Posts Tagged ‘James Comey’

Special Counsel Mueller Weighs Seeking Interview With Trump

January 9, 2018

President’s lawyers are said to have discussed written questions instead of a face-to-face meeting

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By Rebecca Ballhaus
The Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 8, 2018 7:11 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Special counsel Robert Mueller has informed lawyers for President Donald Trump that he may seek an interview with the president early this year, prompting concerns within the Trump legal team over terms of the questioning, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A request would mark a major milepost in the special counsel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice and Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

In a December meeting in Washington with Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, Mr. Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, raised the possibility of interviewing Mr. Trump “soon,” but he wasn’t definitive, according to the person familiar with the matter. James Quarles, a Mueller deputy, also attended the meeting, that person said.

Some members of Mr. Trump’s legal team believe a meeting between the president and Mr. Mueller would be “gratuitous,” the person said. The lawyers have discussed accepting written questions from Mr. Mueller and delivering written answers from the president to queries that are “appropriate and respectful of the office,” the person said, adding that the talks with Mr. Mueller are in a “preliminary” stage.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment on the possibility of an interview with the president.

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Mr. Dowd, who heads Mr. Trump’s private legal team, said: “The White House does not comment on communications with the Office of the Special Counsel out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process. The White House is continuing its full cooperation with the Office of the Special Counsel in order to facilitate the earliest possible resolution.”

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether any members of Mr. Trump’s team worked with Russia in what the U.S. intelligence community has said was a wide-ranging effort by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, which Moscow has denied.

As part of his probe, Mr. Mueller’s team also is examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing James Comey as FBI director in May, while the agency’s Russia investigation was under way.

Mr. Trump has said his campaign didn’t work with Russia, although several people in Mr. Trump’s orbit have admitted to having had contact with Russians during the campaign.

The special counsel has interviewed dozens of top White House officials and campaign aides, including the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and former chief of staff Reince Priebus. Lawyers for Mr. Trump have anticipated for months that Mr. Mueller may want to interview their client as part of his probe.

WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains what have we learned after Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled his first two big actions in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Photo: Getty (Originally published Nov. 1, 2017)

Interviewing the president would suggest Mr. Mueller’s probe is fairly advanced, legal experts said, since prosecutors typically question the highest-profile figures in any investigation toward the end of a probe, after they have conducted interviews with other witnesses.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly chafed at any suggestion that he is a target of the special counsel’s probe. “Everybody tells me I’m not under investigation,” he said on Saturday at Camp David in Maryland.

Also on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested he would be willing to meet with Mr. Mueller in person. Asked whether he was committed to meeting the special counsel’s team “personally” if asked to do so, Mr. Trump said, “Yeah. Just so you understand…there’s been no collusion, there’s been no crime.”

He added: “[W]e have been very open.…But you know, it’s sort of like, when you’ve done nothing wrong, let’s be open and get it over with.”

In June, after Mr. Comey testified to Congress that Mr. Trump had asked him to ease off of investigating former national security adviser Mike Flynn, Mr. Trump said he would be “100%” willing to testify under oath that that didn’t happen, and he also said he would consent to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller.

Two Trump campaign advisers have pleaded guilty to lying to FBI about their contacts with Russia, including Mr. Flynn. The Mueller team has indicted two other campaign officials, including Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, for alleged financial misdeeds in work that predated the campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have met several times with Mr. Mueller’s team in recent months, and last summer submitted memos arguing that Mr. Trump didn’t obstruct justice because the president has the inherent authority under the constitution to hire and fire as he sees fit.

There is precedent for sitting presidents to interview with prosecutors. President Bill Clinton testified before a grand jury in 1998 amid independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of sexual harassment by the president.

The discussions about a possible Trump interview with the special counsel were earlier reported by NBC on Monday.

Former prosecutors said they were skeptical that Mr. Mueller’s team would be satisfied by a written question-and-answer with Mr. Trump but said the special counsel would likely seek to reach an agreement with the president’s lawyers rather than trying to force him to sit for an interview.

“There is no chance in the world that any prosecutor would agree” to a written question-and-answer session, said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor and an expert in government investigations.

Mr. Mueller can’t compel Mr. Trump to testify, Mr. Zeidenberg said. Since the president’s actions are being investigated in the obstruction-of-justice probe, Mr. Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions that could incriminate him, he said, but most presidents would be reluctant to do so given the appearance issues surrounding such a move.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have been urging a speedy conclusion of Mr. Mueller’s probe and have repeatedly asserted that the elements of the investigation that involve the president would conclude quickly. For much of last year, Mr. Trump’s lawyers said the Mueller probe would wrap up by the year’s end, if not sooner. More recently, amid news of indictments and guilty pleas from four Trump campaign aides, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have said the date could stretch to the end of January.

The White House said last month that Mr. Mueller had concluded his interviews with administration officials.

Outside legal experts, meanwhile, have expressed skepticism that Mr. Mueller is nearing the end of his broad investigation. “If this wraps up by the end of 2018, I’d be amazed,” said Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University.

Mr. Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation is also examining Mr. Trump’s decision last year to direct White House counsel Don McGahn to urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Mr. Sessions ultimately did recuse himself from the probe, and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Mr. Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation in May.

