Posts Tagged ‘Collusion’

Needed in the Russia investigation: More skepticism of Manafort and the media (Lynch Mob Doesn’t Need a Rope, At Least Not Yet)

January 11, 2019

Don’t fall for the media “bombshells,” and never count Manafort as a friend.

The Russia-collusion story manages to be at once frenetic and humdrum. Apparent bombshell revelations arise but without advancing the public’s knowledge beyond a couple of truths we all knew back in 2016: First, when it comes to President Trump, the media can’t control itself. Second, Paul Manafort is no friend.

In perhaps the 1,000th “ bombshell” report on the Russia investigation, the New York Times reported earlier this week that Manafort, as Trump’s campaign chairman, had sent internal polling data to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is “close to the Kremlin.”

Washington Examiner

This revelation perturbed us. Seeing how close Manafort and Michael Flynn were to both Russia and Trump, we have kept an open mind about the investigation into collusion. We don’t know all the facts, and so we try to process all new information on its merits.

Oleg Deripaska — Credit Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

Yet while many media outlets — see Esquire, Talking Points Memo, and others — took the Times report as conclusive proof of collusion, we held our fire. Why? Because while we have tried to keep cool about this investigation, the largest media outlets have not. We recall ABC reporting that Flynn met with the Kremlin during the campaign. That was a “bombshell” of the first order. Except that it turned out to be false.

And so it was with the latest Times report. Manafort was sending the polling data to Ukranians, it turns out, not to Russians as the Times claimed.

Former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn leaves after the delay in his sentencing hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC, December 18, 2018. - President Donald Trump's former national security chief Michael Flynn received a postponement of his sentencing after an angry judge threatened to give him a stiff sentence. Russia collusion investigation head Robert Mueller had proposed Flynn receive no jail time for lying to investigators about his Moscow ties. But Judge Emmet Sullivan said Flynn had behaved in a "traitorous" manner and gave the former three-star general the option of receiving a potentially tough prison sentence now -- or wait until Mueller's investigation was closer to being completed to better demonstrate his cooperation with investigators. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP or licensors

Mike Flynn outside the courthouse

This incident confirmed both of our general operating assumptions on the Russia investigation: Don’t fall for the media “bombshells,” and never count Manafort as a friend.

Manafort went to work for the Trump campaign in the spring of 2016. Trump wasn’t paying Manafort, which should have been a clear warning sign. Manafort was free to Trump for the same reason Facebook is free to you: You are not the customer; you’re the product. Manafort was working for Ukrainian oligarchs and other shady foreign clients, and part of the value he was delivering was proximity to the Republican presidential nominee and the information, such as internal polling, that proximity allowed him.

We have repeatedly warned Trump about this. “Manafort is not your friend,” we wrote in an editorial addressed to the president. “Manafort is a shady foreign agent who tried to exploit you. And if he had never been involved in the Trump campaign, there may not be a Russia investigation at all.”

Image result for donald Trump, Trump campaign, photos

There’s some worry that Trump has considered pardoning Manafort. At the very least, we’ve seen Trump praise Manafort. This praise is unwarranted.

Trump should turn his back on this double-dealer who has caused him so much trouble. And we all should show more skepticism of the media “bombshells” that have caused commentators and other reporters so much trouble.


Manafort filing reveals ‘collusion’ — Democrats think they have finally hit pay dirt.

January 10, 2019

Democrats and intelligence experts from both political parties believe information that was accidentally revealed in a court filing from Paul Manafort’s lawyers could be the biggest link yet to President Trump and Russia.

Manafort, while serving as the campaign manager for President Trump’s campaign, shared political polling data with a business associate who also had ties to Russian intelligence. The disclosure occurred by accident after the court filing, which was in response to accusations that Manafort lied during his plea deal agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, was not properly formatted to block out information meant to be redacted.

After a year of lobbing accusations against Trump that he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, Democrats think they have finally hit pay dirt.

