Posts Tagged ‘Justice Department’

Analysis: Russia probe threatens Trump, those in his orbit

December 9, 2018

The more that special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors reveal, the darker grow the legal clouds over President Donald Trump.

Trump’s own Justice Department has now implicated him in a crime, accusing him of directing illegal hush-money payments to women during his 2016 presidential campaign. Mueller keeps finding new instances of Trump associates lying about their contacts with Russia during an election the Kremlin worked to sway in the Republican’s favor.

The president hasn’t been charged with any crimes. He may never be. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute.

By Julie Pace
Associated Press

Donald Trump

But Trump also hasn’t been cleared of wrongdoing. Each new legal filing underscores that the president is a central figure in investigations that already have brought down several people who worked closely with him and remain a threat to others in Trump’s orbit.

Even if the president is never charged with illegal activity, the months of investigations and legal wrangling have cast a pall over his administration and exposed the culture of lying that has surrounded Trump, both in and out of office.

Trump’s moniker in some of the filings: “Individual-1”.

Trump allies argue that if Mueller had information that Trump broke the law, the special counsel would have made his case against him by now. To the president and his supporters, the fact that the special counsel has been working for well over a year without making a direct accusation against Trump means the investigation is simply an effort to damage the president politically.

“AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!” Trump tweeted early Saturday morning.

Despite Trump’s declarations, Mueller hasn’t ruled out that the prospect of election season coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and only recently received written answers from the president about possible Russian interference. Mueller also is still pursuing whether Trump obstructed justice while in office.

Yet the most precarious legal situation for Trump appears to be separate from Mueller’s inquiry: an assertion by federal prosecutors in New York that Trump directed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make illegal payments during the campaign to silence women alleging extramarital affairs.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who will oversee the House intelligence committee next year, said that a new court filing on Friday “implicates the president very directly” in a crime.

 

“It puts the issue squarely before the Justice Department whether a sitting president should be indicted or whether the Justice Department has to wait until he’s out of office,” Schiff said in an interview.

Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal were made to benefit Trump politically.

Trump’s only defense? Cohen, he says, is a liar.

The simultaneous investigations have infuriated Trump. Democrats, and some Republicans, fear Trump may ultimately try to silence Mueller or halt his investigation, though proposed legislation protecting the special counsel has stalled in Congress.

After going publicly silent in the run-up to the midterm elections, Mueller has roared back with a series of legal moves that suggest he is actively pursuing the central question of whether Trump’s campaign illegally coordinated with Russia during the election.

In a filing released on Friday, Mueller revealed that a Russian national claiming close ties to the Kremlin reached out to Cohen to propose government-level “political synergy” during the election. The November 2015 outreach — which Mueller says Cohen did not pursue — appears to be the earliest known effort by Russia to build ties with the Trump campaign.

Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress about efforts by Trump’s real estate company to build a project in Moscow as late as the summer of 2016, after Trump became the Republican nominee for president.

Mueller has not alleged that the president knew about these interactions with Russia.

Even so, some Trump supporters now believe the president is unlikely to emerge from the investigations unscathed.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and frequent defender of Trump, said Mueller appears poised to issue a report that will be highly critical of the president, though Dershowitz believes it will deal “more with political sin than a federal crime.”

“It will be a very serious accusation of the president, but it will be more political,” Dershowitz said.

Of course, political sin could still put Trump in a dangerous position, particularly now that Democrats are within weeks of taking over the House. The new Democratic majority will have broad subpoena power. Party leaders will be under pressure from some members to pursue impeachment, particularly if Mueller’s report makes direct accusations of the president.

Schiff, who will oversee some of the congressional probes into Trump, said the swirl of investigations “tests the proposition that no one is above the law.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Washington bureau chief Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Mueller Weaves Trump, Manafort and Cohen Ever Closer

December 8, 2018

Three sentencing memos paint unflattering portraits of the president’s former campaign chairman and personal lawyer.

Drowning in filings.  Photographer: Bloomberg

On Friday evening, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Justice Department team and federal prosecutors in Manhattan seemed to provide a reason why President Donald Trump had gone on the Twitter warpath Friday morning.

Our day began with the president populating his social feed with accusations that the special counsel (and a host of other people and nefarious forces) had “big time conflicts of interest” and was “lying and leaking” in service of drafting a “final Witch Hunt Report” about the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to sabotage the 2016 presidential campaign.