Mr. Mueller is also examining Mr. Trump’s role in Donald Trump Jr.’s response to revelations last July about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin. The meeting was arranged by the president’s eldest son and was attended by top campaign aides, including Mr. Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. When news of the meeting first emerged, the younger Mr. Trump said it focused only on adoptions. He later said he took the meeting after being promised damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

—Peter Nicholas contributed to this article.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/special-counsel-mueller-weighs-seeking-interview-with-trump-1515445766

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Trump Tower meeting with Russians ‘treasonous’, Bannon says — Says look for money laundering — “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

January 3, 2018

David Smith
The Guardian
January 3, 2018

Steve Bannon exits an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower on 11 November 2016 in New York City.

Steve Bannon exits an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower on 11 November 2016 in New York City. Other Trump campaign officials met with Russians there in June 2016. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”, according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year. In it, Wolff lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him.

Bannon, who was chief executive of the Trump campaign in its final three months, then White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the rightwing Breitbart News, is a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.

He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: “I love it.”

The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May, following Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This has led to the indictments of four members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges; Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In recent weeks Bannon’s Breitbart News and other conservative outlets have accused Mueller’s team of bias against the president.

Trump predicted in an interview with the New York Times last week that the special counsel was “going to be fair”, though he also said the investigation “makes the country look very bad”. The president and his allies deny any collusion with Russia and the Kremlin has denied interfering.

Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In Wolff’s book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.

“You realise where this is going,” he 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 fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”

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.”

Scorning apparent White House insouciance, Bannon reaches for a hurricane metaphor: “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”

He insists that he knows no Russians, will not be a witness, will not hire a lawyer and will not appear on national television answering questions.

Fire and Fury will be published next week. Wolff is a prominent media critic and columnist who has written for the Guardian and is a biographer of Rupert Murdoch. He previously conducted interviews for the Hollywood Reporter with Trump in June 2016 and Bannon a few months later.

He told the Guardian in November that to research the book, he showed up at the White House with no agenda but wanting to “find out what the insiders were really thinking and feeling”. He enjoyed extraordinary access to Trump and senior officials and advisers, he said, sometimes at critical moments of the fledgling presidency.

The rancour between Bannon and “Javanka” – Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump – is a recurring theme of the book. Kushner and Ivanka are Jewish. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, is quoted as saying: “It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews.”

Trump is not spared. Wolff writes that Thomas Barrack Jr, a billionaire who is one of the president’s oldest associates, allegedly told a friend: “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/03/donald-trump-russia-steve-bannon-michael-wolff

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Andrew Weissmann, second from left, and other members of Robert S. Mueller III’s legal team outside the United States Courthouse in Washington in September. Credit Al Drago for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The target was a New York City titan — plain-spoken but Teflon, irresistible to the tabloids and insistent upon loyalty from his associates.

The defendant, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, had accumulated power as the head of the Genovese crime family, feigning insanity to conceal his guilt. A prosecutor in Brooklyn was at last prepared to cut him down, using witnesses the government had flipped.

“He couldn’t stop people from talking about him,” the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, said of Mr. Gigante, addressing jurors at the end of a career-making federal court case in 1997. “When there’s a large organization to run, you cannot erase yourself from the minds, and more important the tongues, of your conspirators.”

Two decades later, Mr. Weissmann has turned his attention to a more prominent set of prospective conspirators: He is a top lieutenant to Robert S. Mueller III on the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump campaign. Significantly, Mr. Weissmann is an expert in converting defendants into collaborators — with either tactical brilliance or overzealousness, depending on one’s perspective.

It is not clear if President Trump and his charges fear Mr. Weissmann as they gird for the slog ahead. It is quite clear, former colleagues and opponents say, that they should.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/us/politics/andrew-weissmann-mueller.html

Trump accuses DOJ of being part of ‘deep state’ — Why have Hillary Clinton, James Comey and Huma Abedin not been held accountable?

January 2, 2018

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump accused the Justice Department Tuesday of being part of the “deep state” and urged prosecution against a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

He also claimed that U.S. sanctions on North Korea were having a “big impact” and that he was responsible for preventing commercial aviation deaths in 2017.

Trump’s latest tweets pressed familiar arguments for the president, who is set to begin his first full year in office with the victory of tax legislation but the Russia investigation still hanging over his administration.

“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents,” Trump tweeted in an apparent reference to a report by the conservative Daily Caller.

“Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others,” he added.

As he remains shadowed by the special counsel’s Russia investigation, Trump has seized on recent revelations of anti-Trump behavior by some FBI officials, including some who once worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, to claim bias against him.

The president’s reference Tuesday to “Deep State Justice Dept” suggests that federal law enforcement is part of an entrenched bureaucracy that Trump and his supporters say didn’t want him to be elected and is actively working to undermine his presidency.

Trump’s reference to sailors likely referred to a Navy sailor convicted of taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine.

Trump’s blast at the Justice Department came after he returned to the White House from a holiday getaway to face legislative challenges, midterm elections and global threats. He issued confrontational tweets targeting Iran, which in recent days has been rocked by anti-government protests, and Pakistan.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

On Monday, Trump slammed Pakistan for “lies & deceit,” saying it had played U.S. leaders for “fools” by not doing enough to control militants.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump said.

