Leaving The Deal

Ken AshfordIran, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Beinart writes:

Read some of the most prominent critics of the Iran nuclear deal and you’ll notice something: They seem to be preparing their alibis in case Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it proves a catastrophic mistake. Trump, wrote Bret Stephens on Tuesday in The New York Times, “was absolutely right” to leave the agreement, “assuming, that is, serious thought has been given to what comes next.” On Twitter, Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), perhaps the most relentlessly anti–Iran deal think tank in Washington, explained that, “I have concerns. It’s a high risk strategy with potentially big rewards if it can be successfully implemented but dangerous consequences if it isn’t.” Last week, near the end of a series of exchanges at The Atlantic with the former Obama administration official Philip Gordon, in which he repeatedly bashed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, Dubowitz’s FDD colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht declared that, “It isn’t that hard to devise a credible post-JCPOA approach to the clerical regime.” But he later added, “I do not know whether Trump is capable of pulling this off.”

This is malpractice. It’s malpractice because whether the Trump administration has given “serious thought” to “what comes next,” and whether its post–Iran deal strategy “can be successfully implemented” are questions Stephens, Dubowitz, and Gerecht have an obligation to factor into their analysis of whether Trump should withdraw at all. You can’t cordon off the practical consequences of leaving the deal from the theoretical virtue of doing so. In theory, I’d like my 10-year-old to cook our family a four-course meal. But unless I have good reason to believe she’s “capable of pulling this off,” it’s irresponsible for me to scrap our current dinner plans.

Determining whether the Trump administration has given “serious thought” to what to do after exiting the Iran deal is not like determining whether robots will rule the world in 2080. It’s an answerable question. Bret Stephens works at The New York Times. Rather than “assuming,” he could have picked up the phone and talked to Trump officials or officials from those European governments whose help Trump would need to craft a new pressure strategy against Tehran.

In the last few days, some reporters have done exactly that. What they have found is both frightening and entirely predictable given what we know about the Trump administration. On Tuesday, CNN’s Michelle Kosinski tweeted a quote from a “Sr. European diplomat, on dealing with State Dept today re Iran: ‘All is a shambles there. Total incoherence between State and NSC. Plus, no one has any clue on the day after. There is no strategy.’” That same day, when asked by a reporter whether European governments would support new sanctions against Iran, an unnamed State Department official admitted that in their conversations with allies before Trump announced America’s withdrawal, “We did not talk about a Plan B.” When a reporter asked, “What makes you think that Iran is going to go along with a whole new renegotiation?” the official replied, “We don’t know if they will.”

None of this, I suspect, would surprise Stephens at all. In a column last year about “the enormity” of Trump’s “stupidity” when it comes to making sound public policy, Stephens compared the implementation of his travel ban to “a dunce trying to squash a snail by dropping a brick on it, only to have it land on his own foot.” Even in firing James Comey, Stephens remarked, Trump had proven “spectacularly incompetent.” Such insights might have helped Stephens decide whether the Trump “administration is capable of following through” on something as difficult as reassembling an international coalition to force Iran to accept a tougher nuclear deal. Yet Stephens brought none of these insights to bear.

Dubowitz and Gerecht might argue that, unlike Stephens, they have not explicitly endorsed Trump’s decision to withdraw. In a nine-part Twitter thread responding to Trump’s announcement, Dubowitz said he “would’ve much preferred to see a US-E3 agreement first.” But he also explained that Trump’s decision might bring “big rewards” or “dangerous consequences” depending on whether “it can be successfully implemented.” Sure, but everything hinges on the relative likelihood of those two outcomes. And on that question, Dubowitz retreats into agnosticism.

Gerecht’s handling of this is even more bizarre. In the final paragraph of his multi-part exchange with Gordon, he declares, “I do not know whether Trump is capable of pulling this off.” And then adds, “Odds are he is not.” Then why not oppose pulling out of the deal? Because, Gerecht explains, “We don’t get the president that we want; we get the president that the American people choose.” Which means, evidently, that when offering advice on high-stakes foreign policy decisions, commentators should ignore everything they know about whether the president charged with implementing those decisions is capable of effectively doing so.

If Gerecht’s formulation sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because it vaguely echoes what Donald Rumsfeld said to U.S. troops in Iraq: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.” Since 2003, many people who supported the Iraq war (as I did, wrongly), have bemoaned the way it was carried out. In an interview on Fox before becoming national-security adviser, John Bolton insisted that, “The overthrow of Saddam Hussein—that military action—was a resounding success. I think the mistakes that were made subsequently … are lessons about what to do after a regime is overthrown.” In his bookAmerica in Retreat, Stephens writes that the “light footprint” strategy that the U.S. “relied upon for occupying Iraq following the fall of Baghdad … helped accelerate the country’s descent into chaos.”

But the Bush administration’s refusal to send enough troops to Iraq to stabilize the country after Saddam’s fall was entirely predictable. A few weeks before the war, The New York Times reported that Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki—a veteran of America’s peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia—had told the Senate Armed Services Committee that stabilizing Iraq would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.” Shinseki’s comments represented a clear critique of the Bush administration’s “light footprint” war plan. And they occasioned a public rebuke from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said, “the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces, I think, is far from the mark.”

Top Bush officials also reprimanded the White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey when he predicted the war might cost “between $100 billion and $200 billion.” The Bush administration’s disastrous handling of Iraq’s occupation, in other words, was not a surprise. Top Bush officials practically boasted about their refusal to devote as many troops, or spend as much money, as their own military and economic experts recommended.

Put aside the question of whether even the most technically competent and intellectually honest U.S. administration could have made a success of the Iraq War. (I strongly doubt it.) Key deficiencies that would prevent the Bush administration from competently occupying Iraq were clear before the war began. Just as key deficiencies that will prevent the Trump administration from crafting an effective strategy to replace the Iran deal are clear today.

Then, as now, the real question is why some people choose to ignore them.

Trump Trips On His Victory Lap By Opening His Mouth

Ken AshfordNorth Korea, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Undeniably, the release of the three Americans being held hostage by North Korea is good news. And as they landed in the US at 3 am, Trump was there on the tarmac to greet them. It was a made-for-TV moment – even after 3:00 am ET.

But then Trump opened his mouth:

“We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people. They are really three incredible people. And the fact that we were able to get them out so soon was really a tribute to a lot of things, including a certain process that’s taking place right now. And that process is very important.”

Kim Jong-un was excellent to those three Americans?  The ones he took hostage?

In the span of a few moments after 3:00 am ET, we saw the very best of Trump (a televised prisoner release), as well as the very worst (praise for a dictator who delivered something the president wanted).

More News Trickles In On The Trump Fixers’ Money Fund

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

How Novartis came to give 1.2 million to Michael Cohen:

The curious relationship between one of the world’s biggest drug makers and President Trump’s personal lawyer began early last year when Michael Cohen, a longtime fixer for the president, reached out to Novartis’s then-chief executive officer Joe Jimenez, promising help gaining access to Trump and influential officials in the new administration, according to an employee inside Novartis familiar with the matter.

Jimenez took the call and then instructed his team to reach a deal with Cohen. A one-year contract worth $1.2 million was signed with Cohen in February 2017. The company’s hope was that Cohen could help it navigate a bevy of uncertain issues facing the drug maker — from potential changes to the Affordable Care Act and tax reform to navigating reimbursement challenges for medicines.

“He reached out to us,” the Novartis employee said, providing STAT with the company’s version of events as it scrambles to contain the fallout from being entangled in the investigations surrounding Trump and his inner circle, including Cohen. “With a new administration coming in, basically, all the traditional contacts disappeared and they were all new players. We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.”

Yeah!  That should have been a red flag, seeing as how lobbyists have to register.  But then, this…

In March 2017, a group of Novartis employees, mostly from the government affairs and lobbying teams, met with Cohen in New York to discuss specific issues and strategies. But the meeting was a disappointment, the insider explained, and the Novartis squad left with the impression that Cohen and Essential Consultants — the firm controlled by Cohen that Novartis was making payments to — may not be able to deliver.

“At first, it all sounded impressive, but toward the end of the meeting, everyone realized this was a probably a slippery slope to engage him. So they decided not to really engage Cohen for any activities after that,” the employee continued. Rather than attempt to cancel the contract, the company allowed it to lapse early in 2018 and not run the risk of ticking off the president. “It might have caused anger,” this person said.

Sure. Pay Cohen $1.2 million to do nothing, and then when you find out you’ve been fleeced, don’t demand the money back so as not to piss off Trump.

Is anyone buying this?

It certainly looks like Cohen was selling access to the President, or possibly influence.  One key question is whether Trump was aware of that arrangement.  He claims no, at least to the Russian oligarch:

President Trump told his lawyers on Tuesday night he didn’t know about payments made to his personal attorney by a Russian oligarch and businesses lobbying the federal government.

After the payments were revealed by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, and then largely confirmed by news accounts and the companies themselves, Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani called the president to ask him about it.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Trump told his lawyers, according Guiliani’s recollection of the phone call.

Pretty sure there is more to come on this.

Nunes Is Not Interested In Oversight; He Is Interested In Leaking

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Republicans, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Rep. Devin Nunes has lately taken to demanding that the Justice Department turn over records of the Mueller investigation. For obvious reasons, records of active investigations are normally confidential since the FBI doesn’t want to (a) hurt innocent people who may get caught in their net and (b) doesn’t want to alert the guilty to what they’re doing. Nunes, of course, would very much like to alert the guilty, which is why he wants this stuff. Oh sure — he says he wants it in order to conduct oversight on possible misconduct by Mueller, but I think we can safely laugh that off.

