Trump-Russian Collusion

Investigators Scrutinizing Newly Uncovered Payments By The Russian Embassy

Officials investigating the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election are scrutinizing newly uncovered financial transactions between the Russian government and people or businesses inside the United States. This could reveal good stuff.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, charged with investigating Russian election interference and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, is examining these transactions and others by Russian diplomatic personnel, according to a US official with knowledge of the inquiry.

The transactions reveal:

  • One of the people at the center of the investigation, the former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, received $120,000 ten days after the election of Donald Trump. Bankers flagged it to the US government as suspicious in part because the transaction, marked payroll, didn’t fit prior pay patterns.
  • Five days after Trump’s inauguration, someone attempted to withdraw $150,000 cash from the embassy’s account — but the embassy’s bank blocked it. Bank employees reported the attempted transaction to the US government because it was abnormal activity for that account.
  • From March 8 to April 7, 2014, bankers flagged nearly 30 checks for a total of about $370,000 to embassy employees, who cashed the checks as soon as they received them, making it virtually impossible to trace where the money went. Bank officials noted that the employees had not received similar payments in the past, and that the transactions surrounded the date of a critical referendum on whether parts of Crimea should secede from Ukraine and join Russia — one of Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy concerns and a flash point with the West.
  • Over five years, the Russian Cultural Centre — an arm of the government that sponsors classes and performances and is based in Washington, DC — sent $325,000 in checks that banking officials flagged as suspicious. The amounts were not consistent with normal payroll checks and some of the transactions fell below the $10,000 threshold that triggers a notice to the US government.
  • The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, sent more than $2.4 million to small home-improvement companies controlled by a Russian immigrant living not far from there. Between 2013 and March 2017, that contractor’s various companies received about 600 such payments, earmarked for construction jobs at Russian diplomatic compounds. Bankers told the Treasury they did not think those transactions were related to the election but red-flagged them because the businesses seemed too small to have carried out major work on the embassy and because the money was cashed quickly or wired to other accounts.

Each of these transactions sparked a “suspicious activity report” sent to the US Treasury’s financial crimes unit by Citibank, which handles accounts of the Russian embassy. By law, bankers must alert the government to transactions that bear hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct. Such reports can support investigations and intelligence gathering — but by themselves they are not evidence of a crime, and many suspicious activity reports are filed on transactions that are perfectly legal. Intelligence and diplomatic sources who reviewed the transactions for BuzzFeed News said there could be justifiable uses for the money, such as travel, bonuses, or pension payouts.

The Treasury Department turned over the suspicious activity reports to the FBI after the bureau asked for records that might relate to the investigation into the election, according to three federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of the matter. The bureau did not respond to requests for comment on what, if anything, it has done to investigate the transactions.

As the foregoing shows, there is nothing that connects these payments to Trump, Trump’s campaign, or any service or act done for the benefit of Trump’s campaign.  But it does show that Mueller is looking hard at money-laundering by Russians, something that Trump may have been involved with long before he ran for President.

Bannon Subpoenaed By Mueller

Steve Bannon is testifying right now behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. I don’t think that is big news — it is the House and their credibility is liimited.  But this is an interesting development, even if it was expected:

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The move marked the first time Mr. Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The special counsel’s office has used subpoenas before to seek information on Mr. Trump’s associates and their possible ties to Russia or other foreign governments.

The subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mr. Mueller is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices about ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia and about the president’s conduct in office, according to the person, who would not be named discussing the case. But it was not clear why Mr. Mueller treated Mr. Bannon differently than the dozen administration officials who were interviewed in the final months of last year and were never served with a subpoena.

The subpoena is a sign that Bannon is not personally the focus of the investigation. Justice Department rules allow prosecutors to subpoena to the targets of investigations only in rare circumstances.

I don’t think Bannon has ties to Russia, although he may know about the shenanigans.

Trump cannot be happy about this.

Fox News handling this like a child:

Document Dump: Trump’s Lawyer Files Defamation Suit Re: Steele Dossier

Michael Cohen, Trump’s (not very good) Roy Cohn, has filed two lawsuits in Manhattan relating to the allegations about him in the Steele Dossier. Both lawsuits assert defamation.

Cohen seems quite adamant that the allegations of his Russian ties and contacts are false. Perhaps they are. But as the lawsuits go, he probably doesn’t have much of a case. Buzzfeed, who published the dossier, acknowledged that the findings in the dossier were unverified by others.  And Fusion GPS didn’t publish them.  Also, the dossier, even if false, is newsworthy.

Furthermore, it opens Michael Cohen up to discovery. That could help Mueller et al.

It should be stressed that Cohen, of necessity, is only challenging the “false” statements relating to HIM. The dossier itself is much longer and contains many more allegations, some of which now appear to be confirmed.

Anyway, the pleadings:

Cyber Crime Expert Joins Mueller’s Staff

WaPo:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes.

Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller’s team in early November from the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel’s office. He joined 16 other lawyers who are highly respected by their peers but who have come under fire from Republicans wary of some of their political contributions to Democrats.

Dickey’s addition is particularly notable because he is the first publicly known member of the team specializing solely in cyber issues. The others’ expertise is mainly in a variety of white-collar crimes, including fraud, money laundering and public corruption, though Mueller also has appellate specialists and one of the government’s foremost experts in criminal law.

***

Mueller’s work has long had an important cybersecurity component — central to the probe is Russia’s hacking of Democrats’ emails in an effort to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system and help Trump win. The original FBI counterintelligence probe was launched in part because a Trump campaign adviser was said to have told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails that could embarrass Democrats, and in July 2016, private Democratic messages thought to have been hacked by Russia began appearing online.

Mueller also is in possession of information from Facebook about politically themed advertisements bought through Russian accounts.

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump’s team conspired in Russia’s hacking effort to influence the election.

The fact that Dickey is joining the dream team of lawyers this late in the game seems to indicate that Mueller thinks there is something there relating to the DNC hacking, or some other hacking during the election.

Trump To Meet Mueller — Maybe

WaPo:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has raised the likelihood with President Trump’s legal team that his office will seek an interview with the president, triggering a discussion among his attorneys about how to avoid a sit-down encounter or set limits on such a session, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Mueller brought up the issue of interviewing Trump during a late December meeting with the president’s lawyers, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Mueller deputy James Quarles, who oversees the White House portion of the special counsel investigation, also attended.

The special counsel’s team could interview Trump very soon on some limited portion of questions — possibly within the next several weeks, according to a person close to the president who was granted anonymity to describe internal conversations.

“This is moving faster than anyone really realizes,” the person said, who said Trump is comfortable participating in an interview and believes it would put to rest questions about whether his campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election.

However, the president’s attorneys are reluctant to allow him to sit down for open-ended, face-to-face questioning without clear parameters, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Since the December meeting, they have discussed whether the president could provide written answers to some portion of the questions from Mueller’s investigators, as then-President Ronald Reagan did during the Iran-contra investigation. They have also discussed the obligation of Mueller’s team to demonstrate they could not obtain the information they are seeking without interviewing the President.

Dowd and Sekulow declined to comment.

What are Trump’s lawyers going to be thinking about?  Perjury trap.

Actually — technically — Trump will not be talking to the FBI under oath, so it won’t be perjury.  But it is still a crime to lie to federal investigators and Trump’s lawyers will no doubt want to prevent that from happening.  Will they try to work that out in a deal, and how will they actually do that? (“Hey, our client might lie, so we want immunization for that”).

Politically, it is also dicey. Trump refusing to be interviewed makes him LOOK bad, although he could no doubt say that he doesn’t trust the FBI (you know, that “Deep State” bullshit).

But one thing is for sure: Mueller would not be talking to Trump unless he had all his ducks in a row.  Which means we’re approaching the end of this thing.  Maybe 4-5 more months.

Congress Makes First Criminal Referral To DOJ In Trump-Russia Scandal — And It Is Steele!

This is, uh, bullshit.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in the dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus, in part, on Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity.

Since we don’t have access to the memorandum, we don’t know what the specific allegation is, although it discusses potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. That section of the federal criminal code refers to knowingly making false or misleading statements to federal authorities.  The letter says it is “for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained.”

In other words, they think Steele lied to the House Judiciary Committee.

Well.

La di da.

Anyone can make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which is not obligated to take up the matter. But a recommendation from a senior senator who runs the committee that has oversight of the department comes with added weight.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the referral. But Fusion characterized the recommendation to charge Mr. Steele as a smear and an attempt to further muddy the inquiry into Russia’s interference.

Which it is.

RELATED: Giving more for Fox News to talk about — we learned today that federal law enforcement authorities have been actively investigating the Clinton Foundation and whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged policy favors or special access for contributions to the charity.

According to the reports, the investigation is being led by the FBI office in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation was formed, and CNN reported that it was being overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office there.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as the Justice Department, declined to comment in the CNN story. The FBI office in Little Rock referred the Hill to the FBI headquarters, which also declined to comment.

New York Times With More Info On Trump-Russia Scandal and Comey Firing

Although much of the media is focussed on the allegations in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury, the New York Times let loose with an important article last night.

Michael S. Schmidt’s report in the New York Times contains so many blockbusters that it’s hard to know where to begin. Here are the most critical claims:

  • Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has evidence, including a memo from former chief of staff Reince Priebus, confirming at least some of the allegations that former FBI director James B. Comey made and documented in contemporaneous memos. For instance, Priebus documents President Trump’s attempt to get Comey to publicly clear him, something Comey recounted at the time.
  • The original draft of the letter firing Comey reportedly contained an introductory statement claiming that the Russia investigation was “fabricated and politically motivated.” The president’s aides prevailed upon him not to send it, but Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (cleverly) took an original copy of the letter. He nevertheless drafted a memo setting out entirely different grounds for firing Comey (i.e. Comey’s handing of the Hillary Clinton emails and the false allegation that FBI morale was low).
  • Trump was frantic to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions in place to protect him in the Russia probe, dispatched the White House counsel to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself and then blew his stack when Sessions did recuse himself. He demanded an attorney general who would protect him the way that he imagined Robert Kennedy protected his brother President John F. Kennedy and Eric Holder protected President Barack Obama.
  • A Sessions aide reportedly went looking for dirt on Comey, going to a congressional office for evidence several days before Comey was fired. Sessions apparently wanted one negative story a day on Comey in the media.
  • A White House lawyer, Uttam Dhillon, reportedly lied to the president, telling him he could not fire Comey without cause, because he was afraid of what Trump would do.

So, this supports what Comey has testified to, and it implicates others – Kushner and Rosenstein among them — in the obstruction of justice issues.

As for Dhillon, this actually confirms author Michael Wolff’s ongoing refrain in his tell-all book that White House advisers considered Trump to be mentally and/or temperamentally incapable of doing his job. To continue to enable and defend him, knowing he is not capable of carrying out his oath, is a moral abomination and a violation of these advisers’ own oaths to defend the Constitution and country. Moreover, if Mueller has this information, it is because Dhillon and/or White House counsel Donald McGahn are talking to Mueller. Trump will now know that he is surrounded, in his mind, by disloyal people who are helping Mueller to make a case against him.

The walls are closing in on Trump, at least with respect to an obstruction-of-justice claim.

Manafort Sues Mueller

This day continues to be bizarre.

Manafort is suing the Department of Justice, and names Rosenstein and Mueller as defendants, claiming that Mueller acted outside his authority by indicting him. This is an extremely unusual move. If an indictment can be challenged legally, typically the defendant files a motion to dismiss the indictment as part of the criminal case. It’s hard to see why Manafort chose to file this civil lawsuit instead of filing a motion in the criminal case. My initial reaction is that he wants to gain additional media exposure without putting this in front of the judge who would ultimately sentence him if convicted. This suit has almost no chance of success. Even if it succeeded, another federal prosecutor could indict Manafort for the same crimes, so it’s a pointless suit. He’s counting on the public (or conservative allies) to take this publicity stunt seriously.

The crux of Manafort’s argument against Mueller is that the Justice Department regulations governing appointment of a special counsel require the attorney general (or, in this case, Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) to provide the special counsel “with a specific factual statement of the matter to be investigated.” Manafort claims that the specific factual statement in Rosenstein’s order is not broad enough to capture Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine, and that a broadly worded provision of that order exceeds Rosenstein’s authority.

A glaring problem with this argument is that, even if Manafort is right, it is far from clear that he is allowed to bring this challenge. The regulations Manafort relies on explicitly state that they “are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative.” So Manafort is claiming a right that the regulations explicitly deny him.

Even if a court ignores this limitation, moreover, Manafort’s argument relies on a flimsy factual claim. Rosenstein’s order appointing Mueller states that Mueller may investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” But Manafort was indicted on charges arising out of his dealings with the Ukrainian government, not the Russians. Such an indictment, Manafort’s lawyers claim, exceeds Mueller’s authority.

It’s a dubious argument because Manafort wasn’t just working for Ukrainian politicians and a Ukrainian political party. He was working for Ukraine’s pro-Russia party. That alone may be enough to establish a “link” between Manafort and the Russian government.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it does not, and that Mueller actually has exceeded his authority. What then?

Here’s what the Justice Department’s regulations have to say about special counsels who wish to investigate matters outside of their originally granted authority:

If in the course of his or her investigation the Special Counsel concludes that additional jurisdiction beyond that specified in his or her original jurisdiction is necessary in order to fully investigate and resolve the matters assigned, or to investigate new matters that come to light in the course of his or her investigation, he or she shall consult with the Attorney General, who will determine whether to include the additional matters within the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction or assign them elsewhere.

So even if Mueller’s investigation into Manafort did exceed his original authority, Mueller’s only obligation was to “consult” with Rosenstein about his decision to expand the investigation. At this point, Rosenstein would either expand Mueller’s authority or assign the new matters to another prosecutor.

So even if Manafort’s lawsuit prevails, the most that the former Trump campaign official can reasonably hope for is that a court may order Mueller to have a conversation with Rosenstein — a conversation, by the way, that may have already happened.

The bottom line, in other words, is that Manafort’s tactic is unlikely to succeed. He’s claiming a right he doesn’t have, in a courtroom he shouldn’t be in, based on facts that probably don’t exist — and, even if Manafort’s lawyers are right about everything, Mueller and Rosenstein can cure the alleged problems Manafort raises with a phone call or a few emails.

Bannon Turns On Trump In Russia Scandal… And Other Related News From A New Trump Tell-All

Two big developments in Trump-Russia scandal world:

(1) In a New York Times op-ed, the CEOs of Fusion GPS (the opposition research firm that did oppo research on Trump resulting in the Steele dossier) made it clear that the FBI investigation into Trump did NOT come about as a result of the dossier, giving lie to the propaganda pushed by Fox News and many Republicans. In fact, the op-ed says, many Republicans on various committees KNOW it is false to suggest that dossier and the FBI investigation were linked, but make that claim anyway:

Three congressional committees have heard over 21 hours of testimony from our firm, Fusion GPS. In those sessions, we toppled the far right’s conspiracy theories and explained how The Washington Free Beacon and the Clinton campaign — the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research — separately came to hire us in the first place.

We walked investigators through our yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. And we handed over our relevant bank records — while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the Trump case.

Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.

We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.

***

Finally, we debunked the biggest canard being pushed by the president’s men — the notion that we somehow knew of the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between some Russians and the Trump brain trust. We first learned of that meeting from news reports last year — and the committees know it. They also know that these Russians were unaware of the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s work for us and were not sources for his reports.

Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?

What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.

We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else. Instead, we deferred to Mr. Steele, a trusted friend and intelligence professional with a long history of working with law enforcement. We did not speak to the F.B.I. and haven’t since.

After the election, Mr. Steele decided to share his intelligence with Senator John McCain via an emissary. We helped him do that. The goal was to alert the United States national security community to an attack on our country by a hostile foreign power. We did not, however, share the dossier with BuzzFeed, which to our dismay published it last January.

I checked Fox News last night and today.  The story is nowhere to be found.

(2)  In a new book, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, calls a meeting of Trump campaign officials with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

The book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” soon to be published by Henry Holt, was written by Michael Wolff, a columnist and author who has written several books, including a biography of Rupert Murdoch. In it, Bannon rips into Donald Trump, Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort for taking a June 2016 meeting with a group of Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Bannon’s comments won’t surprise anyone who’s spoken to him, but as on the record statements they are shocking sources close to the president. The White House was prepared for the Wolff book to be bad for them — and sources there have told me he spent a ton of time in the building visiting with Bannon — but they weren’t prepared for Bannon doing this.

According to The Guardian, Bannon touched the third rail of Trumpworld — going after the president’s blood family:

  • Attacking Don Junior: Bannon described the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer — arranged by the president’s eldest son — as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Bannon also predicted this of the Russia investigation: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV”.’
  • Hinting there’s a “there” there: Per the Guardian: “ ‘You realise where this is going,’ [Bannon] is quoted as saying. ‘This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f—ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.’ “
  • Taking his war against Jared Kushner to new depths: Per The Guardian: “Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: ‘It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.’ “

This is headline news everywhere, including Breitbart.  We should remember that Bannon told the one told the New York Times that the Russia investigation is “fake news” and that “the collusion thing is a joke” and the relationship between the campaign and Russia was “irrelevant”.

Interesting developments.

UPDATE:  White House responds. “When he [Bannon] was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

Full statement:

You know, there’s a problem — it was reported as recently as a few weeks ago that Bannon was still calling Trump at the White House on a regular basis.

RELATED: The first chapter of the aforementioned “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is excerpted now online under this banner:

Some of it strikes me as completely untrue (Trump didn’t know who John Boehner was???).  Some seems to be true (like Bannon’s “treason” comment, which he is not denying).  But all in all, an amazing article.

Congressional Republicans Are Working To Bury Trump-Russia Investigations

Aside from the saber-rattling with North Korea, and the attempts to delegitimize institutions, perhaps the most troubling trend to come from the Trump Administration so far are the efforts by many Republicans in Congress to prevent a full accounting of Russia’s interference in our election and any possible Trump campaign conspiracy with it.

This is particularly true in he House Intelligence Committee investigation, where Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, may be wielding his influence as chairman of the intel committee to block critical lines of inquiry. Democrats have been alarmed by his tactics, especially the fact that despite his public recusal from the probe, he “never relinquished his sole, unchecked authority” to sign off on — or kill — efforts by Democrats to subpoena top Trump officials for more testimony. The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian explains:

People familiar with the committee’s work estimated that Nunes’s effective veto cost Democrats dozens of requests for interviews and documents that were never sent out, despite repeated entreaties from the minority side.

This includes requests for subpoenas to obtain additional testimony from key figures in the probe who Democrats say were not forthcoming enough in interviews — among them Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. Democrats surmise they might have compelled them to return if not for Nunes’s resistance.

What can Democrats do? It looks like they might have to write a minority report, detailing the lines of inquiry that were effectively shut down by Nunes as chair.

Nunes is doing more than merely closing off avenues of investigation. Politico recently reported that Nunes is quietly leading a group of House Republicans in an effort to build a case that senior Justice Department and FBI officials improperly handled the explosive “Steele dossier,” which describes links between Trump and Russia. I’m not sure what they hope to find, especially since the FBI and Justice Department would have independently confirmed anything in the dossier anyway. (Plus, it came out lately that the FBI’s investigation came as the result of a tip from Australia after Papadapolous talked while drinking to an Australian embassy worker).

Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, is in potentially serious waters as he runs defense for Trump. None of this looks very good — the appearance of a conflict of interest taints him more than anyone else.  And of course, the Mueller Report will reveal many things that the House Intel Committee won’t, and questions will be asked why that is so.

Trump Cavalcade of Crazy Continues

It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, normally a down time everywhere.  A lot of people are on vacation, Congress is out, etc.  But Trump seems to have time on his hands. He’s not WORKING…

…but his babysitters clearly are preoccupied, because he’s at his Twitter again.

So let’s what’s on his mind.

Here’s a nice response:

And The Weather Channel adds to the fray:

He’s also very concerned about his approval ratings:

The problem, of course, is that he is comparing his poll numbers with Rasmussen to Obama’s Gallup numbers. The truth is that when you take poll averages, Trump is at 36% whereas Obama, at this point, was at 47.7%.

AAAnd he’s going after Amazon and/or the Post Office:

So much for the businessman not understanding the concept of BULK discounts. Amazon could easily use another carrier.

But clearly the most-discussed Trump news this morning is his “surprise” interview with the New York Times, printed last night. It’s much-discussed for two reasons: (1) what Trump said and (2) the fact that the reporter didn’t push back on anything Trump said.

I understand and agree with the criticism of the New York Times reporter. On the other hand, if he had asked questions or pushed back on Trump’s “facts”, there would have been no interview (or, at least, a very very short one).

It is, not surprisingly, fact-free.  One media outlet logged 25 outright lies (as opposed to exaggerated claims).

In any event, Trump talks about the Russia collusion scandal, insisting 16 times there is no collusion, and relying heavily on Alan Dershowitz’s argument that “collusion is not a crime”.  But most of it is word salad.

Let’s dip in a little.

“I thought it was a terrible thing he did. [Inaudible.] I thought it was certainly unnecessary. I thought it was a terrible thing.”

This is Trump talking about his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the decision by Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation! And that, by the way, was a terrible thing.

“Frankly, there is absolutely no collusion. That’s been proven by every Democrat is saying it.”

Not every Deomcrat is saying that, and even if they were, that’s not evidence. Certainly, not proof. Yikes!

“Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is.”

Yeah, he should have been asked for the names of these “great” congressmen, and what makes them “great”.  Obviously, this is self-serving bullshit.

“I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.”

Oh, well. Let’s move on then.

“She campaigned for the popular vote. I campaigned for the Electoral College.”

This is sophistry. Of course Hillary campaigned for the Electoral College. She just got the polls wrong.

And you know, it is a totally different thing, Mike. You know the Electoral College, it’s like a track star. If you’re going to run the 100-yard dash, you work out differently than if you’re going to run the 1,000 meters or the mile.

And it’s different. It’s in golf. If you have a tournament and you have match play or stroke play, you prepare differently, believe it or not. It’s different. Match play is very different than stroke play. And you prepare. So I went to Maine five times, I went to [inaudible], the genius of the Electoral College is that you go to places you might not go to.

And that’s exactly what [inaudible]. Otherwise, I would have gone to New York, California, Texas and Florida.

What the hell?

It’s like a child trying to tell a joke they just heard. They know the parts but they just can’t piece it together.

I have no expectation [of Mueller]. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.

He’s very confident. Why???

“I hope that he’s [Mueller] going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair.”

This is laying the groundwork a little bit. Meaning, if Mueller is NOT fair…

But actually, it goes against the attacks that have been laid out by Fox News and Trump apologists — i.e., that the Mueller investigation HAS ALREADY BEEN unfair. Trump hasn’t really joined in that effort publicly, but he has attacked the FBI and the Justice Department.

“I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion.”

He watches no television?

Anyway, that was November when she said that, and what she ACTUALLY said was not in response to COLLUSION, per se. Feinstein was specifically asked if she had seen evidence that the Trump campaign was given Democratic emails hacked by Russia. “Not so far,” she responded.

“I actually think it’s turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion.”

This is Fox News tripe — i.e., the Democrats and the Russians got together and created a dossier to bring down Trump (although they ended up not using it at all, for some reason). It doesn’t pass the laugh test.

“The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country. Because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position.”

He’s setting up the argument that getting rid of the Mueller investigation serves the country’s interest, not his own.

“Whatever happened to the Pakistani guy, that had the two, you know, whatever happened to this Pakistani guy who worked with the DNC?. . . Whatever happened to him? That was a big story. Now all of sudden [inaudible].”

The “Pakistani guy” is Imran Awan, who was arrested on bank fraud charges in July as he tried to flee the country. Awan had worked for former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, among other Democrats on Capitol Hill. It’s a story, just not as big as the President’s campaign possibly colluding with Russia.

“Whatever happened to the Hillary Clinton deleted 33,000 emails after she got [inaudible]?”

Clinton did delete more than 31,000 emails on her private email server after a review by longtime Clinton confidante Cheryl Mills and Clinton lawyer Heather Samuelson determined those emails were entirely personal. Clinton turned over more than 30,0000 emails from that server that she believed had some sort of tie to her professional life.  This has been printed over and over again. The FBI looked into it. There’s nothing more to say about it.

Also, she’s not president.

“I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

This was in response to the reporter saying, “You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?” Trump doesn’t answer this question, but merely says he can do what he wants with the Justice Department.  Trump is technically right here. If he wanted to fire Sessions or even Mueller, he could. But his use of “absolute right” will unsettle many people who have long held doubts that the President understands that there are real boundaries built into government to avoid the executive seizing total power.

“They made the Russian story up as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election that in theory Democrats should always win with the Electoral College.”

The special counsel was formed by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general in the Trump Justice Department — an organization with which he has “absolute right to do what I want to do.” Mueller, a Republican, had been appointed head of the FBI by a Republican president. The heads of the two congressional committees investigating Russian involvement in the election are Republicans. And so on.

“It’s too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it’s too bad he recused himself.”

Oh well.

I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the I.R.S. scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.

This is weird. He starts out with what SEEMS like a criticism of Holder/Obama, but ends up being praise. He respects Holder for being loyal to Trump. That speaks volumes about what Trump considers important.

“We hear bulls*** from the Democrats. Like Joe Manchin. Joe’s a nice guy.”

First of all, what other president could get away with saying bullshit?

Secondly, he criticizes Manchin and then says he is a nice guy, in the same breath almost.  Weird, but very Trumpian.

“I’m the one that saved coal.”

Oh, really?

“We’ve essentially gutted and ended Obamacare.”

Nope!  But it will hurt it.

“I know more about the big bills … [Inaudible] … than any president that’s ever been in office.”

This, from the guy who, one month into office, suddenly discovered that healthcare was very complicated.

But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

And yet, he can’t articulate anything that is true.

“Obamacare is essentially … you know, you saw this … it’s basically dead over a period of time.”

Not really.

“He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.”

Trump, in addition to knowing healthcare and tax law and everything else, also knows the entire history of China.

“In fact, I hate to say, it was reported this morning, and it was reported on Fox.”

Fox & Friends… better than a PDB.

“Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.”

The cynicism here is towering. And it reveals Trump’s basic belief that everything and everyone is solely motivated by profit.

**********

Speaking of interviews, at a West Palm Beach fire station on Tuesday, Trump said, “You know, one of the things that people don’t understand — we have signed more legislation than anybody. We broke the record of Harry Truman.”

Nope

Truman: 240-250
Carter: 249
HW Bush: 242
Clinton: 209
Reagan: 158
Obama: 124 W
Bush: 109
Trump: 96

But, bluster aside, Trump and his minions are still up to no good:

2018 is going to be unbearable.

Why Trump Won’t Fire Mueller

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, write this in today’s WaPo:

Those investigations [of Manafort and Flynn] would go on even if Mueller leaves. When the Justice Department initiates an investigation, it can’t be closed without following a set of procedures that ensure cases aren’t shut down for improper reasons. If a case is opened, it can’t be “declined” — closed without bringing charges — without a detailed justification for closing the case. As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve declined my share of cases, and it takes time. Declining even a routine case requires a written explanation justifying the declination, citing specific reasons that are consistent with Justice Department guidelines. In more complex or high-profile matters, much more extensive memorandums are prepared. Once in my career, I inherited a complex case that another prosecutor unsuccessfully sought to decline, and I ultimately charged the case.

Any cases Mueller’s team is working on wouldn’t magically decline themselves if Mueller is fired. The reports of interviews in the FBI computer system wouldn’t delete themselves. The documents and other evidence collected by Mueller’s team of FBI agents and prosecutors wouldn’t destroy themselves, either. In fact, Justice Department procedure is to retain evidence for years even after a file is closed. Whenever I closed a file, I had to specify how many years the evidence would be retained.

Trump’s legal team is probably aware of all of this and has probably considered exactly what would happen if Mueller was removed. While I doubt they’ve communicated all of the specifics to him personally, their strategy is surely informed by a knowledge of how the Justice Department works and a desire to contain any damage caused by Mueller’s investigation.

Firing Mueller would put Rosenstein in charge of the investigations instead of Mueller. Rosenstein recently defended Mueller before Congress and strongly suggested that he approved of the direction of the investigations. If Trump fired Mueller, Rosenstein could appoint a replacement. Or if Trump ordered the repeal of the special counsel regulations governing the investigations, Rosenstein could appoint a Justice Department prosecutor to oversee the investigation.

What if Trump fired Rosenstein and Mueller? Or fired Sessions and Mueller? Firing Mueller would generate massive protests and could spur Congress to take up new legislation to establish an independent counsel. If Mueller was fired improperly, he or others could initiate legal action to fight the termination, keeping the story in the headlines. Firing him would give Trump the opportunity to replace Mueller with someone who was determined to undermine the investigation. But it would have significant downsides.

For example, if the new special counsel swiftly ended the investigations, Congress and the public might conclude that Trump and/or his associates were guilty of serious crimes and that replacing Mueller was part of a coverup. If the new special counsel improperly terminated an investigation, prosecutors and FBI agents might come forward and accuse him or her of wrongdoing. That could ultimately generate new criminal liability for anyone involved.

If a new special counsel permitted the investigations to go forward, though, that could be the worst of all worlds for Trump. Democrats would assume that the new special counsel was biased on Trump’s behalf, and Republicans would be less likely to distrust a new special counsel than they are to distrust Mueller, who has been the subject of intense attacks in conservative media. So if a new special counsel found that there was insufficient evidence to charge Trump, the decision would be called into question, even though a similar determination by Mueller would be hard for Democrats to second-guess. On the flip side, if a new special counsel took aim at Trump and his inner circle, it would be harder for Trump to call it a “witch hunt.”

All that means is that ultimately, keeping Mueller around but continuing to attack him and the FBI is probably Trump’s best strategy.

I think this is right. Rather than fire people, which won’t END anything, but rather, stir up EVERYTHING, the tactic is to sow public doubt about Mueller and his prosecutors in advance of upcoming criminal trials — and to give the president political cover if he wants to start issuing pardons to any current or former aides swept up in the Russia scandal.

This thing is heating up.

Trump’s Battle With Mueller: Fox’s Complicity

Over the weekend, as CNN’s Brian Stelter recaps, Fox seized on anti-Trump texts sent by a Mueller investigator — which, while newsworthy, are being appropriately handled by Mueller — to launch attacks on federal law enforcement that are truly hallucinatory. We were told by one on-air figure that this is “potentially one of the biggest scandals in American history.” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted “the fix is in” against Trump, as a Fox chyron blared: “A COUP IN AMERICA?” One Fox personality flatly stated that we now have “smoking gun evidence” of an alleged FBI coup against Trump and the “millions of American voters” who backed him. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro suggested it might be time to drag away Trump’s investigators “in cuffs.”

Stelter correctly notes that this is what Trump, an avid Fox viewer, “is hearing.” Indeed, he’s hearing it daily: We’re seeing a concerted effort to goad Trump into trying to remove Mueller. Yes, Trump and one of his lawyers clarified over the weekend that he has no intention of going that route. But The Post reports that Trump is privately seething at Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein for not exercising enough of a check on the conduct of the special counsel, and some Trump friends and advisers worry he could still try to remove Mueller if he is not exonerated soon.

We don’t know what Trump will do in the end. But today’s vastly different media landscape creates incentives — or at least, the appearance of incentives — for Trump to opt for a course of full-blown autocracy and lawlessness. He is being goaded into such conduct by his media allies. They are feeding his voters a narrative in which rem oving Mueller is the only truly legitimate outcome on their behalf. He knows that this propaganda network will be there to provide cover for him if he does take this plunge.

This is in contrast to Trump’s legal team, which seems to be playing nice with Mueller. I suppose that’s the Trump strategy: to cooperate with Mueller on the inside game, while the outside chorus tries to rough up Mueller, in case his findings are trouble for POTUS.

  • The rising conservative drumbeat to discredit the investigation and the investigators is gaining GOP converts.
  • Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the chamber’s #2 Republican, said on ABC yesterday that it would be “a mistake” to fire the special counsel. But Cornyn tweeted a day earlier: “Mueller needs to clean house of partisans.”
  • Trump said yesterday when asked about the tens of thousands of transition emails Mueller had obtained from the GSA, which ran the server: “Not looking good. It’s not looking good. It’s quite sad to see that. My people are very upset about it. … A lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad.”
  • A source close to the White House said: “You’re starting to win over mainstream conservatives to the backlash over overreach.”
  • The source said that Trump, not known for patience, has attacked the investigation but mostly resisted personalizing attacks on Mueller. One sign: Trump isn’t calling Mueller by a demeaning nickname.

The N.Y. Times’ Michael Schmidt reports that “as the investigation has reached deeper into Mr. Trump’s inner circle, … Trump’s lawyers and supporters have significantly increased their attacks on Mr. Mueller”:

  • “[T]he F.B.I. has handed them fresh ammunition to claim that the agents investigating the president may be biased.”
  • But, but, but: “Legal experts said there was no indication that Mr. Mueller, who has wide power to obtain documents through written requests, subpoenas and search warrants, improperly obtained the transition emails.”

Fox News’ Jesse Watters (one of the 45 Twitter accounts Trump follows) used the onscreen headline “A COUP IN AMERICA?” this weekend as he decried what he called “smoking-gun evidence” the probe of Trump is tainted:

  • Watters: “Is the FBI part of the resistance? It’s like the FBI had Michael Moore investigating the president of the United States. … The investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign has been crooked from the jump.”

CNN reports that Trump’s legal team has told him he’ll probably be cleared in the next few months of wrongdoing by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But:

That optimism has left some of the President’s friends and advisers worried the deadline could come and go, leaving Trump frustrated and more prone to rash behavior than ever before, including potentially firing Mueller. … Three sources familiar with the President’s recent conversations about the investigation said Trump has become convinced that he will receive a letter of exoneration, which would be unusual. One source worried Trump would have a “meltdown” if that doesn’t happen.

By the way, Trump has entertained trying to remove Mueller before. The fact that his own friends and advisers see it as a real possibility perhaps suggests we should prepare for the worst.

This weekend, Trump repeated his “no collusion, no collusion” mantra, despite the fact that two of his closest campaign advisers have pleaded guilty to what amounts to collusion.

In related news, we learn this morning that in the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would likely try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.

The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.

Trump was “briefed and warned” at the session about potential espionage threats from Russia, two former law enforcement officials familiar with the sessions told NBC News. A source close to the White House said their position is that Trump was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians.

The Scandal That Is Not

Benjamin Witte writes about the story that is the subject of Fox almost every day — that an FBI agent was removed from the Mueller team because he had exchanged private emails with another FBI agent — his girlfriend, that were gloriously anti-Trump. The right wing news and establishment think this is a scandal, but of course, this means nothing. Being an FBI agent does not mean you have to stop having opinions and views. But congressional Republicans, who grilled  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yesterday about it, are trying to make it a meal.  Witte writes:

I have not watched all of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. But I watched three hours of it, and that was quite enough to convey the disturbing and dangerous nature of the current moment.

It was enough to highlight the apparent breadth of the congressional Republican effort to delegitimize the Robert Mueller investigation. The attacks on Mueller and his staff and allegations of supposed conflicts of interest were not the province of a fringe but a matter of an apparent consensus among House Republicans, at least on the famously partisan judiciary committee.

It was enough to loose upon the world an almost hysterical attack on an FBI agent and an FBI attorney in the presence of little evidence that either has done anything wrong—as opposed to merely ill-advised and unfortunate—and in the midst of an ongoing inspector general investigation that has not yet reached any conclusions.

It was enough to lay bare the absurdity of Republican demands for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate a series of matters about which there is not even the barest allegation of criminal conduct—let alone a predicate for an actual investigation.

It was enough to bring to the surface the bizarre fixation in the Republican caucus on conspiracy theories involving Fusion GPS, the so-called Steele Dossier, FISA surveillance, and the Mueller investigation.

And it was enough to make clear, yet again, that Rod Rosenstein is a man out of his depth and to make one sympathize for him at the same time.

My enthusiasm for Rosenstein these days is altogether under control. And his behavior in this episode, in particular, has hardly done him credit. The release of private correspondence between two Justice Department employees whose correspondence is the subject of an active inspector general investigation is not just wrong. It is cruel. It is not the practice of the Justice Department to turn over to Congress—let alone to give to reporters—active investigative material related to the private communications of its own employees. Justice Department and FBI employees have the right to their political opinions. To the extent their private political expressions for some reason make it impossible for them to work on a certain matter, they certainly have the right to have that determined without having their careers ruined and their names dragged publicly through the mud by politicians who know nothing about the circumstances in question.

I don’t know whether agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page did anything improper, or merely engaged in ill-advised and foolish communications that did not impact their work. I have no quarrel with Mueller for removing Strzok from the investigation, whether for substantive or appearance reasons. But I do know this: these questions deserve to be adjudicated within the confines of a serious internal investigation, not a partisan circus.

Rosenstein here has, at a minimum, contributed to that circus—at the expense of his own employees. In throwing a career FBI agent and career FBI lawyer to the wolves by authorizing the release to the public of their private text messages—without any finding that they had done anything wrong—he once again sent a message to his workforce that he is not the sort of man with whom you want to share your foxhole. The DOJ and FBI workforces will not forget that. Nor should they.

And that said, I found it impossible to watch yesterday’s hearing without a certain amount of sympathy for Rosenstein’s predicament. Whatever one says about his conduct, he is squeezed between the jaggiest of rocks and the hardest of hard places here. He is evidently trying to protect the Mueller investigation, and to his credit, he yesterday stood up strongly for the investigation’s integrity and for Mueller’s personal integrity. In doing so, he is exposing himself to the risk of being fired at any moment—and he is acting with an awareness that he may need to resign at any moment when ordered to do something inconsistent with his commitments. He is working for a man who is behaving completely unreasonably, even in public; one can only imagine how much worse is Trump’s behavior in private. What’s more, the congressional Republicans who should be protecting the integrity of the work of Rosenstein and his department—particularly in the House but also increasingly in the Senate—are not only failing to do so, they are braying for actions inimical to the very idea of independent law enforcement. They are doing it about someone, Mueller, with whom they have long experience and about whom they know their essential claims to be false. To make matters worse, Rosenstein is quite constrained in terms of what he can say, so he has to sit and answer in platitudes attacks that require an energetic defense.