Pakistani officials, including Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, said the country would make clear “the difference between facts and fiction.”

It was not immediately clear what prompted Trump to comment on Pakistan. The U.S. has long accused Pakistan of allowing militants to operate relatively freely in its border regions to carry out operations in neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. said in August that it would hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremists threatening Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a future threat. To that, Trump said only: “We’ll see.”

At home, Trump is hoping for more legislative achievements after his success on cutting taxes. He plans to host Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at Camp David next weekend to map out the 2018 legislative agenda.

Republicans are eager to make progress before attention shifts to the November midterm elections. The GOP wants to hold the House and Senate, but must contend with Trump’s historic unpopularity and some recent Democratic wins, including the pickup of a Senate seat in deeply Republican Alabama.

The White House has said Trump will come forward with his long-awaited infrastructure plan in January. Trump has also said he wants to overhaul welfare and recently predicted Democrats and Republicans will “eventually come together” to develop a new health care plan.

Ryan has talked about overhauling Medicaid and Medicare and other safety-net programs, but McConnell has signaled an unwillingness to go that route unless there’s Democratic support for any changes. Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — giving leverage to Democrats.

Congress also has to deal with a backlog from 2017, including agreeing on a spending bill by Jan. 19 to avert a partial government shutdown. There’s also providing additional aid to hurricane victims, lifting the debt ceiling, extending a children’s health insurance program and extending protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump has said he wants money for a border wall in exchange for protecting those immigrants.

Carl Bernstein: FBI isn’t tainted, Trump’s presidency is

December 27, 2017

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BY JOHN BOWDEN – 

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein tore into President Trump on Tuesday over the latter’s attacks on the FBI, saying it’s Trump’s presidency whose integrity has been compromised, not the law enforcement agency’s.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the legendary Watergate reporter accused Trump of acting contemptuously toward the FBI and other “instruments” of American democracy.

“The key word… that he keeps using is ‘tainted.’ There’s really only one institution that has really been tainted through these months and that is the Trump presidency,” Bernstein said. “It’s tainted by the president’s lies, by his disrespect for American institutions operating under the law with traditional American democracy and the instruments thereof.”

“He’s contemptuous of those instruments,” Bernstein added.

Bernstein accused the president of doing a “grave disservice” to the country by undermining institutions such as the FBI. Trump, Bernstein said, should welcome moves from Mueller’s team if he really believes he will be exonerated in the end.

“If the president is as confident as he says, if this investigation is going to end very soon with him being exonerated, he ought to welcome all of this instead of attacking constantly,” Bernstein said. “He’s doing a grave disservice to our democracy.”

Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that the FBI was “tainted.” His comment came after he sharply criticized Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Saturday over reports that McCabe will possibly retire in March.

“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” the president tweeted.

“FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” Trump added another tweet.

McCabe has been the target of Republican criticism over a campaign donation his wife received from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a top ally of Hillary Clinton, just a year before the investigation he managed into her private email server cleared Clinton of wrongdoing.

Includes video:

http://thehill.com/homenews/media/366539-carl-bernstein-fbi-isnt-tainted-trump-is

Trump Speaks At FBI Academy — After Trashing the Bureau — “It’ll be bigger and better than ever.” — “We’ll Bring The FBI Back To Greatness.”

December 15, 2017

.@POTUS: 'It's a shame what's happened with the FBI. But we're going to rebuild the FBI. It'll be bigger and better than ever.'

“It’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI. But we’re going to rebuild the FBI. It’ll be bigger and better than ever.”

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House said Friday newly revealed FBI records show there is “extreme bias” against President Donald Trump among senior leadership at the FBI. The accusation came hours before Trump was scheduled to speak at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Va.

President Donald Trump is expected to deliver remarks at the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony today at 10 a.m. ET. 

Trump, who has described the agency as “in tatters,” is to speak at a ceremony at the FBI campus for law enforcement leaders graduating from a program aimed at raising law enforcement standards.

Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News Channel that edits to former FBI Director James Comey’s statement on Hillary Clinton’s private email server and text messages from a top agent critical of Trump are “deeply troubling.”

“There is extreme bias against this president with high-up members of the team there at the FBI who were investigating Hillary Clinton at the time,” Gidley charged, as special counsel Robert Mueller pushes on with a probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Gidley says Trump maintains confidence in the FBI’s rank-and-file.

Edits to the Comey draft appeared to soften the gravity of the bureau’s finding in its 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Gidley said the disclosure of politically charged text messages sent by one of the agents on the Clinton case, Peter Strzok, were “eye-opening.” Strzok, who was in the room as Clinton was interviewed, was later assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He was re-assigned after the messages were uncovered this summer.

About 200 leaders in law enforcement from around the country attended the weeks-long FBI National Academy program aimed at raising law enforcement standards and cooperation. Coursework included intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication, and forensic science.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/watch-live-trump-to-deliver-graduation-speech-at-fbi-national-academy

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NBC News

 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lamented the “sad” state of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and promised to rebuilt “bigger and better than ever” ahead of a speech to academy graduates Friday.