All that is bad enough. But it gets worse:

Last Wednesday, senior FBI and national intelligence officials relayed an urgent message to the White House: Information being sought by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes could endanger a top-secret intelligence source….After the White House sided with the department’s decision to refuse the request, Nunes (R-Calif.) publicly vented his frustration, saying Sunday that he may try to hold Sessions in contempt for refusing to comply.

….For the intelligence agencies, Nunes’s request threatened to cross a red line of compromising sources and methods of U.S. intelligence-gathering, according to people familiar with their views. Intelligence officials fear that providing even a redacted version of the information Nunes seeks could expose that person and damage relationships with other countries that serve as U.S. intelligence partners.

….On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) said he had not discussed the matter with Nunes but added that he expected congressional subpoenas to be enforced. “We expect the administration to comply with our document requests,” Ryan said.

So there you go. You can decide for yourself whether you believe the intelligence community, but they claim that turning over these docs could get people killed. Nunes, however, is so obsessed with covering for Donald Trump that he doesn’t care. He’s the ringleader of the conservative claim that the Mueller probe is a liberal fraud designed to bring down a Republican president, and if that means pretending that the FBI, CIA, NSA, and every other federal agency is corrupt, so be it. If it means leaking information that could get people killed, that’s probably OK too.

And Paul Ryan is perfectly fine with this. Welcome to the Republican Party in 2018.

Trump Upset He’s Not Getting Praise He Thinks He Deserves

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

What an ego.

This is what happens when you live in an echo chamber.  You say stuff like “if I end the Iran deal, it will make America safer” and you don’t need to support it because, in the echo chamber, all you hear back is “if Trump ends the Iran deal, it will make America safer”.  So you go ahead and do it, and that’s when you realize — or SHOULD realize (for the 100 millionth time) — that you live in an echo chamber and most people don’t agree with your “brilliant” (stupid) plan.  So who do you blame? The media.

He’s not wrong, by the way. Most of the coverage of Trump IS negative.

But most of the news is negative surrounding Trump is negative. That’s just the way his administration rolls.

And notice how anything negative about Trump is automatically “Fake.” So rather than have Sarah Huckabee Sanders run out every day and face, you know, questions … wouldn’t it be simpler to just take away the media’s credentials? Except, of course, for Fox News and select alt-right websites. Free up some space for the Enquirer.

Considering the facts only beginning to spill out about Michael Cohen and the millions that “Essential Consulting”—a company with no advertising, no web site, no office, no employees —somehow managed to pull in from Russian oligarchs, foreign corporations, and American companies with business before the Trump White House, this would seem like the ideal time to bring down the Trump Curtain.

Or better yet, in the interest of getting out all the non-fake news about the Cohen situation, please send Rudy Giuliani out to explain why people were paying that money to Cohen and where it was getting “funneled.” He could even start with a visit to Sean Hannity.

In the meantime, Sarah Huckabee Sanders will continue to produce the “best information available.” By which she means lies. And this seems like a day that’s going to require enough of that “best information” that the reporters should wear hip waders to the briefing room.

Michael Cohen’s LLC Got Secret Corporate Payments – WHY?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Thanks to Stormy Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, we learned last night that Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, whose existence came to light as the vehicle for the hush money payments to Daniels, also had considerable income from Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg as well as corporations including AT&T and Novartis.

Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg chairs a company called the Renova Group, and a US-based subsidiary of that company sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cohen, CNN’s Kara Scannell and Shimon Prokupecz reported Tuesday evening, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The report, which has since been confirmed by the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Noah Schachtman, and Kate Briquelet, raises some extremely serious questions about just why this oligarch was paying Donald Trump’s personal lawyer large amounts of money.

Mueller seems to be asking those questions. When Vekselberg traveled to the United States earlier this year, Mueller’s investigators questioned the billionaire at an airport and searched his electronic devices. The CNN team reports that the payments to Cohen were one subject of Mueller’s questioning. According to the New York Times, a lawyer for the company in question “described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Mr. Vekselberg.”

But Vekselberg was only part of it.  Avenatti posted a seven-page PDF document from what he calls “Project Sunlight,” listing what he claims is other information about transactions from bank accounts controlled by Cohen.  Most of these have been confirmed.

To recap: Among the other payments to Mr. Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October and January by Novartis Investments S.A.R.L., a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland. Novartis — whose chief executive was among 15 business leaders invited to dinner with Mr. Trump at the World Economic Forum in January — spent more than $10 million on lobbying in Washington last year and frequently seeks approvals from federal drug regulators. Novartis said in a statement that its agreement with Essential Consultants had expired.
In addition, Korea Aerospace Industries paid Mr. Cohen’s company $150,000 last November, according to the records. The company, an aircraft manufacturer, has teamed with the American defense contractor Lockheed Martin in competing for a multibillion-dollar contract to provide trainer jets for the United States Air Force that is expected to be awarded this year. A representative for Korea Aerospace declined to comment.

AT&T made four payments totaling $200,000 between October 2017 and January 2018, according to the documents. AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is pending before the Justice Department, issued a statement on Tuesday evening confirming that it made payments to Mr. Cohen’s firm.

“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” the statement said. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”

The payments by Columbus Nova occurred between January and August of last year. Andrew Intrater, the company’s American chief executive and Mr. Vekselberg’s cousin, donated $250,000 to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, campaign finance records show. He and Mr. Vekselberg attended the event together and met with Mr. Cohen there, according to a person briefed on the matter. Columbus Nova retained him as a consultant soon afterward.

All this raises any number of possible legal and political questions — including the disturbing but very real possibility that under currently prevailing legal standards, there’s nothing actually illegal about putting cash into the president’s fixer’s slush fund and hoping to gain political access in exchange.

But it also serves as a reminder of the fundamentally corrupt setup of the Trump administration and Donald Trump’s business interests.

In a normal presidency, it would be very difficult to make large, secret cash payments to the president of the United States as a means of currying favor with him. You could donate to his reelection campaign, but that would have to be disclosed. And you could hire people who you believe to have a relationship with him in hopes that they can peddle influence on your behalf (as AT&T and Novartis apparently did with Cohen), but it might not work.

But there would be basically no way to directly pay the president in secret. Trump has changed that. It’s completely unclear how Avenatti came to be in possession of the documents that reveal the payments to Essential Consultants, but it came about due to some kind of leak. Had they not leaked, we would still be in the dark. And since no financial documents related to any of the many LLCs that Trump controls personally have leaked, we have no idea who is paying him or why.

UPDATE — CNBC

Drug giant Novartis revealed Wednesday that it paid President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Michael Cohen $1.2 million for health-care policy consulting work that he proved “unable” to do.

The company also said it has been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team about the payments to Cohen.

Novartis said it signed a one-year contract with Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, for $100,000 per month in February 2017, shortly after Trump was inaugurated as president.=

Novartis said it believed Cohen “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain U.S. health-care policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act.”

But just a month after signing the deal, Novartis executives had their first meeting with Cohen, and afterward “determined that Michael Cohen and Essentials Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated.”

It is quite possible that Cohen was doing this all for himself.  It just means he is more likely to flip.  IF he has something to flip on.

And this…

Nice work if you can get it.

Is Trump Pulling Out Of The Iran Deal? [Update: Yup]

Ken AshfordIran, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The overwhelming consensus is that Trump will pull out of it. According to the New York Times, Trump has told French President Macron that he is pulling out.

Trump has criticized the deal in rallies and on Twitter ever since his presidential campaign, but the criticisms have mostly been repetitions of “terrible deal” and well as criticisms of John Kerry…..

… but I don’t think Trump has ever explained why it is terrible in his view.  Just keeps saying it is bad bad bad. The biggest thing to realize about Trumps decision about the Iran Deal is that he doesn’t actually know what is even in it. He doesn’t even know what it’s in the deal or how it works.

The Iran deal — like redecorating the Oval Office, attacking Obamacare, demolishing regulations, reinstating Bush tax cuts, et al — is about erasing Obama’s presidency. It’s visceral. This is all about what he said on the campaign, ego vs Obama.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal will plunge America’s relations with European allies into deep uncertainty. They have committed to staying in the deal, raising the prospect of a diplomatic and economic clash as the United States reimposes stringent sanctions on Iran.  It also raises the prospect of increased tensions with Russia and China, which also are parties to the agreement. Even Trump’s own aides had persuaded him twice last year not to take this step.

Trump is breaking the Iran deal without ever expressng any policy for what comes next besides regime change. The Iran deal provides substantially more provision for verification of denuclearization and ongoing monitoring than will exist in this new post-Iran-deal reality. There are only two reasons to break the Iran deal:

1. You want Iran to get a nuclear weapon;  or
2. You want war

And we’ll probably get both. Watch arguments for war in the coming months take the shape of “we can’t be sure Iran isn’t building a bomb.”

And why shouldn’t it?  The only thing for anybody to do is to re-negotiate and Iran wants to renegotiate from a stronger standpoint. Like North Korea is in.

Here’s Ben Shodes, who put the deal together:

It’s now one hour until Trump’s announcement and this just came down:

UPDATE: It is 2:15pm and Trump is live on TV saying he is pulling out of Iran deal.  He is talking about problems with the deal, and while I can’t speak to each one, I think it is safe to say that the deal is not perfect. Compromise rarely is.  But Trump is not saying what he will do other than reinstating sanctions.

Trump is sticking to the prompter — a sure sign that he has no idea what he is talking about.

And here we go…

Q: “How does this make America safer?”

Trump’s real message to the world: Don’t trust the United States.

