Posts Tagged ‘Sessions’

Attorney General Sessions goes after Philadelphia over ‘sanctuary’ status

June 16, 2018

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech at a local college on Friday, criticized Philadelphia and its mayor over the city’s ‘sanctuary’ status, one that limits its cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities.

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Sessions accused the city of coddling dangerous criminals and refusing to turn them over to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials when requested.

“Philadelphia is not giving sanctuary to Americans but to foreign criminals,” he said. “If they reach Philadelphia, they are home free. It is a de facto open borders policy.”

The administration of President Donald Trump regularly criticizes cities and other jurisdictions, estimated to number more than 500 nationwide, that have adopted some sanctuary policies.

Sessions took special aim at Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney, who has reaffirmed the city’s “welcoming” stance toward immigrants.

City spokeswoman Deana Gamble told Reuters that Philadelphia will turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials if presented with a criminal warrant or an order from a judge, but not if ICE presents only an administrative warrant.

“The city honors ICE’s requests for notification of release and to detain individuals whenever ICE obtains a warrant or order from a judge,” Gamble said in a statement.

“However, ICE often refuses to obtain warrants or orders from judges and makes requests of the city that have not been approved by any court. Philadelphia does not protect or harbor criminals,” she said.

Sessions also said on Friday that the Justice Department would confront any problems uncovered by an inspector general’s report that found former FBI Director James Comey made errors of judgment in handling a Hillary Clinton email investigation. [nL1N1TG0XR]

He did not address the Justice Department’s separating children from their parents if they are caught illegally crossing the Mexican border, or his partial justification of that policy on Thursday by quoting a Bible verse.

Reporting by David DeKok, Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Rosalba O’Brien


Philly mayor dances after sanctuary city ruling, despite past crimes in city tied to illegal immigrants



Tempting Trump With a “Twofer” — Sessions told White House he’d probably walk if Rosenstein is axed: report

April 21, 2018

Analysis: Sessions seeks balance in pondering Clinton probe

November 15, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In asking senior federal prosecutors to examine a number of Republican grievances, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to strike a balance.

He appears to be attempting to placate a boss who has repeatedly suggested that Sessions’ own job might be in jeopardy for failing to investigate his Democratic rivals. At the same time, taking another investigation under consideration is a step toward maintaining the credibility of the Justice Department by leaving the actual work of arriving at this determination to senior officials whose findings, while unlikely to please anyone, would have more credibility.

In a letter this week, the department directed senior federal prosecutors to “evaluate certain issues” raised by Republican lawmakers, including whether a special counsel should be appointed to look into allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from an Obama-era uranium transaction involving a Russian state company, a deal President Donald Trump himself has continually urged the Justice Department to investigate.

During a hearing on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned about the propriety of initiating a criminal investigation of President Donald Trump’s chief political rival, Hillary Clinton. (Nov. 14)

Unlike other members of the president’s Cabinet, the attorney general is construed as mostly an independent operator, under longstanding policy, practice and executive protocol. And the Justice Department is not supposed to be influenced by the White House in deciding which cases to prosecute and which discard after a review. The department’s top staff is a mix of career officials and political appointees who juggle investigations behind closed doors while working more publicly to advance the administration’s law enforcement agenda.

Sessions may be trying to dig himself out of a bind with a move that allows him to say he handled the allegations properly by referring them to prosecutors, who could then credibly close the case without debasing the Justice Department. Neither the letter, signed by Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, nor Sessions named the senior prosecutors who will be involved in the review sought by Republicans. But they will most likely be career officials who are accustomed to operating free from federal sway.

While the term “senior prosecutor” could also refer to a politically appointed U.S. attorney, Sessions would face immediate backlash for putting the probe in the hands of a Trump-appointee.

But while this may offer Sessions a greater measure of job security for now, a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday showed he has so far satisfied very few of his critics.

Despite attempts to reassure Democrats to the contrary, the mere issuance of the letter immediately raised alarms that Justice was attempting to do the bidding of the president, who has publicly lamented that he has so little direct influence over the agency’s affairs.

And Republicans, who have long called for an investigation of Hillary Clinton, questioned why a probe hasn’t been underway by now.

“If you are now just considering it, what’s it going to take?” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio asked Sessions during the five-hour oversight hearing where the issue consumed a great deal of the focus. Jordan said it looked like there was already enough evidence to appoint a special counsel.