As he departed the White House for Quantico, he told reporters “it’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI, but we’re going to rebuild the FBI, it’ll be bigger and better than ever”

Play
 Watch Live: Trump speaks at FBI National Academy graduation

Referencing the 90 pages of newly-released messages, critical of the president, between an FBI lawyer and an agent later assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Trump called it “sad when you look at those documents and how they’ve done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it.”

When Mueller learned of the exchanges last summer, he removed the agent from the team.

Trump tweeted earlier this month that the FBI’s “reputation is in tatters,” prompting FBI staffers — including Trump’s own pick to head the agency after he fired former director James Comey — to defend it against the president’s assertions.

After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.

“The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe from the next terrorist attack, gang violence, child predators, spies from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran,” FBI director Christopher Wray said last week during an appearance in front of the House Judiciary.

During the passionate, two-minute long defense, Wray described the FBI he leads as “respected and appreciated by our partners in federal, state, and local law enforcement, in the intelligence community, and by our foreign counterparts in both law enforcement and national security in something like 200 countries around the globe.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-laments-sad-state-fbi-ahead-speech-academy-graduates-n830026

Alabama Teaches America a Lesson — All of us need to sober up

December 15, 2017

All of us need to sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression we’re making.

Alabama's Democratic Senator-elect Doug Jones at an election-night party in Birmingham, Dec. 12.
Alabama’s Democratic Senator-elect Doug Jones at an election-night party in Birmingham, Dec. 12. PHOTO: NICOLE CRAINE/BLOOMBERG

In 2018, we have to do better, all of us. We need to improve. In the area of politics this means, in part: sober up, think about the long term, be aware of the impression you’re making, of what people will infer from your statements and actions. So much hinges on the coming year—who is in Congress and what they think they were sent there to do, the results of the Mueller investigation. If the latter finds crimes and the former goes Democratic there will be moves for impeachment in 2019. There will be international crises as always, but 2018 may produce one of unprecedented historical gravity in nuked-up North Korea.

This is a dead-serious time, and we keep forgetting it because the times have been serious so long.

It might help if all public actors, from leaders and investigators to journalists and voters, made a simple vow to make it a little better, not a little worse. The other night a dinner partner marveled at the expensive new fitness monitor he wears on his wrist. I wish there were an Ethical Fitbit that could report at the end of each day that you’d taken 12,304 constructive steps, some uphill, or 3,297 destructive ones, and appropriate action is warranted.

There is inspiration in the Alabama outcome. To see it in terms of the parties or Steve Bannon is to see it small. The headline to me: American political standards made a comeback. Roy Moore’s loss was not a setback for the GOP; it was a setback for freakishness. It was an assertion of prudential judgment by the electorate, and came as a relief. A friend landed at JFK on an international flight on election night. As the plane taxied to the gate, the pilot came on the PA and announced that Doug Jones was in the lead. The entire plane, back to front, burst into applause. “A big broad nerve was hit in this thing,” said the friend, an American and political conservative. He meant not only here but around the world.

Thirty-three states have U.S. Senate races next year. Primary voters should absorb what happened to Alabama Republicans after they picked Mr. Moore. They took it right in the face. They misjudged their neighbors. They were full of themselves. They rejected the sure victories offered by other contestants and chose a man whom others easily detected as not well-meaning. They weren’t practical or constructive and they didn’t think about the long term. They didn’t, for instance, take into account that there were independents in the state whose support could be gained with the fielding of a more serious Republican.

And now they’ve lost it all. Voters in coming primaries should observe and absorb. There is something we have been saying in this space for almost a decade, since the Sarah Palin experience. Something happened when she ran. Suddenly to seem real and authentic some Republican candidates thought they had to be polar and extreme. They had to show umbrage, signal resentment, wave guns. But these are not indications of authenticity. They are a sign voters are being played, probably by a grifter. When a candidate is equable and experienced it is not a sign of cynicism and not evidence that he is “establishment.” It’s a sign he can maybe do a good job—and win. Conservatives who are real conservatives don’t ape the social-justice left and make politics a daily freak show. They keep their cool, argue their case, build broad appeal and become, in this way, politically deadly.

Which gets us as always to President Trump. The Alabama number that should scare him was in the exit polls. In 2016 Mr. Trump won the state with 62% of the vote, to Hillary Clinton’s 34%. Tuesday night the exits had him at 48% approve, 48% disapprove. And this within a national context of good economic news.

Mr. Trump’s political malpractice has been to fail, since his election, to increase his popularity and thus his power. He has a core but it remains a core. He could have broadened his position with a personal air of stability and moderation, and with policies that were soft-populist. He has failed to do so, primarily due to his self-indulgence—his tendency to heat things up when he should cool them down; his tendency always to make the situation a little worse, not a little better. His tweets, his immaturity, his screwball resentments and self-pity alienate and offend.

Trumpism led by a competent or talented Trump would have been powerful and pertinent to the moment. It would have reoriented the Republican Party in terms of understanding that its own base was increasingly populist, yet also ideologically moderate. That new understanding hasn’t developed.