By the way, everybody is phrasing this wrong. There is no provision for withdrawal from JCPOA. This means that Trump is violating the Agreement, rather than “withdrawing” or “pulling away” from it.

When Trump says Iran is in breach of JCPOA, just a reminder that under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the US intelligence community is required to provide Congress with details on any potentially significant Iranian breach or compliance concern within 10 calendar days of receiving that information. *chirp, chirp*

Trump’s talk of the dangers of Iran with a nuclear bomb sound JUST like Bush and Rice back in the 2000s.  Same mistake.  Different asshole.  Peter Reinhart wrote an article today entitled “America’s Iraq Hawks Are Now Iran Hawks”:

The parallels between that moment and this one are uncanny. In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime’s nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America’s European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America’s confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.

So true.

UPDATE – 3 pm —

UPDATE — Barack weighs in

There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the United States negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.

The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest – it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish – its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.

That is why today’s announcement is so misguided. Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.

Debates in our country should be informed by facts, especially debates that have proven to be divisive. So it’s important to review several facts about the JCPOA.

First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my Administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. For decades, Iran had steadily advanced its nuclear program, approaching the point where they could rapidly produce enough fissile material to build a bomb. The JCPOA put a lid on that breakout capacity. Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran has destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – the raw materials necessary for a bomb. So by any measure, the JCPOA has imposed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and achieved real results.

Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust – it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, so that we can catch them if they cheat. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away.

Fourth, Iran is complying with the JCPOA. That was not simply the view of my Administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal, and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire. The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.

Finally, the JCPOA was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran. We were clear-eyed that Iran engages in destabilizing behavior – including support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel and its neighbors. But that’s precisely why it was so important that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.

Because of these facts, I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East. We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. It could embolden an already dangerous regime; threaten our friends with destruction; pose unacceptable dangers to America’s own security; and trigger an arms race in the world’s most dangerous region. If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.

In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.

And THAT’S how you make a convincing argument.

Yup….

Weekly List 77

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

Have we normalized that Trump lies to the American people? That was a central question after Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani publicly contradicted recent statements by Trump and the White House, saying Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to silence Stephanie Clifford, made days before the 2016 election. According to The Washington Post, Trump has told over 3,000 false or misleading statements since taking office.

This week we learned that Trump had himself dictated the medical letter used during his campaign, and as his White House doctor exited in disgrace, questions surfaced about access to accurate information about Trump’s health — another broken norm. This was another week plagued by resignations, attacks on our institutions and norms, and our values. The morning after Giuliani’s bombshell disclosure, Trump signed an executive order at the National Day of Prayer eliminating a boundary between religious groups and government.