Yes, it would be desirable if the campaign contributions of Mueller’s staff reflected more political diversity than they do. And yes, it would be a good thing if the private political expressions of those who later went to work for him happened not to reflect the widely-held views of members of the national security establishment about the man who then became President—or that they had refrained from expressing them.

But it would be highly inappropriate for Mueller to recruit on the basis of political orientation. And whatever the staff-level composition of the investigation may be, the law enforcement leadership is hardly a Democratic bastion committed to going after President Trump. Mueller himself is as apolitical a public servant as this country has known in a long time—and to the extent he has a partisan political identification, it is as a Republican. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray are both appointees of Trump himself. To whatever extent Strzok and Page engaged in any impropriety, that impropriety is known because the Justice Department inspector general discovered it, and when Mueller became aware of it, he removed Strzok from his investigation.

Most importantly, there is no serious suggestion that any step taken by Mueller’s shop is unjustified. The Mueller investigation will ultimately be measured by its work product, not by the text messages or campaign contributions of its staffers from before the investigation even existed. That work product so far is two guilty pleas for lying to the FBI over contacts with the Russians by the Trump campaign and transition—and one completely shocking indictment involving allegations of massive money-laundering by the Trump campaign’s chairman.

At yesterday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan announced about the Mueller probe that “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.” This is actually wrong.

In , fully 61 percent of respondents expressed at least some confidence in the Mueller investigation.  expressed at least some confidence in the FBI in connection with the Russia probe. And , 74 percent, expressed confidence in the FBI generally.

The trouble is that if enough members of Congress tenaciously attack the institution over a long period of time, Jordan’s words could acquire the quality of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an enormously damaging undertaking for members of Congress to self-consciously erode public confidence in federal law enforcement.

Even if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in Mueller may not be enough when the President’s political base—in conservative media, in Congress, and the broader political ecosystem—is rallying behind the proposition that the Justice Department, the special counsel, and the FBI are all out of control. The concern, and yesterday’s hearing dramatically highlights that concern, is that if Trump believes he has Republican cover to get rid of Mueller, he may feel emboldened to act against him even in the presence of broader public support.

Politifact’s Lie Of The Year

2017 Lie of the Year: Russian election interference is a ‘made-up story’

No, it’s not. We don’t know the extent of Russian interference, or whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded in the interference, but it is not a “made up story”.  Politifact has made this assertion the “lie of the year”:

A mountain of evidence points to a single fact: Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.

In both classified and public reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered actions to interfere with the election. Those actions included the cyber-theft of private data, the placement of propaganda against particular candidates, and an overall effort to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.

Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have held open and closed door hearings to probe Russia’s actions. The congressional investigations are ongoing.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have investigated their own networks, and their executives have concluded — in some cases after initial foot-dragging — that Russia used the online platforms in attempts to influence the election.

After all this, one man keeps saying it didn’t even happen.

“This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,” said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.

On Twitter in September, Trump said, “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

And during an overseas trip to Asia in November, Trump spoke of meeting with Putin: “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” In the same interview, Trump referred to the officials who led the intelligence agencies during the election as “political hacks.”

Trump continually asserts that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election is fake news, a hoax or a made-up story, even though there is widespread, bipartisan evidence to the contrary.

When the nation’s commander-in-chief refuses to acknowledge a threat to U.S. democracy, it makes it all the more difficult to address the problem. For this reason, we name Trump’s claim that the Russia interference is a hoax as our Lie of the Year for 2017.

Readers of PolitiFact also chose the claim as the year’s most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin.

It seems unlikely — though not impossible — that Russia interference changed the outcome of the election. We at PolitiFact have seen no compelling evidence that it did so.

Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election and his presidency — but he declines to do so. Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity. Then he reverts back to denying the interference even happened.

It’s not so much that Trump trades in falsehoods — it’s more that he tries to create a different version of reality simply by asserting it.

Read the whole thing

The Russia lie won overwhelmingly in Politifact’s survey of readers:

 

If Trump Told Flynn To Lie To The FBI, That’s The Ballgame

As NBC reports: “Trump’s legal team and senior White House aides are refusing to say when and how the president first learned that Flynn had lied to the FBI.”

After the news broke that Flynn had made a plea deal admitting to these lies, Trump tweeted that he’d fired Flynn because he lied to the FBI, suggesting he knew of this lying at the time, though his attorney has since insisted that this isn’t what he meant. This has raised questions as to why Trump would press his former FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn (as James B. Comey has testified, and Trump denies) in the apparent knowledge that he’d lied to the FBI, which could constitute obstruction of justice.

But beyond that important question, there is also the question of what Trump knew about the lying itself and when. And Mueller is looking at this, per NBC:

Mueller is trying to determine why Flynn remained in his post for 18 days after Trump learned of Yates’ warning, according to two people familiar with the probe. He appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why, the sources said.

If Trump knew his national security adviser lied to the FBI in the early days of his administration it would raise serious questions about why Flynn was not fired until Feb. 13, and whether Trump was attempting to obstruct justice when FBI Director James Comey says the president pressured him to drop his investigation into Flynn.

Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel, emailed me this about the NBC report:

“This is a potentially serious development in this investigation. Should there be evidence that the president directed or encouraged Flynn to lie, he faces an obstruction charge, and the constitutional defenses his supporters have been claiming are irrelevant. Of course, this legal exposure extends to any other officials who were involved in a decision to have Flynn make these false statements.”

That line about “constitutional defenses” is a reference to an argument that prominent Trump supporters have made: That Trump cannot by definition obstruct justice if he is simply exercising his constitutional authority, as he was when he fired Comey. That argument is itself questionable, since, as some experts have noted, he might have done this with corrupt intent. But beyond this, directing Flynn to lie to the FBI would not constitute such a legitimate exercise of authority, and could constitute obstruction of justice.

“This would mean we’re now looking at potential criminality that cannot be justified as an exercise of the president’s authority,” Paul Rosenzweig, a senior counsel on Ken Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton who is now a lecturer in law at George Washington University, told me today. “That could be obstruction of justice, or aiding and abetting a false statement to the FBI, or conspiracy to do the same.”

Another possibility, Rosenzweig noted, is that Trump or other top officials may have merely may have been made aware of Flynn’s lying soon after the fact. If so, the question would be why they did not try to correct the record with the FBI, which might not be criminal but could potentially be “impeachable,” Rosenzweig says. A third possibility, he says, is that Trump or top officials tacitly approved of this lying beforehand, which could constitute “a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” The bottom line, as Randall Eliason, a professor of white collar criminal law at GWU, told me, is that if the NBC story is true, “Mueller may be looking at possible obstruction of justice by Trump.”

To be clear, it is possible that Flynn freelanced in lying to the FBI, and that no one else either directed him to do it or was made aware of it at the time. So this could end up meaning little.

Time will tell.

Hope Hicks In The Spotlight

The New York Times is breaking two separate pieces of news regarding White House Communications Director Hope Hicks.

First is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team finally has conducted its much-anticipated interview with Hicks, meeting with her Thursday and Friday.

Second is that the F.B.I. warned Hicks that Russian operatives had been trying to make contact with her during the transition:

There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper. According to former officials, American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became alarmed by introductory emails that Ms. Hicks received from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election.

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

(…)

The contents of the emails to Ms. Hicks are unclear, as are the identities of the Russians who sent them.

Senior F.B.I. officials warned all senior aides in the early days of the administration about possible espionage efforts but then returned to speak further with Hicks and “at least one other person close to the president:”

In a meeting in the Situation Room in February, Ms. Hicks was told generally about the Russian intelligence efforts and pressed them for more information. A senior F.B.I. agent met again with Ms. Hicks, and provided her several names of Russians who had contacted her and whom the F.B.I. was concerned about.

Ms. Hicks informed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, about her meetings with the F.B.I.

The F.B.I. meetings with Ms. Hicks occurred at the time of a brewing controversy involving Michael T. Flynn, then the national security adviser, and his calls during the transition with the Russian ambassador at the time. Mr. Flynn lied to the F.B.I. about those discussions, and intelligence officials worried that his lies made him susceptible to Russian blackmail.

Trump Hits New Low In Pew Polls

President Donald Trump has hit rock bottom again in a new poll.

The Pew Research Center finds that only 32 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, the lowest level in any Pew poll measuring his job approval since he took office in January. Sixty-three percent disapprove.

Trump’s approval rating has declined slightly since October when it was 34 percent, and it has decreased markedly since February when it was 39 percent.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans say improper contact between senior Trump officials and Russia during the 2016 campaign “definitely or probably occurred,” and 30 percent say it “definitely or probably did not happen.”

Accusations of such collusion are being investigated by Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Some other details that could be troubling for Trump if the trends continue: His approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, a key part of his political base, has fallen since February to 61 percent from 78 percent. Overall, Trump’s support among white voters has declined since February to 41 percent from 49 percent, and his approval among white voters without college degrees has declined to 46 percent from 56.

Yet voters who identify themselves as conservative still back Trump although by smaller margins. Seventy-six percent of Republicans and Republican leaners approve of his job performance, compared with 84 percent in February.

Forty percent of men approve, down from 45 in February, and 25 percent of women approve, down from 33 percent.

Trumps Worked Directly With Wikileaks During Campaign

CNN has today’s blockbuster:

Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were emailed a decryption key and website address for documents hacked by WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016, CNN reported Friday.

Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether the Sept. 4 email to the Trumps, which was turned over by the Trump Organization, is the latest example of entities or individuals associated with WikiLeaks trying to boost the GOP candidate’s campaign and tarnish Hillary Clinton’s.

Just three weeks after the email was sent, as previously reported, Wikileaks initiated an exchange of direct messages with Trump Jr., who occasionally responded to or acted on the messages the group sent him.

The early September message came from a man who listed his name as “Mike Erickson” and was sent to Trump Jr., his personal assistant, an email address set up for then-candidate Trump, and others at the Trump organization, according to CNN.

It reportedly suggested that recipients could have access to records associated with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were leaked 10 days later. CNN reported that a Russian front group was behind that release.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told CNN that the President’s eldest son did not recall receiving the message and took no action on it.

The punchline?

After the story’s publication, Futerfas issued a statement, reiterating that the team did “not know who Mike Erickson is” and “never responded to the email.”

UPDATE: CNN blew it?

This makes the email far less significant since the documents the email offered were public, or became public that day.

The Republican Machine and Fox’s pro-Trump Hosts Are Working Hard To Discredit Robert Mueller

Yesterday left no doubt: Fox News and Trump Republicans are willing to destroy America’s institutions as long as it keeps them in power.

It starts with Fox News. It starts with Sean Hannity, who’s hearing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “illegitimate and corrupt.” That it’s led by a “band of merry Trump-haters” who are trying to reverse the results of the election. And that it must be stopped.

He’s also hearing that the FBI is becoming “America’s secret police,” akin to the KGB in Russia, full of “sickness” and “corruption.”

The overarching message from “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity” is unmistakable: Mr. President, you’re the victim of a “deep state” plot to take you down. Don’t let it happen.

In recent weeks, there’s been a big increase in reporting about Mueller’s probe and how it could affect Trump’s inner circle. At the same time, there’s also been a sharp escalation in the anti-Mueller rhetoric coming from right wing media sources.  With four of Trump’s associates now charged by Mueller’s team, and congressional probes also proceeding in many different directions, other channels are filled with the latest twists and turns about the intensifying investigations.

But viewers who stick to Fox might not know that. The nightly focus is on Mueller’s alleged partisanship, not Trump’s potential problems.

Last weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Mueller had removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team of investigators due to text messages from Strzok that could be interpreted as anti-Trump. Even though Strzok was reassigned to FBI human resources, the story is the centerpiece of the current anti-Mueller hits.

Newt Gingrich, who praised Mueller’s appointment back in May, now sounds like a different person altogether. “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” he told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night.

One hour earlier, the banners on Sean Hannity’s show read “MUELLER’S PARTISAN ATTACK TEAM” and “THE DEEP STATE,” so even if viewers had the volume down, they still saw the message. Channel surfers who stumbled on Fox by mistake might think they had landed in an alternate universe. Hannity began the hour by slamming “Robert Mueller’s partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team,” calling the accomplished lawyers “an utter disgrace.” He invoked the U.S. Constitution and said “they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic.” Repeating something he has said dozens of times before, Hannity said, “this entire witch-hunt needs to be shut down — and shut down immediately.”

Then Hannity brought in news anchor turned “legal analyst” Gregg Jarrett, who appears on the program almost every night to savage Mueller and company. “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt,” Jarrett said. “And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”

“This is not hyperbole you are using here,” Hannity said, credulously.

Yes, Sean. It is the very definition of hyperbole.

“No. Ask Paul Manafort, they came for him and broke through his front door,” Jarrett said. Jarrett and Hannity commented that if it can happen to Manafort, it can happen to anyone.

Well, it DOES happen to anyone.

The rhetoric doesn’t spew from Fox News. It continues in Congress. FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency yesterday in his first public appearance since President Donald Trump said the bureau is “in tatters.”  Wray told the House Judiciary Committee his agents work hard “protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law in all 50 states and in about 80 countries around the world.”
Throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers have seized on the actions of Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.  He left the Mueller team this past summer after an internal investigation found messages he sent that could be interpreted as showing political bias for Hillary Clinton and against Trump, according to US officials briefed on the matter.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asked Wray about what he’s doing to clear the ranks of the FBI by people “tainted” by bias.

“I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI, and when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action if necessary,” Wray said, referencing the ongoing inspector general investigation. “The first thing I’m doing is respecting the outside independent investigations that are underway. … My preference is to be one of these people who is not an act first and ask questions later guy.”

The allegation of bias is, of course, ridiculous. The assumption is that if you have a political leaning, you cannot be fair and impartial. But is that true? What does say about the Republican Congressmen on the committee?

It’s clear why Fox and some Republicans in Congress are attacking Mueller and the FBI. It is because the heat is on with Trump. They need him. And once Mueller passes a certain point (he may have already passed it), and the investigation moves into litigation, then we are riding a train to Trump’s demise, and even Mueller cannot stop it. So they need to discredit Mueller and the investigators NOW.  That’s what is happening.

But it is a very dangerous game. A Russia kind of propaganda game. When you discredit the FBI, and get a large segment of the country to believe there is no law and order, you create chaos.  Trump will come and go. The damage being done won’t.

Pretty Sure You Need To Have An Attorney To Claim Attorney-Client Privilege

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege and refused to discuss a phone call he had with his father about how to handle the fallout from his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. He told the House Intelligence Committee that a lawyer was in the room during the call. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters: “I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” adding “that’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege” and that “the presence of counsel does not make communications between father and son a privilege.”  What, if anything, the president knew about the Trump Tower meeting as a presidential candidate — and his role in drafting a misleading statement about it once he was president and it became public — are key questions for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the election.

L’il Trump told the committee about his earlier discussions with the White House adviser Hope Hicks about how to respond to the coming New York Times article about the June meeting, first published on July 8. As you recall, his initial statement said the Trump Tower meeting was primarily about the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children. It made no mention of any promise of incriminating information from the Russian government against Mrs. Clinton.

Whistleblower Says Flynn Was Excited For Russia Plans To Build Nuclear Plants In Mideast

Full letter below:

The Democrats are now asking Gowdy to sign off on subpoenas for various White House officials, associates of Flynn’s and others involved in the nuclear project.

“If you choose to continue blocking our Committee’s investigation of General Flynn and allowing the White House to defy our bipartisan requests, the Oversight Committee will be faced with allegations of hypocrisy that are extremely difficult to defend,” Cummings said.  “The integrity of this Committee’s work will be questioned, and the credibility of its investigations will be severely degraded.”

In other Trump-Russian collusion news. Don Jr testified before the House committee today:

I don’t believe that, but at least he is consistent.

UPDATE – Apparently Don Jr is getting grilled:

The Abramson Theiory

I’ve been following, and also quoting, Seth Abramson, a University of New Hampshire professor — also a lawyer and criminal defense attorney — and his prolific (arguably TOO prolific) tweets about Trump and the Russian Collusion scandal.

The Washington Post did an expose on Abramson, and his sometimes sensible, sometimes not, theory:

As Seth Abramson tells it, Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government is not in doubt, not hard to understand and happens to read like a crime thriller.

The University of New Hampshire professor has become virally popular by reframing a complex tangle of public reporting on the Russia scandal into a story so simple it can be laid out in daily tweets — and so dramatic his fans can’t stop reading, even if critics point out the plot holes.

It goes, in short, like this:

After trying for many years to expand his business empire into Russia, Abramson asserts, Trump visited Moscow in 2013 to personally meet agents of Russian President Vladmir Putin, using his beauty pageant as cover.

There, Abramson writes, a secret deal was struck: Putin agreed to open up his country’s rich real estate market to Trump, and Trump agreed to campaign for president while promoting pro-Russian policies.

Simple as that. And everything that has happened since — the election hacking, Trump’s improbable win and a special counsel’s investigation into his campaign and administration — follows from that deal, in Abramson’s telling.

***

Abramson’s tweets link copiously to sources, but they range in quality from investigative news articles to off-the-wall Facebook posts and tweets from Tom Arnold. The New Republic and Atlantic have both dismissed the professor as a conspiracy theorist.

***

Abramson will be the first to tell you he has no special knowledge of the investigation. Much of his analysis is based on his experience as a criminal defense lawyer in the 2000s.

But sound or not, his theory of the Trump Russia scandal has won thousands of devotees and appears to be breaking into the mainstream.

“I don’t like conspiracy theorists,” Abramson told The Washington Post. “Their answer to every situation is some dramatic explanation.”

That said, he acknowledged his explanation for the Trump campaign’s many ties to Russia is as dramatic as possible: that the president of the United States has been corrupted by a foreign power. And he’s often conflated with the cranks he despises.

“Yes, I have a dramatic reading from what did happen here and what’s going to happen here. And that’s because I consider this to be an extraordinary criminal investigation and prosecution,” Abramson said. “It’s a singular event.”

So singular that he repeatedly warns his readers they need to prepare for a political scandal the likes of which the United States has never seen.

Part of his appeal is that he purports to boil the special prosecutor’s opaque investigation — and the confusing web of Trump businesses, Kremlin associates and conflicting explanations that intersect with it — down to a few key names and dates and a simple motive: greed.

“The CORE NARRATIVE is simple,” as Abramson wrote in a typically styled Twitter thread over the weekend. “America was SOLD OUT by men who wanted POWER and were willing to trade U.S. POLICY to get it.”

Citing news reports that date back to the late 20th century, Abramson argues that Trump has long wanted to expand his real estate holdings into Russia’s lucrative markets.

On this point, at least, he’s in good company. Many mainstream writers, have argued the same, including David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

But Abramson departs from those writers in his description of a weekend trip Trump took to Moscow in 2013, when he brought his Miss Universe pageant to the Russian capital.