The great and fateful question now, the one to which we may well get an answer in 2018, is: Can this man lead through a crisis? That is the question that has to be on your mind when you think about North Korea. Can he be credible, persuasive; will Americans feel they can follow him? Will the West? No one looks forward to finding the answers to these questions.

As to his foes in the other party, the biggest silence in American political life is not from the Republicans, who can’t stop arguing. It is from the Democrats when they are asked what they stand for. What economic policy do they want? What is the plan, the arrangement they hope to institute? What philosophy are they trying to put in place? What in terms of foreign policy do they want?

Domestically the only thing they’re clear on is identity politics. Who’s going to unite or find the place of common ground between the rising left and the older middle? What program can accomplish that?

Donald Trump has been a great gift to the Democrats. Opposition to him is the one thing that keeps them united. But he won’t be there forever—they’ll try to see to that!—and when he’s gone, the squirrels will really begin to fly.

Finally the FBI, the Justice Department and the special counsel look dinged right now. Those who support serious probes to answer big questions and thus support the Russia investigations, as I do, hope whatever findings come from the special counsel are and can be treated with respect. To earn it the investigators must appear every day to be clean as a hound’s tooth. Is that how it’s looking? Or are critics getting ammunition?

Snotty, partisan text messages between FBI investigators, including one in which an agent said he could “smell” the Trump supporters at Walmart, expressed anti-Trump biases. Government employees have a right to political opinions, but the FBI, Justice Department and special counsel should be running a tighter ship. During the Clinton-Lewinsky wars, the left went after Independent Counsel Ken Starr, sliming him as surrounded by Republican operatives. It did him, and America, no good.

We are a divided country. The special counsel’s findings could prove momentous. Everyone involved should sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression they’re making.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/alabama-teaches-america-a-lesson-1513298095

FBI records show ‘extreme bias’ against Trump, White House says

December 15, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Friday newly revealed FBI records show there is “extreme bias” against President Donald Trump among senior leadership at the FBI. The accusation came hours before Trump was scheduled to speak at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Va.

Trump, who has described the agency as “in tatters,” is to speak at a ceremony at the FBI campus for law enforcement leaders graduating from a program aimed at raising law enforcement standards.

Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News Channel that edits to former FBI Director James Comey’s statement on Hillary Clinton’s private email server and text messages from a top agent critical of Trump are “deeply troubling.”

“There is extreme bias against this president with high-up members of the team there at the FBI who were investigating Hillary Clinton at the time,” Gidley charged, as special counsel Robert Mueller pushes on with a probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Gidley says Trump maintains confidence in the FBI’s rank-and-file.

Edits to the Comey draft appeared to soften the gravity of the bureau’s finding in its 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Gidley said the disclosure of politically charged text messages sent by one of the agents on the Clinton case, Peter Strzok, were “eye-opening.” Strzok, who was in the room as Clinton was interviewed, was later assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He was re-assigned after the messages were uncovered this summer.

About 200 leaders in law enforcement from around the country attended the weeks-long FBI National Academy program aimed at raising law enforcement standards and cooperation. Coursework included intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication, and forensic science.

Related:

 

Donald Trump Is Not Constitutionally Immune from an Obstruction of Justice Charge

December 11, 2017

By DAVID FRENCH December 4, 2017 2:42 PM @DAVIDAFRENCH

National Review

Earlier today one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, made a rather remarkable assertion. He declared that 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.”

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This statement is wrong. To be clear, the president’s power under the Constitution limits the president’s vulnerability to obstruction of justice charges, but it does not end it.

For example, our own Andrew McCarthy wrote about some of those limits today: The FBI and the Justice Department are not a separate branch of government; they are subordinates of the president delegated to exercise his power, not their own.

Even on Comey’s account, Trump did not order him to shut down the Flynn investigation, even though he could have. Trump could have ordered an end of the Russia counterintelligence investigation, but he did not.

He could have pardoned Flynn, which would effectively have ended the FBI’s criminal investigation — beyond any possibility of review. We can stipulate that these would have been sleazy things to do, potentially damaging to national security, and still grasp that the president had the undeniable power to do them. Similarly, the president had undeniable power to fire the FBI director.

You can argue that his reason was corrupt, but the truth is that he didn’t need a reason at all — he could have done it because it was Tuesday and he felt like firing someone; he could have done it because he figured that the Justice Department’s criticism of Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails investigation gave him the political cover he needed to dispense with a subordinate he found nettlesome.

The point is that even if the president hoped that cashiering Comey would derail an investigation he was addled by, it was wholly in Trump’s discretion to fire the director. Moreover, firing the director did not derail the Russia investigation; it has proceeded apace under the director whom Trump appointed to replace Comey. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the president cannot violate a federal statute by exercising powers guaranteed the president by the Constitution.

He is not, however, above the law when acting outside of his Constitutional authority. With that in mind, read the key language of the most relevant federal statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1505: Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress— Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. (Emphasis added.)

As the head of the executive branch of government, Trump has the power to fire an FBI director. He has the power to exercise the prosecutorial discretion to order federal law enforcement agencies to drop an investigation. He possesses an immense pardon power. He does not, however, possess the power to order any federal agency to reach a specific conclusion in its investigation.