“Internal polling data is precious. It reveals your strengths — & your weaknesses. Why share such valuable information with a foreign adversary — unless that adversary was really a friend?” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

In this photo from June 15, 2018 Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Mike McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 under President Barack Obama and is now a professor at Stanford University, said on Twitter: “If proven, then call it by whatever c word that you want — collusion, cooperation, conspiracy — but this is serous.”

It is unclear what data Manafort shared, but the failed redactions show he allegedly gave the information to Konstantin Kilimnik, who has also been charged by the special counsel. It is also unclear how Kilimnik might have used the information.

Image result for Robert Mueller, photos

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation

The New York Times reported this week that Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Kilimnik in spring 2016, around the time Trump clinched the presidential nomination.

Most of the data was public, according to the Times report, “but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign,” a person knowledgeable about the situation said.

Manafort wanted the data to be sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the Times reported. Both men had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian parties that had previously hired Manafort as a political consultant.

The court filing also revealed that Manafort has been accused by Mueller of lying about discussing a Ukrainian peace plan with Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign and that Manafort also “acknowledged” that he met with Kilimnik while they were both in Madrid.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said the Madrid meeting took place in January or February 2017, after his work on the presidential campaign was finished.

But others think there’s enough information there to show that Manafort was somehow working with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over toward US President Donald Trump, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over toward US President Donald Trump, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“The margins the Russians needed to change in key states during the 2016 elections was pretty small. Now we know how they were able to be so precise: Paul Manafort was providing polling data to Russia,” said Steven Hall, the former chief of Russia operations for the CIA, in a tweet.

He later added: “[t]he next logical step is to tie in the fact that we know the Russians wanted to help elect Trump and hurt his opponent. It appears that Manafort and Putin had the same goal, and that Manafort was trying to help the Kremlin.”

John Dean, a White House counsel under President Richard Nixon convicted for his role in Watergate, said: “Big story. New info. Both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Trump’s top campaign managers, transferred inside polling data to Russian intel guy Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. It’s called COLLUSION!”

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called the revelation about Manafort “one of the most significant activities of this whole investigation.”

“This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real live actual collusion. Clearly, Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents, and the question is, ‘What did the president know?’” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday. “How is that not evidence of an effort to collaborate?”

He added: “If it’s true that Manafort as campaign chair shared internal polling data with Kilimnik, he was giving the Russians information that would have been useful for their intelligence operation.”

Mueller’s team will respond to the Manafort court filing no later than Monday at midnight, and there is a possibility that more details of the allegations will be revealed.

“Manafort’s lawyers’ general characterization of Mueller’s allegations about Manafort’s conduct in the context of a dispute over whether Manafort violated his plea agreement or not offers a highly imperfect window into Mueller’s understanding of that evidence and how it fits into the larger picture of interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. We will not know what these tidbits mean, if anything, until we see both how Mueller characterizes them and, more particularly, how Mueller situates them against that broader pattern of interactions,” wrote Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a blog post Wednesday.


Sudden shift in get-Trump talk; now it’s campaign finance, not Russia

December 11, 2018


“We’ll ride any horse we can get on this…”

Prosecutors investigating President Trump made big news Friday, but it wasn’t about Russia. Rather, in their sentencing recommendation for fixer Michael Cohen, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York wrote that in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump directed Cohen to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who wanted money to keep quiet about sexual dalliances. While such arrangements are legal, prosecutors argued that since the payoffs occurred during the campaign, they were violations of campaign finance laws.

By Byron York
Washington Examiner

Image result for James comey, photos

Cohen, who is cooperating because prosecutors nailed him for tax evasion and bank fraud in his private business, pleaded guilty to two felony campaign finance violations. So no one has to talk about an “alleged” campaign finance scheme; there’s already a guilty plea. But what was really significant about the sentencing memo was that prosecutors specifically said Trump told Cohen to do it.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors said. “He acted in coordination with and at the direction of [Trump].”

