Posts tagged with "Russia probe"

Democrats file suit impugning Whitaker appointment

November 20, 2018

Three Democratic senators filed a lawsuit on November 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the appointment of Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, and in doing so, ratcheting up the court effort to declare his placement atop the Justice Department as unconstitutional, CNN reported.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii filed the suit, represented by the groups Protect Democracy and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

The lawsuit is only the latest challenge to Whitaker’s appointment to replace former AG Jeff Sessions after President Donald Trump fired his attorney general the day after the election.

In a joint statement, the senators said, “On November 7, President Trump appointed Whitaker to oversee the Department of Justice–including the Special Counsel’s investigation—in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. The Senators’ complaint asks the Court to declare Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional and to enjoin him from serving as, or carrying out the duties of, Acting Attorney General.”

Senator Blumenthal personally commented, “Installing Matthew Whitaker so flagrantly defies constitutional law that any viewer of School House Rock would recognize it. Americans prize a system of checks and balances, which President Trump’s dictatorial appointment betrays.”

He said. “President Trump is denying Senators our constitutional obligation and opportunity to do our job: scrutinizing the nomination of our nation’s top law enforcement official. The reason is simple: Whitaker would never pass the advice and consent test. In selecting a so-called “constitutional nobody” and thwarting every Senator’s constitutional duty, Trump leaves us no choice but to seek recourse through the courts.”

For his part, Senator Whitehouse noted, The stakes are too high to allow the president to install an unconfirmed lackey to lead the Department of Justice – a lackey whose stated purpose, apparently, is undermining a major investigation into the president.  Unless the courts intercede, this troubling move creates a plain road map for persistent and deliberate evasion by the executive branch of the Senate’s constitutionally mandated advice and consent.  Indeed, this appointment appears planned to accomplish that goal.”

Senator Hirono, an outspoken opponent of the administration, stated, “Donald Trump cannot subvert the Constitution to protect himself and evade accountability. We want the court to make clear that the Senate must confirm Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as Acting Attorney General—otherwise this temporary appointment violates the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Without exception for President Trump’s allies, principal officers who report directly to the president must be subject to a hearing and confirmed by the Senate.”

Last week, the Justice Department issued a memo defending Whitaker’s appointment, concluding that it was legally justified under the Vacancies Reform Act.

The Senate Democrats’ lawsuit, however, argues that his appointment his unconstitutional under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause requiring Senate confirmation of high-level federal appointees, CNN reported.

In addition to the lawsuit filed Monday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed suit last week asking a federal judge to replace Whitaker with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Research contact: @jeremyherb

FBI investigates what seems to be a smear against Robert Mueller

November 1, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman threatened to allege he was guilty of sexual misconduct and harassment, according to an October 30 NBC News report.

The request came after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on Mueller’s purported bad behavior.

Multiple reporters were contacted over the past few weeks by a woman, who said she had been offered money to claim she had been harassed by Mueller, who is heading up a  probe into possible conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia in 2016.

After investigating, the Hill Reporter said, the journalists each independently determined that the allegations of misconduct and harassment were likely a hoax and that it was unclear if the woman had been offered money to make the claim. The reporters then contacted the special counsel’s office to divulge that they had been approached about the scheme, the network news outlet reported.

“When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” said Peter Carr, spokesperson for the special counsel. 

While investigating the possibility of a hoax, the Hill Reporter’s Ed Krassenstein, who was one of the journalists contacted, revealed on October 30 that he had received threats, including a text message reading, “You’re in over your head…. Drop this” which included his and another editor’s home addresses.

Around the same time reporters began to be contacted about the misconduct allegations, Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist and radio host, began promoting, via his Facebook page, that he is investigating sexual misconduct and alcohol-related allegations against Mueller. On October 30, he tweeted that he would hold a press conference two days later to “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims.”

Over the past two years, NBC News reported, Burkman has peddled a separate, evolving conspiracy theory that has blamed several different wild plots forthe death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich, who was shot on a Washington street in 2016 during an apparent botched robbery.