Trump ended up spending part of the weekend with Russians associated with the Crocus Group. While Ignatius describes the company as a “shopping mall developer,”

Abramson calls it “essentially the Kremlin’s no-bid real estate developer.”

***

Ignatius and others have noted that Trump returned from the trip crowing about his plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and The Post has reported on his company’s pursuit of the hotel deal two years later, when he was running for president.

Abramson’s theory squares the circle: He argues that Trump signed a real estate contract with Putin’s agents on the 2013 visit and “used his run for the presidency as a chit — a valuable asset to be offered to Putin — to ensure Putin’s assistance with the multibillion-dollar Trump Tower Moscow deal.”

The fact that Trump Tower Moscow was never actually built Abramson blames on an accident of history: Trump never expected to win the election and conflict himself out of the deal.

His evidence isn’t so clear cut. Abramson cites a 2014 tweet from a Russian lifestyle blogger  (“I’m sure @realDonaldTrump will be great president! We’ll support you from Russia!“)  as “proof” that Trump’s companions on the Moscow trip knew he’d run for president long before he announced it.

But this ignores that Trump was openly flirting with a presidential run for years. Indeed, his own Twitter feed at the time was filled with people hoping and assuming he’d run.

Other parts of Abramson’s analysis may be better grounded. A Forbes article supports his contention that Putin-connected developers talked about a real estate deal with Trump during the Moscow trip. And Abramson notes that one of Trump’s hosts in 2013, Emin Agalarov, was later implicated in arranging a meeting in which Trump campaign officials sought to obtain politically helpful information from Russia.

But these facts are sprinkled into his threads with more fantastic sounding claims. Read deep down into Abramson’s Twitter feed and you’ll find what he describes as a “confession” from a “Kremlin agent,” who detailed a five-year plot to help Trump win the election in a public Facebook post.

It’s dramatic stuff. But would those involved in a Kremlin-orchestrated plot to put Trump in the White House really spill the beans unprompted on Facebook?

Absolutely, says Abramson — and tried to explain the difference between a conspiracy theory, which he deplores, and the “criminal conspiracy” he asserts Trump involved himself in during the campaign.

“This was very unsophisticated and the people involved were largely moronic,” he told The Post. “I’ve represented thousands of criminal defendants and what they have in common is they were very unsophisticated, and we might say stupid. Watergate was stupid. The people involved were stupid. President Nixon was very stupid, and that’s how he got caught.”

There are, as the article suggests, a lot of holes in Abramson’s theory, but I have warmed up to the notion that Trump’s relationship with Putin — or perhaps Putin’s oligarchs — goes back long before Trump ran for President in 2016. It has been reported (and disputed by Trump’s lawyers) that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump’s records from Deutsche Bank, the only bank in the world still willing to deal with Trump because of his bad credit. So it appears that Mueller is thinking along the same lines (that Trump’s issues go back several years).

In any event, history will prove Abramson right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle.  In the meantime, stay tuned.

Corrections And Updates And Backtracks To Last Week’s Bombshells

As I posted here last week, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition last December. Flynn is the fourth Trump associate to be charged in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As I also posted, Flynn promised “full cooperation” with Mueller’s investigation and was prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians.

That second part was almost correct.  Turns out, Brian Ross at ABC got it wrong:

Now, the only thing that Ross got wrong was the part that Flynn will testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. It doesn’t mean that Trump DIDN’T do that — just that the anonymous source is not good enough to confirm.

Trump seized on it, of course:

Nnnnnno. It doesn’t make the Russia thing a “witch hunt”. Flynn DID plead guilty, after all.

But the other big news from the weekend was this tweet from Trump:

Why was this significant?  Because this was the first time that Trump has said that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI. Up until now, the White House position was that Flynn lied to Pence… period!  The timeline here is critical:

  1. Flynn lied to the FBI on January 24 2017
  2. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House (through WH lawyer Don McGahn) that Flynn lied and may be subject to blackmail on January 26 2017
  3. Trump has lunch with FBI Director Comey — “I need loyalty” Trump says — on January 27 2017
  4. Photo of Trump with Flynn and others in Oval Office on January 29 2017
  5. Sally Yates fired on January 30 2017

Flynn isn’t fired until February 13 for lying to Pence (what we’re told at the time) and the next day, in another unusual Trump-Comey meeting alone in the Oval, Trump says to Comey that he hope he’ll “let Flynn go”.

The fact that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI indicates that his subsequent actions could be characterized as “obstruction of justice”.  Therefore, Trump’s tweet that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI is a HUGE and damning admission…. which Trump made AGAIN Saturday evening at 9:06 pm

Meanwhile, the lawyers were doing damage control.  This happened:

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, told CNN on Sunday that he wrote a tweet for the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account about the firing of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” the Saturday tweet reads. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Dowd said he drafted the tweet and believes White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it online. He declined to answer additional questions about whether Trump reviewed the tweet before it was posted.

“Enough already,” he said in an email. “I don’t feed the haters.”

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Dowd drafted the tweet, citing two people familiar with the Twitter message. NBC News’ Chuck Todd also reported Sunday on “Meet the Press” that Dowd confirmed he authored the message.

Does Dowd have proof?

Although the mainstream media seems to accept Dowd’s assertion as true, I am not so sure. A criminal defense attorney tweeting on behalf of a client?  I doubt that.  And if he did this tweet, he should have been fired.

In any event, Dowd needs to repeat his assertion (that he authored the tweet) under oath, and Scavino needs to own up to it (under oath) as well. No, it is not attorney-client privileged.

But according to The Washington Post, Dowd is also saying that “Trump knew generally that Flynn’s account to the FBI and Pence (his claim to have never spoken with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions) were similar…”

Pardon me if I don’t see how this latest revelation helps Dowd’s client. Even with this new explanation, we are left with the impression that Trump assumed Flynn had committed a felony. That didn’t stop Trump from pressuring then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on him—or from firing Comey when he didn’t.

So Dowd’s saving tweet doesn’t change the ballgame, because legally, the distinction that Trump believed something as opposed to knowing it might not quell the allegations that he obstructed justice.

And now, this morning, we get this odd legal theory from Dowd, in an interview in Axios:

John Dowd, President Trump’s outside lawyer, outlined to me a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd claims.

Dowd says he drafted this weekend’s Trump tweet that many thought strengthened the case for obstruction: The tweet suggested Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired, raising new questions about the later firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Dowd: “The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”

Ooookay. The ever-increasingly bonkers Alan Dershowitz has been saying the same thing.

Let’s post this from the Brookings Institute (see pp 76-76)

BREAKING — Well, this seems to settle it:

The White House’s chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

The description of the conversation raises new questions about what Trump knew about Flynn’s situation when he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and whether anyone in the White House, including the President himself, attempted to obstruct justice. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, a probe led by Comey until Trump fired him.

White House counsel Donald McGahn told Trump that based on his conversation with then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates, he believed Flynn had not told the truth in his interview with the FBI or to Pence, the source said. McGahn did not tell the President that Flynn had violated the law in his FBI interview or was under criminal investigation, the source said.

Emphasis mine.

The more we learn, the more likely it seems that the incriminating tweet Trump sent out on Saturday was accurate, regardless of who wrote it.  If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI, refused to fire Flynn until later when the news media found out, asked Comey to back off Flynn, then fired Comey after that failed, then the stunning admission in the tweet is true, regardless of who wrote it.

Flynn Pleads Guilty* In Trump-Russia “Witchhunt”

* Well, he’s about to plead guilty… 10:30 am today.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed court documents Friday indicating that he was bringing charges against former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn for lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts.

The information charges Flynn with one count of making a false statement.

Here is the court filing – Seth Abramson is calling it “the most significant historic document in our lifetime”:

The White House spin? “Meh, everyone lies”

Yeah, that’s not going to fly.

This timeline is so damning for Trump:

January 24 – Flynn lies to the FBI.
January 26 – Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn.
January 27 – Trump responds not by firing Flynn, but asking Comey for a loyalty pledge.
January 30 – Sally Yates fired.

UPDATES:  Things are moving fast…

11:25 am

WHOA!  THIS IS HUGE!!!

Contact about what?  This could be the ballgame!

Fox tries to bury it:

11:44 am

As show below, WH lawyers are downplaying this:

Yeah, that’s not how this works. The false statements involved have nothing to do with what Flynn is telling the Mueller team right now.

Bad news for Kushner.

Dow plummets at Flynn news:

Statement from Flynn now out:

This just might be the best press news today:

Comey weighs in:


The White House claimed the pool spray got on the schedule “by accident”.

Here is the Flynn plea agreement:

12:25pm

More White House cancellations posed as “mistakes”

And this is fun

I read an analysis by Andrew McCarthy at The National Review. He wrote:

McCarthy does not understand how this works.  You don’t plead guilty to serious offenses if you are cooperating.  You plead guilty to lesser offenses (or none at all). The Sword of Damocles goes OVER the head.

BIG UPDATE:

Bloomburg is reporting “Kushner Is Said to Have Ordered Flynn to Contact Russia”:

This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member stats to support the resolution with the Trump transition team.

I’m not sure I like this article (in the “Opinion” section). It is written in the passive tense. And doesn’t seem well-sourced.

Good analysis here:

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that this Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a calculated move to keep Flynn’s charge limited, and that, given what is known about Flynn’s myriad inappropriate foreign dealings, they wouldn’t have done so unless the former intelligence official had divulged some very juicy secrets.

“What’s interesting to me is what he’s not charged with,” said Steven Miller, a former anti-corruption federal prosecutor. “This is a very narrowly drawn structural plea bargain. By virtue of a single count he can’t get more than a five-year sentence. You don’t get that unless you’re giving something serious to the government. And the number of players left are relatively small: it’s [Jared] Kushner, it’s [Donald] Trump Jr., it’s the Trump campaign, and it’s the President. So I think this is something that would cause all of them to be extraordinarily worried.”

“It’s a neon sign that there’s massive cooperation underway by Flynn,” Miller added.

Jens Ohlin, an expert in criminal law at Cornell Law School, concurred, saying what essentially amounts to a “sweetheart deal” would not be offered unless Flynn could incriminate a bigger fish.

“The government would not agree to this deal if Flynn was merely providing information on someone who is in a peripheral place in the criminality,” Ohlin said. “So if he’s providing information in exchange to this deal its because it’s someone who is even more centrally located than Flynn.”

Yup.

2:50 pm

Seems to be confirmation that Kushner is deep doodoo

3:10 pm

Trump’s first tweet since all this broke… (has he been told?)

The 8th Man In The June 2016 Trump Tower Meeting Was A Russian Money Launderer

Daily Beast gots it:

An accused money launderer representing a Kremlin-friendly oligarch has been reportedly identified as the eighth person at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. last June.

Irakly Kaveladze was a guest of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya when she visited Trump and other campaign members in Trump Tower last year, Trump’s lawyer told CNN. The meeting was proposed by billionaire Russian real-estate developer Aras Agalarov. The billionaire is friendly with President Donald Trump, having hosted his Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow and discussed real-estate deals with Trump.

The June 9, 2016 meeting was originally characterized by Trump Jr. as “primarily… about the adoption of Russian children.” It was then revealed to have also been about Agalarov providing “damaging information” on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin. Joining Trump in the meeting were his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The eight visitors included Rob Goldstone, the manager of Agalarov’s pop-star son who reached out to Trump; Veselnitskaya, the lawyer with ties to Russian officials who lobbied the U.S. on behalf of Kremlin interests; her translator, Anatoli Samochornov; Veselnitskaya’s D.C.-based lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, who was once accused of an international hacking conspiracy; and Kaveladze.

So who is this guy?

Kaveladze is an executive of Crocus Group, Agalarov’s Russian-based development company. Kaveladze’s LinkedIn page says he began working for Crocus Group in 2004, but a Russian webpage for the Economic Chronicle says he started in 1992 as Crocus’ U.S. associate. Kaveladze immigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 1991.

Federal investigators say Kaveladze immediately began laundering money for Russians.

Kaveladze was the president of International Business Creations, a Delaware corporation. Between 1991 and 2000, IBC and sister corporation Euro-American moved $1.4 billion from Eastern Europe through U.S. banks and back to Europe, the Government Accountability Office found in 2000. Kaveladze was not named in the report, but he was reportedly identified as its accused figure. “What I see here is another Russian witch hunt in the United States,” Kaveladze told the New York Times in 2000 about the allegations.

Yeah. I think this goes to something I have said before. What do the Russians have on Donald Trump? It’s not the pee tape (although, maybe). I think Trump was involved in Russian money laundering. Hell, just look at that Florida mansion he had and never lived in and sold to a Russian oligarch. That doesn’t happen by accident.

UPDATE — Another Russian money launderer enters the picture today.

TPM gots it:

Aleksander Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian and banking official accused of laundering money for organized crime by Spanish authorities last year, met with Donald Trump, Jr. according to a new report by CBS.

The younger Donald met with Torshin for only a few minutes at an NRA event in 2016, according to the network’s anonymous source. Torshin had proposed meeting with the senior Donald Trump during an event scheduled to take place during the NRA’s annual convention in Louisville, Ky. According to the New York Times, the invitation was an emailed five-page proposal passed to Jared Kushner inviting the president to the event—he did not attend—where Trump could meet Torshin.

Torshin, who runs an all-Russian organization called The Right to Bear Arms, pitched the campaign’s shared values around both Christianity and gun rights, for which Torshin, a lifetime member of the American NRA, is an advocate in Russia.

Don Trump Jr And Wikileaks

On Oct. 14, 2016, soon-to-be-Vice President Pence took to Fox News and flat-out denied that the Trump campaign was “in cahoots” with WikiLeaks. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pence said.

Turns out Pence’s answer is pretty far from the truth.

Below is a timeline breaking it all down:

Sept. 20: WikiLeaks sends its first direct messages to Trump Jr., sharing a password it discovered for a new anti-Trump PAC’s website, putintrump.org.

Sept. 21: Trump Jr. responds by saying, “Off the record I don’t know who that is but I’ll ask around. Thanks.”

Oct. 3: WikiLeaks inquires about getting the Trump campaign’s help to push a story about Hillary Clinton allegedly suggesting that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be droned. Trump Jr. says the campaign “already did that earlier today.” He then asks about a rumored “Wednesday leak I keep reading about.” WikiLeaks doesn’t respond.

Oct. 12 8:31 a.m.: WikiLeaks suggests Trump Jr. promote its leaked Democratic documents: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us wlsearch.tk.” WikiLeaks suggests tweeting the link will get Trump supporters to dig through the hacked emails to find things the media had missed.

Oct. 12 9:46 a.m.:

Oct. 14 morning: Pence denies the campaign is working with WikiLeaks.

Fox News host Steve Doocy: “Some have suggested on the left that it’s all this bad stuff about Hillary, nothing bad about Trump — that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.”

Pence: “Nothing could be further from the truth. All of us have had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years, and it’s just a reality of American life today and of life in the wider world.”

Oct. 14 9:34 a.m.:

(Note: The web address in this tweet is identical to the one WikiLeaks recommended two days earlier, including the lack of an “http://”)

It’s worth noting here that Trump had been talking about WikiLeaks even shortly before his Oct. 12 tweet. Here’s what he tweeted just the day before:

WikiLeaks’s Oct. 12 message to Trump Jr. also noted how the candidate had been talking about it (“great to see you and your dad talking about our publications”). So it’s possible the juxtaposition of Trump Sr.’s Oct. 12 tweet and the WikiLeaks message to Trump Jr. is just a coincidence. But if you look at what Trump Jr. tweeted two days later, it’s basically precisely what WikiLeaks had suggested.

It’s worth noting that in other cases, Trump Jr. didn’t respond to WikiLeaks or didn’t take its advice. For example, WikiLeaks at one point suggested the Trump campaign leak “one or more” of Trump’s tax returns. But at the very least, Trump Jr. exchanged messages talking about campaign strategy with WikiLeaks, which has been linked to the Russian government and which American intelligence says was used to disseminate emails hacked by Russia. Trump Jr. clearly asks for inside information about leaks that might be coming from WikiLeaks.

The totality of the messages yet again call into serious question the Trump campaign and White House’s denials of coordination with unsavory characters and even, by extension, Russia. And unlike that June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, in this case this coordination appeared to lead to a specific strategic action. The question from there is how directly WikiLeaks is linked to the Russian government.

No Pee Tape, BUT….

Breaking from NBC:

WASHINGTON — After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.

Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”

The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller he described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.

The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.

That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.

One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.

Two other sources said Schiller testified he was confident nothing happened.

Schiller said he and Trump were aware of the risk that hotel rooms in Moscow could be set up to capture hidden video, two sources said.

Schiller was grilled about the Moscow trip as part of four hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The questioning around the Moscow trip took a significant amount of time, the sources said. Schiller was also asked about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russians, two of the sources said. He testified that he did not recall much about that day.

This doesn’t mean the tape exists, but it DOES mean that the salacious allegations in the dossier were not ENTIRELY made up out of thin air.

Carter Page, The Goof, Testifies

Carter Page is sort of the comic relief of the Trump-Russia scandal. He goes on TV waaaay too much, and gets so evasive that he just looks terrible. It is not helped by a comical silly smile he plasters on his face.

Yesterday, he gave testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. And it was the usual odd rambling.  Not so much evasiveness — but just odd back and forth.

Like this:

And….

Some highlights from Page’s meandering, nearly eight-hour-long interview are below.

1. Page Confirmed Trump Campaign Altered Ukraine Platform

The Trump campaign has quibbled about the extent of its involvement in softening the language on Ukraine in the GOP platform during the Republican National Convention, but Page confirmed that staffers were directly involved.

“As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work,” Page wrote in a July 14, 2016 email to fellow Trump aide J.D. Gordon and several others.

Page said the email reflected his “personal opinion” and denied personally having any involvement in the change, which removed language promising that the U.S. would provide “lethal defense weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian military intervention. The revised text instead offered “appropriate assistance.”

Though Gordon and others on the campaign have strenuously denied involvement, Texas delegate Diana Denman previously told TPM that he halted the national security committee’s discussion of her original amendment to “clear it with New York.” Denman said this was the only amendment set before the committee that she recalled Trump staffers intervening to table.

2. Like Papadopoulos, Page Seemed To Overstate His Insider Knowledge

Like George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian connections, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge about Russian politics.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Page to account for an email he sent after his July 2016 trip to deliver a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School promising campaign staffers “some incredible insights and outreach” he received from “a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

It turns out those “insights” were gleaned from watching TV.

Page told Schiff that all he meant to convey in that email was that he would pass on “general things that I learned from listening to speeches” and “watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow.”

Schiff replied, “This is not what you conveyed to the campaign.”

Page also notified campaign staffers that he would “speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank,” one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, during that visit. He told the committee that the Sberbank CEO “didn’t actually show up at all.”

3. Page Proposed Having Trump Travel To Russia

In another similarity to Papadopoulos, Page thought it would be a good idea for Trump to travel to Russia in the middle of the campaign, despite scrutiny of the GOP candidate’s friendly rhetoric towards Russia.