Those words caused a sudden shift in the debate over investigating the president. What had been a two-year-long conversation about Trump and Russia instantly became a conversation about Trump and campaign finance.

“Prosecutors are now implicating the president in at least two felonies,” said CNN.

“Federal prosecutors in New York say that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit two felonies,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“At least two felonies,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy.

“Implicated in two felonies,” said anti-Trump gadfly George Conway, husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

And so on.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who will become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee next month, “that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who will chair the House Judiciary Committee, said the campaign finance charges “would be impeachable offenses because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.” Nadler said he has still not determined whether the charges, even though they could be the basis for impeachment, are important enough to actually go forward, at least yet.

Image result for Jerry Nadler, photos

Jerry Nadler

Nadler’s public caution is understandable; his committee will have the responsibility of starting the impeachment process, if that is what Democratic leaders decide. But the fact is, a number of Democrats clearly believe they already have enough evidence to impeach.

One significant problem could be that the campaign finance charge against the president is a pretty iffy case. Back in 2010, the Justice Department accused 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards of a similar scheme — an alleged campaign finance violation based on a payoff to a woman with whom Edwards had had an affair (and a child).

Edwards said he arranged the payment to save his reputation and hide the affair from his wife. The Justice Department said it was to influence the outcome of a presidential election.

The New York Times called the Edwards indictment “a case that had no precedent.” Noting that campaign finance law is “ever changing,” the paper said the Edwards case came down to one question: “Were the donations for the sole purpose of influencing the campaign or merely one purpose?”

The Justice Department failed miserably at trial. Edwards was acquitted on one count, while the jury deadlocked in Edwards’ favor on the others. Prosecutors opted not to try again.

President Trump would point out that the accusation against him differs in at least one key respect from Edwards. Prosecutors accused Edwards of raising donor money to pay off the woman. Trump used his own money, which even the byzantine and restrictive campaign finance laws give candidates a lot of freedom to use in unlimited amounts.

So even more than Edwards, if the Justice Department pursued a case against Trump, it would be on unprecedented grounds.

But the political reality is, it doesn’t really matter if it is a weak case. And it doesn’t matter if Trump himself has not been indicted, or even that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Because now, Democrats can say, “The Justice Department has implicated the president in two felonies. Two felonies. TWO FELONIES!”

Politically, that’s as good as an indictment of Trump. Perhaps even better, since it does not give the president a forum to make a proper legal defense.

The last few days have seen a big pivot in the campaign against Donald Trump. For two-plus years, it was Russia, Russia, Russia. But despite various revelations in the Russia probe, the case for collusion remains as sketchy as ever. Now, though, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have given Democrats a new weapon against the president. Look for them to use it.

Trump assails Mueller probe in tweetstorm, insisting ‘no collusion’ with Russia

December 8, 2018

President Trump launched a tweetstorm Saturday morning to opine on some of his favorite topics — NATO funding and Robert Mueller’s probe into his campaign — and sound off on protests that have put France on edge.

“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris,” he tweeted at 7:34 am. “Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment.”

Protesters in France were taking to the streets for a fourth Saturday in a row after demonstrations there broke out in violence last week. The previous protests prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to nix a planned fuel-tax hike. But participants continue to accuse Macron of looking out only for the rich.

Trump claimed they were clamoring for him, tweeting, “Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France.”

Europe remained on his mind in a message posted 20 minutes later.

“The idea of a European Military didn’t work out too well in W.W. I or 2,” he wrote, a reference to Macron’s idea of creating a pan-European army. “But the U.S. was there for you, and always will be. All we ask is that you pay your fair share of NATO … Fairness!”

He then proclaimed his innocence in the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!” he wrote.

The post came a day after Mueller produced charging documents against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen saying that both men had lied to prosecutors about contacts with Russians.

Trump heads to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon for the annual Army-Navy football game.


Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump?

December 8, 2018

Sentencing memos reveal damning evidence about collusion and campaign finance violations.