In other words, he does not have the constitutional authority to “corruptly” put his thumb on the scales of an investigation to dictate that the investigation vindicate him or his associates. Thus, if Trump isn’t just seeking the end of the investigation but rather the total vindication of his campaign, he is barred from “corruptly” influencing the relevant proceeding (or Congressional investigation.) For example – and to hearken back to both the Nixon and Clinton impeachment counts – he can’t manipulate witnesses into giving false testimony (Clinton allegedly provided grand jury witnesses with false information knowing that they’d transmit that false information to the grand jury).

There are limits to his ability to conceal evidence. He obviously can’t direct subordinates to lie to the FBI. But what about his decision to terminate Comey? Clearly, if he terminated Comey because Comey failed to follow a lawful presidential directive – even if that directive was foolish or self-serving – then it’s specious to argue that a federal statute can criminalize the exercise of a constitutional power for a constitutionally-acceptable purpose.

For example, if Trump truly fired Comey for refusing to publicly declare the fact that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation, then that action may be unwise, but it is lawful. If, however, Trump fired Comey for not clearing Flynn because Trump wanted the FBI to vindicate his senior team, then Trump would have used his constitutional power as part of an effort to deceive the American people. Given the scope of the president’s constitutional authority over Comey, I still do not believe the firing alone can meet the legal definition of obstruction of justice.

However, since impeachment is a political process – not a legal adjudication of violations of federal statutes – evidence of malign intent could certainly transform the termination into an abuse of power sufficient to support an article of impeachment. In fact, given the various legal and constitutional complications involved in prosecuting president, I agree with Andy.

The likely course of action even if Mueller believes Trump violated criminal law isn’t a criminal indictment but rather a report articulating the grounds for impeachment. In such a case, however, the legal argument over an alleged statutory violation would be just as important as the political, historic, and constitutional arguments over the definition of high crimes or misdemeanors.

My own view is that there is yet insufficient evidence to bring an obstruction claim against Trump – either as an article of impeachment or as a count in a federal indictment. The Comey firing, however, should not be viewed in isolation. It may represent one key component of a comprehensive effort to corruptly influence relevant proceedings or investigations. Let’s not forget, Trump didn’t just fire Comey, he misled the American people about his reason for firing the FBI director.

Judging from his tweet this weekend, he also misled the American people about his reasons for forcing out Flynn. He also was reportedly directly involved in drafting a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with purported Russian operatives during the campaign.

His administration has time and again made false public statements about its Russian contacts.  As the Flynn guilty plea demonstrates, it’s one thing to mislead the American people, it’s another thing to lie to the FBI. As we’ve watched the administration get caught in falsehood after falsehood over the Trump campaign and transition team’s numerous contacts with Russian officials or purported operatives, it’s premature for any person to definitively declare that there exists insufficient evidence that Trump violated the law.

Any person making that declaration now is, at best, offering an educated guess. But there is one thing that we can definitively declare. Trump is not above the law, and that law includes statutes prohibiting obstruction of justice.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/454324/donald-trump-not-constitutionally-immune-obstruction-justice-charge?utm_campaign=trueanthem&utm_content=5a2de75504d3011d2e9cd8b9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Can a president obstruct justice?

December 11, 2017

Yes, but not by doing any of the things we know Trump to have done.

Speculation about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has turned toward obstruction of justice—specifically, whether President Trump can be criminally prosecuted for firing James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or for earlier asking Mr. Comey to go easy on onetime national security adviser Mike Flynn. The answer is no. The Constitution forbids Congress to criminalize such conduct by a president, and applying existing statutes in such a manner would violate the separation of powers.

The Constitution…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/can-a-president-obstruct-justice-1512938781

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Editorial: Yes, the president can obstruct justice, said Senate GOP

  • Quad-City Times editorial board
Illustration

Yes, the president can obstruct justice. Just ask the nine Republicans still in the U.S. Senate, including Chuck Grassley, who voted “guilty” when then-President Bill Clinton was accused of obstruction in 1999.

And that’s true no matter how badly those very same Republicans now don’t want to talk about it.

The long-debated issue came to a head this past week when an attorney for President Donald Trump, John Dowd, summoned the ghost of Richard Nixon during an interview with Axiom.

 “… the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd told the news site.

Dowd’s provocative statement follows a slew of charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against members of Trump’s inner circle, who just couldn’t seem to stop meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a close Trump aide and political confident, recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In response, Trump basically admitted on Twitter that he knew Flynn wasn’t honest with investigators when he canned former FBI Director James Comey, who refused to acquiesce to the president’s request to back off on the Flynn investigation, according to Comey’s congressional testimony. 

The legality of Dowd’s position has been debated for decades. The U.S. Constitution does not clarify if a sitting president can face prosecution. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon was listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator” during the court proceedings. But obstruction of justice was the first and key charge in the list of impeachable offenses drafted in the House. Nixon left office before the House could actually impeach him.

In 1999, Clinton’s administration was ablaze with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The GOP-run House sent two indictments against the Democratic president to the Senate, including an obstruction of justice charge. The Senate failed to convict Clinton on either charge, splitting 50-50 when a two-thirds majority was required. But that also means 50 senators — universally Republicans — determined that a U.S. president can obstruct justice.