  1. On Saturday, for the second time,Trump skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD). The last US leader to skip the dinner was Ronald Reagan, shortly after he was shot in an assassination attempt.
  2. Instead, Trump held a rally in Washington Township, Michigan, delivering an 80-minute campaign-style speech, full of factually incorrect and dystopian statements, including, “We have the worst laws anywhere in the world,” and “We don’t have borders.”
  3. During his speech, Trump asked, “Any Hispanics in the room?” The crowd booed, then Trump continued “Naw, not so many? That’s OK,” before repeating his demand for a border wall.
  4. Trump also continued his attacks on Sen. Jon Tester: “I know things about the senator I can say, too. If I said them, he would never be elected again,” as well as attacks on James Comey: “He is a liar and a leaker.”
  5. On Sunday and Monday, Trump attacked the WHCD, tweeting the dinner “is DEAD as we know it,” saying it “was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country,” and, “FAKE NEWS is alive and well.”
  6. A tree gifted to Trump by Macron last week, and planted together by the two men on the White House lawn, disappeared. The sapling was taken from the site of a World War One battle in north-east France, and Macron said should serve as reminder of “these ties that bind us”.
  7. On Monday, WAPO reported Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims in the 466 days since he took office, averaging 6.5 claims a day.
  8. On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria visited the White House. Both leaders tried to avoid conflict over Trump’s “shithole countries” comment. Trump said, “You do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in.”
  9. Trump stirred controversy, saying, “We have had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria,” ignoring the deaths of Muslims. A Muslim rights groups claimed, Trump “is luring Nigerian Christians into bolder confrontation with Muslims”.
  10. Intercept reported that since Trump took office, from January 2017 to November 2017, Muslim refugee admissions dropped by 94%, from 50% of all refugees to just 10%.
  11. Even while the Supreme Court considers Trump’s Travel Ban, the regime is taking other steps. US embassies have been ordered to intensify their screening process to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny.”
  12. Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has explored surveillance software and social media screening that could be used to profile Muslims and other minorities. In February, the DHS established a National Vetting Center to identify terrorists and criminals, which has also sounded alarms about surveillance.
  13. Patrick Little, an extremist who has called for the country to be “free from Jews,” and who is backed by David Duke and other far-right extremists, could be the Republican candidate who will face Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November.
  14. Army Times reported the Army is investigating the 101st Airborne chaplains over allegations that without providing any reason, they ended Friday night Shabbat services for Jewish soldiers and their families.
  15. On Tuesday, despite Trump’s vows to keep them out and calling up the National Guard, US officials started allowing in caravan members who are seeking asylum from brutal violence in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, bowing to US and international law.
  16. On Wednesday, Jeff Sessions said 35 assistant US attorneys and 18 immigration judges would be sent to the southern border to allow for more cases to be brought against illegal crossings and human smuggling.
  17. On Friday, US border officers granted entry to the last 83 of the 288 caravan members. Concern grew that asylum seekers would be detained indefinitely, or that children would be separated from their parents.
  18. On Friday, Trump’s DHS ended temporary protection status for 57,000 Hondurans in the US since 1999. This follows the regime ending protections for 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, and 9,000 Nepalis.
  19. On Wednesday, at an event in Arizona, Vice President Pence praised Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a “great friend” of Trump and a “tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.”
  20. On Tuesday, Jacob Scott Goodwin, 23, one of the white supremacists who viciously beat a black man in a parking garage in Charlottesville during last year’s “Unite the Right” rally, was found guilty of malicious wounding.
  21. On Wednesday, Iowa’s Republican controlled legislature fast-tracked a bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks, sending what could be the nation’s most restrictive legislation to the governor.
  22. On Friday, in what the Iowa Starting Line described as “A Dark Day in Iowa,” Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill, banning nearly all abortions in Iowa.
  23. AP reported after two Native American teen brothers visiting Colorado State University arrived 30 minutes late and joined for a campus tour underway, a parent called the campus police to report feeling “nervous” about their presence.
  24. Campus police patted down the teens and released them only after they provided an email proving they had reserved spots on the tour. The school apologized to the boys’ family and issued a letter to the student body.
  25. BuzzFeed reported Sessions’ Justice Department overhauled its manual for federal prosecutors: a section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial” was removed, as were references to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering.
  26. New sections include Sessions’ focus on religious liberty and the Trump regime’s efforts to crack down on government leaks. Also added are admonishments not to share classified information and directing prosecutors to report contacts with the media.
  27. On Monday, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, asked to have his salary reduced after Sen. Patty Murray sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, questioning why Redfield’s $375,000 annual compensation is more than double that of his predecessor.
  28. On Monday, Reuters reported the Environmental Protection Agency granted Trump ally Carl Icahn’s company, CVR Energy, a waiver which will allow it to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the US Renewable Fuel Standard program.
  29. Foreign Policy reported that 38 US ambassadorship positions remain unfilled by Trump, leaving the State Department to rely on lower-level officials to pick up the slack, even in embassies of strategic importance.
  30. Unfilled US ambassadorships include hot spots and key allies such as South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the European Union.
  31. On Tuesday, The Wichita Eagle reported that Kansas lawmakers abandoned a plan to force Kris Kobach to pay contempt of court charges out of his own pocket, meaning Kobach will be able to use state monies.
  32. On Tuesday, California and 17 other states sued the Trump regime, saying Scott Pruitt’s EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in changing course on greenhouse gas regulations related to auto emissions.
  33. On Thursday, as the position of VA Secretary remained vacant and now without a nominee from Trump, a key healthcare program, Veterans Choice Program, will run out of money in the coming weeks.
  34. Michael Stoker, credited with coining the “Lock her up” chant, was nominated by Trump to lead the EPA’s San Francisco-based regional office, a long-open vacancy. The regime has struggled to find people interested in taking the appointment.
  35. On Sunday, Politico reported Ronny Jackson will not return to his role as White House physician.
  36. On Monday, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said, “Despite published reports, there are no personnel announcements at this time,” and that Jackson “is currently on active duty, assigned to the White House.”
  37. On Monday, CNN reported Vice President Pence’s doctor alerted White House aides that Jackson may have violated federal privacy protections for Pence’s wife, Karen, and intimidated the doctor in confrontations about the violation last fall.
  38. On Friday, Jennifer Pena, the White House physician assigned to Vice President Pence, resigned.
  39. NBC News reported Trump’s former personal doctor for more than 35 years, Dr. Harold Bornstein, said his offices were raided by Keith Schiller, a Trump lawyer, and a third man in February 2017. At the time, Schiller was director of Oval Office operations at the White House.
  40. All medical records were removed. The raid took place two days after Bornstein told a newspaper he had prescribed hair growth medicine for Trump. Bornstein said he felt “raped, frightened and sad.”
  41. On Tuesday, Bornstein told CNN that Trump dictated the glowing letter he issued about Trump’s health, “(Trump) dictated the letter and I would tell him what he couldn’t put in there.”
  42. On Monday, Thomas Homan, Trump’s nominee in November to lead ICE, said he would retire in June after a tumultuous tenure as the agency’s acting director. Homan never had a confirmation hearing.
  43. On Monday night, Nino Perrotta, head of Pruitt’s security team who led his 24-hour detail, resigned. Perrotta is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
  44. On Monday, Albert Kelly, a top aide in charge of Superfund sites, also resigned. Kelly is a former banker from Oklahoma who was banned from the industry for life by the FDIC . Last week, lawmakers asked Pruitt to order Kelly to testify before their committee.
  45. On Thursday, Liz Bowman, the top public affairs official at the EPA, became the third top EPA official to resign during the week.
  46. Sam Clovis, former co-chairman on the Trump campaign then nominated to and withdrew from a USDA undersecretary role by Trump, resigned from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  47. On Friday, two top FBI aides who worked alongside Comey resigned: James Baker and Lisa Page. Although they came the same day, their resignations were not related.
  48. Baker was one of Comey’s closest confidants. Baker was the FBI’s top lawyer until December 2017, when he was reassigned by FBI director Christopher Wray. Baker has been investigated by the Justice Department on suspicion of sharing classified information with reporters.
  49. Page advised Comey, while serving under his then deputy, Andrew McCabe. She advised FBI leadership on Comey’s decision to hold a news conference to announce the bureau was recommending Hillary Clinton face no charges.
  50. On Monday, Kevin Chmielewski, a whistleblower from the EPA told ABC News Pruitt was “bold-faced” lying in his congressional hearing when he said no EPA employees faced retaliation for raising concerns about his spending decisions.
  51. WAPO reported that shortly after he took office, Pruitt came up a list of at least a dozen countries he wanted to visit, and asked aides to help him find official reasons to travel to each.
  52. Pruitt then recruited friends and political allies to help make the trips happen, raising ethical concerns. So far, Pruitt has travelled to Italy and Morocco, and canceled trips to Australia, Japan, and Israel.
  53. On Tuesday, WAPO reported Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who has known Pruitt for years,helped arrange Pruitt’s controversial trip to Morocco in December 2017.
  54. Records obtained by WAPO show the visit’s cost exceeded $100,000, more than twice what was previously reported. Pruitt was accompanied by eight staffers and his round-the-clock security detail.
  55. In April, Smotkin won a $40,000-a-month contract, retroactive to January, with the Moroccan governmentto promote the kingdom’s interests. Smotkin registered recently as a foreign agent representing Morocco.
  56. On Thursday, The Atlantic reported Michael Abboud, a member of Pruitt’s press team, shopped negative stories about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to multiple outlets in order to divert attention away from Pruitt.
  57. CNN calculated that during Pruitt’s 2010 campaign for Oklahoma attorney general and 2014 re-election campaign, he reimbursed himself for nearly $65,000 of expenses without proper documentation.
  58. Politico reported Michael Roman, a longtime opposition researcher who served in the White House as a special assistant to Trump, resigned. Roman acted as a right-hand man to White House counsel Don McGahn.
  59. On Monday, the cover story for Trump ally David Pecker’s National Enquirer targeted Michael Cohen, trumpeting, “Trump Fixer’s Secrets & Lies,” with a subhead reading: “Payoffs and threats exposed.”
  60. On Tuesday, CNN asked Cohen whether he thought a message was being sent by the story’s publication, and he responded, “What do you think?”
  61. On Monday, ABC News reported that the Trump campaign has spent nearly $228,000 to cover some of the legal defense expenses for Cohen between October 2017 and January 2018, possibly violating campaign finance laws.
  62. On Monday, Stephanie Clifford filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump, alleging he attempted to tarnish her reputation by dismissing her account of a man who threatened her in 2011, tweeting the composite sketch was “a total con job.”
  63. On Wednesday, the lawyer for Summer Zervos subpoenaed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which owns archives of “The Apprentice,” and the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Zervos says Trump groped her, seeking records to prove that he defamed her.
  64. On Monday, Sen. John McCain released a new book, saying Trump’s “reality show facsimile of toughness” matters more to him than the nation’s values, and comparing the actions of our government under Trump to “crimes of despotic ones.”
  65. On Monday, hours before tariffs on steel and aluminum were scheduled to take effect against Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazi,l and the EU, the Trump regime announced it would hold off until at least June 1.
  66. Sen. Marco Rubio told the Economist that the GOP tax law was a boon to big corporations only saying, “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”
  67. On Tuesday, former HHS Secretary Tom Price said at the World Health Care Congress that the Republicans repeal of the individual mandate “will harm” people insured through Obamacare because of higher cost.
  68. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted the Obama Administration “has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail.” This is false. Two of the three were arrested after Trump took office.
  69. The Guardian reported the government of Qatar bought a $6.5 million apartment in New York’s Trump World Tower on January 17, soon after an emoluments lawsuit was thrown out on December 21, 2017.
  70. On Thursday, AT&T and Time Warner said in a court filing said they were the victims of differential treatment by the DOJ from other similar transactions. Trump’s DOJ has demanded they sell off networks including CNN.
  71. On Thursday, ProPublica reported Jared Kushner’s ethics disclosure forms have been updated at least 40 times, most recently for misstating financials on two Brooklyn loans.
  72. For one of the Brooklyn projects, 215 Moore Street, BofI Federal Bank took over the mortgage, as the bank did for another Kushner Cos. project in New Jersey. BofI Federal Bank faced a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation last year.
  73. On Thursday, New York State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten ruled that a condominium on the Upper West Side could remove the bronze letters that spell T-R-U-M-P from the building.
  74. On Thursday, House Chaplain Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation and vowed to stay until the end of the year, saying in a letter that there was no just cause for him to be ousted from the position.
  75. Within hours, Speaker Paul Ryan reversed his position and said Conroy will remain. Ryan claimed his original rationale was questioning whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House.
  76. Trump’s delegation to Beijing left with scant progress in trade talks. China’s President Xi and Vice President Wang refused to meet with the US delegation which included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Lighthizer.
  77. On Monday, Paul Manafort asked a judge to investigate who is leaking nonpublic and possibly classified information about his case to the media, saying the leaks interfere with his right to a free trial and may violate grand jury secrecy rules.
  78. The Atlantic reported the DCCC said it is pledging not to use “illegally stolen and hacked materials” against Republicans in any campaigns in the midterms. The NRCC has so far declined to match that commitment.
  79. On Monday, NYT reported Mueller has 49 questions on an array of subjects he wants to ask Trump about his ties to Russia and to determine whether he obstructed the inquiry itself.
  80. The questions chiefly deal with Trump’s firing of Comey and Michael Flynn, his treatment of Sessions, and the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. They also deal with Trump’s business dealings, including his knowledge of Cohen’s discussions on a Moscow deal.
  81. Questions also include Jared’s attempt to set up back channel communications with Russia; whether Trump had contact with Roger Stone about the DNC hacking; and Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.
  82. Mueller is also seeking information on what Trump knew about a potential pardon for Flynn, and what Trump knew about campaign aides, including the former chairman Manafort, reaching out for assistance from Moscow.
  83. In January, John Dowd gave Mueller written explanations for a short list of questions, but in early March, Mueller said he needed to interview Trump. When Mueller’s team gave a revised longer list, it cemented Dowd’s view Trump should not sit for an interview. Dowd resigned shortly after.