By Barry BerkeNoah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen

Mr. Berke is a lawyer specializing in white-collar criminal defense. Mr. Bookbinder is a former federal corruption prosecutor. Mr. Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Commentary: The New York Times

President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office after de-boarding Marine One after visiting first lady Melania Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Leah Millis/Reuters

On Friday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, delivered a potentially devastating one-two punch against President Trump. Coming late in the day, they made for bracing end-of-the-week reading.

Calling on the court to impose a sentence of substantial imprisonment against Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York stated that Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the campaign were all directly involved in an illegal scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Prosecutors wrote that payments made by Mr. Cohen and other actions were taken “with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election” and pursued “in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1” — that is, Mr. Trump.

The Latest: White House says court filings show nothing new

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York’s Park Avenue, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. In the latest filings Friday, prosecutors will weigh in on whether Cohen deserves prison time and, if so, how much. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The Trump Organization’s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for payments were fraudulently disguised as legal fees — and, according to the memo, were approved by senior executives at the organization. The New York prosecutors also disclosed that they are investigating additional unspecified matters involving Mr. Cohen and, presumably, the Trump Organization. In light of these disclosures, the likelihood that the company and the Trump campaign face charges is now high.

Although President Trump may avoid a similar fate because the Justice Department is unlikely to indict a sitting president, he could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, as was President Richard Nixon, or charged if he leaves office before the statute of limitations runs out (most likely in 2022).

In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion — the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.

Mr. Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.

The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.

Mr. Trump’s legal woes do not end there. The special counsel also advanced the president’s potential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.

If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both the president and his company could face substantial jeopardy.

In a second blow to the president, on Friday prosecutors also disclosed a list of false statements that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, allegedly made to federal investigators in breach of the cooperation agreement he entered into following his conviction for financial fraud and subsequent guilty plea to criminal conspiracy.

Some of the lies that the special counsel spells out in the redacted memorandum appear to implicate the president and those close to him in possible collusion and obstruction crimes. Notably, Mr. Manafort is accused of lying to the special counsel regarding his contacts with the Trump administration.

We don’t know the content of those contacts, but considering public statements about potential pardons, it is not hard to imagine they could implicate the president and others in a conspiracy to obstruct justice or witness tampering if, for example, they suggested a potential pardon if Mr. Manafort protected the president.

Contrary to the president’s claim that all of this “totally clears” him, the danger to Mr. Trump, his business and his campaign has compounded significantly. For all these reasons, the president is unlikely to have a restful, tweet-free weekend — or a calm 2019, for that matter.


Barry Berke is co-chairman of the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where he is a partner specializing in white-collar criminal defense. Noah Bookbinder is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former federal corruption prosecutor. Norman Eisen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and author of “The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on FacebookTwitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.



Trump On Mueller Probe: “The questions were answered by me.”

November 17, 2018

President Trump said Friday that he had finished writing answers form the Russia probe but had not yet submitted them to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The questions were answered by me,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, stressing that his lawyers don’t help him with the answers.


President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci)

“I’ve answered them very easily — very easily,” the president said at an Oval Office event. “I’m sure they’re tricked up because, you know, they like to catch people. You have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions.”

He said the answers have not yet been submitted to the Mueller investigators.

Mr. Trump insisted he was “not agitated” by the probe into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia, despite a storm of tweets Thursday slamming Mr. Mueller and calling the probe “a hoax.”

Mr. Mueller’s investigators presented at least two dozen questions about events that took place prior to the 2016 election, according to a Washington Post report Thursday.

The questions, which focus on the collusion allegation and not issues of obstruction of justice, were the product of grueling negotiations on whether Mr. Trump would testimony.

The investigation is believed to be approaching a conclusion.

“From what I hear, it’s ending. And I’m sure it’ll be just fine,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And you know why it’s going to be just fine? Because there was no collusion.”

The president has always maintained that there was no collusion and the investigation is a “witch hunt.”