Of those 50, nine still sit in the Senate. They are Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Thad Cochran, Jim Inhofe, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts. Two more — Jeff Sessions and John Ashcroft — are, or have been, attorneys general in GOP administrations. 

In both instances, presidents were tried in Congress, not the courts. Still, each case represents a moment when a sitting president was charged, in a legal proceeding, with obstructing justice. But, unlike the court system, impeachment is a wholly political event. 

What’s clear is that congressional Republicans don’t want to talk about Dowd’s under-construction defense amid Mueller’s probe. Grassley’s vote in 1999 is a testament in black-and-white that, at least when the other side is under investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee believes a president can obstruct justice. Yet, this past week, a straight answer was not to be had when Grassley’s staff were asked about Dowd’s assertion that, like a king, a president is immune from the rule of law. That silence was made even more notable in the wake of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s allegations that Grassley — with his desire to remake the federal courts for a generation in Trump’s image — has no interest in probing Trump too deeply. Instead, he’s more concerned with yet another probe of Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday blasting Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for resisting his push for yet another diversion from Trump’s legal perils. 

But a direct rebuke of Dowd’s assertion from the likes of Grassley and his peers is necessary, regardless of how badly Republicans want to protect the White House. Silence sets precedents that are sure to outlive us all. It would further erode basic democratic norms that separate republic from monarchy. It would, in very real terms, be another example of a Congress willing only to stand for the rule of law when it suits partisan ends.

 http://qctimes.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-yes-the-president-can-obstruct-justice-said-senate-gop/article_e26e3dcb-e17c-5639-826a-54548c229003.html

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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On whether the president can obstruct justice

  • New York Times

You know you have a problem when you’ve been president for less than 11 months and you’re already relying on Richard Nixon’s definition of what’s legal.

On Monday morning, Axios reported that Mr. Trump’s top personal lawyer, John Dowd, said in an interview that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution and “has every right to express his view of any case.”

This will come as news to Congress, which has passed laws criminalizing the obstruction of justice and decided twice in the last four decades that when a president violates those laws he has committed an impeachable offense.

In 1974, the first article of impeachment drafted by the House of Representatives charged President Nixon with “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force.”

A quarter-century later, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for, among other things, having “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice” and for having “engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony.”

Now let’s see if those descriptions apply to President Trump.

On Saturday morning, in the wake of the bombshell guilty plea by Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, for lying to F.B.I. agents about his communications with Russian officials late last year, Mr. Trump tweeted, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.”

Recall that the original justification for Mr. Flynn’s firing was simply that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence; otherwise he had done nothing wrong. That’s the case Mr. Trump made the day after Mr. Flynn’s firing, when he allegedly tried to shut down the F.B.I.’s inquiry into his campaign’s connections with Russian officials by telling James Comey, who was then the F.B.I. director, in a private Oval Office meeting, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

In May, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, telling Russian officials in the Oval Office the next day that firing Mr. Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him, and referring to Mr. Comey as a “nut job.” In an interview with NBC, Mr. Trump said, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”

It was bad enough for the president to attempt to interfere in any way with a law enforcement investigation of one of his top aides. But with Saturday’s tweet, Mr. Trump admitted that he knew Mr. Flynn had committed a federal crime at the time he fired Mr. Comey for refusing to stop investigating him. To most people with a functioning prefrontal cortex, it sure sounds like Mr. Trump is admitting to “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations” and to “impeding the administration of justice.”

Mr. Dowd confused the country further by saying he had drafted Mr. Trump’s tweet himself — a bizarre claim for a lawyer to make about a statement that incriminates his client. Then he outdid himself with his assertion to Axios that it is not possible for the president to obstruct justice. The argument, as far as it goes, is that the president is the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer and has the constitutional authority to supervise and control the executive branch, which includes making decisions about investigations and personnel.

But Mr. Trump didn’t just try to shut down some random no-name case; he tried to shut down an investigation into his own campaign’s ties to the Russian government’s efforts to swing the 2016 election in his favor. As that investigation keeps revealing, Mr. Trump’s top associates have repeatedly been untruthful about their contacts and communications with Russian officials.

In Saturday’s tweet, Mr. Trump also wrote, “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” If there were truly nothing to hide, if these talks with Russians were all just part of a normal presidential transition process, then why all the lying?

Any child could tell you the answer: People lie when they know they’ve done something wrong. Mr. Flynn and others in Mr. Trump’s campaign and transition team were secretly trying to undermine United States foreign policy as private citizens — which is not just wrong, but a criminal violation of the Logan Act. Worse, the policy being undermined was President Barack Obama’s punishment of a foreign adversary for interfering in an American election, and the underminers — Mr. Trump’s team — were the very people who benefited most directly from that interference.

For some historical perspective, Richard Nixon once again proves useful. In the closing days of the 1968 presidential campaign, Mr. Nixon ordered H. R. Haldeman, later his chief of staff, to throw a “monkey wrench” into the Vietnamese peace talks, knowing that a serious move to end the war would hurt his electoral prospects. Mr. Nixon denied that he did this to the grave; Mr. Haldeman’s notes, discovered after his death, revealed the truth.