  84. On Monday, WAPO reported that members of the Trump-allied conservative House Freedom Caucus havedrafted a one-page articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein.
  85. The draft relates to a dispute with Rosenstein over requests for documents about the decisions and behavior of federal law enforcement in the Russia probe and other probes, including Hillary Clinton’s email server.
  86. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Collusion.” This is false. There were more than a dozen on collusion.
  87. Trump also tweeted, “you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information,” and “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!”
  88. On Tuesday, at the Newseum, Rosenstein was asked about the draft articles of impeachments and responded, “I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.”
  89. Rosenstein also said he would not comment on documents “that nobody has the courage to put their name on,” adding the threats would not change his behavior.
  90. On Wednesday, Trump joined the House conservatives, tweeting the legal system was “rigged,” and threatening, “At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!”
  91. On Wednesday, the Justice Department denied a request by the House Freedom Caucus to view an unredacted version of the August memo signed by Rosenstein, saying turning over the memo would “threaten the integrity” of Mueller investigation.
  92. On Tuesday, WAPO reported on a tense March 5 meeting, at which Trump’s lawyers told Mueller thatTrump had no obligation to speak with federal investigators, and Mueller responded he could subpoenaTrump to appear before a grand jury.
  93. This was the first mention of a subpoena. Dowd reportedly responded, “This isn’t some game. You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.”
  94. After the meeting, Mueller’s team agreed to provide more information about the subjects prosecutors wanted to discuss with Trump, from which Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions he believed Trump would be asked.
  95. On Tuesday, the special counsel office and Flynn agreed to delay Flynn’s sentencing for another 60 days, on top of the original 90 days extension, saying the delay was necessary “due to the status” of the investigation.
  96. On Tuesday, Jill Stein said her campaign would only provide some of the documents requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee about her campaign’s contact with Russians, saying the request was too broad.
  97. On Wednesday, Trump hired Emmet Flood, who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment, signaling Trump advisers do not see the Mueller probe ending soon, and are worried about Democrats taking controlof the House in November.
  98. Flood also worked for George W. Bush to fend off congressional investigators. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Emmet Flood will be joining the White House staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt.”
  99. Flood will replace Ty Cobb who had tried to convince Trump that cooperating would bring the Mueller probe to an end. Flood is expected to take a much more adversarial approach.
  100. On Wednesday, former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo slammed the Senate Intelligence Committee for its Russia probe which he said had cost him $125,000 in legal fees and is forcing him to relocate to pay off legal fees.
  101. On Wednesday, NYT reported while Manafort faces US charges for money laundering and financial fraud related to his work in Ukraine, in Ukraine, four cases against him have been effectively frozen.
  102. The decision to halt the investigations was handed down to an anti-corruption prosecutor, and coincided with the Trump regime finalizing plans to sell Ukraine sophisticated anti-tank missiles.
  103. Additionally, Ukrainian law enforcement allowed a possible witness of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to leave for Russia. Ukrainian politicians have reportedly concluded that any help prosecuting Manafort could bring down Mr. Trump’s wrath.
  104. On Friday, NYT reported the Russian oligarch who was reported in Week 73 to be stopped by Mueller’s team as he stepped off his private plane when it landed at a New York area airport was Viktor Vekselberg.
  105. Federal agents questioned Vekselberg and searched his electronic devices. Vekselberg attended Trump’s inauguration, as well as the 2015 RT dinner in Russia where Michael Flynn and Jill Stein sat at Putin’s table.
  106. Vekselberg controls a company that has been the largest single shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus. At the time Vekselberg’s company was making the investment, Wilbur Ross was its vice chairman.
  107. Vekselberg, a native of Ukraine, is believed to have a favorable relation with Putin, and is one of the Russian oligarchs on the recent sanction list. He also has long-running business ties to the US.
  108. On Friday, the House Intelligence Committee released a newly unredacted section of its final Russia report detailing testimony from Comey and McCabe. Per the report, McCabe said the two agents who interviewed Michael Flynn “didn’t think he was lying.”
  109. On Friday, CNN reported that Rep. Devin Nunes, after months of demanding an unredacted version of a document from the Justice Department explaining how the Russia investigation began in 2016, has not read the document.
  110. On Wednesday, on Fox News’ “Hannity,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani gave a wide-ranging interview.Giuliani revealed Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, contradicting recent prior statement by both Trump and the White House.
  111. Giuliani told Hannity the $130,000 reimbursement “is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money,” adding they “funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it.”
  112. Later in the interview, Giuliani said Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of [the payment] as far as I know,” but Trump “did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this.”
  113. Also in the interview, Giuliani said Trump fired Comey because “Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation.”
  114. Giuliani attacked Comey, saying he should be prosecuted and calling him a “disgraceful liar” and a “very perverted man,” and said, “every FBI agent in America has his head down because of you.”
  115. Giuliani called Hillary “a criminal,” saying, “she should go to jail. I do not know why the Justice Department is not investigating her,” adding, “Comey fixed the whole case.”
  116. Giuliani however warned Mueller to not go after Ivanka, “Ivanka Trump? I think I would get on my charger and go ride into their offices with a lance,” adding “If they go after her, the whole country will turn on them.
  117. When asked about Jared, who has testified in the Mueller probe, Giuliani said, Giuliani called him a “fine man,” but said, “men are disposable.”
  118. Giuliani said of the Mueller probe, “This has become a witch hunt like the president said. And if you look at the questions that are being asked, they’re trap questions. A first-year prosecutor would do better than that.”
  119. Giuliani attacked the Department of Justice, saying the department under Sessions is “completely unhinged and out of control. It breaks my heart” adding on Trump’s view of Sessions: he “isn’t that he’s angry, he’s heartbroken. He never expected this from Jeff.
  120. After attacking both Sessions and Rosenstein, Giuliani said, “The two of them can redeem themselves…They should order the investigation over,” adding “the whole investigation was totally unnecessary.”
  121. Giuliani also referred to the FBI agents who searched Cohen’s home, office and hotel room as “storm troopers.”
  122. Late Wednesday, Giuliani told the WSJ that Trump authorized him to announce the reimbursement after a discussion last week, saying Trump told him he was “very pleased…We finally got our side of the story.”
  123. Late Wednesday, Giuliani told BuzzFeed that Cohen “had complained to some people” after the 2016 election that he’d not been fully paid by Trump. Cohen later reportedly met with Trump about the matter.
  124. According to Giuliani, Trump told Cohen, “We’ll cover your expenses,” and agreed to pay him $35,000 a month “out of his personal funds” over the course of a year-long period that began in the first few months of 2017.
  125. On Wednesday, Caputo told CNN about being interviewed in the Mueller probe: “they are still really focused on Russia collusion. They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.”
  126. Caputo also said of the Mueller probe, “The Senate and the House are net fishing. The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.”
  127. On Thursday, Trump, in a series of tweets, acknowledged the payment to Stephanie Clifford, saying a non-disclosure agreement was “used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”
  128. Contrary to his prior statement that he knew nothing of the payment, Trump tweeted these agreements are “very common among celebrities and people of wealth,” adding he “played no roll in this transaction” — misspelling the word “role.”
  129. Trump also tweeted Cohen “received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign,” adding “money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.”
  130. Shortly after, George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, tweeted out a section of the campaign finance law which indicates the payment would be subject to the law, and should have been reported.
  131. On Thursday, at the National Day of Prayer, Trump announced an executive order which would establish a new faith-based office to expand government grants to and partnerships with religiously-affiliated groups.
  132. At the ceremony, Trump said he was responsible for people saying “Merry Christmas” more, and people talking more openly about prayer. Since Trump took office, the position of director of the White House faith-based office has been vacant.
  133. Trump has expanded White House access for conservative Christians — evangelicals, in particular, and also Catholics who are alarmed by the issues like gay rights, and seek to promote conservative religious rights.
  134. On Thursday, Giuliani appeared on “Fox & Friends,” saying Trump didn’t know the details of the payment to Clifford, “$135,000 seems like a lot of money. It’s not when you are putting $100 million into your campaign.”
  135. Giuliani said the payment was not political for Trump, saying Trump “had been hurt personally — not politically, personally — and the first lady by some of the false allegations, that one more false allegation, six years old.”
  136. Giuliani said politics was behind the payment by Cohen, “Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton … Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”
  137. On Thursday, Mueller’s team requested an additional 70 blank subpoenas ahead of their trial against Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia, where Manafort faces several charges, including bank fraud.
  138. On Thursday, WAPO reported that McGahn, John Kelly, Sanders, and Flood were not aware of Giuliani’s strategy, or did they know that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 paid to Stephanie Clifford.
  139. The shifting story left Trump’s White House in turmoil againWAPO noted, “It has become standard operating procedure for Trump and his aides to deceive the public with false statements and shifting accounts.”
  140. Giuliani told WAPO he discussed the issue with Trump a few days ago and claimed they agreed to get in front of the narrative by releasing the story publicly: “I saw the opportunity, I was going to get this over with.”
  141. Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney, has been aware of the payment for weeks or months, but didn’t share it because Cohen did not want to appear to be contradicting Trump’s denial in early April.
  142. On Thursday, NBC News reported Cohen’s phones were being wiretapped by federal investigators. The story was later corrected.
  143. On Thursday, when asked for his reaction, Giuliani told The Hill of the federal investigators in the Cohen case that Sessions should “step in, in his role as defender of justice, and put these people under investigation.”
  144. Later Thursday, NBC News corrected their earlier reporting, saying Cohen’s phone logs were being monitored, not wiretapped where investigators listen in. At least one phone call between Cohen and the White House was logged.
  145. The monitoring of Cohen’s phones was in place in the weeks leading up to the raids on Cohen’s offices, hotel room and home. It is not yet known when the monitoring was originally authorized.
  146. On Friday, Trump slammed NBC News, tweeting “NBC NEWS is wrong again!” adding “They cite “sources” which are constantly wrong….they are fabricated, fiction!” and saying, “now as bad as Fake News CNN. Sad!”
  147. On Friday, Giuliani told NBC News in a telephone interview that Trump wasn’t aware of the payment to Clifford until recently, saying Trump responded, “Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.”
  148. Giuliani said Trump was subsequently on board with the decision to go public, saying, “You’re not going to see daylight between the president and me. We’re going to work hard to have a consistent strategy.”
  149. On Friday, Trump told reporters Giuliani needed more time to “get his facts straight,” adding “virtually everything said has been said incorrectly,” and noting Giuliani “just started a day ago.”
  150. On Friday, Giuliani released a cryptic statement clarifying his remarks and trying to walk back his claimTrump had repaid Cohen, saying, “My references to timing were…my understanding of these matters.”
  151. On Friday, WAPO reported that press secretary Sanders has told colleagues the Giuliani interview left her in an untenable position. The interview was the first she heard of Trump reimbursing Cohen.
  152. Sanders responded to reporters, “I’ve given the best information I had at the time,” six times when pressed with questions, also answering, “Some information I am aware of, and some I’m not.”
  153. Sanders does not have the personal access to Trump that Hope Hicks enjoyed. Although combative with reporters in public, Sanders is largely regarded as more pleasant and helpful behind the scenes.
  154. On Friday, NYT reported Trump had known about the payment to silence Stephanie Clifford at least several months before he told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had no knowledge of it.
  155. On Friday, WSJ reported according to public records, Cohen gained access to as much as $774,000 through two financial transactions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Giuliani said this week Cohen had resolved problems for Trump beyond Clifford.
  156. Cohen gained access to $529,000 through a new mortgage cosigned by him and his wife on a condominium owned by her parents at Trump World Tower and an additional $245,000 by nearly doubled the amount he could borrow under his bank credit line tied to his Manhattan apartment.
  157. Federal investigators are examining whether Cohen committed bank fraud by making false statements inflating the value of his assets to obtain loans or by misstating the intended purpose of the loans.
  158. Giuliani said this week that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the Clifford payment through a $35,000-a-month retainer. On Friday, Giuliani said Trump would have done this whether he was running for office or not.
  159. Dallas Morning News reported guns will be banned for appearances by both Pence and Trump at the upcoming National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas.
  160. On Friday, at the NRA convention, Pence urged state and local leaders to allow qualified school personnel to carry concealed firearms, saying,“The quickest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
  161. On Air Force One on the way to the convention, Trump told reporters the NRA is a “great organization that loves this country.” Trump also said he has a “record crowd” attending the convention.
  162. Trump went off script to ridicule former Secretary of State John Kerry : “not the best negotiator we’ve ever seen. He never walked away from the table except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg.
  163. On Wednesday, 18 House Republicans and five running for Congress nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons program.
  164. On Friday, federal judge T.S. Ellis expressed skepticism about Mueller team’s bank fraud case against Manafort, saying prosecutors’ interest in Manafort was to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment.”
  165. Ellis repeated this suspicion several times, and suggested the charges brought by Mueller’s team in Virginia were designed to pressure Manafort into giving information on Trump or others in the campaign.
  166. Ellis mimicked a prosecutor, saying they weren’t interested in material that didn’t “further our core effort to get Trump” — saying that is why they moved the Cohen case to New York, but kept the Manafort case in Virginia.
  167. Ellis ordered Mueller’s prosecutors to turn over a full, unredacted version of Rosenstein’s August 2 memowhich describes the criminal allegations Mueller’s team can investigate, under seal, in two weeks.
  168. On Friday, at the NRA convention, Trump held up the CNN article. As the crowd booed, Trump said, “they have a headline: ‘Judge in Manafort case says Mueller’s aim is to hurt Trump,’” adding “It’s called the witch hunt.”
  169. On Friday, Trump threatened another immigration fight on the upcoming spending bill, saying at the NRA convention, and repeating a mantra from his campaign speech, “They’re not sending their finest, that I can tell you.”
  170. On Friday, Trump reiterated his battle call on immigration, tweeting, “We are going to demand Congress secure the border in the upcoming CR. Illegal immigration must end!”