He said that his lawyers are mere spectators in the process.

“My lawyers aren’t working on it. I’m working on it. My lawyers don’t write the answers,” he said.

See also:

Trump says he ‘very easily’ answered Mueller questions

Doubling Down on Mueller

November 16, 2018

What will Democrats (and Jeff Flake) do if the probe finds no collusion evidence?


By Kimberly Strassel
The Wall Street Journal
November 15, 2018


With the midterms over, Washington returns to its regular programming: Russia. Trump critics should consider the risk of betting their political fortunes on special counsel Robert Mueller.

The Mueller probe has lost its political potency, as Democrats acknowledged on the midterm trail. They didn’t win House seats by warning of Russian collusion. They didn’t even talk about it. Most voters don’t care, or don’t care to hear about it. A CNN exit poll found 54% of respondents think the Russia probe is “politically motivated”; a 46% plurality disapprove of Mr. Mueller’s handling of it.

That hasn’t stopped Democrats from fixating on it since the election, in particular when President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and named Matthew Whitaker as a temporary replacement. The left now insists the appointment is unconstitutional or that because Mr. Whitaker once voiced skepticism on the Russia-collusion narrative, he is unfit to oversee the Mueller investigation and must recuse himself.

The joke here is that neither Mr. Whitaker nor anybody else is likely to exercise any authority over Mr. Mueller—and more’s the pity. The probe has meandered along for 18 months, notching records for leaks and derivative prosecutions, though all indications are it has accomplished little by way of its initial mandate.

As a practical matter, Mr. Mueller should have been brought to heel some time ago. As a political matter, that won’t happen. The administration has always understood that such a move would provoke bipartisan political blowback, ignite a new “coverup” scandal, and maybe trigger impeachment. It’s even more unlikely officials would risk those consequences now, as Mr. Mueller is said to be wrapping up.

Democrats know this, as does the grandstanding Sen. Jeff Flake. Yet they demand a Whitaker recusal and are again pushing legislation to “protect” the special counsel’s probe. Senate Republicans rightly blocked that bill this week, partly on grounds that it is likely unconstitutional. They also made the obvious point that if Mr. Trump intended to fire Mr. Mueller, he’d have done so months ago and wouldn’t need to ax Mr. Sessions to do it. And while the president tweets ceaseless criticism of the probe, he has never threatened to end it.

Democrats are nonetheless doubling down on the probe for political advantage. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared members of his caucus will demand that language making it more difficult to fire Mr. Mueller be included in a spending bill that needs to pass before the end of the current legislative session. Mr. Flake is offering an assist, saying that he will block any judicial nominees in committee until a Mueller protection bill gets a Senate floor vote. Over in the House, incoming Democratic committee chairmen, led by soon-to-be Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, are vowing an investigation blitz focused on collusion with Russia.

Mr. Schumer’s last shutdown—a year ago—was a bust even though it was waged over the emotionally compelling issue of Dreamers, illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as children. He now proposes shutting down the government over a probe few people outside of Washington care about. Mitch McConnell should be so lucky.

Mr. Flake, should he run for president, will struggle to explain to conservative voters his obstruction of Trump judicial nominees, who’ll be confirmed in 2019 anyway when the Republicans expand their Senate majority.

Democrats’ other problem is that this strategy hinges in large degree on an expectation that Mr. Mueller ultimately finds something. There’s no reason to believe he has turned up any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

Sure, he’s secured convictions against longtime Beltway bandits for long-ago lobbying. He’s squeezed the ole standby lying-to-investigators plea out of a few targets. He’s indicted a squad of Russian trolls, who will never be brought to trial and who even Mr. Mueller’s office admits had nothing to do with the Trump team. And while it seems likely his report to the Justice Department will criticize Mr. Trump, it’s improbable it will contain proof of collusion.