“It would take a factual basis,” Sessions said, adding that “‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.”

The committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, questioned whether Sessions was being improperly influenced by Trump. Sessions said several times that any such review involving Hillary Clinton would be done without regard to political considerations.

“I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced,” Sessions declared. “The president speaks his mind. He’s bold and direct about what he says, but people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the law and the facts.”

Presidents for decades have taken care to avoid being seen as meddling in Justice Department affairs, though they on occasion have expressed personal opinions about specific investigations. President Barack Obama, for instance, once said that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the Internal Revenue Service — even as the FBI was still investigating. And he also contended that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server hadn’t harmed national security.

Trump, however, has shown little concern for the traditional boundary between the White House and the Justice Department, tweeting just last week: “People are angry. At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!”


Gurman and Tucker cover the Justice Department for The Associated Press.

Trump Drafted Letter on Why He Wanted Comey Out — “You’ve told me three times I’m not under investigation but you won’t tell the world, and it’s hampering the country.”

September 2, 2017

Before firing FBI director, Trump wrote he should go for not publicly clearing him in Russia probe

President Trump shaking hands at the White House on Jan. 22 with FBI director James Comey, whom he fired in May.
President Trump shaking hands at the White House on Jan. 22 with FBI director James Comey, whom he fired in May. PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES

The weekend before he fired FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump drafted a letter to him laying out the reasons why he didn’t want him to stay in the job, a senior Trump administration official said Friday.

Mr. Trump, who worked on the draft at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., in early May, wanted Mr. Comey to publicly state the president wasn’t personally under investigation in connection to Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election—an assurance the director had previously given the president privately, a person familiar with the matter said.

Paraphrasing the letter, the administration official said Mr. Trump wanted this message sent: “You’ve told me three times I’m not under investigation but you won’t tell the world, and it’s hampering the country.”

Mr. Comey, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, confirmed that during his stint at the FBI, Mr. Trump wasn’t under investigation. The president’s actions—including firing Mr. Comey—are now being examined by special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia probe after the FBI director was fired on May 9.

Mr. Trump sought to take action because he saw the lingering investigation as a weight on his presidency, underscored by conversations with some foreign leaders who would bring up the Russia probe, according to the administration official. The president wrote the four-page letter with the help of a senior White House aide, Stephen Miller.

“It was the president’s ideas. Miller was the scrivener,” the administration official said.

Ultimately, the letter was never sent to Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump instead shared the draft with various White House aides and gave it to top Justice Department officials in a meeting at the White House on Monday, May 8, the official said.

The next day, Mr. Trump sent Mr. Comey a four-paragraph letter telling him he had been fired, invoking letters he had received from the Justice Department leadership citing damage the former director had done to the FBI’s credibility during an investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices.

Last month, with the White House’s consent, the Justice Department turned over the draft letter to Mr. Mueller, two administration officials said. The New York Times  on Friday first reported on the letter.

One part of Mr. Mueller’s probe is whether the president obstructed justice in firing Mr. Comey. The administration official said nothing in the letter suggests the president wanted to scuttle the entire Russia investigation, which is also examining foreign hacks of political parties and the spread of false news stories damaging to Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Trump drafted the letter just days after Mr. Comey’s testimony to Congress on May 3 defending his handling of the Clinton email investigation in 2016.

Mr. Trump was “offended” by the testimony, and complained about an “arrogance” shown by Mr. Comey that wasn’t appropriate given his position, the administration official said.

“It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election” won by Mr. Trump last November, Mr. Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. “But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”

The next day, a Thursday, Mr. Trump asked top aides about firing Mr. Comey, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

On Friday May 5, just before leaving for his Bedminster golf course, Mr. Trump dressed down two of his top aides—White House counsel Don McGahn and Steve Bannon, then his chief strategist—over Attorney General Jeff Sessions ’ decision, two months earlier, to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.

White House reporters captured part of the argument on camera, including a video shot from outside the windows of the Oval Office that showed Mr. Bannon pointing and shouting.

Mr. Trump tweeted the next day that he was at his golf course, because it was too “expensive and disruptive” to return to Trump Tower in Manhattan. “Meetings!” he wrote on Twitter .