Cohen Isn’t A Fixer So Much As A Bagman

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

From an anonymous person “steeped in anti-corruption enforcement (both domestic and foreign) on the prosecution and defense side”:

As we already know, Michael Cohen is the prototypical fixer or bagman…. The bagman’s job is to get bribe money to people while insulating and giving deniability to the ultimate payor of the bribe. Having a dirty lawyer as a bagman provides a number of advantages.

First, bribe money can be laundered from the “client” through the lawyer as fictitious legal services. The lawyer can issue bogus invoices to the client in amounts sufficient to cover bribe payments, a commission to the lawyer, and a gross-up for any taxes the lawyer would have to pay on the fee income (bagmen, after all, don’t want to be stuck paying taxes on amounts they pay out as bribes). Sound familiar?

Second, by disguising the bribes as payments for legal fees, businesses can try to write them off as expenses (bribes are not deductible). This is tax evasion, of course, but it is common practice for the corrupt. Third, the lawyer-client relationship can be an impediment to law enforcement. It can be very difficult for prosecutors to pierce what appears on the surface to be a legitimate attorney-client relationship.

So now we have Giuliani confirming that this is exactly how Trump and Cohen operated. Hush money to Stormy Daniels is one thing and certainly raises potential serious campaign finance violations, but she is not a public official. What I find most significant about Rudy’s admission is what it says about the nature of the relationship between Trump and Cohen and how it suggests an M.O. for other more serious crimes.

Trump is a major real estate developer in NY who has openly bragged about his ability to cut through red tape and get politicians in his pocket. We now have serious SDNY public corruption prosecutors and FBI agents in possession of a massive amount of electronic data from his bagman. They likely already have all of his financial records as well. And Rudy has now given them the roadmap for how Trump may have laundered bribes through Cohen as purported legal fees or retainer payments. Every invoice Cohen has ever issued to Trump is suspect. Every corrupt payment Cohen has ever made or facilitated to building inspectors, councilmen, pornstars, or whomever can potentially be tied back to Trump. In addition, I suspect Trump and his kids had a false sense of comfort that their communications with Cohen would be privileged. I am convinced this is why Trump and his family are freaking out about the Cohen raid and the possibility he could flip. The SDNY is sitting on the mother lode of evidence and Rudy has given them the connection between purported legal fees and payments by Cohen to third parties.

Rudy Giuliani was once the New York U.S. attorney himself, so he must know this could be a red flag for criminal behavior. But he’s deep into Trump’s alternate reality today. They are two of a kind, close in age, scrappy New Yorkers who have become vulnerable to paranoia and conspiracy theories in their later years. They are both clearly in over their heads but are too egotistical to admit it. Giuliani’s display this week could be a lethal blow to this White House.

Like Nixon And Dean, Trump And Cohen Are Not On The Same Page

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Let’s start with yesterday afternoon, when Giuliani did a little clean-up on aisle five. Trump’s most visible attorney was back on the air on Wednesday to “clarify” what he said the previous two days by throwing over them a blanket claim of ignorance.

President Donald Trump only recently found out that he reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement with adult performer Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed Thursday. …

“I don’t think the president realized he paid him (Cohen) back for that specific thing until we (his legal team) made him aware of the paperwork,” he said.

Giuliani said the president responded, “‘Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.’”

Which, of course, is a reversal of Giuliani’s claims earlier that Trump was aware that Cohen was being paid back for the Daniels payments, and that Trump had in fact designed the $35,000 a month payments to Cohen for “doing no work” as a means of both paying Cohen back and providing him “a little profit.”

To believe this story first requires that genuine people come away thinking that Donald Trump has ever started any sentence in his life with “Oh my goodness” rather than something … more visceral.

It also requires belief that Trump tossed Michael Cohen over three quarters of a million—$470,000 from the Trump organization and $288,000 from Trump’s campaign—without having a clue why he was paying someone more money than most Americans see in their whole lives. Donald Trump’s entire legal strategy has come down to sending out a spokesman to spread a message of  “I am ignorant of my own company’s activities, sloppy about cleaning up my own messes, and incredibly careless with my money. So it’s all good.”  Probably not the best thing for a president who said he will run America like he will run his business.

Meanwhile, we have a window into Cohen’s reaction to all this.

Mediate:

MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch dropped a bombshell on Morning Joe Friday, stating that said President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen told him Rudy Giuliani “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

That stunning remark comes after Giuliani appeared for a series of bombshell interviews on Fox News and declared that Cohen was repaid by the president for his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Those remarks ran counter to statements Trump has made before regarding the affair, claiming he did not know about the payments.

Giuliani’s comments were an effort to defend Cohen against charges his payment to Daniels violated campaign finance laws, though it’s not clear he cleaned anything up for the president’s fixer.

“The Giuliani thing is interesting,” Deutsch said. “We forget how during the campaign, Giuliani was unhinged. I mean if you showed clips of him during the campaign, there was a reason he didn’t get hired for all the jobs that he wanted to.”

“I spoke with Michael Cohen yesterday, and his remark about Giuliani, was that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Deutsch said. “He also said look, there are two people that know exactly what happened. And that’s myself and the president. And you’ll be hearing my side of the story.”

“And he was obviously very frustrated with what had come out yesterday,” Deutsch added.

Later on Morning Joe, law professor Jonathan Turleysaid Cohen’s comments about Giuliani are “chilling.”

“If I was counsel for the president, that indicates that they are now on separate scripts. And if they’re on separate scripts, they could be on separate tracks. Cohen at the end of the day is going to be a rational actor. If he doesn’t see much of a benefit of sticking with the Trump team he’s going to look elsewhere — and there’s only one place to look.”

Here’s what I think happened:

(1) Trump lied to Rudy about Cohen (i.e, the timing of payments, his knowledge of the reimbursement, etc).
(2) Rudy, being a Trump acolyte and bad lawyer, took his client’s word and did no independent investigation to verify what Trump told him
(3) Rudy devises strategy to get the whole thing behind them
(4) Rudy executes strategy badly
(5) Hilarity ensues

And as I write this, Trump is talking impromptu to reporters on the tarmac — saying his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is “a great guy” and “he’ll get his facts straight.”

Trump saying that the problem is that “they” are “thirteen Democrats” is, well, not true, but more importantly, not the legal argument he wants. It won’t fly.

RELATED — Uh oh.  He’s beginning to lose some Fox News stalwarts

Breaking: Feds Tapped Cohen’s Phones [UPDATE: Not Quite]

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NBC:

Federal investigators have wiretapped the phone lines of Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer for President Donald Trump who is under investigation for a payment he made to an adult film star who alleged she had an affair with Trump, according to two people with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.

It is not clear how long the wiretap has been authorized, but NBC News has learned it was in place in the weeks leading up to the raids on Cohen’s offices, hotel room, and home in early April, according to one person with direct knowledge.

At least one phone call between a phone line associated with Cohen and the White House was intercepted, the person said.

Previously, federal prosecutors in New York have said in court filings that they have conducted covert searches on multiple e-mail accounts maintained by Cohen.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in New York declined comment.

The White House now…

via GIPHY

You know what is going to happen. Republicans will decry this as intrusive and breaking the rule of law (even though Giuliani, as prosecutor, would have phones tapped all the time). I guess it all depends on the wiretap application, which we don’t know the details of (yet).

But as Preet says:

UPDATE — CORRECTION

CORRECTION: Earlier today, NBC News reported that there was a wiretap on the phones of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, citing two separate sources with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen.

But three senior U.S. officials now dispute that, saying that the monitoring of Cohen’s phones was limited to a log of calls, known as a pen register, not a wiretap where investigators can actually listen to calls.

