David Pecker. These interviews gravitated around the fact that Pecker has admitted to using his position as chairman of American Media (AMI) and publisher of the National Enquirer to “catch and kill” the story of Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal.

Investigators learned that Schiller has spoken to Pecker over the phone, so they are trying to figure out whether Schiller ever put Trump on the line and whether Hicks ever coordinated with Pecker.

From the article:

Ms. Hicks called Mr. Pecker in November 2016 as she was crafting a response to an inquiry from the Journal. Mr. Pecker told her American Media was issuing a statement saying it had paid Ms. McDougal to contribute articles.

Interviews and court documents show that prosecutors have gathered information about Trump’s supposed involvement in the payments Michael Cohen made on Trump’s behalf to suppress his alleged affairs with McDougal and Stormy Daniels. WSJ also reports that investigators have a recorded phone conversation between Cohen and a lawyer who represented the two women.

This Is A Black Hole

Ken AshfordScience & TechnologyLeave a Comment

Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy.

It measures 40 billion km across – three million times the size of the Earth – and has been described by scientists as “a monster”.

The black hole is 500 million trillion km away and was photographed by a network of eight telescopes across the world. No single telescope is powerful enough to image the black hole. So, in the biggest experiment of its kind, Prof Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, is director of a project that set up a network of eight linked telescopes. Together, they form the Event Horizon Telescope and can be thought of as a planet-sized array of dishes.

Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment, told BBC News that the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.

“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System,” he said.

“It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”

A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape its gravity. Despite the name, they are not empty but instead consist of a huge amount of matter packed densely into a small area. There is a region of space beyond the black hole called the event horizon. This is a “point of no return”, beyond which it is impossible to escape the gravitational effects of the black hole.

From A Transcript Released by GOP on House Judiciary

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

[ Former FBI general counsel James] Baker: To the best of my recollection [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe] told me that the deputy attorney general said that he had at least two members of the Cabinet who were ready to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Q: And what happened after that during that conversation? Did Mr. McCabe tell you anything else?

Baker: I am sure he told me other things in that conversation, but it was in part both of those things were relayed to me with other information with respect to — what the DAG was going through at the time and how he was thinking about his involvement in the firing of Director Comey and how he was thinking about proceeding after that.

Q: Did people tell you that the DAG was upset?

Baker: Yes.

Q: Did they tell you that he was making jokes?

A: No.

Q: Did they tell you that —

A: This was not a joking sort of time. This was pretty dark.

How Stephen Miller Sabotaged Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This guy is a dick:

Stephen Miller, the senior advisor to President Donald Trump, would have a sneaky way to ruin the day of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and get her to stop resisting new immigration policy proposals.

Quartz reports “former agency officials,” said Miller would leak the monthly number of immigrants apprehended at the border and those seeking asylum to the Washington Examiner, who would then publish a story about the high numbers.

Miller would then print out the story and give it to Trump. After seeing the story, Trump would then “pick up the phone and blast Nielsen…and she’d capitulate on the issue at hand.”