In a May 16, 2016 email to Gordon and fellow campaign adviser Walid Phares, Page suggested that Trump could “raise the temperature a little bit” by traveling to Russia in his stead, and that he would be “more than happy to yield this honor to him.”

Page told the committee he did not know that Papadopoulos was separately pushing a Trump trip to Russia, and that he was “envisioning” a visit akin to Barack Obama’s well-received 2008 trip to Germany as a Democratic presidential candidate.

4. Lawmakers From Both Parties Seemed Frustrated By The Rambling Conversation

Throughout the interview, Page repeatedly provided more information than lawmakers requested or insisted that he’d had no contact with a certain individual only to double-back and say he may have actually met them in passing. These rhetorical tics seemed to grate on lawmakers.

Schiff, in particular, repeatedly told Page that he was “not asking” for the answers he provided. He chided the former Trump aide for responding to questions about his Russia contacts with answers about Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Page’s own writings on lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was similarly withering in an exchange in which he asked Page to define the words collusion, coordination and conspiracy. When Page replied that all seem to refer to “things you shouldn’t be doing,” Gowdy cracked that “you can coordinate lunch,” and continued to push the point until Page provided straight answers.

CNN reported that lawmakers described Page’s testimony as occasionally confusing and contradictory.

5. The Campaign Tried To Distance Itself From Page

Towards the end of his marathon testimony, Page revealed that the Trump campaign and transition tried to sever ties with him early this year as the FBI investigation was ramping up.

Page divulged that he received letters in January from the campaign’s law firm, Jones Day, instructing him not to “give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.”

Page said he had never misstated his relationship to the campaign, and only spoke to the media “to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.”

Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.

Page said he understood their concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”

Attorney General Sessions Caught In Yet Another Lie

Jeff Sessions is either the most forgetful man on the planet, or the most deceitful. Either way, he’s not fit to be the attorney general.

Standing before reporters in February, President Trump said unequivocally that he knew of nobody from his campaign who was in contact with Russians during the election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate the same thing.

Court documents unsealed this week cast doubt on both statements and raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions could be called back to Congress for further questioning.

It’s not just that Sessions was personally present at a meeting between Trump and George Papadopoulos where the 29-year-old adviser informed the room that he was working to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. It’s not just that those present recall Sessions personally intervening to tell Papadopoulos to shut up about the topic.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

It’s that the one thing Sessions did not do was to tell Papadopoulos to stop working on arranging meetings between Russia and the Trump team.

Atlantic:

Yup.

Seven Points Which Make The Beginnings Of A Trump-Russia Collusion Case

1) Russia stole Democratic emails. US intelligence agencies have confirmed that emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta were stolen by Russian hackers. The emails were ultimately released in a smartly sequenced way to maximize damage to Hillary Clinton.

2) At least one Trump adviser knew of the theft in advance, and lied about it. Shortly after the emails were hacked, George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s five listed foreign policy advisers, was told of their existence by a Russian professor whom he knew to have deep contacts in the Russian government. Papadopoulos subsequently lied to investigators about the timing of the revelation. This is from the indictment (emphasis mine):

Papadopoulos acknowledged that the Professor had told him about the Russians possessing dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the campaign. In truth and in fact, however, defendant Papadopoulos learned he would be an advisor to the campaign in early March and met the Professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant Papadopoulos because of his status with the Campaign, and the Professor told defendant Papadopoulos about the thousands of emails on or about April 26, 2016.

We don’t know if Papadopoulos shared this knowledge with others in Trump’s orbit, or if others in Trump’s orbit were also approached by Russian intermediaries with this information. But it’s worth noting that Trump advisor Roger Stone sent a series of tweetssuggesting he knew the stolen Podesta emails were coming weeks in advance.

3) Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was a paid operative of a Russia-linked political party in Ukraine. According to Mueller’s indictment, Paul Manafort, who would go on to lead Trump’s campaign, was a longtime paid operative of a Ukrainian political party with deep ties to the Kremlin. Manafort hid both the extent of his payments and the extent of his work on behalf of this party; ultimately, more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts related to the work, and at least $18 million was laundered by Manafort.

Among other things, this placed Manafort — and his deputy, Richard Gates — in a highly compromised position, as they had both taken huge amounts of illegal money from a foreign government and lied about it to the US government. Manafort would go on to run Trump’s campaign and bring Gates into the operation too.

The Trump administration has subsequently tried to distance itself from Manafort — in March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” — but the reality is Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and ran it from June to August (he was ultimately fired when news of his Ukraine payments began leaking out) and was widely understood to be a linchpin of the operation. In August, Newt Gingrich, a close Trump adviser, told Fox News, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

4) In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian operative who promised them dirt on Clinton. The email Trump Jr. received was crystal clear. It came from Rob Goldstone and alleged that a Russian prosecutor had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful.” Trump Jr. wrote back, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Trump Jr. then set up a meeting, and on an email thread titled “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential,” he invited Kushner and Manafort. The meeting took place on June 9. As Andrew Prokop wrote, “it’s hard to read these emails and not conclude that the top echelons of the Trump campaign were well aware of the Russian government’s support for Trump and willing to collaborate in the effort.”

At it happens, “later in the summer” is exactly when the hacked emails would ultimately be released.

5) In July 2016, Trump publicly asked the Russian government to find and release other emails Clinton deleted. Separately from the hacked emails of the DNC and Podesta, another Clinton email scandal related to 33,000 messages her team had judged unrelated to her work as secretary of state and deleted. In late July, Trump said during a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He said this after Papadopoulos was informed by the Russians that they possessed Clinton-related emails.

6) Russians released emails to help Trump, planted fake news and social media bots to help Trump, and tried to hack election systems in 21 states. What’s most striking about the Russian operations on Trump’s behalf is how sophisticated they were about American politics. As the Democratic National Convention began, for instance, Russia released hacked DNC emails meant to stoke conflict among Bernie Sanders’s supporters. The Podesta emails were dribbled out in the campaign’s final weeks and were laundered through WikiLeaks, which made them irresistible to the media. The social media efforts were far-reaching and surprisingly savvy for a foreign government. Both the timing of the operations and the specific points of attack chosen reflected the Trump campaign’s needs and obsessions.

7) After being elected president, Donald Trump fired the director of the FBI to end his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. President Trump has certainly acted like someone with much to fear from the various investigations into Russia’s role in the election. After taking office, he lashed out at the CIA, which had concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf — “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump administration said.

Trump subsequently fired FBI Director James Comey, whose agency was investigating Russia’s role in 2016. Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt he did it because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” It later emerged that Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom can usually be counted on to push Trump toward more normal behavior, supported firing Comey.

A list like this can get much longer — I haven’t mentioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s habit of forgetting meetings with Russian officials, for instance, or the notably pro-Russian policy positions Trump adopted during the campaign — but the bottom line is: We do not yet have hard evidence of actual collusion between the Trump operation and Russia. But given what we do know, it would truly be remarkable if all this happened and yet the two sides never explicitly worked together.

Mueller’s investigation, meanwhile, is far from over. The question now is what Manafort, Gates, and Papadopoulos know, and whether Mueller’s indictments are enough to get them to talk.

Papadopoulos, for one, is believed to be cooperating with Mueller.

The Pushback On Mueller Began A Week Before The Indictments

Fox News really is now the Trump network. It is not even the GOP network.  Just Trump.  They have been questioning Mueller’s credibility. Vox explains the evolution:

To put it bluntly: As Mueller brings charges against top Trump officials, Fox News is trying to plant doubt in its viewers’ minds.

We analyzed the past week of Fox News transcripts, measuring them against those of Fox’s cable news rivals CNN and MSNBC.

What we found was striking:

  • Fox News was unable to talk about the Mueller investigation without bringing up Hillary Clinton, even as federal indictments were being brought against top Trump campaign officials.
  • Fox also talked significantly less about George Papadopoulos — the Trump campaign adviser whose plea deal with Mueller provides the most explicit evidence thus far that the campaign knew of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump — than its competitors.
  • Fox News repeatedly called Mueller’s credibility into question, while shying away from talking about the possibility that Trump might fire Mueller.

Fox News started early in questioning Mueller’s credibility.

As early as last Tuesday, days before we learned Mueller would bring indictments later in the week, Fox News’s Hannity called for Mueller’s resignation.

“Back in 2009, he was the FBI director. This was when the bureau, the FBI, so clearly had this information [about Uranium One.] He had conflicts of interest. There’s no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russian-related,” he said.

Hannity was, of course, referring to a report in the Hill questioning why the Obama administration approved the sale of a Canadian uranium company to Russia, despite the FBI previously uncovering misconduct by the Russian nuclear industry. The story also asserts that Russian nuclear officials gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, perhaps to sway then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who served in the group that approved the deal. The story stems from an anti-Hillary Clinton book published during the election called Clinton Cash, and many experts say it has been presented in a misleading manner.

Let’s talk about that the Uranium One deal.  We need to because Fox News in particular has taken up the conspiracy theory with gusto, with Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Martha MacCallum all running lengthy segments devoted to the story. Conservative radio darling Laura Ingraham tweeted out a link to an article about the supposed uranium scheme in the conservative National Review. The conservative Daily Caller website has run several articles on the subject, as has Breitbart, the right-wing outlet run by former Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump himself has added new fuel by taking the highly unusual step of encouraging the Justice Department to allow a former FBI informant to testify about the case before Congress — a rare and nearly unprecedented act. The informant’s lawyer claimed, per the Post, that he would tell lawmakers about his work “uncovering the Russian nuclear bribery case and the efforts he witnessed by Moscow to gain influence with [former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] in hopes of winning favorable uranium decisions from the Obama administration.”

There’s just one problem: The GOP claim that Clinton gave 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia is incorrect and clearly misleading now, just as it was when Trump raised it in the past.

The key event that the myth is based on is Russia’s nuclear power agency purchasing a majority stake in a Toronto-based energy company between 2009 and 2013. The company had mines and land in a number of US states with huge uranium production capacity — a move the US State Department signed off on. But PolitiFact did a thorough fact-check of the claim last year when Trump first made it on the campaign trail, and found the following faults with it:

  1. The mines, mills, and land the company holds in the US account for 20 percent of the US’s uranium production capacity, not actual produced uranium.
  2. The State Department was one of nine federal agencies and a number of additional independent federal and state regulators that signed off on the deal.
  3. President Barack Obama, not Clinton, was the only person who could’ve vetoed the deal.
  4. Since Russia doesn’t have the legal right to export uranium from the US, its main goal was likely to gain access to the company’s uranium assets in Kazakhstan.
  5. Crucially, the main national security concern was not about nuclear weapons proliferation, as Trump has suggested, but actually ensuring the US doesn’t have to depend too much on uranium sources from abroad, as the US only makes about 20 percent of the uranium it needs. An advantage in making nuclear weapons wasn’t the main issue because, as PolitiFact notes, “the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.”

Trump’s misleading comments are in service of a broader goal: to push back against the growing investigations into his administration’s possible collusion with Moscow, which have hit a new fever pitch with news of Monday’s guilty plea from campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who told the FBI that he’d met with a Russian-linked professor who said Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, including thousands of her stolen emails. Special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed the guilty plea yesterday alongside wide-ranging indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign aide Rick Gates.

BUT… could Fox News talk about firing Mueller?

Nope.  They seemed to understand that it was the third rail.  It would be Trump’s undoing. So they focused on Mueller’s credibility.

Fox News is the main source of news for 19 percent of 2016 voters, including 40 percent of Trump voters. There’s academic evidence that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined. It is quite possibly the main news source for President Trump. There is evidence that the hosts see their jobs as advising Trump — talking directly to him.  And what they seem to be saying is — attack Mueller’s credibility.

Will it work? I can’t say for sure, but I see a number of obvious problems.  Mueller is a Republican for one.  It’s hard to say say he is in the tank for Hillary.  Moreover, he’s got an inestimably high reputation — so much so that the Trump Administration considered him for head of the DOJ.  But mostly, I don’t think it will work because, well, because it is so OBVIOUS.  Indictments get handed down, and suddenly Mueller isn’t credible?  Really?

RELATED:  Many are unhappy at Fox News

Some employees at Fox News were left embarrassed and humiliated by their network’s coverage of the latest revelations in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling, according to conversations CNN had with several individuals placed throughout the network.

“I’m watching now and screaming,” one Fox News personality said in a text message to CNN as the person watched their network’s coverage. “I want to quit.”

“It is another blow to journalists at Fox who come in every day wanting to cover the news in a fair and objective way,” one senior Fox News employee told CNN of their outlet’s coverage, adding that there were “many eye rolls” in the newsroom over how the news was covered.

The person said, “Fox feels like an extension of the Trump White House.”

The employees spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment.

***

Additionally, Fox News aired segments that questioned Mueller’s credibility and many were framed around how Trump and his allies were responding to the news. On Fox News’ homepage, the lead story at one point was focused on Trump slamming the indictment. Another lead story cited Manafort’s lawyer, and asked, “Mueller’s ‘ridiculous’ claims?”

“This kind of coverage does the viewer a huge disservice and further divides the country,” one Fox News personality told CNN.

Fox News journalists took significant issue with their network’s opinion hosts, who deflected from the news and, in Sean Hannity’s case, characterized Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” a term Trump used on Sunday in a angry tweet to describe the probe.

“That segment on Outbumbered [questioning Mueller’s integrity] was absurd and deserves all the scorn it can get,” a Fox News employee told CNN, referring to the network’s noontime talk show.

The person added that it was “laughable seeing Hannity and [Laura] Ingraham,” two Fox News opinion hosts who are openly supportive of Trump, “tripping over themselves saying [Mueller’s team has] found nothing thus far.”

“It’s an embarrassment,” another Fox News employee echoed to CNN. “Frankly, there are shows on our network that are backing the President at all costs, and it’s that short term strategy that undermines the good work being done by others.”

Nice to know there is SOME integrity at Fox, but… you dance with the devil… this is what happens.

Mueller Time

Well, life has been busy. I wasn’t able to blog about yesterday’s big news: the indictments of Paul Manafort and his assistant Richard Gates — as well as the indictment and guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  The talking heads are correct — it is the Papadopolous news that should scare the White House since it goes to collusion. On the other hand, the Manafort indictment, which deals mostly with pre-campaign shenanigans, shows that Mueller is willing to look into financial dealings from a long time ago that have nothing to do with the 2016 election. That might worry Trump as well.

Anyway, the document dump —

The biggest reveal from the PapaD business is this:

The guilty plea of a 30-year-old campaign aide — so green that he listed Model United Nations in his qualifications — shifted the narrative on Monday of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia: Court documents revealed that Russian officials alerted the campaign, through an intermediary in April 2016, that they possessed thousands of Democratic emails and other “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

That was two months before the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee was publicly revealed and the stolen emails began to appear online.

So did the Trump campaign team run to the FBI and say “we have knowledge of international hacking and espionage”?  Of course not!

In fact, at least five members of the Trump campaign thought that the Russian government was interfering in the 2016 election on the mogul’s behalf at some point last year. That’s not counting Michael Flynn, who is under investigation for allegedly participating in an effort to secure stolen Clinton emails from Russian hackers.

Are we supposed to believe that none of them ever mentioned any of this to Trump — that, when the president was castigating the CIA for the absurd suggestion that Russia wanted him to be elected, his son and son-in-law never raised a peep?

The only plausible, “innocent” explanation for Trump’s incessant denials is this: The idea of having his electoral triumph tarnished by Russian meddling was painful to his ego; so, even though he had independent verification of the CIA’s core claim, he chose to ridicule the agency to protect his public image and self-esteem.

Yesterday was Mueller’s opening salvo, and it was a doozy.  Better than I expected.

Breaking: Mueller Hands Down First Indictment

CNN broke it:

Washington (CNN) — A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.

The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. Mueller was appointed in May to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Under the regulations governing special counsel investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight over the Russia investigation, would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury for approval, according to people familiar with the matter.
On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.

Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.

Shortly after President Donald Trump abruptly fired then-FBI Director James Comey, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. Mueller took the reins of a federal investigation that Comey first opened in July 2016 in the middle of the presidential campaign.

Mueller is authorized to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” according to Rosenstein’s order.

The special counsel’s investigation has focused on potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as obstruction of justice by the President, who might have tried to impede the investigation. CNN reported that investigators are scrutinizing Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia.

This explains the revved up attacks from Fox on Mueller and Clinton this week.

Fox News Trying Hard To Smear Mueller

The Fox News Headline reads:

Mueller facing new Republican pressure to resign in Russia probe

Wow.  Who is pressuring him to do this?  And on what basis?  So here’s the story:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing a fresh round of calls from conservative critics for his resignation from the Russia collusion probe, amid revelations that have called into question the FBI’s own actions and potentially Mueller’s independence.

This week’s bombshell that a controversial anti-Trump dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign has Republicans asking to what extent the FBI – which received some of the findings and briefly agreed to pay the same researcher to gather intelligence on Trump and Russia – used the politically connected material.

Hill investigators also are looking into a Russian firm’s uranium deal that was approved by the Obama administration in 2010 despite reports that the FBI – then led by Mueller – had evidence of bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.

Critics question whether Mueller’s own ties to the bureau as well as fired FBI director James Comey now render him compromised as he investigates allegations of Russian meddling and collusion with Trump officials in the 2016 race.

“The federal code could not be clearer – Mueller is compromised by his apparent conflict of interest in being close with James Comey,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who first called for Mueller to step down over the summer, said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “The appearance of a conflict is enough to put Mueller in violation of the code. … All of the revelations in recent weeks make the case stronger.”

Wow.  If this isn’t silly, I don’t know what is.

It is talking about TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! On the one hand, you have a fake scandal in which Clinton and/or the DNC paid for opposition research which led to the Steele dossier.  This has nothing to do with Special Counsel Mueller at all, except that Mueller is presumably tracking down the same things alleged in the dossier and independently confirming them (or not).  No conflict of interest there.

The second thing is the long-debunked issue with Russia and the approved “Uranium One” deal and UNCONFIRMED “reports” that the FBI (led by Mueller at the time) was investigating bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.  This too is not a conflict of interest, in that it has nothing to do with collusion and the 2016 campaign.

This is ridiculous tactics — throw everything at the wall (whether relevant or irrelevant, regardless of whether it is substantiated), get some partisan flunkies to throw in the phrase “conflict of interest” and that’s a Fox News story, ready to be digested by people who don’t know — or don’t care about the truth, or what “conflict of interest” means, or anything like that.

 

Not A Hoax

That’s an odd assertion for Trump to make.  Sure, he can make the argument that there was no collusion, but to say that Russia never bought ads on Facebook?  How would TRUMP know that’s not true?  Mueller isn’t saying it… Facebook itself is:

Under growing pressure from Congress and the public to reveal more about the spread of covert Russian propaganda on Facebook, the company said on Thursday that it was turning over more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads to congressional committees investigating the Kremlin’s influence operation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said during an appearance on Facebook Live, the company’s video service. He added that he did not want anyone “to use our tools to undermine democracy.”

“That’s not what we stand for,” he said.