And then? The president will have a field day. He will claim vindication and mercilessly drive home that the investigation was a waste and a witch hunt. And he will have a point. Two years of Democratic hyperbole will be undercut by the special counsel they’ve held out as the ultimate sleuth. They’ll have to decide whether to deride Mr. Mueller’s findings as insufficient to justify continuing their own probes.

Maybe Mr. Mueller has something. We’ll see. But if the reporting is correct that he’s wound up high and dry, Democrats will end up there with him.

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Photo at the top: Credit EPA

Mueller Readies Next Steps for Trump Probe With Uncertainty at DOJ

November 7, 2018
Special counsel said ready to deliver key findings in probe — He may feel added pressure to finish work before bosses change

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, now freed from the constraints of his pre-election quiet period, must decide on the next steps in his high-profile investigation of Russian meddling and the role of President Donald Trump.

But Mueller still faces the prospect of a shake-up in the Justice Department’s leadership. Trump has signaled widely that he may replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the fate of the man supervising Mueller’s probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also remains unclear.

With that possibility hanging over him, Mueller may feel extra pressure to complete his work as quickly as possible. A replacement for Sessions or Rosenstein could fire him or rein in the probe that Trump regularly denounces as a “witch hunt” fueled by anti-Trump sentiment in the Justice Department and the FBI.

Mueller is conducting an expansive investigation that includes Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, whether anyone close to Trump colluded with the Russians and whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Ousting the special prosecutor would probably produce bipartisan protests in Congress, with Democrats opening investigations once they take control of the House in January.

Producing Findings

Mueller is expected to soon produce some investigative findings on collusion and obstruction of justice, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter who asked to not be identified speaking about the probe. Mueller already was facing intensifying pressure from Trump and Republican lawmakers to produce more indictments or shut down his operation.

Unless the findings result in new indictments or subpoenas that are made public, they might stay secret. As Mueller’s supervisor, Rosenstein or a new acting attorney general would decide whether to make his findings public or share them with congressional committees.

Read more: Democrats Gain Subpoena Power as Trump Warns He May Probe Them

Mueller is unlikely to say anything. The former FBI director hasn’t said a word publicly since he was named in May 2017, letting his indictments speak for him. He’s been quiet even on that front in recent weeks under Justice Department guidelines that say prosecutors should avoid any major steps close to an election that could be seen as influencing the outcome.

While there’s no indication that Rosenstein is pressuring Mueller to conclude the investigation, he has made it clear that he wants it wrapped up as expeditiously as possible.

Even a new supervisor determined to halt Mueller’s work could go only so far in halting the cascade of investigative moves he’s already set off. His team of prosecutors have several deeply developed cases that are being litigated in U.S. courts, and they have farmed out some matters to other Justice Department components such as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Loose Ends

Mueller is in the process of tying down loose ends, according to one official. To date, he’s secured indictments against more than two dozen Russians for interfering in the 2016 election, as well as guilty pleas from top aides on Trump’s presidential campaign, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Both are cooperating with Mueller.

Several matters could keep Mueller’s probe going well into 2019, such as another significant prosecution or new lines of inquiry. And because the investigation has been proceeding out of the public eye, there may have been other major developments behind the scenes.

QuickTake: Your Guide to Understanding the Trump-Russia Saga

Mueller only recently submitted written questions to Trump’s lawyers regarding potential collusion with Russia, and his team hasn’t yet ruled out seeking an interview with the president, according to one official. If Trump refused an interview request, Mueller could face the complicated question of whether to seek a grand jury subpoena of the president. The Justice Department has a standing policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

Russian Oligarch: How Oleg Deripaska Is Trying to Escape U.S. Sanctions

November 5, 2018
Oleg Deripaska — Credit Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

This spring, a British lord with deep ties to the governing Conservative Party and a reputation as a do-gooder environmentalist arrived in Washington on an unlikely mission: to save the business empire of Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most infamous oligarchs.

Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska.  Credit Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Mr. Deripaska was in deep trouble. In April, the Trump administration had announced sanctions on oligarchs close to President Vladimir V. Putin, and on their companies, as punishment for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and for other hostile acts. A billionaire who controls the world’s second-largest aluminum company, Mr. Deripaska faced possible ruin.

Portrayed as little more than a thug by his critics and suspected by United States officials of having ties to Russian organized crime, Mr. Deripaska, 50, has spent two decades trying to buy respect in the West. London welcomed him; Washington still mostly has not. Successive administrations have limited his ability to travel to the United States.

Even Mr. Putin was unable to resolve the situation when he interceded personally with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on Mr. Deripaska’s behalf.

By  Andrew Higgins and Kenneth P. Vogel
The New York Times

Image result for Oleg Deripaska, photos

But with so much on the line this time, Mr. Deripaska’s allies are now fighting back aggressively, mobilizing a vast influence machine on both sides of the Atlantic in an all-out effort to undo the sanctions against his companies before they take full effect.

The campaign to help Mr. Deripaska is playing out against an especially sensitive political backdrop. Any step by the administration that is seen as favorable to a powerful Russian is sure to draw scrutiny at a time when the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is continuing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Moreover, Mr. Deripaska has been a subsidiary character in that inquiry, not as a target but because he at one point employed Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, as an adviser. Mr. Manafort was convicted on one set of fraud charges and pleaded guilty to other charges in cases brought by Mr. Mueller, and is now cooperating with the prosecution.

But the current lobbying effort on behalf of Mr. Deripaska’s companies still appears to have made substantial headway. In recent months, Mr. Deripaska’s firms have notched initial victories by winning multiple postponements from the Treasury Department of the sanctions on the oligarch’s holding company, EN+, and the giant aluminum company it controls, Rusal.

Now, with the administration closing in on its latest self-imposed deadline to make a final decision by Dec. 12, there are signs that Mr. Deripaska’s companies could escape the sanctions entirely.

Oleg Deripaska in London in 2011. He is one of Russia’s most prominent, and by some accounts notorious, oligarchs. Credit Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has signaled that he is open to a plan under which Mr. Deripaska would reduce his stake in his companies in return for the sanctions being lifted.

But sidestepping the business sanctions is not Mr. Deripaska’s only goal. His team is preparing an audacious and previously unreported campaign to remove the personal sanctions on him, too. Removing the personal sanctions would eliminate substantial barriers to his doing business in the United States and around the world, and could be a requirement for him to get his hands on the money — potentially billions of dollars — resulting from any sale of part of his stake in the companies.

“Oleg Deripaska understands better than most Russian oligarchs how money buys influence in Washington,” said Michael R. Carpenter, a former National Security Council official during the Obama administration who is now senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. “It seems like he’s now using that knowledge to try to save his skin.”

The elaborate influence operation highlights one of the fastest-growing elements of the lobbying business: helping deep-pocketed foreign interests massage the sanctions, tariffs and other tools deployed by Mr. Trump against foreign governments, individuals and industries.

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Carter Page suing DNC for defamation over Steele dossier — DOJ, FBI Wrongdoing Unravels

October 16, 2018

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is suing the Democratic National Committee for defamation over the Christopher Steele dossier.

Page claims in a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma federal court on Monday that from June 2016 through at least September 2016, the DNC, its law firm Perkins Coie and two of the firm’s partners, Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann, intentionally spread the contents of the dossier to media organizations and to entities in the US government.

Page says he wants to hold them accountable for “funding and distributing to the media an extensive series about him they knew to be false.”

The so-called “Trump dossier,” commissioned by Fusion GPS, contained many scandalous and unverified claims about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

It also said that Page was the Trump campaign’s intermediary to Russia. Page denies this.

“The slanderous statements made and libelous documents” allegedly provided to the media, “directly exposed Dr. Page to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy… and injured him severely in all his occupations, and tended to scandalize both his colleagues and friends,” the lawsuit states.

He is seeking special and punitive damages in excess of $75,000.

The DNC and Perkins Coie didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.


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