Meanwhile, as the evidence of both subterfuge and obstruction continues to grow, Mr. Trump’s tireless spinners and sophists are working to convince the American public that it’s all no big deal. This is an embarrassing and unpersuasive argument, but it’s not surprising. At this point, they have nothing else to work with.

Even If Robert Mueller Is Fired, His Investigation Will Continue

December 8, 2017
The Flynn plea makes it difficult for Trump to can the special counsel without inviting charges of a cover-up and sparking a constitutional crisis.
Bloomberg
By Greg Farrell, Tom Schoenberg, and Neil Weinberg
Special counsel Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill after a closed-door meeting on June 21.

PHOTOGRAPHER: ANDREW HARNIK/AP

The Dec. 1 plea deal struck with President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, marked a big step forward in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. It may also have provided some protection for Mueller against being fired by the president—and helped ensure that his probe will continue, even if one day he’s not leading it.

Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal agents about his communications with the Russian ambassador last December. Given the other potential crimes that Flynn may have committed, including his failure to disclose that he was being paid millions of dollars by a Turkish company while serving as a top official in the White House, the relatively light charge signaled to many that Flynn had something significant worth sharing.

As Mueller’s probe has gotten closer to Trump’s inner orbit, speculation has risen over whether Trump might find a way to shut it down. The Flynn deal may make that harder. For one thing, it shows that Mueller is making progress. “Any rational prosecutor would realize that in this political environment, laying down a few markers would be a good way of fending off criticism that the prosecutors are burning through money and not accomplishing anything,” says Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor now at Duke Law School.

The Flynn plea also makes it difficult for Trump to fire Mueller without inviting accusations of a cover-up and sparking a constitutional crisis, says Michael Weinstein, a former Department of Justice prosecutor now at the law firm Cole Schotz. “There would be a groundswell, it would look so objectionable, like the Saturday Night Massacre with Nixon,” Weinstein says, referring to President Richard Nixon’s attempt to derail the Watergate investigation in 1973 by firing special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY 731; PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES (2)

Even if Mueller goes, his team is providing tools that other prosecutors or investigators can use to continue inquiries. Flynn’s deal requires him to cooperate with state and local officials as well as with federal investigators. That includes submitting to a polygraph test and taking part in “covert law enforcement activities.” Mueller also has provided a road map to state prosecutors interested in pursuing money laundering charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Mueller’s case against Manafort lays out a series of irregular wire transfers made from Manafort’s bank accounts in Cyprus to a variety of companies in the U.S. The sums that Manafort transferred suggest the possibility that some of the money was diverted for other purposes. Mueller stopped short of filing charges related to where the money went. But by including the details in his indictment, he left open the possibility of bringing charges in a follow-up indictment and perhaps left breadcrumbs for state authorities to pursue.

The president can pardon people convicted of federal crimes; only governors can pardon those convicted under state law. For prosecutors in New York, “the Manafort case is like a legal Chia Pet,” says Weinstein. “Just add water, and it grows.” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is investigating the circumstances surrounding unusual real estate loans to Manafort from a bank run by Steve Calk, who served as an adviser to the Trump campaign. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is conducting his own Trump-related probe.

Trump’s reaction to Flynn’s plea raised fresh questions about whether the president had obstructed justice. The day after Flynn appeared in court, Trump tweeted that he fired Flynn because he’d lied to the FBI, which some lawyers say provided a new piece of evidence of what the president knew and when he knew it. Legal experts say Mueller’s ability to bring an obstruction case against Trump could hinge on whether the president was aware of Flynn’s illegal activities when he fired FBI Director James Comey. Prosecuting an obstruction case without an underlying crime is problematic. Critics could demand to know what crime Trump or his campaign officials committed to justify the charge. Many have already argued that collusion itself isn’t a crime. And within days of the Flynn agreement, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, began pushing back against the notion that a sitting president can even be charged with obstruction.

Mueller is also looking at conduct before the election, when Trump was a private citizen and not covered by the executive protections afforded by the Oval Office. If Mueller uncovers evidence that the campaign accepted Russian help, that opens up the possibility of charging people in the Trump campaign with conspiracy related to the solicitation of in-kind foreign donations. Mueller’s team would be on stronger ground if it uncovered evidence of any quid pro quo deals struck during the campaign, either in changes to the GOP platform favoring Russia or promises made to entice Moscow’s help against Hillary Clinton.

Flynn alone may not be enough to advance an obstruction or collusion case. Prosecutors would likely need evidence against other high-ranking Trump associates, including perhaps Jared Kushner. “Unless you’ve got them on tape, you’re going to need a lot better witnesses than Flynn,” says Raymond Banoun, a former federal prosecutor.

Some experts believe that Mueller’s probe is now almost certain to reach a step beyond that. “Before this is wrapped up, Mueller’s going to request an interview with the president, and he may even request it under oath,” says Amy Sabrin, a Washington lawyer who worked for Bill Clinton on the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. “And then what is Trump going to do?”

BOTTOM LINE – Flynn’s plea deal marks a big step forward for Mueller’s Russia probe and also helps him ensure it continues should Trump fire him.
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