Near the end of the day, Mueller and prosecutors with U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed three sentencing memorandums involving two prominent members the president’s troubled advisory board — Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and self-described “fixer.” (Mueller’s team filed a memo for Manafort and one for Cohen; federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed one for Cohen.)

Let’s turn first to Mueller’s ten-page, partially redacted Manafort filing, which outlines why he and his team believe that Manafort lied to them ever since he decided to cooperate with their investigation in September.

They accuse Manafort of breaching the plea agreement in two ways. First, he allegedly dissembled about contacts he had with members of the Trump administration. He’s also said to have conspired with Konstantin Kilimnik — a Russian linked to his country’s intelligence network — between February and April to obstruct justice by shaping the testimony of two of Mueller’s witnesses. (Pro tip: It’s not a good idea to be in touch with a suspected Russian intelligence asset when you’re being prosecuted by seasoned federal law enforcement officials probing your role in Russian efforts to sabotage a presidential election.)

The Mueller team’s Manafort memo is embroidered with hard-earned confidence: “We are prepared to prove the basis for the defendant’s breach at a hearing that will establish each false statement through independent documentary and testimonial evidence, including Manafort’s subsequent admissions.”

Trump’s name isn’t in any of the unredacted portions of the Manafort sentencing memo but his presence looms large in all of the court filings since the defendants both worked for him. In a taste of what might still be coming, CNN reported earlier on Friday that one of the president’s ersatz lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said Mueller’s team told Manafort that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian attorney offering compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Manafort was present at that meeting, along with the president’s son-in-law and current White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Another thing to consider: Manafort breached his plea agreement with Mueller after being indicted for money laundering, bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to register as an agent of the Ukraine government. He was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, witness tampering, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. The money laundering and registration charges were never heard in a courtroom because he pleaded guilty to the other charges.

That is a lot of illegal and disreputable stuff, and Manafort’s plea deal likely would have spared him a meaningful chunk of prison time. Yet he lied to Mueller’s team and now faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars. Why? I’ll venture to guess: He may be expecting a pardon from the president or he has been trying to protect third parties — perhaps from his roster of rough-and-tumble Russian and Ukrainian clients — who might represent a threat to his family.

In case any of this isn’t enough to remind you of the quality of some of the advice and people who have circulated around the Trump Organization, the Trump presidential campaign, and the White House, consider Michael Cohen.

The sentencing memorandum federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed on Friday outlined in fresh detail previously reported acts of tax and bank fraud that Cohen committed during and after his service to the president (the memo also takes Cohen to task for trying to blame his accountant for elements of the tax fraud). It noted that Cohen lied to Congress about some of his actions, including the pursuit of a Trump project in Moscow. “If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues,” prosecutors said.

It also offered a detailed description of Cohen’s orchestration of hush-money payments to two alleged Trump paramours — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — to prevent them from publicly revealing details about their past encounters with Trump during the 2016 campaign. They noted that Cohen “acted in coordination and at the direction of” a person they don’t identify to arrange the payments, but that individual is clearly Trump (whom Cohen has recorded discussing the payments).

In addition to noting Cohen’s willingness to sacrifice his accountant to save himself, the Manhattan prosecutors also take issue with the idea that Cohen’s cooperation emerged from some a newfound sense of duty, “personal resolve” or a “selfless” and “unprompted about-face.” They plainly state that Cohen cooperated to save his hide and avoid a harsher penalty. To that end, they asked that he get a “significant” prison sentence.

The Mueller team, while asking for greater lenience in Cohen’s sentencing, also dropped this fun fact: In November 2015, a Russian citizen offered Cohen “synergy on a government level” between Russia and Trump’s nascent presidential campaign. The person pushed for a meeting involving Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cohen didn’t take up the offer, but it appears to significantly predate other previously reported overtures from Russians to Trump’s advisors or family members.

The White House dismissed the three sentencing memos, with Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, specifically noting that the Cohen memos “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”

Trump himself took to Twitter to offer the optimistic conclusion that everything filed by prosecutors today “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

Totally.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

A Supreme Court Gamble

December 6, 2018

A potential landmark case on state and federal double jeopardy.

For 170 years U.S. courts have let federal and state governments prosecute the same criminal offense under the principle of dual sovereignty. On Thursday the Supreme Court will consider in Gamble v. U.S. whether this doctrine violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against double jeopardy. There are strong legal arguments on both sides, but the implications of jettisoning longtime precedent counsel judicial restraint.