Aides said the Bedminister trip was mostly supposed to include time for golf and relaxation. The weather didn’t cooperate, and Mr. Trump continued to be bothered by Mr. Comey’s testimony. By Sunday, he was working up the letter with Mr. Miller and other aides.

On May 8, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, shared his own concerns about Mr. Comey’s leadership with the president at the White House. Mr. Trump asked Mr. Rosenstein to detail his assessments in a memo.

The president fired Mr. Comey the following day, and the White House initially portrayed the Rosenstein memo as the central reason for the dismissal.

In response to that characterization, the deputy attorney general issued strong objections and pressed the White House to correct the record, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

By the end of the week, Mr. Trump acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that he had intended to fire Mr. Comey, regardless of the memo from the deputy attorney general.

“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,’” Mr. Trump said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at and Michael C. Bender at

Appeared in the September 2, 2017, print edition as ‘President Drafted Letter on FBI Firing.’


Special counsel Robert Mueller looking into firing of James Comey, Hillary Clinton’s email, Donald Trump’s way of doing business

September 2, 2017


The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators is in possession of a letter drafted by President Donald Trump and an aide, but never sent, that lays out a rationale for firing FBI Director James Comey, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The letter was written in the days before the May 9 firing of Comey, but was held after objections from the president’s lawyer and others, according to two other people familiar with the process who were not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

On that day, the White House released a different letter announcing Comey’s firing, one signed by Deputy Attorney General Attorney Rod Rosenstein that cited the handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a basis for Comey’s dismissal.

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James Comey

Trump had been fuming about Comey for weeks, upset that he would not say publicly that the president was not under investigation, which Trump said Comey had assured him privately.

That was in the earlier letter and was part of the president’s rationale for firing Comey. It was later excised — only to be partially restored in the final letter at Trump’s behest.

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Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations, March 10, 2015. Reuters photo

The earlier letter could serve as key evidence to Mueller’s team, which is now investigating whether Trump fired Comey to impede the FBI investigation into his campaign associates’ ties to Russia. The White House has said Trump was acting on the Justice Department’s recommendation when he fired Comey, though the president said in a television interview days later that he was thinking of “the Russia thing” when he made the move and had planned to fire “regardless of recommendation.”

The new letter, which was first reported by The New York Times, could provide additional context on Trump’s thinking and motive as he prepared to oust Comey.

The Justice Department turned the letter over to Mueller’s team, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity. A statement from the Justice Department said the department had been fully cooperative with Mueller’s investigation and would continue to do so.

One week after Comey was fired, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to oversee an investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. That investigation, which had been overseen by Comey, is also looking into the financial dealings of several Trump associates.

During a May weekend at the president’s New Jersey golf club, Trump asked White House aide Stephen Miller to draft a letter outlining a case for Comey’s firing, according to two people familiar with the situation. But the letter, which contained a rationale for the dismissal, was not sent after White House counsel Don McGahn objected, thinking some of its contents were problematic, according to one of the people familiar with the letter.

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Stephen Miller

The Associated Press has not reviewed the letter.

Rosenstein, in a statement to Congress, has said that he learned on May 8 of Trump’s plans to fire Comey, and that he agreed with the decision. He has said that in one of his first conversations with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI.

He wrote a memo to Sessions summarizing his concerns about the FBI director’s performance and said he finalized it the next day and presented it to Sessions. He said he did not intend for his memo to be a “statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination,” and that it was “not a survey of FBI morale or performance.”

Miller, the firebrand aide who helped design Trump’s travel ban and hardline immigration policies, had become a trusted adviser to the president during the campaign and remained in his inner circle even after fellow nationalist and chief strategist Steve Bannon began to fall from the president’s favor.

Instead of using the directive Miller penned, a separate letter written by Rosenstein and focused on Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was sent to the FBI director when he was dismissed.

Rex Tillerson ‘could quit as Secretary of State’

July 25, 2017

The Independent

By Emily Shugerman New York

The Independent

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering resigning his position amid a rash of staffing changes at the White House, reports have claimed.

Sources familiar with Mr Tillerson’s conversations tell CNN the Secretary of State has grown increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration, and may be pondering an exit strategy.

The sources say Mr Tillerson was especially troubled by President Donald Trump’s recent New York Times interview, in which he lamented hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr Tillerson reportedly saw the comments – in which Mr Trump called Mr Sessions “unfair” for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe – as unprofessional.