Krassenstein told NBC News he reached out to the special counsel’s office on Tuesday telling them what he knew about the scheme.  He also gave NBC News the phone numbers used by the woman alleging she was offered money to make the allegations, which were both disconnected.

Since then, Burkman has posted several more tweets, including one at 9:14 a.m. on October 31:” The woman to whom we allegedly offered payment—Lorraine Parsons—does not exist. The allegations are an outright joke. This entire backstory is a hoax designed to distract the nation from my press conference on Thursday, which is where all eyes need to be.”

Research contact: @brandyzadrozny

Mueller to convey key findings of Russia probe after midterms

October 18, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to divulge key findings of his team’s 18-month-long Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections.

The news comes as Mueller faces mounting pressure, either to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to Bloomberg sources, the business news outlet reported on October 17.

Specifically, two U.S. officials told Bloomberg, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on a couple of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry:

  • Were there clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign?
  • Did the president take any actions that constituted obstruction of justice?

That doesn’t necessarily mean, Bloomberg said, that Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give the special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.

The question of timing is critical. Mueller’s work won’t be concluded ahead of the November 6 midterm elections—and, with just three weeks to go, it is unlikely that Mueller will take any overt action that could be turned into a campaign issue. Justice Department guidelines say prosecutors should avoid any major steps close to an election that could be interpreted as influencing the outcome.

Also complicating the release of findings is the fact that 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 of the U.S. officials.

What’s more, the news outlet reported, this timeline raises questions about the future of the probe, itself. Trump has signaled repeatedly that he hopes to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the election—a move that could bring in a new boss for Mueller or put the entire inquiry in jeopardy.

Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said. The officials gave no indications about the details of Mueller’s conclusions. Mueller’s office declined to comment for the Bloomberg story.

Research contact: @cstrohm

Confidence in Mueller’s investigation remains steadfast

March 19, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller may well be the most-scrutinized man in America—as he continues the Russia investigation under the wary and wrathful eyes of President Donald Trump, as well as under the cautiously hopeful attention of the U.S. public.

A majority of Americans (61%) still say that they are very or somewhat confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation, based on findings of a poll of 1,466 U.S. adults by Pew Research Center released on March 15. These views have changed only modestly since December, the pollsters claim.

Specifically, nearly half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (46%) are very or somewhat confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation. Democrats and Democratic leaners are overwhelmingly confident Mueller’s investigation will be fair (75% very or somewhat confident).

About four-in-ten Americans (42%) are very or somewhat confident that the administration will make a serious effort to thwart Russian efforts to influence future elections. Most are not too confident (19%) or not at all confident (36%) the Trump administration will take serious action to prevent Russia from influencing future elections in this country.

In addition, the poll has found that the public is divided in opinions about the ultimate impact of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election: 48% say these efforts did not benefit either Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, while 43% say they benefited Trump. Very few Americans (4%) think Russian actions benefited Clinton.

Three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners say that Russia’s meddling didn’t benefit either campaign very much. A nearly identical share of Democrats and Democratic leaners (74%) say it benefited Trump’s campaign.

There also are sizeable differences between parties—and wide ideological differences within each—on whether the Trump administration had improper contact with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

Overall, 58% of the public say that senior members of the Trump administration likely had improper contact with Russia during the 2016 campaign, including 25% who say they “definitely” did and 33% who say they “probably” did. As with views of Mueller’s investigation, these opinions are relatively unchanged since December.

An overwhelming share of Democrats (88%) says that improper contact probably (45%) or definitely (43%) occurred. Liberal Democrats (54%) are far more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats (33%) to say such contacts definitely took place.

By contrast, seven-in-ten Republicans (71%) say that senior members of the Trump administration probably or definitely did not have improper contact with Russia.

While 40% of conservative Republicans say improper campaign contacts between senior Trump officials and Russia definitely did not occur, just 14% of moderate and liberal Republicans say the same.

Research contact: info@pewresearch.org