In 2015 Terance Gamble was arrested for possessing two bags of marijuana and a loaded handgun. A federal grand jury indicted Gamble, who had a record of violent crime, for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Alabama separately charged him with a firearm and two drug offenses.

By pleading guilty in Alabama, Gamble was able to get two state charges dropped and his sentence reduced. He then moved to dismiss the federal indictment, which he says violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition that “any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

By The Editorial Board
Opinion
The Wall Street Journal
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Image result for U.S. supreme court building, photos

A federal court dismissed his petition based on dual sovereignty. The Supreme Court ruled three times during the pre-Civil War years that state and federal crimes are not “the same offense.” In Lanza (1922) a unanimous Court again held that “an act denounced as a crime by both national and state sovereignties is an offense against the peace and dignity of both and may be punished by each.”

The Court further explained in Heath v. Alabama (1985) that “an offence, in its legal signification, means the transgression of a law. Consequently, when the same act transgresses the laws of two sovereigns, it cannot be truly averred that the offender has been twice punished for the same offence.”

Gamble argues that the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy is deeply rooted in English common law, which allowed individuals acquitted by foreign courts to raise their acquittals as a defense in British courts. But the Constitution didn’t incorporate English common law wholesale, and the Declaration of Independence even denounced the King for protecting armed British troops from colonial punishment by holding a “mock Trial.”

Under Gamble’s theory, the Fifth Amendment could also preclude the U.S. from prosecuting a crime that has already been charged by a foreign government. But if this were so, foreign governments could override U.S. sovereignty. Vladimir Putin could protect Russian hackers from U.S. prosecution by charging and acquitting them.

Gamble’s strongest argument is that letting federal prosecutions override state decisions undermines federalism. In this case, though Gamble’s state sentence was reduced to 12 months, he received 46 months for his federal crimes.

But states rightly argue that dual sovereignty also lets them tailor prosecutorial decisions when they have different interests than the feds. Some states with high violent crime may choose to enforce gun laws more strictly than the federal government does. If the feds drop charges, states can still vindicate their police powers.

Allowing a state to pre-empt a federal prosecution, or vice versa, would also trigger a race to the courthouse. Federal and state prosecutors would rush to file charges first, and defendants would have an incentive to plead guilty to whatever carries a lighter punishment.

Civil-rights groups supporting Gamble say the U.S. penal code has grown too vast. They have a point, and individuals charged by both state and federal governments face lengthy prison terms. Yet dual sovereignty also allowed the feds to prosecute Ku Klux Klan members acquitted by state juries during Jim Crow.

Excessive prison sentences are best addressed by states and Congress. Judges already enjoy substantial discretion to suspend sentences for successive prosecutions. In Gamble’s case, the federal judge ordered his 46-month sentence to run concurrently with his state sentence so he faced no more time in prison from the dual prosecutions.

The Justice Department has a policy of not prosecuting crimes that have already been charged by a state except when the state case has “left [a] substantial federal interest demonstrably unvindicated.” Thirty-five states also limit prosecutions for crimes adjudicated by another sovereign.

Congress could codify Justice’s policy, and states could shield defendants from successive prosecutions. But vitiating dual sovereignty by judicial fiat would reshape America’s legal system in ways that are best left to the political branches.

Appeared in the December 6, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-supreme-court-gamble-1544055862

Doubling Down on Mueller

November 16, 2018

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

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By Kimberly Strassel
The Wall Street Journal
November 15, 2018

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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.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/doubling-down-on-mueller-1542326829

Photo at the top: Credit EPA

Justice Department Poised to Issue Legal Opinion Supporting Whitaker Appointment

November 13, 2018

Agency lawyers to cite 2003 guidance for President George W. Bush

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WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is expected to publish a legal opinion in support of Matthew Whitaker’s installation as acting attorney general as early as Tuesday, a person familiar with the matter said, following questions about whether he can legally serve in the role.

The department’s Office of Legal Counsel is expected to say that President Trump had the ability to appoint Mr. Whitaker, the person said. Mr. Whitaker took over last week as an interim successor to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Mr. Sessions was ousted by Mr. Trump.

The opinion is expected to support the Trump administration’s position that the president’s authority to tap Mr. Whitaker is affirmed by guidance the office issued in 2003. At that time, the office concluded that President George W. Bush could name a non-confirmed employee of the Office of Management and Budget as the agency’s acting director.

The OMB director, like the attorney general, is a principal officer of the federal government. The 2003 opinion avoided that problem by defining an acting director as an “inferior officer,” who under Supreme Court precedent doesn’t require Senate approval to be appointed.

Critics from across the ideological spectrum have said Mr. Whitaker’s appointment is a potentially invalid end-run around the Senate’s power to provide “advice and consent” on senior executive-branch nominations. Others have said Mr. Whitaker’s appointment was lawful under a statute called the Vacancies Reform Act.

In addition, others say Mr. Whitaker’s ties to a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and his history of critical comments about that inquiry raise questions about his impartiality and his ability to supervise it. The special counsel is designed to be insulated from political considerations.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Mr. Whitaker would follow “all appropriate processes and procedures,” including consulting with senior ethics officials on “his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.”

The Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion is unlikely to quell the debate over Mr. Whitaker’s leadership. The appointment could still face a legal challenge that, if successful, could invalidate actions Mr. Whitaker takes as acting attorney general. Officials in acting capacities are often viewed as placeholders who don’t pursue policy initiatives until a permanent official is confirmed by the Senate.

Even if short-lived, the appointment of Mr. Whitaker, who was Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, could have far-reaching consequences, including for the Mueller investigation.

Congressional Democrats on Monday asked the Justice Department to detail any ethics advice Mr. Whitaker has sought or received since taking office, including questions about his supervision of the Russia probe.

“The official supervising the Special Counsel investigation must be—in both fact and appearance—independent and impartial. Regrettably, Mr. Whitaker’s statements indicate a clear bias against the investigation that would cause a reasonable person to question his impartiality,” the Democrats wrote.

The Justice Department didn’t respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Congress is preparing to return to Washington on Tuesday for the first time since the Nov. 6 midterm elections, in which Democrats took control of the House and Republicans maintained a narrow Senate majority. With control of one chamber, Democrats will be able to run investigations and issue subpoenas, and several party leaders have signaled they plan to look into Mr. Whitaker’s appointment.

Many Republicans say they aren’t concerned by Mr. Whitaker’s appointment or his past comments that were critical of the Mueller probe. “I’m confident that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job without interference,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Sunday on CBS.

The Democrats’ letter was signed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate respectively. The top Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees of the House and Senate also signed the letter, as did the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.

A challenge to Mr. Whitaker’s appointment could land at the Supreme Court. In recent years, the court has invalidated several executive appointments at the National Labor Relations Board, including then-President Obama’s appointments to the board during a brief Senate break in 2012, and his decision in 2011 to nominate as the board’s general counsel an official who continued to serve in the post in an acting capacity.

Those rulings threw into question hundreds of decisions the officials made while in the posts and forced the agency to revisit them. Legal experts said the Justice Department is likely keeping those rulings in mind when advising Mr. Whitaker on any actions he takes that could be challenged. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the legal counsel’s office has weighed in on whether Mr. Whitaker’s actions could be invalidated.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation of a Florida company, World Patent Marketing Inc., that is accused of scamming millions from customers during the period that Mr. Whitaker served as a paid advisory-board member, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. As attorney general, Mr. Whitaker has authority over the FBI, which is a component of the Justice Department. The Justice Department has said Whitaker was unaware of any fraudulent activity.

Mr. Whitaker ran a conservative political nonprofit and frequently appeared on cable television as a legal commentator before becoming Mr. Sessions chief of staff.

Mr. Trump has praised Mr. Whitaker but also has distanced himself from him.

Write to Sadie Gurman at sadie.gurman@wsj.com and Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

Appeared in the November 13, 2018, print edition as ‘Justice Department Backs Whitaker.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/democrats-seek-ethics-advice-sought-or-received-by-acting-attorney-general-matthew-whitaker-1542048901

Mueller Gets a New Boss Who’s Blasted His Russia Investigation

November 8, 2018
Acting Attorney General Whitaker could fire him or limit probe
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Whitaker would decide whether findings can be made public
Matt Whitaker.  Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is answering to a new boss, Matthew Whitaker, who has openly criticized his Russia investigation — and has the power to constrain it or end it, just as President Donald Trump wishes.

Trump never forgave Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the probe that Mueller now runs, and the president delivered on that long-festering frustration a day after the midterm elections were over.

He forced Sessions to resign and named Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney whose criticisms of Mueller have echoed the president’s, as acting attorney general until Trump nominates someone who would need Senate confirmation.

Whitaker, who became Sessions’s chief of staff last year, has left a paper trail of his views on Mueller’s inquiry.

In July 2017, Whitaker said during an interview on CNN that he could envision a scenario in which an acting attorney general doesn’t fire Mueller but “just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt.”

‘Witch Hunt’

The next month, Whitaker wrote an opinion article posted on CNN’s website arguing that Mueller’s investigation appeared to be going too far and may constitute a “witch hunt,” embracing one of Trump’s favorite descriptions to discredit the probe.

Citing reports that Mueller was looking into Trump’s finances and those of his family, Whitaker wrote, “If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”

Also last year, Whitaker tweeted “Worth a read” with a link to a newspaper commentary headlined, “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob.”

Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸

@MattWhitaker46

Worth a read. “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob” http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/note-to-trumps-lawyer-do-not-cooperate-with-mueller-lynch-mob-20170804.html  via @phillydotcom

Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob

Even if the prosecutor can’t prove that your client committed the crime supposedly being investigated, he will be charged with obstruction of justice or some similar offense for providing false…

philly.com

Demands to Recuse

There was no indication that Whitaker intended to follow Sessions’s lead and recuse himself from the Russia investigation, despite Democratic demands that he do so. That means he will supplant Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has defended his performance, in overseeing the inquiry.

“Protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, citing Whitaker’s “previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation.”

Senator Susan Collins of Maine was one of the several Republicans who publicly expressed concern about what may happen. “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference — regardless of who is AG,” she said in a tweet without mentioning Whitaker by name.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said he was certain Mueller’s probe will be allowed to “continue to its end” because the Senate won’t confirm a new attorney general otherwise.

All-American

Whitaker, 49, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, received his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1995. Before that, he was an All-American football player and played on the university’s Rose Bowl team in 1991.

In 2014, the Des Moines native ran for the Senate in Iowa, losing in the Republican primary to Joni Ernst, who went on to win the general election.

He also previously directed the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group supported by conservatives that focused mostly on allegations of conflicts and wrongdoing by Democrats including Hillary Clinton.

Whitaker also worked as chairman of Sam Clovis’s failed campaign for Iowa state treasurer in 2014. Clovis had run for the Senate as well and later worked on Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been interviewed as part of Mueller’s Russia probe.

While many Republican lawmakers were silent Wednesday on Whitaker’s appointment and the future of the Mueller probe, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley praised him.“A fellow Iowan, who I’ve known for many years, Matt will work hard and make us proud,” he said in a statement.

Whitaker, in a Justice Department statement released on Wednesday evening, said, “I am committed to leading a fair department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law, and seeks justice for all Americans.” He added that it had “been a privilege” to work under Sessions.

Here Are All the Officials Who Have Left the Trump Administration

The shake-up at the Justice Department comes at a crucial point, as Mueller is seeking to wind down parts of his inquiry and deliver some key findings, according to two officials familiar with his plans. As Mueller’s supervisor, Whitaker would decide whether those findings remain secret, are shared with congressional committees, or released to the public.

But there’s no sign that the special counsel is ready to close up shop anytime soon — unless he’s forced to do so.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who will likely be the panel’s chairman when his party takes over the House next year, said Wednesday that interference with the investigation “would cause a constitutional crisis.”

Adam Schiff

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican critic of Trump, urged Senate action on long-stalled legislation intended to safeguard Mueller’s inquiry.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued in the past that there was no need for such measures because Mueller wasn’t at risk of being ousted. He didn’t comment on that prospect on Wednesday.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-08/mueller-gets-a-new-boss-who-s-blasted-his-russia-investigation?srnd=premium

Trump Asks For, Gets Jeff Sessions’ Resignation

November 7, 2018
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned at the request of President Trump. The move follows months of Mr. Trump expressing his displeasure with Mr. Sessions in critical tweets.

The abrupt move ended Mr. Sessions’ tumultuous tenure as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. Throughout, he couldn’t shake Mr. Trump’s displeasure over the special-counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.

Mr. Sessions’ departure creates instant uncertainty not only at the Justice Department but also at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Mr. Sessions had recused himself from that investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign, but a new attorney general could oversee the probe.

Lawmakers of both parties have warned Mr. Trump against naming a new attorney general to weaken Mr. Mueller, but some Republicans more recently have signaled a willingness to consider replacements.

Any new nominee is certain to be closely scrutinized during the Senate confirmation process over whether the Mueller probe needed to be reined in or shut down entirely. Such a move could touch off a political crisis.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/attorney-general-jeff-sessions-resigns-from-trump-white-house-1541619893

Related:

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
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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.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-07/mueller-readies-next-steps-for-trump-probe-amid-doj-uncertainty

Beijing tells Washington to provide ‘concrete evidence’ China is stealing trade secrets — But everyone in the world knows this is a problem

November 3, 2018

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People around the world can tell you that China has its own way of doing business.

“The theft of intellectual property is at the heart of the U.S.-China Trade War,” White House Advisor Larry Kudlow has said.

“Forced technology transfer from U.S. and other Western nations to China is pervasive and unacceptable,” an Apple executive told Peace and Freedom.

“They’ll steal the gold fillings out of your mouth if you talk too much,” one executive told us.

The Chinese know it too.

“When the Chinese are caught, they pretend to be stupid and act like we don’t know what we are doing. Hate Donald Trump if you want, but the U.S. and Western businesses can’t keep doing business this way with China.”

Peace and Freedom Editor’s Note

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Foreign ministry responds to US attorney general’s announcement he is setting up a task force to ‘combat Chinese economic espionage’

It also says two sides should ‘strictly follow their leaders’ directives’ and try to resolve differences

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 1:47am
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Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General

Beijing has challenged Washington to provide evidence for its new Justice Department initiative targeting China’s alleged state-backed theft of trade secrets.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said cabinet members from both countries should “strictly follow their leaders’ directives” and work on resolving differences, which President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to do during a phone call on Thursday.

“If the Americans are really concerned about this issue [economic espionage], they should provide concrete and fact-based evidence that can be examined,” Lu told a regular press briefing on Friday.

It came after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday announced that he was setting up a task force to “combat Chinese economic espionage”.

“This initiative will identify priority Chinese trade theft cases, ensure that we have enough resources dedicated to them, and make sure that we bring them to an appropriate conclusion quickly and effectively,” Sessions said.

Chinese economic espionage in the area of intellectual property had been “increasing rapidly” and posed “a grave threat” to American national security, he said. “Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it any more.”

The task force will be led by Assistant Attorney for National Security John Demers and will include a senior FBI official, five prosecutors and several Justice Department officials.

Sessions said the initiative would also look into China’s attempted espionage activities at research labs and universities, and “covert efforts to influence our leaders and the general public”.

Tensions between the world’s two largest economies have been rising since Trump imposed a first round of tariffs on Chinese goods in July, starting a trade war that has targeted more than half of the goods shipped between the two countries.

In addition to complaints over the trade gap, the US has accused China of intellectual property theft and complained about restricted market access and state subsidies in key industries, especially the hi-tech sectors, pressuring Beijing to overhaul its industrial policy, which it refuses to do.

Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said US officials saw China’s behaviour as “increasingly revisionist” and had taken a tougher line on Beijing as a result.

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According to an indictment unsealed on Thursday, the Justice Department has accused state-owned Chinese memory chip maker Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, its Taiwanese partner United Microelectronics and three individuals of stealing trade secrets from Micron Technology, America’s largest memory-chip maker.

If convicted, the three individual defendants face up to 15 years in jail and US$5 million fines, while the two companies face forfeiture and a fine of more than US$20 billion.

That came after the US Commerce Department on Monday said it would block Jinhua from buying American components and services because it posed a risk to national security.

In response, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the unilateral action had “over magnified” the concept of national security and abused export restrictions, which China opposed.

“We urge the American side to take measures to immediately cease this wrongdoing,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

A similar trade ban crippled the operations of ZTE Corp for three months this year before the telecoms equipment maker agreed to a settlement with Washington in July.

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George Soros gave $1M to group that paid for Fusion GPS research

November 1, 2018

Democratic billionaire George Soros has given $1 million to a group which has paid for research from Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the infamous Trump dossier.

The money was given to the Democracy Integrity Project, according to a Soros representative who spoke to the New York Times. Soros is mulling donating even more.

The $1 million figure appears to be newly revealed information. It was reported earlier this year by the Washington Post that Soros had given a grant to the nonprofit group.

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George Soros

The Democracy Integrity Project was created after the 2016 election and is dedicated to investigating election interference.

Fusion GPS is known for commissioning ex-British spy Christopher Steele to compile opposition research on then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Published in full by BuzzFeed in January 2017, the dossier contains a collection of salacious and unverified claims about Trump’s potentially compromising ties to Russia.

Soros’ fundraising efforts have made him a favorite target of Republicans claiming he is a secret force seeking to influence politics, among other conspiracy theories.

GOP investigators are concerned about potential surveillance abuse by the government, as the FBI used Steele’s salacious dossier, which was funded in part by Democratic interests, in multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications to gain the authority to spy on onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page.