Rudy’s Blunder

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Rudy Giuliani on Sean Hannity’s show last night turned into a bombshell.  It was a very strange interview for Trump’s new lawyer.  The former head of the SDNY and New York mayor talked in a Fox News-y kind of way, but not like a lawyer well-versed in the issues. He called Hillary a “criminal”, etc.

He said that the public could understand Kushner going to jail, but would not stand for it if the DOJ went after Ivanka (because “men are disposable”).

He called the FBI in New York a bunch of “stormtroopers”. This is completely weird since Rudy worked with these guys when he was a prosecutor, and when he was mayor of NYC during 9/11, and had nothing bu praise for them. Some of the same people are there.

One thing interesting: Giuliani offered new rationale for why Trump fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey in May 2017, saying the president was justified in removing Comey because Comey would not publicly say that the president was not under investigation as part of the FBI’s probe of Russian election interference.

“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation,” Giuliani said. “He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that, and he couldn’t get that. So he fired him, and he said, ‘I’m free of this guy.’ ”

That sounds to me like he fired Comey because Comey wouldn’t clear him of any wrongdoing. That’s… that’s still obstruction in my book.  In Mueller’s too, I would think.

Because Mueller is looking at all of this conduct at the time. To establish obstruction, Mueller needs to show that in trying to hamstring or derail the probe, Trump acted with “corrupt intent,” say, to protect himself and his top officials from scrutiny. The leaked questions from Mueller show that he wants to ask Trump about that very same March 30 call with Comey in which he seems to have demanded that Comey publicly exonerate him. Mueller wants to probe Trump’s state of mind about all of this, including whether Comey’s public confirmation of the investigation — which angered Trump — helped precipitate Comey’s firing.

Giuliani has now publicly confirmed that all that did indeed figure into Trump’s rationale.

As incredible a reveal as this was, it is not the biggest story to come out of the Giuliani-Hannity interview.

This is.

At first, everyone assumed it was a slip. I thought so. But then it became apparent that this was planned.

After all, the feds had raided Cohen’s apartment, house and workplace. They must have learned that Trump had repaid Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush money.

Giuliani was trying to get ahead of the story — which apparently was about campaign finance violations.  They were undoubtedly more concerned about that than anything having to do with Stormy Daniels.

The first problem, fron a PR standpoint, is that Trump denied knowledge of the payment only a mere 17 days ago. Put bluntly, he lied to the American people.

The second problem is legal.  Who made the payment, and the mechanics of reimbursement, is not as important as why the payment was made.  If it was for the campaign, that is an illegal and unreported campaign in-kind expenditure.

The situation draws parallels to John Edwards’ trial for accepting similar in-kind contributions. DOJ could not get a conviction, likely because there was no smoking gun evidence indicating that payments to Edwards’ mistress were campaign related and not aimed at saving his marriage.

The Edwards precedent may be one of the reasons U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of New York raided Cohen’s office and hotel where he was staying: they may have been looking for documentary evidence of his state of mind to determine whether Cohen’s payment was more about Melania or the campaign.

You see, if Cohen made the payment alone and neither Trump nor anyone in the campaign knew anything about it, Trump and the campaign officials would have done nothing wrong. Yes, they have to report contributions and expenditures on federal campaign reports (where they certify they are making truthful statements). But if these campaign officials knew nothing of the contribution, they did nothing wrong. (Cohen might still be on the hook, though, if it could be proven that he did it to support the campaign.)

Now, thanks to Giuliani, the picture looks considerably different. If what Giuliani said to Hannity is true, and if the payments were made to help the campaign and not (just) to help Trump personally, the campaign may be implicated in illegal activity. If Trump knew that Cohen was advancing him a $130,000 loan for campaign purposes, that would have to be reported by the campaign, as would the payments Giuliani said Trump made in installments to Cohen. These would be campaign expenditures that the committee has to keep track of. As Philip Bump notes, if the Trump Organization facilities were used to help make these payments, then there may be additional campaign violations related to the use of corporate resources for campaigns.

Ultimately, Giuliani offered two defenses for Trump on Hannity. One, as mentioned, is that the payments were not campaign-related.

The other is that Trump did not know the specifics of what Cohen was doing; just that Cohen was the fixer taking care of things just like Giuliani said he did for his clients. It is a defense that could well be corroborated or rejected based on what’s in the seized Cohen materials.

Perhaps there’s proof in the Cohen documents of an intent for this to be unrelated to the campaign. But it is just as plausible that Giuliani went out there because they know new information will come out, and this is a way to try to get ahead of the story.

Right now, Trump is in a bit of a bind. Either he lied to the American people or he has an incompetent lawyer. (It could be both). For his part, Giuliani told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa that the president was “very pleased” with his performance and knew in advance about the revelation.

Trump, in a series of tweets that I am convinced was ghostwritten by Rudy, tried to explain that it was not a campaign violation:

Getting to the substance,I’m not sure what some of Trumps tweets means. A monthly retainer is one thing. Reimbursement is another thing. I’ll tell you what it SOUNDS like. It sounds like they were structuring this in a way to avoid having it flagged as a campaign expenditure. It sounds like bank fraud.

That aside, if fixing Trump’s affairs was something that Cohen did on a regular basis, for which he was paid a monthly retainer, and he had been doing that before Trump announced his campaign, that certainly works in Trump’s favor. The problem, however, is that the Stormy Daniels humping took place back in 2006 and Stormy had talked about it in 2010. Why then didn’t Cohen “fix” it then? It seems that he only tried to fix it BECAUSE Trump was now in a national election.

Rudy went on Fox & Friends this morning and insisted that the payment to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) was personal, not political.  But then, he said this:

WHAT?!?  It sounds to me like the money was used to prevent something from hurting his campaign.

I don’t know what is going on and what the point of this media blitz by Giuliani is. It is hurting Trump badly. I do believe this report from Robert Costa:

Yup.

Let’s go to the FEC shall we?

It boils down to this: If Cohen indeed made the payment — either as a gift or even as a loan without interest — to aid Trump politically, it could be considered an illegal and unreported campaign contribution in excess of the $2,700 federal contribution limit that was in effect for the 2016 campaign.

Reactions:

And, completely unrelated, another blow to Trump:

UPDATE: This interview Giuliani gave to the Washington Post is FULL of the same admissions. He keeps coming back to the point that they did not consider the reimbursement to Cohen to be campaign expenses, as if saying that gets him out of hot water. The problem is, while intent is relevant, it looks like a strange structuring. It looks like they were trying to avoid making it look like a campaign expense when everything else says it was. Cohen paid Stormy “right before the election” and the reimbursements started “probably in 2017” and “that and a few other situations that might have been considered campaign expeditures” were ended in 2017.

And this….

So even when it comes to Trump’s intent, we really “don’t know” if Trump considered personal or political.

The amazing thing is…. Mueller wasn’t looking into this. The SDNY was. Now, I think, Mueller SHOULD look into it, based on Rudy’s interviews.

White House taken by surprise:

Trump Threatens Rosenstein

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump appears to be responding to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. At an event yesterday, Rosenstein was asked about a group of conservative House Republicans drafting articles of impeachment against him, accusing him of stonewalling a request made by the House Intelligence Committee for documents on the Russia investigation.

“The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted,” Rosenstein replied. Coming from an official who has largely tried to remain low-key, the comments were notably pointed.

The redaction Trump is referring to is this memo setting out the scope of Mueller’s investigation.

It was produced in a court filing to show that Manafort’s actions were within the scope of Mueller’s investigation. But the rest of it was redacted, and Trump’s lawyers and GOP supporters in Congress want to know what it says.

I am not sure what is meant by “unequal justice”, but I suspect he thinks that Hillary got it easy from the DOJ/FBI, while Trump is being investigated.  That would be a weird position if he wants to argue later that the DOJ/FBI was too TOUGH on Clinton.

The President has recently been ramping up his threats to intervene with the DOJ, telling Fox and Friends last week that top FBI and DOJ officials were “corrupt.” Though he tries to stay away, he said, “at some point, I won’t.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged caution on Wednesday, telling Trump in a tweet in response that the president doesn’t have the power to interfere with the Russia probe, and that firing Rosenstein or Mueller “would create a constitutional crisis.”

Yeah. It would actually make an obstruction charge even worse for the President.

Anyway, here’s a tweet from less than two months ago:

Two of those three lawyers are now gone.

What’s The Strategy Relating To A Possible Mueller Subpoena? [UPDATE: Ty Cobb Out As Trump Lawyer]

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The Washington Post reported yesterday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office has threatened to subpoena the president’s testimony in the Russia probe:

In a tense meeting in early March with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, President Trump’s lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined: He could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter.

I didn’t think it was “big news” that Mueller essentially threatened to subpoena the President. That is his ace in the hole. It is relevant only in that it points out he had to make the threat at all, indicating that negotiations were at an impasse.

What’s going on now between the Mueller camp and the Trump camp is a complicated multi-level game of chicken that is best understood not in terms of law but as a structured game. On the one side? How badly Mueller needs – needs, not wants — Trump’s testimony.  On the other side?  How much can Trump avoid having to testify?

Wittes uses game theory:

The bottom line is that a subpoena is a weapon the special counsel has in his arsenal but does not want to use. Its use involves, first, a long delay and, second, a possibility (albeit a small one) of a loss that would set him back and set (from his point of view) a bad precedent. Mueller, in short, is using the threat of a subpoena to coax what he actually wants—which is a consensual interview. This kind of staring contest is not without precedent: a similar one took place between Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr. Clinton ultimately backed down and appeared before Starr’s grand jury.