The announcement that Facebook would share the ads with the Senate and House intelligence committees came after the social network spent two weeks on the defensive. The company faced calls for greater transparency about 470 Russia-linked accounts — in which fictional people posed as American activists — which were taken down after they had promoted inflammatory messages on divisive issues. Facebook had previously angered congressional staff by showing only a sample of the ads, some of which attacked Hillary Clinton or praised Donald J. Trump.

Facebook’s admission on Sept. 6 that Russian agents covertly bought ads on the site during last year’s campaign has brought intense scrutiny on the social network and on Twitter, entangling both companies in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. Both companies have turned over detailed data to Mr. Mueller.

I’m not sure “it’s a hoax” is the way to go. It happened. The Intel Committees have documentation, as does Mueller.  Soon, we all will get to see it.  Then Trump will have to move the goalposts.

Mueller Finally Eyeing Trump It Seems

Finally.  This is the news I was waiting for.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for records pertaining to some of Donald Trump’s “most scrutinized actions” as president, including his firing of former FBI director James Comey and his Oval Office confab with Russian operatives in which he bragged that axing Comey had “taken off” the pressure of the Russia probe. The New York Times reports the requests suggest the investigation is “focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 different areas that investigators want more information about. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mueller also wants any documents related to the ousting of former Trump campaign aide and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as the Trump Tower meeting last year between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Trump took it upon himself to personally craft the media response to that meeting, which was so inaccurate that the White House had to amend it several times.

Will Trump have a response? I suspect he will, against the advice of his lawyers. Maybe another offensive on how “corrupt” Mueller is (watch for that on Fox News in the next few days.)  And tweets.  My God, more tweets.

Mueller Investigation Focuses on Manafort

There are so many prongs to Mueller’s investigation of the Trump Administration, that it is hard to keep up sometimes.  There are many branches and many players.,  Fortunately, a new website, investigaterussia.org, is a good one-stop place for the latest news, timelines, and “players” bios.  So bookmark that.

With all the natural disasters going on, there has been some Trump investigation news.

It turns out that FISA warrants were issued for Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.  And while this may vindicate Trump’s controversial tweet that he, himself, was “wiretapped”, it hardly helps Trump in the overall controversy.

A new report from CNN, however, explains that not only has Paul Manafort been under investigation by the FBI for three years (You know, pre-campaign), but that the recent pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home was part of a probe that could be extending back as far as 11 years.

So if Trump was recorded, it was incidental, not intentional.

Manafort has previously denied financial wrongdoing regarding his Ukraine-related payments, his bank accounts in offshore tax shelters, and his various real estate transactions over the years.

Last year, authorities determined there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Manafort or anyone else involved in their Ukraine-related probe with anything. Mueller’s team, however, is working on a deadline, and some of the moves they’ve made seem to indicate they are in the advance stages of an investigation.

The period mentioned in the search warrant covers much of the decade that Manafort worked as a consultant for Ukraine’s former ruling party. It’s that work, which extended beyond the ouster of the president, Viktor Yanukovych, amid street protests in 2014, that prompted the FBI’s interest in Manafort. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption and the FBI sought to learn whether the American consultants hired by the Ukrainian party, which also included Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group, were involved. The Justice Department probe also looked into whether the US firms violated the federal law that requires registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

All three firms earlier this year filed retroactive registrations with the Justice Department.

Besides the documents seized from Manafort’s home in the raid, Mueller has also subpoenaed his financial reports.

Also, Manafort’s notes from the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russian attorney have been collected.

So far, it seems that very little was gathered from those, as they mostly centered on the Magnitsky Act.

The notes portray a meeting largely focused on a Russian lawyer’s complaints about investment fund manager William Browder and his role in pushing sanctions legislation to punish Russia. The Russian lawyer repeated claims that Browder made campaign donations to both parties as a way to pass a Russia sanctions law, according to sources briefed on the notes.

The notes are disjointed, the sources who have seen them said, and appear to focus on Russia’s frustration over a law passed in 2012 that led to frozen assets of powerful Russian officials.

Earlier news reports about the reference to political contributions in the notes have led to speculation that the meeting attended by Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner included a request for donations.

But people who have seen the notes say the reference is to political contributions that the Russian lawyer alleged Browder made.

Again, any connection to Trump seems to be incidental, at most. Manafort is the target, because he has a background that raises red flags, and he has been under investigation for several years. It doesn’t matter that he’s known Trump for a number of years. Trump was not running for office when the investigation into Manafort’s dealings began.

The question now must be, why does Donald Trump surround himself with such shady characters?

The CNN report is unconfirmed by other news organizations (save CBS).  Manafort’s lawyers pushed back by pointing out (correctly) that FISA warrants are secret and it is a crime to leak them.  Yup.  Okay.  But Manafort is still in deep doodoo.  He has been informed that he is likely to be indicted and must decide if he will “flip” or face jail time.

BIG UPDATE:

Late breaking from the Washington Post:

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email ex­changes as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”

Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe. Those people, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters under investigation.

No Russia connection? Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager, and he offered to give ROUTINE briefings to a Russian billionaire with ties to Putin.

So…. What’s Mueller Doing And Where Are We On Russia Collusion

Renato Mariotti, a former prosecutor, puts it together at Politico:

What is Robert Mueller up to?

Although the scope of the special counsel’s investigation is vast, public reporting of his activities indicate the direction his investigation is taking and gives us a good sense of the types of charges that could result. But most of the breathless speculation about what he will ultimately do is likely wrong—the result of a misunderstanding of how the law works, a misreading of the public evidence we’ve seen so far or wishful thinking by those who would either like to see the president driven from office or see everyone on his team exonerated.

As a starting point, it’s important to keep in mind what prosecutors do: They investigate discrete crimes. Although the media often throws around phrases like “Russian collusion,” that term has no legal meaning whatsoever. Mueller won’t charge one grand conspiracy involving everyone he’s looking at. If he brings charges, expect to see individuals charged separately unless they committed a crime together.

Top focus: Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn

The person in the greatest legal jeopardy, given what we know from media reports, is former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whose home was searched by the FBI. When the bureau executes a search warrant at your home, that means the prosecutor has already convinced a judge that there is good reason to believe a crime was committed and that evidence of that crime was at your house. That’s bad news for Manafort.

But that doesn’t mean Mueller’s search warrant application alleged that Manafort is or was conspiring with Moscow. There are crimes that are much more straightforward to prove, such as false statements in disclosures made by Manafort. It’s more likely that Mueller is focused on easy wins like this.

The same is true of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who is under scrutiny for failing to disclose income from Russia-related entities. Proving that Flynn lied on a form is much more straightforward than proving an agreement between him and foreigners. Recent news that Flynn’s son is also in Mueller’s sights suggests that the former FBI chief might be developing a case against the son in the hopes that Flynn will cooperate to obtain leniency for his son, which is called “vicarious cooperation.”

Neither of these two pieces of the Mueller investigation has any apparent connection to the rest of what his team is investigating, and if either results in charges, they would be contained in stand-alone indictments that are unconnected to the other matters they are looking at.

Obstruction of justice

The other aspect of Mueller’s investigation that appears to be fairly advanced is his obstruction investigation. We know Mueller is looking at obstruction related to the firing of James Comey for many reasons—most recently, the Justice Department refused to permit a Senate committee to interview two FBI officials who were witnesses on this issue, and when asked about the matter, referred questions to Mueller. This indicates that Mueller believes the FBI officials are potential witnesses. (If Mueller thinks he might use their testimony later, he would want to reduce the risk that potential defendants and their counsel can learn about it in advance. He also doesn’t want to generate inconsistent accounts from witnesses that can be used to undermine them at trial.)

Mueller also has set up interviews with White House officials who were reportedly involved in the decision to fire Comey, and Trump lawyers reportedly sent a memo to Mueller making legal arguments about obstruction and claiming that Comey is not a credible witness. This suggests Trump’s legal team believes Mueller is focused on obstruction. They wouldn’t waste their time otherwise.

The strength of the obstruction case against the president is still an open question, however. On the day Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, I told the New York Times that “a prudent prosecutor would want more facts before bringing this case against a president.” Since then, many more facts have been disclosed, including Thursday’s revelation that the president erupted at Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he learned of Mueller’s appointment, calling him an “idiot” and demanding his resignation.

The intensity of Trump’s reaction to the appointment is unusual and will prompt questions about why he cared so deeply about losing control over the Russia investigation. Moreover, former White House aides Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence will likely be questioned about what they told the president to convince him not to fire Sessions, and what he said in response. The president’s words could be used by Mueller as evidence of his “corrupt” intent, which he would need to prove obstruction of justice.

The most significant testimony could come from White House Counsel Don McGahn, who reportedly looked at a letter justifying Comey’s firing that was drafted by White House aide Stephen Miller at Trump’s direction. McGahn made numerous deletions and comments in the draft and also discussed his concerns verbally, according to the New York Times, but it was never published. Mueller has that letter, the Justice Department has confirmed.

McGahn’s comments could be extremely important. If McGahn counseled Trump that firing Comey for the reasons he originally stated could create legal liability for the president, that could be powerful evidence for Mueller. Alternatively, if McGahn’s concerns were focused solely on the tone or language used by Miller, Trump would have an “advice of counsel” defense—he could say that the fact that his lawyer did not raise these concerns led him to believe there was no legal jeopardy associated with firing Comey.

At this point, too little is known to evaluate the strength of the obstruction case, particularly against anyone other than the president himself. Because most legal scholars believe a sitting president cannot be indicted, any legal liability for Trump himself would likely come via impeachment proceedings, a political process that would require votes from a GOP House majority as well as at least votes from 19 GOP senators—assuming Democrats vote in lockstep—to convict. For that reason, any legal action by Mueller on the obstruction front would likely come against others who aided an obstruction effort, not against the president. While some legal scholars—including one who provided an opinion to then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr—believe the president could be indicted while in office, Mueller would likely follow Starr’s approach of presenting a report for Congress to consider.

What we’ve discussed so far is consistent with a Sept. 6 email that White House lawyer Ty Cobb sent in reply to someone who used a spoof email account to pretend to be his colleague. Cobb indicated that Manafort and Flynn have “issues” but he believes the president and White House would be cleared. That could be spin, but it acknowledges that—based on what he knows, which is more than we do—the Manafort and Flynn issues are distinct.

Another person facing his own distinct liability is the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has come under scrutiny for failing to disclose contacts with foreign individuals. The government would need to prove that those omissions were made “knowingly” and “willfully,” and as I’ve analyzed elsewhere, Kushner’s legal team asserts that the omissions were inadvertent.

The Trump Tower Meeting

Another major aspect of the Mueller investigation is the meeting at Trump Tower that was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort. Trump Jr.’s many statements about the meeting, one of which was highly misleading and allegedly dictated by the president, has created problems for him that could result in a charge if his statements to Congress (which I dissected here) were false.

As for the meeting itself, what Trump Jr. and Kushner have admitted publicly is insufficient to establish liability. Whether that encounter results in charges depends on whether Mueller can prove that more happened within the meetingor that there were more meetings.

Of course, meeting with Russians is not itself a crime. To bring charges, Mueller would need to prove there was an agreement to commit a crime and that one of the Trump associates joined that effort, or that they knew that a crime had been committed (like hacking a U.S. server) and helped it succeed. It is also a crime to offer or agree to trade an official act (such as repealing sanctions) in exchange for something of value. In addition, it can be a crime to knowingly receive stolen property.

The Facebook angle

Until recently, there was very little that indicated Mueller was far along in investigating the efforts of Russian operatives to undermine our election. That changed when the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller obtained information from Facebook via search warrant. That news is extraordinarily important because it indicates he presented evidence that convinced a federal judge there was good reason to believe that foreign individuals committed a crime by making a “contribution” in connection with an election and that evidence of that crime existed on Facebook.

Before we knew of the search warrant, Mueller’s efforts to obtain information about Russian interference in the election could have been an effort to gather counterintelligence or run out every lead. Now, it looks like he has his sights on specific foreign individuals and their interference in our election.

That also open up Trump associates to criminal liability. Someone is guilty of “aiding and abetting” when they know a crime is being committed and actively help to make it succeed. So if a Trump associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller’s search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible way, they could be charged.

In addition, anyone who agreed to be part of the Russian effort in any way could be charged with criminal conspiracy. They wouldn’t need to be involved in the whole operation or know who else was involved. but they would have to agree to be part of some piece of it.

If Mueller brings charges against Americans who worked with Russians to undermine in the election, those could potentially be the most explosive and wide-ranging charges but also the most difficult to defend legally. I doubt jurors would have much patience for technical legal defenses, however, if there were solid evidence that the American worked with a Russian operative.

Following the money

Lastly, there have been reports that Mueller has subpoenaed numerous financial records, and his decision to involve the IRS criminal investigation unit indicates that he is looking at tax charges against someone. But it’s unlikely that he would bring very wide-ranging tax or money laundering charges. Money laundering can be difficult to prove because it requires a prosecutor to prove an underlying crime, such as bribery or tax evasion.

Mueller’s investigation appears to be proceeding at a rapid pace, but we should not expect it to conclude this year. When it does, any charges that Mueller brings will likely be narrower and more targeted than many observers expect, although the recent Facebook search warrant could result in explosive charges involving cooperation with Russian operatives.

Regardless of what charges are ultimately brought, you can expect them to be carefully considered and limited to what Mueller can readily prove. Proving criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury is a weighty burden, and a veteran prosecutor like Mueller will not bring charges unless he is confident he can prove them.

Um… I guess so.  I was hoping this would congeal, rather than be so scattershot.

Although He’s Been Quiet On Twitter, Trump Still Rants About Mueller

Axios:

Behind the scenes in the West Wing, President Trump continues to rant and brood about former FBI Director Jim Comey and the Russia investigation that got him fired.

Trump tells aides and visitors that the probe now being run by special counsel Bob Mueller is a witch hunt, and that Comey was a leaker.

So White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was reflecting her boss’s moods when she attacked Comey at length from the podium yesterday, after being asked about Steve Bannon’s assertion to “60 Minutes” that the firing was one of the worst mistakes in modern political history:

  • I think there is no secret Comey, by his own self-admission, leaked privileged government information. … Comey leaked memos to the New York Times … He politicized an investigation by signaling he would exonerate Hillary Clinton before he ever interviewed her or other key witnesses.”
  • Sanders even suggested that Comey himself should be investigated: “His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal.”

Why it matters: The Mueller investigation is hitting ever closer to home for Trump, and he’s using the tools of his office to try to undermine the special counsel’s future findings.

Be smart: Trump allies plan to vilify Mueller the way the Clinton White House treated Ken Starr.

  • Watch for a common Trump theme to solidify: partisan overreach.
  • The president’s friends are most worried about Mueller digging into past business deals, which is why his team keeps raising concerns in public and private about the “scope” of the investigation.

Interesting that Sarah Sanders gave that rationale for firing Comey (exonerating Clinton before he interviewed her), since that was not known at the time, nor was that Trump’s stated reason at the time.

Trump raging about Mueller is amusing because Trump himself precipitated the events leading to Mueller’s appointment. After demanding Comey’s loyalty and demanding that Comey drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, he gave him the ax. (Trump also revealed publicly that he was furious with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not protecting him from the investigation, apparently unaware of how inappropriate this was.) Trump’s claim that he had fired Comey on Rosenstein’s recommendation — followed by Trump’s public admission that he had in fact done so because of the Russia probe — left little doubt that he had tried to implicate Rosenstein in creating a cover story for the firing. These flagrant abuses of process and power are what led directly to Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller.

Does Trump grasp this chain of events and his own role in setting them in motion? It’s really not clear that he does.

As Houston Struggles, The Trump-Russia Collusion Story Deepens

Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, is essentially paralyzed. Residents had to be rescued by helicopters and boats as streets turned into raging rivers and made evacuation all but impossible. Rain is expected for a few more days.  But the rescue efforts seem to be running along without Katrina-like snafus.

Seriously, the rain amount is insane for Houston:

Obviously, all media attention is turned to this, but as it happens, there is another big development in the Trump-Russia collusion story.

The New York Times reports:

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises. Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, was a broker for the Trump Organization at the time, which means he was paid to deliver real estate deals.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Here is part of that email:

The Washington Post picks up the thread:

A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress Monday.

Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney and executive vice president for the Trump Organization, sent the email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s top press aide.

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics. the communication between our two sides has stalled.”

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen’s email marks the most direct interaction yet documented of a top Trump aide and a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.

The email shows the Trump business official directly seeking Kremlin assistance in advancing Trump’s business interests, in the same months when Trump was distinguishing himself on the campaign trail with his warm rhetoric about Putin.

In a statement Cohen submitted to Congressional investigators, he said he wrote the email at the recommendation of Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman who was serving as a broker on the deal.

This is relevant in context:

We have been told – not credibly – for more than a year that Donald Trump doesn’t have any properties or business interests in Russia. But for the first six months of his presidential campaign he was actively trying to secure a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and in early 2016 a top Trump business executive solicited the assistance of one of Vladimir Putin’s top aides in making the deal happen. This of course was happening while Trump was singing Putin’s praises on the campaign trail.

This is, to put it mildly, a big deal.

UPDATE: A third shoe…

Wall Street Journal enters the fray:

Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization, discussed a prospective real-estate deal in Moscow with Donald Trump on three occasions during the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

In the email to Mr. Peskov, Mr. Cohen said communication between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based company that was the prospective developer of the tower had “stalled” and said, “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals.”

The email was reported by the Washington Post on Monday and was confirmed by a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Cohen said in the Journal interview that he didn’t recall receiving a response from Mr. Peskov and opted to abandon the project weeks later. Mr. Peskov didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The White House declined to comment and referred questions to Mr. Cohen’s attorney, who didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

So Trump was in the loop.

Trump’s Vacation Doesn’t Stop The Tweets (and Leaks)

Nine tweets so far today from Trump — several attacking the “failing” New York Times for an article about 2020 Republicans contenders against Trump, a few trying to reassure everyone that he is actually “working” on his vacation, and this…

… which seems to unintentionally confirm that there was… collusion?  Ah well.

Why did Trump go after Blumenthal? Probably this:

The last tweet was Blumenthal’s response to Trump today, but the first two tweets talk about Trump’s financials.  Trump REALLY REALLY does not want anybody to go in there.

We seem to have stopped the silly game of staff shake-up, and Kelly is in charge. The Attorney General has asserted that he will crack down on leaks by prosecuting journalists, an odd way to go about it.

Of course, as everyone says, there are leaks of two varieties: (1) run-of-the-mill leaks (gossip and palace intrigue about the process, etc.) and (2) leaks of classified information. I doubt Trump distinguishes between the two.

Of course, some leaks of classified information MIGHT be considered whistleblowing, although I don’t think we’ve seen any of that type yet. In any event, Mother Jones has provided a list of wonderful things we wouldn’t know about were it not for the leaks:

Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn lied about his contacts with the then-Russian ambassador. On February 9, the Washington Post reported that US intelligence intercepts showed that, despite denials to his colleagues, Flynn had spoken during the transition period to Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador at the time, about US sanctions on Russia. Flynn had previously told Vice President Mike Pence that there had been no discussion of sanctions, and Pence repeated the claim in nationally televised interviews.