While the sources caution that Mr Tillerson may have just been venting after a tough week, they also say it seems increasingly unlikely that he will finish out the year as planned.

Mr Trump and his Secretary of State have clashed on several key issues, such as Mr Trump’s insistence on pulling out of the Paris climate accord. Mr Tillerson said in his Senate confirmation hearing that he supported staying in the agreement, while Mr Trump campaigned on getting the US out.

The Secretary of State has also made it a point to assure other Nato countries that the US remains committed to Article Five, the alliance’s promise of mutual protection. Sources told Politico Mr Tillerson was shocked when the President failed to mention the article in his speech at the new Nato headquarters.

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The two men’s differences played out publicly last month, after several Gulf countries chose to cut ties with the nation of Qatar. Mr Tillerson urged cooperation between the countries; Mr Trump, meanwhile, praised the blockade, accusing Qatar of “fund[ing] terrorism at a very high level”.

Mr Tillerson at the time was reportedly frustrated with the influence of Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on foreign policy – both Qatari and otherwise. One close associate told the American Conservative the diplomat was “exhausted”.

“He can’t get any of his appointments approved and is running around the world cleaning up after a president whose primary foreign policy adviser is a 36-year-old amateur,” the source said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at a press conference in Doha on 11 July, 2017 (AFP/Getty)

The issue of personnel appointments has been a thorn in Mr Tillerson’s side ever since the President rejected his choice of Elliott Abrams as his second in command. Mr Trump reportedly vetoed the pick because Mr Abrams had been critical of him in the past.

Mr Tillerson’s frustration with the slow pace of nominations reportedly boiled over last month, when the diplomat erupted at Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for “torpedoing” his proposed nominees.

The outburst was apparently so intense that it prompted Mr Kushner, a witness to the event, to deem Mr Tillerson’s conduct “unprofessional”.

Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer – it’s actually much worse than anyone ever thought, and it begins with the Fake News!

The news of Mr Tillerson’s latest complaints comes amid a tumultuous week in White House staffing. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stepped down on Friday, after Mr Trump appointed Anthony Scaramucci to run his communications team – a move the majority of his advisers cautioned against.

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is also reportedly on rocky footing with the President, and Mr Trump’s comments to the New York Times indicate that he’s having doubts about Mr Sessions as well.

“Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer,” the President tweeted ominously on Monday, “it’s actually much worse than anyone ever thought.”

Mueller’s Expanding Probe Raises Stakes for Trump Presidency

June 16, 2017

By Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis

June 14, 2017, 8:36 PM EDT June 15, 2017, 8:55 PM EDT
  • Trump decries ‘witch hunt’ led by ‘bad and conflicted people’
  • Senate Intelligence panel hosts DNI Coats behind closed doors
Mueller’s Expanded Probe Eyes Trump on Flynn

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s move to investigate whether Donald Trump sought to get the FBI to back off from a probe of his former national security adviser has angered the president and raised the stakes in the inquiry of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning. He decried a “witch hunt” that he said is being “led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Although White House officials tried earlier this week to tamp down speculation that Trump might try to fire Mueller, the escalating conflict led members of Congress of both parties to warn Trump Thursday against the temptation to do so.

“It would be a catastrophic mistake, but he doesn’t have the authority to do it,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters. She noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, told senators this week that only he could dismiss the special counsel.

‘Confidence’ in Mueller

Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who met with the special counsel a day earlier, said, “I have a lot of confidence in Mueller.”

Rosenstein named Mueller as special counsel last month to lead the inquiry into Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in that effort. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last month, citing the Russia investigation as the reason.

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Former FBI Director James Comey

Tensions escalated with Mueller’s latest moves. He is planning to interview two top U.S. intelligence officials about whether Trump sought their help to get the FBI to back off a related probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to three people familiar with the inquiry.

That suggests Mueller is examining the president’s own conduct, which may include whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

The Washington Post late Thursday reported that Mueller also is looking into the finances and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner as part of the Russian investigation. The paper cited unidentified officials familiar with the matter.

“We do not know what this report refers to,” Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick said in a statement provided by Kushner’s office. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Trump has hired one of his longtime lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, to represent him in the multiple inquiries. Vice President Mike Pence, who has mostly been on the sidelines of the investigations, has hired his own outside legal counsel, veteran Washington lawyer Richard Cullen, his spokesman said Thursday.