Now look at the matter from the perspective of Trump’s legal team—at least if it were acting rationally. (This may be condition contrary to fact, but let’s run with it for now.) It is a simply terrible idea for Trump to sit for an interview. He’s a liar; he talks both impulsively and compulsively, and he probably has some legal exposure if he tells the truth. So the interview is a lose-lose proposition. This is particularly the case if his lawyers believe that Mueller has nothing serious on Trump personally without an interview but believe the president may lie if he sits for one—and his greatest criminal exposure involves not what he has already done but the lies he is likely to tell.

Normally, in such situations, the subject asserts his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself—the whole purpose of which right is to relieve the so-called “cruel trilemma” of self-incrimination, perjury, or contempt. But while the president has a right to assert the Fifth, he can’t easily do so without serious political damage. So the alternative for his legal team is to bet that Mueller won’t actually pull the trigger and issue the subpoena, either out of fear of litigation defeat or out of desire not to delay. Rather than assert the Fifth, the Trump team is playing chicken with Mueller.

The problem with this strategy for the president is that the risks associated with losing a litigation are dramatically higher for him than they are for the special counsel. Remember that the law favors Mueller. What’s more, if Mueller issues the subpoena, Trump resists it, and the court enforces the subpoena, Trump loses all of his negotiating leverage. Gone is the chance of negotiating a congenial environment for an interview, limiting the time, or having his attorneys present. The normal grand jury witness, after all, has to go into the grand jury room alone.

I would add that, politically, the president fighting the subpoena just looks bad. It looks like he is running. It looks like he is scared. It contradicts all his statements that he would be looking forward to talking to the special counsel.  Back to Wittes:

Moreover, time may be an annoyance to Mueller, but it could be much worse than that for the president. A responsible lawyer for Trump has to protect him from the possibility of having to walk into the grand jury room alone, say, a week before the midterm elections. Time is not on Mueller’s side, but it’s really not on Trump’s side.

In other words, refusing consent for an interview may solve Trump’s cruel trilemma problem in the immediate term but it’s also a roll of the dice in which the downside risk is unacceptably bad and not all that improbable.

So the question is: Who blinks first? Does the Trump team decide to negotiate the terms of an interview rather than risk litigation it is likely to lose? Or does Mueller back down and not follow through on the subpoena threat—thus letting Trump off the hook?

Right. So the question falls back on “How badly does Mueller really need Trump’s testimony?”

Now. for obstruction, I think it is pretty important. You need to know what Trump’s intent was.  However, in Mueller’s favor, we KNOW why Trump fired Comey — HE TOLD US:

Is that enough? And is Trump willing to say something different under oath? Doe Mueller have emails or documents or testimony from other people explaining why Comey was fired?

I think Wittes sums it up nicely:

To boil it down, here’s what we can say about the possibility of an T

rump interview:

First, the logic of the situation favors a negotiated outcome. Neither side has an interest in a protracted litigation, and both sides have litigation risk. As the probable outcome of any such litigation is a Mueller win, the situation favors negotiated resolution on terms broadly favorable to Mueller.

Second, if Mueller really needs the interview, he’s going to get it. The litigation risk for Trump is dramatically higher than the risk for the special counsel’s office. That means that the moment Trump’s team truly believes that the alternative to a voluntary interview is losing in litigation, the Trump team will negotiate terms for an interview—or it will take the political hit of asserting the Fifth.

Third, conversely, if Mueller does not really need the interview, he may well blink and let Trump get away with not sitting for one. Indeed, if neither an interview nor a subpoena materializes, that is a sure sign that Mueller is content to proceed without hearing from Trump. That could mean either that his case is weak or that it is strong. It indicates that his ultimate decisions as to how to proceed do not depend on what Trump has to say.

No doubt, the lawyers for Trump are praying for Option Three.

Fourth, in any negotiated interview, the more accommodations Mueller is prepared to make to Trump, the less crucial we can assume the interview is to his investigation. If the interview is a make-or-break thing for Mueller, he will hold the line and make sure Trump sits for live questions. If he allows written answers, that’s a sign the stakes are lower for him, for one reason or another. In my judgment, the mere fact he was willing to telegraph so much subject matter to Trump’s lawyers suggests that he doesn’t really need Trump’s input that much; if the interview were truly high-stakes for Mueller, I doubt he would give the Trump team the opportunity to script answers for him.

This is an interesting take by Wittes.  We now know the questions that Mueller was interested in, because Trump’s lawyers were told.  Mueller showed his hand (not to us, but to Trump’s lawyers), which means he probably has more up his sleeve.

Finally, if a subpoena issues, that is not the endpoint of the game but an escalation of it—a sign that neither side has blinked yet. The essential logic of the situation persists until there is an actual court order changing the negotiating status quo or a negotiated interview to avert the litigation. An accommodation is possible even after litigation has begun.

True. And a court could even encourage or push for further negotiation. And if that happens, Trump’s lawyers would take that as a sign they will lose, and probably give Mueller what he wants.

And then we start analysis on the wisdom or stupidity of Trump taking the Fifth.

UPDATE — Cobb  out; New guy in —

NY Times:

President Trump plans to hire Emmet T. Flood, the veteran Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment, to replace Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who has taken the lead in dealing with the special counsel investigation, who is retiring, according to two people briefed on the matter.

In a phone interview, Mr. Cobb said he informed the president weeks ago that he wanted to retire. He said he planned to stay at the White House, likely through the end of the month, to help Mr. Flood transition into the new job.

“It has been an honor to serve the country in this capacity at the White House,” he said. “I wish everybody well moving forward.”

Mr. Flood is expected to take a more adversarial approach to the investigation than Mr. Cobb, who had pushed Mr. Trump to strike a cooperative tone. Mr. Flood initially spoke with the White House last summer about working for the president, but the talks ultimately fell apart because Mr. Flood did not want to deal with Mr. Trump’s longtime New York lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, who was overseeing the president’s dealings with the special counsel at the time.

Mr. Flood’s hiring has not been made final, the people cautioned, noting Mr. Trump’s practice of reneging on personnel decisions after they are reported in the press.

Assuming this happens, it shows that the legal strategy for Trump is to play hardball.

But hey, remember this?

That was less than two months ago. Now two of those three are gone.

Interesting choice of words from the White House press office:

As for Cobb leaving… maybe he wasn’t a fighter, but he may have been the smartest:

UPDATE AGAIN:

I’m not sure Emmett Flood can act as Trump’s criminal defense lawyer and WH counsel. In fact, I know he can’t.

Now You’re Talking My Language

Ken AshfordConstitution, Courts/Law, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump takes a foray into legal argument:

Yeah, he’s actually quoting his Fox TV attorney, who apparently said that on Smerconish.

The questions are an intrusion into the president’s Article II powers under the Constitution, to fire any executive branch employee. To ask questions, as Mr. Mueller apparently proposes to do, about what the president was thinking when he fired Comey, or Flynn, or anybody else, is an outrageous, sophomoric, juvenile intrusion into the president’s unfettered power to fire anyone in the executive branch. It is a symptom of how ridiculous this appointment was by [deputy attorney general] Rod Rosenstein when he made the appointment with no evidence of a crime.

I like that Trump stopped typing the sentence once he got to the word “sophomoric”.  He probably couldn’t spell it.

So, Trump (and Digenova and Dershowitx and Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd) apparently all believe, as a matter of law, that the President has “unfettered” power to fire anyone in the executive branch. It comes up here of course with respect to Trump’s firing of Comey as an attempt to obstruct justice (i.e., end criminal investigations against him).

One thing worth noting is that these lawyers are not denying that Trump fired Comey to end the investigation. They are simply saying that it was not illegal. Interesting strategy. I wonder if that will change.

But to the legal issue at hand — is it true, legally speaking, that a sitting president has “unfettered power” to fire whoever he wants?

Well, it has never been answered directly by the courts.

However — although impeachment proceedings are civil, not criminal in nature — articles of impeachment voted against both Nixon and (Bill) Clinton charged obstruction of justice as a violation of the president’s constitutional obligation to take care that laws are faithfully executed.  So that is some indication that Congress believes that a president can obstruct justice, even in the exercise of his powers.

The mistake that Digenova, etc. make is assuming any power is unfettered. But that’s not how things work. Imagine that you have a box full of documents that belong to you. You would ordinarily be have the “unfettered power” to shred those documents if you choose to do so — shredding them alone is not a crime. But if you exercise your control over your own records in order to impede a criminal investigation, now it may be unlawful obstruction.

Most legal scholars, especially conservative ones, are loathe to “read in” to the Constitution — i.e., to make assumptions that grant more power to government unless the Constitution specifically says so.  In the absence of a clear constitutional command to the contrary, a President is liable for his criminal acts, including obstruction.  If his actions and intent fit the legal definition of obstruction of justice, which is defined very broadly:

(a) Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b). If the offense under this section occurs in connection with a trial of a criminal case, and the act in violation of this section involves the threat of physical force or physical force, the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for the offense shall be the higher of that otherwise provided by law or the maximum term that could have been imposed for any offense charged in such case.

(b) The punishment for an offense under this section is—
(1)  in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112;
(2) in the case of an attempted killing, or a case in which the offense was committed against a petit juror and in which a class A or B felony was charged, imprisonment for not more than 20 years, a fine under this title, or both; and
(3) in any other case, imprisonment for not more than 10 years, a fine under this title, or both.

18 U.S. Code § 1503

So, there is certainly no carve-out for the President there, and none in the Constitution.  Hence, the well-worn statement “The President is not above the law.”

He’s not.

So Trump’s tweet? Fine, but…