Intelligence and Justice Department officials knew that Flynn had lied, and they warned the White House that Flynn’s lie could be used by the Russian government as blackmail—meaning that Trump’s National Security Adviser was, himself, an apparent national security risk. Flynn stayed on the job for another 18 days before Trump fired him. Trump said he fired Flynn not for the contact with Kislyak, but for lying to Pence about it. Flynn might still be working in the White House if the Washington Post hadn’t received that leaked information.

Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. On May 16, the New York Times reported that in February, after a meeting with several top national security officials, Trump asked Comey to stick behind in the Oval Office. When they were alone, the president allegedly told Comey that he hoped he “could see [his] way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

Comey documented the encounter in a contemporaneous memo that was later read to the Times, and Comey then talked about the request in June during testimonybefore the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those memos were the subject of another New York Times story, this one alleging that Trump had asked Comey for “loyalty.” The White House denied Comey’s characterization of the request.

Two days after the Times revealed the existence of the memos, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government.

Trump called Comey “crazy” and “a nut job” in a meeting with top Russian officials and said that firing Comey relieved pressure from the Russia investigation. The day after Trump fired Comey, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak at the White House. During the meeting, Trump reportedly told the Russians, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job…I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The official White House account didn’t include this exchange, but on May 19 the New York Times published the comments thanks to an “American official” who read notes of the meeting to a Times reporter. Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute the account when asked by the Times for a response.

Jared Kushner reportedly sought to establish a secret line of communication with the Russian government during the transition using Russian-government equipment. On May 26, the Washington Post reported that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his key White House advisors, discussed with the Russian ambassador the possibility of “setting up a secret and secure communications channel” between the Trump team and the Russian government, “using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to US officials briefed on the intelligence reports.” Kushner later denied the Post’s characterization of his meeting, saying instead that he merely sought to engage the Russians on how to solve problems in Syria.

Donald Trump Jr., hoping to get dirt on Clinton, arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Then President Trump helped craft a misleading description of his son’s meetingOn July 8, the New York Times, using “confidential government records,” reported that Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer, Kushner, former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and several other people. The next day, the Times reported that the meeting was arranged via email with an explicit promise from a Russian associate of the Trump family that dirt on Hillary Clinton originating from the Russian government would be offered.

Under pressure, Trump Jr. released the email chain to the public—confirming the story—and said the meeting was minor and no big deal. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, denied that the president had anything to do with crafting the response. But then on July 31, the Washington Post, using anonymous sourcesreported that the president was involved in crafting White House’s response to the original story—a response that misleadingly claimed that the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that sanctioned Russian officials thought to be involved in killing a Russian lawyer. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders then acknowledged that the president was involved, proving that the president’s lawyer misled the public about the president’s role in the matter.

Sessions, too, was the subject of leaks. On July 21, citing “current and former US officials,” the Washington Post reported that Sessions had discussed campaign-related matters with the Russian ambassador last year, contrary to what Sessions had said after it was revealed in March that he had met with Russian officials. The day after those revelations came out in March, Sessions recused himself from all Russia-related matters. Trump has since said that he regrets choosing Sessions as his AG and that he would have picked someone else if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. The president hasn’t fired Sessions yet, but the attorney general has extra incentive to crackdown on leaks after unauthorized disclosures put his job in jeopardy.

This last leak cannot be underestimated. Without the leak, Sessions stays as AG, and there is probably no special counsel after Comey is fired.

It’s hard to know if more leaks will come. Reince Priebus, no doubt, was the source of many of them. But I suspect other sources as well. They may have to lay low, or become deeper, like Deep Throat.

 

Breaking: Mueller Empanels DC Grand Jury

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months. Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, Joshua Stueve, declined to comment. Moscow has denied seeking to influence the election, and Mr. Trump has vigorously disputed allegations of collusion. The president has called Mr. Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt.”

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware that Mr. Mueller had started using a new grand jury. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Mr. Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

As many people know, there already has been a grand jury in Virginia, focusing on Michael Flynn.

Before Mr. Mueller was tapped in May to be special counsel, federal prosecutors had been using at least one other grand jury, located in Alexandria, Va., to assist in their criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser. That probe, which has been taken over by Mr. Mueller’s team, focuses on Mr. Flynn’s work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests.

So what’s the big deal with THIS new one in D.C?:

Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

A grand jury in Washington is also more convenient for Mr. Mueller and his 16 attorneys—they work just a few blocks from the U.S. federal courthouse where grand juries meet—than one that is 10 traffic-clogged miles away in Virginia.

“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”

It also suggests that Mueller is ready to move to the next phase of his investigation. It reflects that Mueller believes there’s a certain level of “there” there to justify a GJ investigation. You don’t talk to witnesses until you have a pretty good idea as to what the “truth” is (from wiretaps, etc.). That way, you can catch them in a lie.

Document Dump: Protecting Mueller

This bill — from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal — us actually one of two bipartisan bills designed to protect the special counsel from removal by the President or Attorney General. The other bill — by Sens. Thom Tillis and Chris Coons (both on the Senate Judiciary Committee) — does essentially the same thing: it says the DC Circuit Court panel of 3 judges must approve any removal… and only for cause.

The “Fake News” Is Coming From Inside The (White) House

I have avoided writing about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory being propped up by Fox. It was just too disgusting. But now it has political, rather than journalistic, implications.

Seth Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C. in July 2016 in what police describe as a botched robbery attempt.

But the conspiracy-lovin’ right-wing manipulation machine, sensing intrigue — he was MURDERED! — used his death to make the case that it was not Putin who leaked emails to Wikileaks — it was Seth Rich. Fox News and others (the type who spread the story that Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex-slave ring in a D.C. pizza joint) ate it up.

Naturally, this accusation upset the family of Seth Rich. Not only did they have to deal with his unsolved murder, but now he was basically being libeled as a turncoat, with not one shred of evidence.  Eventually, Fox News had to discredit and retract the story (except for Sean Hannity who said he’d just stop talking about it — for now — out of “respect” for the family).

Now there’s a lawsuit filed by a private detective, Rod Wheeler, who was hired to investigate the murder.  Wheeler alleges that Fox News worked with White House officials to push the case to undermine allegations of Russian collusion with Trump’s presidential campaign. Fox News used quotes from Rod Wheeler.  But Wheeler he claims he never said those things. He even has recordings with the Trump supporter, Ed Butkowski who paid him to investigate, where Butowsky acknowledges the quotes are fake. Butowsky is a frequent guest on Fox business programs.

According to the lawsuit, Wheeler and Butkowski met with Sean Spicer during the investigation, Spicer has confirmed this, contradicting what he said last May that he didn’t know anything about the story. Butowsky messaged Wheeler before their meeting with Spicer, “We have the full attention of the White House on this.” Butowsky also claimed in emails to Wheeler that he was keeping the president informed, and that Trump really wanted the story published.

Reflect on that. The President who rails against fake news wanted a fake news story published to deflect the Russian collusion story.

On Tuesday night, Butowsky went on CNN to yell at Chris Cuomo and defend his statements as “jokes.” Again, with the jokes. Like Trump’s speech approving of police brutality — that was a joke too. These people really need to work on their humor.

I’m sure the odds of Fox News colluding with the White House is total bunk and we could get a statement from Sean Hannity assuring us it’s just crazy talk, or “fake news.” Except, Sean is probably too busy having a secret dinner with Trump in the White House. Whatever do they talk about over the meatloaf?

Wheeler’s lawyers would like to depose Trump (fat chance it’ll happen), but Spicer and Butowsky clearly will have to be deposed under oath. Perhaps even Hannity.  Keep an eye on this.

Trump Really DOES Want To Get Rid Of Sessions

Trump was VERY busy this morning on his Twitter machine.

It’s hard to deny that Trump does not want his AG Jeff Sessions to stay on when he disses him when you look at the second and third from the bottom tweets.

Trump raised similar questions over the weekend days after telling reporters in an interview that he had second thoughts about nominating Sessions because the former Alabama senator had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

What’s going on here?

Well, typically, Trump tipped his hand in his tweets today. If he fires Sessions, he’s stuck with Rosenstein as acting AG who, like Sessions, won’t end the Russia investigation. Of course, it is the same result if he gets Sessions to quit, but it looks better if Sessions quits.  So he’s trying to humiliate Sessions.

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, says it’s “probably” correct that Trump wants Sessions gone. According to The Hill, he said didn’t want to speak for the President, but said he thinks Trump has a “certain style” and he is “obviously frustrated.”

Yeah, obviously.

Congress is not amused by Trump’s attacks on his own attorney general:

It’s a lesson that could cost him politically in a Senate where he badly needs Republican support for his lengthy agenda, starting with healthcare on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand it. There’s no more honorable person I’ve ever met in my life than Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a close friend of Sessions and his wife. “The only person who is more upset with Trump about this than me, is my wife.”

Sessions spent 20 years in the Senate, winning a reputation for affability and party loyalty. He understood and doggedly practiced the code of what’s been called the world’s most exclusive club: You can disagree without being disagreeable, but you protect the institution and its members.

***

Senators made it clear the attack on one of their own stands to color Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, said Inhofe, a senator since 1994.

“I’m 100 percent for the president, but I really have a hard time with this,” he said.

“That’s what he does, I don’t think he means harm with those tweets,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Trump.

But Hatch added, “I’d prefer that he didn’t do that. We’d like Jeff to be treated fairly.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, agreed.

”I guess we all have our communication style and that’s one that I would avoid,” Tillis said, adding that the Russia investigation by an outside special counsel should proceed without interruptions: “The fewer distractions we have, the faster the investigation can proceed and the less confusion the electorate has to deal with,” he said.

”Sen. Sessions is showing the independence I expected of him and that’s a healthy thing,” Tillis said.

Even those who said they were nonplussed by Trump’s criticism made it clear they sided with Sessions’ recusal decision.

“Jeff made the right decision. It’s not only a legal decision, but it’s the right decision,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Senator Graham took to Twitter too:


Screwing around with the legal process is serious. So serious that even Republicans in Congress are drawing a red line, and that’s something they rarely have done when Trump is involved.

I hope Trump and Bannon consider that.

And there are even reports that Trump’s cabinet is ready to bail over this (as a last straw). If Erick Erickson can be believed, Tillerson isn’t the only cabinet member who is displeased with the president’s attacks on Sessions.

“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.

In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.

How’s Sessions handling this? Not well:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.

“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”

Cruel, Insane and Stupid.  Trumpworld.

Kushner Releases Statement Of Testmony

Main takeaways:

  • Kushner says he had four contacts with Russians last year. The first was a handshake with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before a Trump speech in April. The second was the highly controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June. The third was a meeting with Kislyak during the transition. And the fourth was with Russian state-run banker Sergey Gorkov during the transition.
  • These four interactions were already known from previous news reports, though Kushner added new details in his statement on Monday, including information about relevant emails and logistics.
  • He says none of these interactions were about collusion or election interference, saying, “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”
  • Kushner denied reading the full email forwarded to him by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting. That email explained that the Russian lawyer wanted to meet with Trump campaign officials to give them information from the Kremlin that would hurt Clinton, as part of its effort to help Trump.
  • He says that he was late to the meeting and only in the room for 10 minutes while the issue of Russian adoptions was discussed. The statement says he emailed an assistant, asking that person to call his cell phone so he would have an excuse to walk out of the meeting. Kushner didn’t publicly release the email but did provide it to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
  • Kushner denied a Reuters report that said he spoke with Kislyak on the phone twice during the campaign. That report cited seven unnamed sources saying Kushner spoke with Kislyak on the phone at least twice between April and November 2016. Kushner’s lawyers denied the story when it came out in May. Kushner said in his statement that he checked some of his phone records and that his team hasn’t found “any calls to any number known to be associated with Ambassador Kislyak.”
  • The statement adds clarity on what Kushner and Kislyak discussed during their December 1 meeting. Kushner denies attempting to create a “secret back channel” between the Trump transition and the Kremlin. But he acknowledges asking Kislyak “if they had an existing communication channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting” sensitive military information about Syria with the Trump transition. Kislyak couldn’t accommodate that request, so they tabled the idea, Kushner says in the statement.
  • Kushner says Kislyak also encouraged him to meet with Gorkov, and that he agreed to do it “because the ambassador has been so insistent.” During the meeting, Kushner says he broadly discussed improving US-Russia relations but did not talk about “any private business of any kind.” This explanation clashes with previous statements from the bank itself, and from a Kremlin spokesman, who said the meeting was about business and that Gorkov met with Kushner in his capacity as “the head of Kushner companies,” not as a member of the incoming administration.
  • Kushner acknowledges shaking hands with Kislyak before a Trump speech at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. This event has attracted scrutiny from investigators on Capitol Hill, who have been trying to figure out the extent of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ interactions with Kislyak the same day. Sessions testified last month that he didn’t recall any such meeting.
  • For the first time, Kushner said he got an email one week before the election from someone he didn’t recognize called “Guccifer400.” The email threatened to release Trump’s tax returns unless Kushner paid hush money. Kushner says he ignored the email at the advice of a Secret Service agent. The US government says Russia created an online persona called Guccifer 2.0 as a front to release emails it stole during the campaign, but there is no indication that Guccifer400 was part of the Russian meddling effort.

My brief observations:

(1) He conspicuously uses an “I did nothing wrong” statement, not a “We did nothing wrong” statement — perhaps he is throwing Don Jr. under the bus?

(2)  Several of the denials have curious caveats, or deny things with no legal meaning — this is unusual for such a heavily lawyered document.  For example, he denies there was no “secret backchannel with the Russians” but also says this:

(3) Still many things we do not know —

a) Meeting Russia’s ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel: Kislyak’s disclosure of the contact with Trump campaign officials to Moscow piqued the attention of U.S. officials who intercepted those conversations, CNN reported. We don’t know how Kislyak described the encounters or what exactly was discussed, or why Kushner waited until now to acknowledge this brief encounter.

b) Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer: Kushner says he read the email changing the meeting time, but hasn’t said whether the subject line “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” on that email caught his attention. He also does not explain why, as a senior campaign official with a packed schedule, he would agree to attend a meeting organized by his brother-in-law with no knowledge of who would be present, what would be discussed, or why he needed to participate. Other participants, including Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., have said Kushner departed the room early, but it’s also unclear when Kushner arrived and what he overheard. Kushner’s statement said he arrived “a little late,” but Veselnitskaya said he was “only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes,” which is when Trump Jr. said she presented the information about Clinton.

c) Trump Tower meeting with Russia’s ambassador: Setting aside the oddness of Kushner emailing a contact for Kislyak’s name rather than doing a quick Google search, his statement doesn’t address the fact that the media and Democratic lawmakers had been raising concerns about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia for months by the time he agreed to the meeting with Kislyak. It’s also unknown if Kushner and the ambassador had additional conversations over the phone. Reuters reported that the pair had two calls between April and November 2016; Kushner said in his statement that he could not find records of those conversations and is “highly skeptical these calls took place.”

d) Trump Tower meeting with a Russian banker: It’s unclear why Gorkov and White House officials differed on which hat Kushner was wearing during the meeting: campaign official or real estate tycoon. It’s also unclear how much Kushner knew about Gorkov, who has close ties to Putin, before taking the meeting, or why he agreed to meet with the banker days after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had worked to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Here’s the document:

Kushner will be testifying behind close doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow.  He will not be under oath, but lying to Congress is a crime whether under oath or not.  What is great that it is behind bars is that staffers (not the grand-standing Senators) will be asking questions, and those questions will tend to be smarter.  Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure what is said (although you can count on leaks).

Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort will testify, not under oath, later this week.

The Constitutional Crisis Cloud

It’s been an insane few days for me personally (with work) and insane in the world of Trump.  I wanted to write at some length about the bizarre Trump interview in the New York Times — and how he dissed his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russian collusion investigation and his veiled threats to Bob Mueller, the independent counsel investigating collusion… and how all that came after Ty Cobb was brought to head all the legal teams and apparently imposed message disciple the day before… and the Trump gave this interview.  I found the whole thing scary for what it says about Trump’s apparent disregard for, well, not only our political institutions, but the law in general.

But that is two days old now, and other things have intervened. So as for the Trump interview, I can only applaud the NYT editorial about it yesterday:

In less than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump found a way to impugn the integrity and threaten the livelihoods of nearly all of the country’s top law enforcement officials, including some he appointed, for one simple reason: They swore an oath to defend the Constitution, not him.

For a president who sees the rule of law as an annoyance rather than a feature of American democracy, the traitors are everywhere.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions endured the worst abuse, which came during Mr. Trump’s gobsmacking Oval Office interview with The Times. Mr. Sessions’s offense? Recusing himself in March from all investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, a decision that infuriated Mr. Trump. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” the president said. He called the recusal “extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Never mind that Mr. Sessions had no real choice but to step aside. Given his proximity to the campaign — Mr. Sessions was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters — his ability to be impartial was reasonably in doubt. The “unfairness,” as Mr. Trump saw it, was that Mr. Sessions’s partiality was exactly what he hoped to exploit, mainly to help quash the F.B.I.’s inquiry into his campaign’s possible ties to the Russian government, whose meddling was aimed at tipping the election in Mr. Trump’s favor.

Mr. Sessions said on Thursday that he would continue as attorney general “as long as that is appropriate.” But propriety left the building long ago. It’s hard to imagine he will be there much longer, since the president has, in so many words, invited him to resign for failing to block the Russia investigation. That inquiry lives on for now, but all those associated with it would be justified in fearing that they could well end up like James Comey, the F.B.I. director Mr. Trump fired in May in the hope of shutting it down.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who took charge after Mr. Sessions’s recusal, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel Mr. Rosenstein appointed to run the investigation after Mr. Comey’s firing, were also in the president’s sights. Both men, he complained, were guilty of “conflicts of interest” — which Mr. Trump seems to define as anything that conflicts with his own interests.

For Mr. Mueller, who led the F.B.I. for more than a decade and who is one of the most respected law enforcement officials in the country, Mr. Trump had a clear message: Watch your back. Any investigation into the Trump family’s finances, unrelated to Russia, the president said, would constitute a “violation” of Mr. Mueller’s mandate, and possibly would be grounds for his dismissal. That’s simply wrong. The special counsel is authorized to investigate “any matters” that might arise during the course of the Russia investigation — in fact, he’s already doing so.

In the end, Mr. Trump is concerned with nothing so much as saving his own hide, which means getting rid of the Russia inquiry for good. He previously said this was why he fired Mr. Comey, and it may yet be the undoing of Mr. Sessions, Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller.

The one person who avoided the president’s wrath was the only one who has not yet had the chance to defy him: Christopher Wray, Mr. Trump’s pick to replace Mr. Comey. “I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday.

Perhaps he forgot that Mr. Wray told senators during his confirmation hearing that he would not hesitate to prosecute the Trump Organization for foreign-corruption crimes if the evidence pointed that way. Or perhaps he thinks he can bend Mr. Wray to his will because, as he told The Times, “the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president.”

Wrong again: The F.B.I. director reports to the attorney general, precisely to protect the independence of which Mr. Trump is so openly contemptuous. It’s true that the president may fire the director, but that power is, or used to be, reserved for the most extraordinary circumstances.