Mueller wants to interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Separately, Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session Thursday that lasted for three-and-a-half hours.

Burr said they discussed questions that Coats told lawmakers he couldn’t answer in public last week at a hearing, as well as the budget for intelligence for the next fiscal year.

“We worked through all of that,” Burr told reporters.

Avoiding Conflicts

The special counsel is also set to meet with a leading Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee as Mueller and lawmakers seek to avoid conflicts over their parallel investigations.

“We’ll be meeting with him in the next few days. It will be a closed hearing,” Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters.

A spokesman for Trump’s outside lawyer reacted angrily to the reports of an expanding probe by Mueller, accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation of breaking the law by disclosing the information.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said in an email on Wednesday.

Corallo didn’t elaborate on why he singled out the FBI as the source of information. Mueller’s decision to talk with the two officials was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

“Current and former leaders in the intelligence community have repeatedly said there’s been no effort to impede the investigation in any way,” Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “The continued illegal leaks are the only crime here.”

Refusing to Say

At a hearing last week of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats and Rogers refused to say whether they were asked by Trump to help impede an FBI investigation and suggested any response in a closed hearing would require consultations with White House lawyers on whether executive privilege should be invoked.

“To the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers said at the hearing, without answering whether he was asked — but not directed — to back off.

Mueller’s plans emerged just a week after Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump pressed him in February to ease up on an investigation into Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign for misleading administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.

Comey also said Trump repeatedly sought assurances that he wasn’t a target of the Russia investigation. Comey said he told the president on three occasions that he wasn’t personally under investigation.

But Comey suggested he expected Mueller would look into whether Trump’s efforts to intervene in the FBI inquiry amounted to obstruction of justice.

Read more: Why ‘Obstruction of Justice’ Is Echoing in D.C.

Trump’s spokesman said when he dismissed Comey on May 9 that the reason was the former FBI chief’s handling of the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. He cited the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia inquiry, and his deputy Rosenstein.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions

But days later, Trump said in an NBC interview that he had decided to fire Comey before getting their input and he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did it.

“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News in an interview broadcast May 11. “And in fact, 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.”

Comey told senators on June 8 that Trump’s shifting explanations for dismissing him were “lies, plain and simple.” Trump and the White House disputed Comey’s description of the events.

Mueller has been building a team of investigators for a wide-ranging inquiry into Russia’s meddling.

Includes videos:



What Trump Has to Fear From Mueller

June 15, 2017

Special counsels can run amok. One went after me once for the crime of forgetfulness.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

June 14, 2017 7:31 p.m. ET

While Jeff Sessions was testifying Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Sen. Ron Wyden suggested that the attorney general had recused himself from investigating Russian electoral meddling because of unknown, “problematic” reasons. “There are none—I can tell you that for absolute certainty,” Mr. Sessions shot back, dismissing the supercilious charge as “secret innuendo.”

Good for Mr. Sessions. But since Democrats seem intent on preparing the battlefield for the 2018 midterm elections, expect more such baseless charges. Never mind the damage they do to public trust.

Consider the accusation that President Trump obstructed justice in the FBI investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn. According to former FBI Director James Comey, the president told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

“There’s no question he abused power,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week. Two Democratic backbenchers, Reps. Al Green of Texas and Brad Sherman of California, have even drafted articles of impeachment based on the charge.

But I talked to four legal experts—two former Justice Department officials, a former White House lawyer and a former U.S. attorney—who all agreed Mr. Trump has the rightful power, as head of the executive branch, to order the FBI to end any investigation.

One expert raised this thought experiment: If President John F. Kennedy had ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to stop investigating Martin Luther King Jr., would that have constituted obstruction of justice?

It’s also far from clear Mr. Trump ordered anything. His words were vague. A hope is not an order. The president said he wanted to get to the bottom of Russian election meddling. He added that he hoped Mr. Comey would discover whether any of Mr. Trump’s “satellites”—an apparent reference to people who worked in his presidential campaign—had done anything wrong. Both statements suggest Mr. Trump wanted the Russian investigation to go forward and believed it would clear his name.

The statute that describes obstruction of justice speaks of “corrupt” conduct. Yet there is no evidence Mr. Trump acted with criminal purpose—for example, that he was bribed to shut down the Flynn investigation, or that he was trying to hide some personal financial interest in Mr. Flynn’s foreign lobbying. No wonder Mr. Comey, when discussing the conversation at the time with other officials, didn’t claim obstruction.

Still, Mr. Trump has created a potential problem for himself. At a Friday press conference, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked the president whether he would be “willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events.” Mr. Trump replied: “One hundred percent.”

The president had better hope that Robert Mueller, the special counsel now looking into potential Russia-Trump ties, is nothing like Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel appointed in 2003 to investigate the leaking of a CIA official’s name to the columnist Robert Novak.

Mr. Fitzgerald knew within days, if not hours, of his appointment that the leak had come from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage but that it violated no law since the CIA employee was no longer a covert operative.

Despite no underlying crime, Mr. Fitzgerald spent more than three years obsessed with trying to justify his existence by prosecuting someone in the Bush White House for lying under oath. I was one of those in his sights.

He focused on me because, while I could not remember a brief call in 2003 from a Time reporter, I had ordered my staff the following year to search for any evidence I had talked to the journalist. That was supposed to be proof I had lied. Mr. Fitzpatrick gave up hunting me only when he learned that my lawyer had directed me to search my files after hearing from the reporter’s colleague that I had talked with him.

Instead Mr. Fitzpatrick indicted the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a very good man, on a disagreement over who said what, when and to whom.

Today, given what we know, Mr. Trump is not vulnerable on obstruction of justice. But if Mr. Mueller turns out to be another Mr. Fitzgerald and finds no underlying offense, he may decide that he must still get someone for something, even over inconsequential differences of memory.

Promising to speak under oath is dangerous for Mr. Trump, since any trial would be in Washington, D.C. There were no Republicans on Mr. Libby’s jury, and Mr. Trump received a mere 4% of the vote there. The president better pray Robert Mueller is more responsible than Patrick Fitzgerald.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley ” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Appeared in the June 15, 2017, print edition.

Jeff Sessions Calls Russian Collusion Allegation an ‘Appalling and Detestable Lie’

June 14, 2017

Attorney general says he never talked to Russian officials about election interference, defends role in Comey firing

“No collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.”

Watch the highlights of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo: Getty

Updated June 13, 2017 8:23 p.m. ET

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a Senate panel on Tuesday that he never met with any Russian officials last year to discuss the presidential campaign and any suggestion that he colluded with them to help Donald Trump was “an appalling and detestable lie.”

Mr. Sessions defended his role in firing former FBI Director James Comey, saying his decision to step aside from campaign-related investigations didn’t apply to broad oversight…


A defiant Jeff Sessions told Congress that while he did attend an event where the Russian Ambassador was present, he never had any conversations related to the FBI’s investigation into a possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, calling the suggestion that he participated in such collusion, “an appalling and detestable lie.”

During an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Sessions acknowledged he was present at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. which included both Russian officials and President Trump but insisted he does not remember interacting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.

“If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador, I do not remember it,” he told senators.

In March, The Huffington Post reported that Sessions and Kislyak had attended that event, which included Trump, but that it was not clear whether or not the two had spoken. And last week, fired FBI Director James Comey testified in a closed-door meeting with the senators that Sessions may have had an undisclosed third meeting with the Russian ambassador.

At issue: Did Sessions lie under oath during his confirmation hearing? Sessions insisted Tuesday that his answer was accurate in  the context in which it was asked.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Sessions explained that Minnesota Sen. Al Frankin’s “rambling” question was the first time he had heard about it, saying he “wanted to refute that, immediately.”





Jun 13, 2017, 9:53 PM ET

ABC News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday afternoon issued a sweeping denial of any personal involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, calling accusations that he even discussed such an effort with officials from that country an “appalling and detestable lie.”

“I have never met with, or had any conversation with, any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States,” Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”

The comments came as Sessions testified about his meetings with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and any discussions he had with the president before former FBI director James Comey was fired.

Throughout the testimony, which is addressing several of the controversies that have followed Sessions from his tenure as a U.S. senator from Alabama to his position as the head of the Department of Justice, the attorney general pushed back against suggestions that he engaged in additional meetings with Kislyak or committed perjury during his confirmation hearing.

President Trump, apparently, was pleased with his performance. Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that the president “wasn’t able to watch much of [Sessions’ testimony]… but what he did see, what he heard, he thought that Attorney General Sessions did a very good job, and in particular, was very strong on the point that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.”

Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation

The attorney general explained that he met with “a senior ethics official” at the Justice Department in February as press reports emerged questioning his involvement in the investigation, given his role in Trump’s campaign. Sessions said that from that moment, until the announcement of his recusal on March 2, he “did not access any information about the investigation.”

“I have no knowledge about this investigation as it is ongoing today beyond what has been publicly reported,” said Sessions, who later explained that he never received a briefing or read the reports on the intelligence community’s conclusion that there were attempts to meddle in the election.

Sessions said that the move to step away from oversight of the probe was not because of his actions or meetings with the Russian ambassador; instead, he pointed to his position as chair of the Trump campaign’s national security committee.

“I recuse myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing or any belief that I may have been involved in any wrongdoing in the campaign, but because a Department of Justice regulation… required it,” said Sessions. “That regulation states in effect that department employees should not participate in investigations either came pain if they served as a campaign adviser.”

In a heated moment, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., referred to part of Comey’s testimony in which he said that he and members of the FBI leadership team did not discuss Trump’s alleged request for the FBI director’s loyalty, as the group believed Sessions would inevitably recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic,” Comey said last week.

“What are [those facts?]” Wyden asked Sessions on Tuesday.

“Why don’t you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none,” said Sessions, raising his voice. “I can tell you that for absolute certainty… this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don’t appreciate it, and I tried to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I’ve appeared before, and it’s really people sort of suggesting innuendo that I have been not honest about matters, and I’ve tried to be honest.”

Confirmation that Comey shared concern about communications with Trump

Sessions further confirmed that Comey “expressed concern about the proper communications protocol with the White House and with the president.”

Last week, Comey appeared before the same committee and shared that Sessions was among a group of people asked to leave the Oval Office ahead of a conversation in which Trump told Comey he hoped he could let go of the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey said he later told Sessions about the dialogue, and asked that he “prevent any future direct communication” between Trump and himself.

In his testimony, Comey said that Sessions did not respond to the grievance, a fact that Sessions disputed Tuesday. The attorney general indicated that he agreed with the former FBI director on the matter.

“I responded to his comment by agreeing that the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House,” said Sessions. “Mr. Comey had served in the department for better than two decades, and I was confident that he had understood and would abide by the well-established rule.”

Comey further claimed that he and members of the FBI leadership team did not discuss Trump’s alleged request for the FBI director’s loyalty as the group believed Sessions would inevitably recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Circumstances that led to Comey’s firing

In May, Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein each submitted letters to Trump ahead of his firing of Comey from his FBI post. The president cited the letters as recommendations for Comey’s dismissal that were “accepted,” but later noted that he made the decision himself, and was thinking about the Russia investigation when he came to the conclusion the director should be terminated.

Sessions said that he was “not sure what was in [Trump’s] mind” when he and Rosenstein spoke to him about Comey’s firing last month, and repeatedly declined to comment on specific details about his communication with the president.

After Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, suggested that he should have “stayed out of the decision” to fire Comey — in light of the FBI’s Russia investigation and his own recusal — Sessions expressed that he was fulfilling his duty.

“I think it’s my responsibility,” said Sessions. “I mean, I was appointed to be attorney general. Supervising all the federal agencies is my responsibility. Trying to get the very best people in those agencies at the top of them is my responsibility, and I think I had a duty to do so.”

Sessions also expressed his agreement with the rationale given by Rosenstein in his letter to Trump — that Comey’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server was improper.

“I know that was a great concern to both of us… that represented something that I think most professionals in the Department of Justice would totally agree that the FBI investigative agency does not decide whether to prosecute or decline criminal cases,” said Sessions.

Accusations of perjury during confirmation hearing

Sessions told Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in January that he “did not have communications with the Russians,” in response to a question about what action he would take if evidence of such communication by the Trump campaign was uncovered. It was later revealed that Sessions met with Kislyak on at least two occasions — meetings he has differentiated by noting they came in the course of his duties as a senator, not as a surrogate of the campaign.

“[Franken] asked me a rambling question that included dramatic, new allegations,” said Sessions, later adding, “My answer was a fair and correct response to the charge as I understood it. It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context of the question and list any conversations I may have had with Russians in routine situations, as I had with numerous other foreign officials.”

Trump, Sessions and Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel

The notion of a third meeting with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 was strongly denied by Sessions, who acknowledged they both attended then-candidate Trump’s speech at the hotel, but said he “did not have any private meetings,” nor “recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.”

“I understand he was there. And so I don’t doubt that he was,” said Sessions, as he was questioned by committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. “I believe that representation is correct. In fact, he I recently saw a video of him coming into the room.”

“But you never remember having a conversation or meeting with Ambassador Kislyak?” asked Burr.

“I do not,” said Sessions.

In later questioning by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sessions added, “I didn’t have any formal meeting, I’m confident of that, but I may have had an encounter during the reception.”

Rosenstein pledges “independence” for Mueller, sees no evidence for firing

Earlier Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified that he has not seen evidence of good cause to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, whom he appointed in May to lead the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including any possible collusion with Trump campaign associates.

Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee at a hearing originally scheduled to be attended by Sessions. After learning that members of the appropriations committee intended to ask him questions about the Russia investigation, Sessions notified the House and Senate committees’ leadership that he would be changing his schedule because “the Senate Intelligence Committee is the most appropriate forum for such matters.”

The deputy attorney general assured the Senate Appropriations Committee that Mueller will have “full independence.”

“The chain of command for the special counsel is only directly to the attorney general, or in this case, the acting attorney general, so nobody else in the department would have the authority to do that, and you have my assurance that we are going to faithfully follow that regulation and Director Mueller is going to have the full degree of independence that he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately,” said Rosenstein.

Though he’s the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein would have the authority to fire Mueller since Sessions recused himself in March from any probes related to campaigns for the presidency, like the Russia investigation.

When asked if he would fire Mueller if Trump ordered him, Rosenstein said, “I am not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders.”

Rosenstein added that if there were a good cause, he would consider firing the special counsel. However, if there were not “good cause” to get rid of Mueller, Rosenstein said, “It would not matter to me what anybody says.”

ABC News’ Mike Levine contributed to this report.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacts harsher charging, sentencing policy — federal prosecutors told to seek “the most serious” criminal charges against suspects

May 12, 2017

USA Today

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to seek “the most serious” criminal charges against suspects, a move that would result in severe prison sentences – and is expected to reverse recent declines in the overcrowded federal prison system.

The brief, two-page directive, issued to the 94 U.S. attorneys offices across the country late Thursday, replaces a 2013 memo put in place by then-Attorney General Eric Holder that sought to limit the use of mandatory-minimum sentencing rules that had condemned some non-violent offenders to long prison terms – that proved to be expensive for taxpayers.

Justice officials said the new policy would not target low-level drug offenders, unless they were linked to firearms, gang membership or other aggravating crimes.

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions said in the directive. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial… sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

Under the plan, ten-year mandatory minimum sentences would typically be sought in cases where suspects were in possession of 1 kilogram of heroin (equal to thousands of doses); 5 kilograms of cocaine (about 11 pounds); or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana (more than 2,000 pounds).

 Image result for jeff sessions, photos

“There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of… the charging policy is not warranted,” Sessions said. But such exercises of discretion, the attorney general said, would be subject to high-level approval.

Justice officials already have alerted federal prison officials that the action, in conjunction with the administration’s recently announced increase in immigration prosecutions, would likely result in a larger prison population.

Last month, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to bring felony charges against immigrants suspected of making repeated illegal entries to the United States. Undocumented entry cases have been previously charged as misdemeanors.

During the Obama administration, Holder’s policy had sought to reduce the size of the federal prison system that has long been a financial drag on the Justice Department, representing about 25% of its budget. That policy echoed shifts in law enforcement policy that had been sweeping the states in recent years. State officials have increasingly acknowledged that they can no longer bear the cost of warehousing offenders – many for drug crimes – who were targets of harsh punishments which began decades ago.

The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell by 7,981 inmates – or 5% – between the end of 2009 and 2015, according to a January Pew Research Center analysis. Preliminary figures for 2016 show the decline continued during Obama’s last full year in office and that the overall reduction during his tenure will likely exceed 5%, the center found.

The federal prison population now stands at nearly 190,000 inmates.