Mr. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward this carefully designed system is an affront to the people who have spent their careers respecting and protecting it. It’s also the clearest sign yet that he values the rule of law only to the extent that it benefits him personally.

I am more taken with the story in last night’s Washington Post, and particularly this paragraph:

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Although the story downplays Trump’s questions as “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ”, the fact that this is even remotely on his mind is troubling. As is the suggestion that he might fire Mueller.

Theoretical or not, we could get to that point, which would be a constitutional crisis because there is no clear answer to the question “Can a president pardon himself?”

The constitutional language governing pardons reads, “The President … shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That vagueness is part of the reason the boundaries of the authority would need to be interpreted by the courts in unusual cases, like the one at hand.

Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else.  That’s what “grant” means.  I tend to agree with that.

There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. … ‘This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,’ said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question. … No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it.”

One thing is for sure — Impeachment itself is specifically carved out of the presidential pardon power within the Constitution, so if Trump were impeached, he’d have no counter to that action.

But like many, I worry if Republicans are so in the tank for Trump and so unprincipled, that they wouldn’t impeach him even if he pardoned himself.  They certainly are very quiet on the subject today.

On the Democatic side,  Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Mark Warner of Virginia reacted to the news that Trump’s legal team is exploring the possibility of pardons. Schiff called the reports “disturbing” and said it is something the president “should rule out categorically.” Warner said pardoning individuals “at this early stage in these ongoing investigations” would be “crossing a fundamental line.”

They are also taking stands against the firing of Mueller.

And personally, I believe that the oppo research being done on Mueller is very close to obstruction of justice.  I don’t think Mueller can be intimidated, and this is a very bad legal tactic in this situation.  Heck, Mueller was under consideration for Comey’s replacement as the head of the FBI.

To be continued….

UPDATE:  Well, this is reassuring.

Person No 8 In The Trump Tower Meeting Is Identified

WaPo:

An American-based employee of a Russian real estate company took part in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., bringing to eight the number of known participants at the session that has emerged a key focus of the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian.

Ike Kaveladze’s presence was confirmed by Scott Balber, an attorney for Emin and Aras Agalarov, the Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Balber said Kaveladze works for the Agalarovs’ company and attended as their representative.

Balber said Tuesday that he received a phone call from a representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend requesting the identity of the Agalarov representative , which he said he provided. The request is the first public indication that Mueller’s team is investigating the meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting on the promise that he would be provided damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government to help his father’s presidential campaign, according to emails released by Trump Jr. last week.

Rob Goldstone, a music promoter, told Trump Jr. in an email that his client, Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star, requested that Trump Jr. meet with the lawyer.

The full list of the participants has remained a mystery until now, despite a statement from Trump Jr. that he was releasing his emails in an effort to be “transparent” about the meeting, which he has said amounted to nothing.

Balber said Kaveladze works as a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for the Agalarov’s company, the Crocus Group. Aras Agalarov requested that Kaveladze attend the meeting on his behalf, Balber said. Kaveladze is a U.S. citizen and has lived in this country for many years, according to Balber, who is said he is representing the man.

Balber said Kaveladze believed he would act as a translator, but arrived to discover that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya had brought her own translator, a former State Department employee named Anatoli Samochornov. Samochornov has declined to comment, citing a non-disclosure agreement he signed as a professional translator. Balber said he believes the list of participants known to the public is now complete.

Trump Hits Record Unpopularity — But Does It Matter?

Six months into the Trump presidency.

An ABC/WaPo poll this weekend put Trump’s approval rating at 36%, an all-time low for any president since they started polling.  It’s even lower than Nixon’s was when Nixon resigned.

At 538, Harry Enten put this chart out:

What astounds me is that there has been no crisis to cause it to go down.  Ford is low on that chart because he pardoned Nixon in his first six months.

But Trump came in as an unpopular president, after a run as an unpopular candidate.  His net approval rating was slightly positive (+4) when he first took office, and he averaged a net approval rating of -2 over the first month of his term. That means his net approval rating has fallen 14 points since his first month in office, or a bit less than three points per month.  Steadily.

Given his failure to get any major legislation done, his annoying tweets (which gets almost universal condemnation in the polls), and the Trump-Russia scandal, it’s a wonder his polls are not lower. But what is going on here, I think, is that Trump has two “bottoms”.  The 35-39% approval rating is made up of (1) actual Trump supporters and (2) people who are anti-anti-Trump (i.e., people who hate liberals and the media and will support anybody who they see as hating liberals and the media).  I suspect group 2 is bigger than group 1, but I don’t know what it would take to get them to peel off.  Certainly, that is the group that Trump is playing too, and they remain his big defenders — even AFTER the “fake news” about Trump-Russia collusion became much closer to real news.

In the end, Trump’s historical unpopularity means nothing as long as House and Senate Republicans back him. And they will, as long as he can be the useful idiot to them.

So Much For Don Junior’s “Transparency”

Whatever position you take on the Trump-Russia Collusion Scandal, one thing is hard to argue with: the crisis management team at the White House is ineffective and probably non-existent.

The first rule of crisis management is to avoid the drip-drip-drip of damaging evidence. Get out in front of the stories, explain everything — EVERYTHING — there is to explain and then move on.  Because drip-drip-drip keeps things in the headlines.

The Trump plan is to deny deny deny and attack the media.  It’s not working.  That plan fails when the media has you dead-to-rights, as the New York Times did last weekend when it had emails from Donald Trump Jr. setting up a June 9 meeting with Russians to get Hillary dirt — what many would call “collusion with Russia” if not a willingness to collude.

Back against the wall, Trump Jr released the emails and did a tell-all (albeit softball) interview with Sean Hannity. The President praised his son for his transparency.

Except Trump Jr omitted that there was one, and possibly two, more people in that meeting:

Rinat Akhmetshin told the Associated Press on Friday he accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the June 9, 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Trump’s attorney confirmed Akhmetshin’s attendance in a statement.

Akhmetshin’s presence at Trump Tower that day adds another layer of controversy to an episode that already provides the clearest indication of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. In the run-up to that rendezvous, Donald Trump Jr. was promised “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Who is Rinet Akmetshin?

On one level, he is a Russian-born American lobbyist who served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship.

Or, you could say he is a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.

Or, you could say he is a former Soviet counterintelligence officer previously accused in federal and state courts of orchestrating an international hacking conspiracy:

In court papers filed with New York Supreme Court in November 2015, Akhmetshin was described as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” by lawyers for International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company who alleged that they had been hacked.

Those documents accuse Akhmetshin of hacking into two computer systems and stolen sensitive and confidential materials as part of an alleged black ops smear campaign against IMR. The allegations were later withdrawn.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records—stealing internal documents and then disseminating them. The corporate espionage case was brought by IMR, who alleged that Akhmetshin was hired by Russian oligarch Andrey Melinchenko, an industrialist worth around $12 billion.

A New York law firm paid Akhmetshin $140,000, including expenses, to organize a public relations campaign targeting IMR. Shortly after he began that work, IMR suffered a sophisticated and systematic breach of its computers, and gigabytes of data allegedly stolen in the breach wound up the hands of journalists and human rights groups critical of the mining company. IMR accused Akhmetshin of paying Russian hackers to carry out the hack attack.

IMR went so far as to hire a private investigator to follow Akhmetshin on a trip to London. That private eye, Akis Phanartzis, wrote in a sworn declaration to the court that he eavesdropped on Akhmetshin in a London coffee shop and heard Akhmetshin boast that “he organized the hacking of IMR’s computer systems” on behalf of Melinchenko’s fertilizer producer Eurochem. “Mr. Akhmetshin [noted] that he was hired because there were certain things that the law firm could not do,” Phanartzis said.

Akhmetshin denied the accusation, but admitted passing around a “hard drive” filled with data on IMR’s owners. He said the information was all open source material  that he’d gotten from the former prime minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin.  The private investigator, through, said he recovered a copy of the data on a thumb drive provided by an anonymous source, and found it consisted of gigabytes of private files stolen in the computer intrusion. A computer forensics expert examined the thumb drive and found metadata indicating some of the files had last been opened by a user with the initials “RA.”

Lawyers acting for Akhmetshin deny that he allegedly confessed to hacking. They did not deny that he had bragged about his investigatory techniques in a public place, but claimed that his methods did not involve computer intrusion.

These court disputes came after IMR had originally filed an application in the U.S. in April 2014 requesting that Akhmetshin, a resident of Washington, D.C., give a deposition and share documents with the company as part of discovery for a case being heard in the Dutch courts. That case was won in the Netherlands without needing evidence from Akhmetshin.

That changed a year later, when the verdict was appealed and an American judge granted IMR’s request for a subpoena to be issued. During Akhmetshin’s deposition, he refused to answer a number of questions and declined to produce the 261 requested documents, citing attorney-client privilege and non-testifying expert witness privilege.

MR successfully argued that his claim of privilege should be reviewed by a judge—out of the courtroom, in the judge’s private chambers—because there was no such protection in a “crime-fraud” case.

In 2015, citing emails and records it obtained in the federal case, International Mineral Resources filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court directly accusing Akhmetshin of hacking the company. But early last year the company abruptly withdrew “all allegations made by it against Defendants in the Complaint,” according to a court document. The withdrawal included “allegations therein that Defendants […] have engaged in any unlawful or improper acts against IMR, including but not limited to hacking any information from IMR’s computer systems, disseminating any information as part of a smear campaign against IMR.” The lead attorney in the case  did not return a phone call from The Daily Beast about the lawsuit.

So, yeah…… him.

And the long-term fallout isn’t Don Jr.  It’s Jared Kushner, who was at the meeting.  He’s amended his security clearance form so many times now.  13 times, by one count.  Democrats on the hill are calling for his security clearance to be removed.

UPDATE:  Oh for the love of….

They can’t ALL be translators!

UPDATE #2: This is great…

Trump Participated In Lie To Media

The New York Times didn’t make this the headline today, but it should have:

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump’s son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The president signed off on it?  Those first statement from Don Jr. were so “incomplete” as to be lies. The statement from Trump Jr. that the president signed off on only said that the meeting was primarily about “a program about the adoption of Russian children.” This was before the Times disclosed that according to sources who had seen the email chain, it revealed that the meeting was really about sharing material about Hillary Clinton that came from the Russian government.

This is confirmed by Trump’s lawyer. As WaPo reports:

President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, just made the rounds on the morning shows, armed with a clear message: The president was only made aware of the email chain incriminating his son in the last few days, and only saw it when the imminent publication of the email chain compelled Donald Trump Jr. to release it himself.

So, Trump lied.

By the way, there is supposed to be a wall between Don Jr and the White House, remember? Why is the White House crafting his statement?

Trump-Russia Collusion: An Incomplete [For Now} Timeline

June 16th, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for President of the United States.

Circa Summer 2015: The US government alleges that Russian hackers first gain access to DNC computer networks.

Circa August 2015: Trump staff arranges first meeting between Trump and General Flynn, according to Flynn’s account in an August 2016 interview with The Washington Post. “I got a phone call from his team. They asked if he would be willing meet with Mr. Trump and I did. … In late summer 2015.”

August 8th, 2015: Roger Stone leaves formal role in Trump campaign. Whether he quits or was fired is disputed. Stone will continue as a key, albeit informal advisor, for the remainder of the campaign.

December 10th, 2015: Michael Flynn attends conference and banquet in Moscow to celebrate the 10th anniversary of RT (formerly Russia today). Flynn is seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the concluding banquet.

March 19th, 2016: Hackers successfully hack into Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email.

March 21st, 2016: In a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, Trump provides a list of five foreign policy advisors. The list includes Carter Page but not Michael Flynn. The list is Walid Phares, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Joe Schmitz, and ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.

March 28th, 2016: Trump campaign hires Paul Manafort to oversee delegate operations for campaign. Manafort becomes the dominant figure running the campaign by late April and takes over as campaign manager on June 21st with the firing of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

February-April 2016: Flynn advisory relationship with Trump appears to have solidified over the Spring of 2016. In late January Flynn is mentioned as an advisor who has “regular interactions” with Trump. There are similar mentions in Februaryand March. Yet as late as mid-March, Flynn appeared to downplay his ties to Trump. By May Flynn is routinely listed as an advisor and by late May is even being mooted as a possible vice presidential pick.

April 2016: DNC network administrators first notice suspicious activity on Committee computer networks in late April, 2016, according to The Washington Post. The DNC retains the services of network security firm Crowdstrike which expels hackers from the DNC computer network. Crowdstrike tells The Washington Post it believes hackers had been operating inside the DNC networks since the Summer of 2015.

April 19th, 2016: “DCLeaks.com” url/address registered.

May 3rd, 2016: Donald J. Trump becomes becomes presumptive nominee after Ted Cruz and John Kasich withdraw from race.

May 26th, 2016: Donald J. Trump officially secure majority of GOP delegates, officially clinching the nomination of the Republican party.

June 3rd, 2016: First email contact between Rob Goldstone and Donald Trump Jr. about meeting with “Russian government lawyer” with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

June 7th, 2016: Donald J Trump gives speech in which he promises a major speech about Hillary Clinton’s crimes on June 13th. “I am going to give a major speech on … probably Monday [June 13th] of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

June 8th, 2016: First tweet posted to “DCLeaks” Twitter account.

June 9th, 2016: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump agreed to take the meeting after being told by Trump associate Rob Goldstone that Veselnitskaya had damaging information about Hillary Clinton which came from a Russian government operation to help his father Donald J. Trump.

June 12th, 2016: Julian Assange first announces that Wikileaks has Clinton emails which are soon to be released. “Wikileaks has a very big year ahead … We have emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”

June 14, 2016Washington Post publishes first account of hacking of the DNC computer networks, allegedly by hackers working on behalf of the Russian government.

June 15th, 2016: “Guccifer 2.0”, later identified by US government officials and other private sector analysts as a fictive persona created by Russian intelligence operatives, contacts The Smoking Gun to take credit for hacking the DNC.

June 27th, 2016: First hacked DNC emails posted to “DCLeaks” website.

July 11th-12th, 2016: Trump campaign officials intervene to remove language calling for providing Ukraine with lethal aid against Russian intervention is Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It is, reportedly, the only significant Trump campaign intervention in the platform in which the Trump campaign has allowed activists a free hand.

July 12th, 2016: Official publication date, The Field of Fight by Michael Flynn and Michael Ledeen.

July 22, 2016: Wikileaks releases first tranche of DNC emails dating from January 2015 to May 2016.

July 27th, 2016: Donald Trump asks Russia to hack Clinton’s email to find 33,000 alleged lost emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

August 1st, 2016: Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort denies Trump campaign changed GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine.

August 8th, 2016: Trump Advisor Roger Stone tells Southwest Broward Republican Organization “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

August 14th, 2016: The New York Times publishes story detailing handwritten ledgers showing “$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.”

August 17th, 2016: Nominee Donald Trump receives his first intelligence briefingwith Gen. Michael Flynn and Gov. Chris Christie in attendance.

August 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns from Trump campaign.

August 21, 2016: Trump advisor Roger Stone tweets: “Trust me, it will soon [sic] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

September 26th, 2016: Trump Russia-Europe Policy Advisor Carter Page steps down from campaign while disputing allegations that he engaged in private communications with Russian government officials. A Yahoo News article from three days earlier reported that US intelligence officials were probing whether he met privately with Russian officials in Moscow in July, including an alleged meeting with close Putin ally Igor Sechin, Chairman of Russian oil company Rosneft.

September 26th, 2016: At first presidential debate, Donald Trump casts doubt on Russian role in hacking campaign: “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

October 7, 2016: A “Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence” officially accuses the Russian government of being behind hacking of the DNC “to interfere with the US election process.”

October 7, 2016: Wikileaks releases first batch of Podesta emails – one hour after release of Access Hollywood Trump tape.

October 12th, 2016: Stone says he has been in contact with Assange through an intermediary.

October 30th, 2016: In response to FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about new developments in the Clinton email server probe, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid writes a public letter to Comey in which he claims: “In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”

December 9th, 2016: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hand delivers a selection of memos(aka ‘the Steele dossier’) to FBI Director James Comey.

December 29th, 2016: President Barack Obama outlines a wave a sanctions and expulsions of Russian diplomat in response to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

December 29th, 2016: Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov vows retaliation for sanctions.

December 29th, 2016: Incoming National Security Michael Flynn has multiple phone conversations with Russian Sergey Kislyak. It is later reported that the calls covered US sanctions and suggestions that Obama’s punitive actions could be undone in a matter of weeks. Trump administration officials had repeatedly denied that the conversations involved more than pleasantries and logistics about future meetings.

December 29th-30th, 2016: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announces preliminary plans to expel American diplomats.

December 30th, 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not retaliate against sanctions and expulsions but await presidency of Donald Trump.

January 19th, 2017: The New York Times reports that the FBI is leading an interagency task force probing ties between Russia and three close Trump associates: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.

January 26th, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and a senior intelligence official visit to White House Counsel Donald McGahn to deliver the message that National Security Advisor Flynn has deceived the Vice President about the subject matter of his calls and may be subject to Russian blackmail.

February 13th, 2017: Michael Flynn resigns as National Security Advisor.

Collusion, Baby!

With a few days off for breathless recovery, the Trump-Russia collusion scandal has been a steady stream of bombshells.

A bug one dropped yesterday: Donald Trump Jr (a minor player up until this point) met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer to acquire damaging information about Hillary Clinton in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York City. On Saturday, Trump Jr. said the meeting was about the issue of US adoptions of Russian children and not the campaign.

However, in March, Trump Jr. claimed he never met with any Russians while working in a campaign capacity. The meeting – attended by Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner – was disclosed when Kushner filed a revised form in order to obtain a security clearance. Manafort also recently disclosed the meeting, and Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators looking into his foreign contacts.

Trump Jr. tried to downplay his meeting while hiring a lawyer to represent him in the Russia probe. He tweeted that “obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent.” He added that there was “no inconsistency” in his two statements, saying the meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions  (specifically, the Magnitsky Act — sanctions against Russia which prevented adoptions from Russia to the US). Trump Jr. hired Alan Futerfas, a criminal defense attorney that’s represented organized crime and cybercrime cases. I know Alan a little bit, and I know his wife Bettina (who is apparently also on the defense team) very very well from my days as an NYC attorney.

The New York Times had the actual emails from Rob Goldstone, a promoter, who set the meeting up, so this morning, Don Trump Jr. tweeted them all in a pre-emptive attempt to show how stupid he is.

The Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, denied in an interview with NBC News having ever acted on behalf of the Russian government.
And despite Goldstone’s promises, both Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. say the lawyer offered no consequential information on Clinton.

First, Trump Jr’s statement:

He is basically saying this didn’t matter because it was before hacking and who cared if Russia was an enemy threatening our allies and engaging in human rights abuses and invading Ukraine.

Now the emails in reverse chron order:

Note: Kushner and Manafort were cc’d. They already knew about it.

A bit of a sting to many journalists:

Fallout is serious and you know this for two reasons:

(1)  President Trump has not tweeted about this AT ALL

(2) The Dow took a 100 point hit as soon as Don Jr released the emails: