Posts tagged with "Special Counsel Robert Mueller"

CNN poll: 50% of Americans think probe will implicate the president

December 12, 2018

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election focuses in on the denizens of the White House, approval of the president’s conduct has dwindled—matching its all-time low in CNN polling, the cable news network reported on December 11.

In the new poll, Trump’s approval rating for handling the Russia investigation has dipped to 29%, matching a low previously hit in June of this year.

The findings, from a poll fielded on behalf of CNN by SSRS, come as half of Americans say they think it is likely that the Mueller investigation will implicate the president in wrongdoing.

The survey was conducted December 6-9—at a time when court filings in cases against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen revealed the alleged lies that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and former personal lawyer, respectively, told either publicly or to the special counsel’s investigators.

President Trump claimed last weekend that the filings by the SCO and the federal court in the Southern District of New York cleared him of any wrongdoing and called for the investigation to end, CNBC reports.

However, the news outlet says, the Cohen filing implicates Trump in the scheme to pay off at least two women who alleged they had had affairs with Trump in order to keep them silent during the campaign; and the Manafort filing suggests the former campaign chair continued to lie about his contacts with the White House this year.

Interestingly enough, Mueller’s approval rating also is down in the poll: 43% approve and 40% disapprove. That compares to a 48% approve to 36% disapprove split in early October. The dip in Mueller’s numbers comes almost entirely among Independents, among whom approval has fallen 10 points to 36%. Among partisans on both sides, Mueller’s approval holds about even with where it was in an October survey: 71% of Democrats approve as do 21% of Republicans.

Trump’s approval rating drop, however, comes among his own partisans as well as among independents. Among Republicans, 51% approve of Trump’s handling of the investigation, a new low by one point, while among independents, 26% approve, also a new low. Just 15% of Democrats approve of the president’s handling of the investigation, up from October but about on par with the level who felt that way earlier this year.

Overall, a majority (54%) continue to say that most of the things Trump has said publicly about the Russia investigation are false, while just over one-third say they are mostly true (36%). That’s largely unchanged since August.

There has also been no meaningful change on whether the investigation itself is a serious matter or mainly an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency: 59% say it’s a serious matter, 35% an effort to discredit Trump.

Half of Americans think it is very or somewhat likely that the Mueller investigation will implicate Trump personally in wrongdoing. That figure is higher among Democrats (78% say it’s likely), but still, nearly a quarter of Republicans think Trump is likely to be personally implicated (23%) as do about half of independents (47%). Aside from partisanship there’s a stark divide here by education among whites, with 58% of whites with college degrees saying they think Trump is likely to be implicated vs. 43% of whites without degrees.

Looking at Michael Cohen’s recent revelation that work continued on a potential project in Russia during the 2016 campaign, 44% believe Trump acted unethically in considering projects in Russia during the campaign, 26% say it was unwise but not unethical, and 23% say there was nothing wrong with Trump’s action.

Trump’s overall approval rating for handling the presidency matches its pre-election level just about exactly, 39% approve and 52% disapprove. Trump’s favorability rating is also steady at 40% favorable to 55% unfavorable.

Research contact: @jennagiesta

In 2016, Manafort held secret talks with Wikileaks’ Assange in Ecuadorian embassy

November 28, 2018

President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had sought asylum—and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, The Guardian reported on November 27.

Manafort’s March 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, a source told the news outlet. Just two months later, in June 2016, WikiLeaks emailed Russian intelligence (the GRU) via an intermediary—seeking DNC materials. After failed attempts, Vladimir Putin’s spies sent the Democrats’ documents in mid-July to WikiLeaks as an encrypted attachment.

What’s more, this was not Manafort’s first visit to Assange. The Guardian’s “well-placed” source said that Manafort previously had visited Assanage at the embassy in 2013 and 2015.

Indeed, The Guardian reported, Manafort’s acquaintance with Assange goes back at least five years, to late 2012 or 2013, when the American was working in Ukraine and advising its Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.

However, it is the 2016 encounter that is especially likely to come under scrutiny by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Just this week, Mueller said that Manafort had “repeatedly lied to the FBI” after he promised to cooperate with the probe in mid-September. The former campaign manager now has been referred by Mueller to the court for sentencing. Whether the secret tête-à-tête in London already has been investigated Mueller’s team is unknown.

According to The Guardian’s report, Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.

His defense team says he believes what he has told Mueller to be truthful and has not violated his deal.

One key question is when the Trump campaign, itself, became aware of the Kremlin’s hacking operation—and what, if anything, it did to encourage it. President Trump repeatedly has denied collusion

One person familiar with WikiLeaks said Assange was motivated to damage the Democrats campaign because he believed a future Trump administration would be less likely to seek his extradition on possible charges of espionage. This fate had hung over Assange since 2010, when he released confidential U.S. State Department cables. It contributed to his decision to take refuge in the embassy.

According to the dossier written by the former MI6 Officer Christopher Steele, The Guardian reports, Manafort was at the center of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia’s leadership. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Steele wrote, whom Putin “hated and feared.”

Research contact: @lukeharding1968

In court filing, Mueller reveals how he may use Trump’s Twitter feed against him

November 23, 2018

In a seven-page court document filed on November 21 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia—which recommends denying the motion of defendant George Papadopoulos for continued bail—Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent a clear message that if, the targets of his investigation post messages on Twitter, those tweets will come back to haunt them, Inquisitr reported.

Mueller’s team is monitoring their Twitter feeds. That message that could spell danger for President Donald Trump, whom, experts say, is the author of many tweets that could incriminate him.

As Inquisitr reported (and the court document detailed), Papadopoulos was told in April 2016 by a Russia-linked academic about “thousands” of hacked Democratic emails containing “dirt” on opposition candidate Hillary Clinton that were in the Russian government’s possession, a fact about which he lied to FBI investigators.

Papadopolous pled guilty last year to lying to the FBI in connection with the Russia investigation, and is scheduled to start serving a 14-day sentence on November 26. The short sentence resulted from a plea deal the Papadopoulos struck with Mueller, in which he agreed to cooperate with the Russia probe.

But, the Inquisitr said, in recent weeks, Papadopoulos has taken to Twitter to claim that he was “framed.”

Mueller cited Papadopoulos’s tweets specifically in his filing, saying, “For example, on October 25, 2018, the defendant publicly tweeted that his prosecution constituted ‘the biggest case of entrapment.’”

The court document went on to detail that, several days later, the defendant publicly tweeted: “I have been sentenced to prison in our country while having exculpatory evidence hidden from me. If I knew what I knew today, I would have never plead guilty.”

On November 9, 2018, the defendant tweeted, “Biggest regret? Pleading guilty.”

In Mueller’s filing, he noted that tweets posted by Papadopoulos since he was sentenced on September 8 “appear to be inconsistent with his stated acceptance of responsibility at sentencing.

Mueller specifically cited a Twitter post in which the former Trump campaign adviser stated that pleading guilty constituted his “biggest regret.”

The use of Twitter as substantiation of guilt by the Russia investigation does not bode well for President Trump. For example, in his tweet on 8:35 a.m. on August 5, the president tried to defend the June 2016 meeting with Kremlin-connected Russians who claimed to have “dirt” on Clinton that they hoped the campaign could use.

“Fake News reporting,” the Trump tweet said, continuing, “…a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it.”

What’s more, the list of questions for Trump drawn up by Mueller’s team may have been based directly on a number of Trump’s tweets.

Perhaps most notably, the questions also suggest that Mueller has been paying close attention to Trump’s Twitter feed,” Quartz reported at that time, adding, “Trump has already tweeted about many incidents relevant to Mueller’s inquiries, which might make it that much more difficult for Trump (and his lawyers) to skirt the questions.”

Research contact: @jonvankin

 

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

Standoff on Special Counsel Act persists between Flake and McConnell

November  19, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)—who is leaving the U.S. Congress in December, but flirting with a primary run against President Trump in 2020—has everything to win and little to lose. Last week, he pushed that advantage by taking to the Senate floor with across-the-aisle colleague Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware.) in an attempt to secure immediate passage of S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

The bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in April by a bipartisan vote of 14-7, once again was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who continues to say that the legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is not necessary because the probe is not under pressure.

However, following the president’s removal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions one day after the midterm elections—and subsequent appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a White House acolyte—Flake asserted, “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it.”

And he backed that assertion with two threats: One further note on this unanimous consent request: because it has failed today, Senator Coons and I are prepared to raise it again and again, until there is a vote on this vital bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor. And I have informed the Majority Leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee, or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting a confirmation vote on the floor, until S. 2644 is brought to the full Senate for a vote.”

At a closed-door lunch on the following day, November 15, both Flake and McConnell were equally implacable. “It’s a standoff,” said a Republican senator who attended the lunch, in an interview with The Hill.

According to the political news outlet, McConnell argued at the lunch meeting that the legislation would chew up precious floor time during the lame-duck session and leave less time for must-pass bills such as the unfinished spending bills and the farm bill, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, didn’t buy that argument. Flake argued that the bill could be dealt with in a day as long as other members of the GOP conference didn’t object to it and force McConnell to waste time getting through a filibuster.

Some Republican senators floated the compromise of crafting some kind of non-binding resolution that would express support for protecting Mueller and future special counsels from unjustified dismissal. But Flake rejected that option, too, The Hill reported.

Asked Thursday if fellow GOP senators are unhappy with his hardball approach to getting a vote, Flake said, “That’s a safe assumption.”

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) held over 15 judicial nominees at a committee business meeting Thursday after Flake declared he would block them. Speaking to reporters afterward, Grassley said he didn’t think he could move any more nominees without Flake’s support, unless he can convince Democrats on the panel to vote with him.

As the impasse continued, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found that 40% of likely U.S. voters believe Mueller’s investigation should be closed. Fifty-one percent (51%) think the probe of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election should continue.

Research contact: @alexanderbolton

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

Pence remains obfuscator-in-chief, saying on CBS talker, ‘I would’ speak to Mueller

September 11, 2018

Speaking on CBS-TV’s Face the Nation political talk show on September 9, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he would sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, if asked.

“I would. I would be more than willing to continue to provide any and all support in that,” Pence said during one segment of the show. And we have outside counsel that will advise me accordingly.”

Mueller and his team are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and are probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. On Sunday, Pence told Magaret Brennan during an exclusive interview at the White House that Mueller’s team hasn’t broached the topic of an interview.

“He has not” asked for an interview, Pence said. “Although we’ve provided any and all information, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Mueller has been haggling with President Donald Trump’s legal team over an interview—in-person and/or in writing.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, said last week that the two sides remain at odds over the subject of the interrogation—specifically, whether prosecutors could ask questions about obstruction of justice—as well as the way in which it would be conducted.

Trump has confirmed that  “he’s open” to an interview—under the right conditions. What those conditions would be is unclear, as the president’s team seems to be “moving the goalposts,” depending on the ask from the Mueller probe.

And while Trump has publicly disparaged the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” meant to undermine him, Pence said Sunday the investigation isn’t a “focus” for him or the president.

“It’s just not been my focus, and it’s not the president’s focus,” Pence said, in his ongoing function as obfuscator-in-chief.

“I mean,” the vice president said, “the reason why we’re making the progress that we’re making all across this country, rebuilding our military, restoring America’s strength in the world, seeing the opportunity for peace emerge on the Korean Peninsula.”

As of June 10, President Trump’s approval rating was posted on the Gallup Poll as 40%; with disapproval up to 54%.

Research contact: cobrien@politico.com

Mueller rejects Manafort plea deal before second trial

August 29, 2018

President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort tried to make a deal with the Special Counsel ahead of his second trial in Washington, D.C., but the talks fell apart, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Manafort’s defense team reportedly held plea discussions with prosecutors last week— hoping to help their client “flip” before he was held accountable for helping Russia interfere in the 2016 elections—but the talks stalled over objections raised by Robert Mueller.

The Journal was unable to determine the nature of those objections, and representatives for Manafort and Mueller declined to comment for the report.

Manafort is facing a second set of charges in D.C. related to his work for a Russia–backed political party in Ukraine, as well as his offer of reports on the campaign to a wealthy Russian to whom he owed money. He is being accused of failing to register as a foreign agent, among other charges.

The former Trump associate was convicted by in an Alexandria, Virginia-based federal jury trial on eight felony counts in the first legal victory for Mueller’s team. The jury found Manafort guilty on five charges of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. They deadlocked on the other 10 of 18 counts, with one juror holding out.

According to Politico, Mueller’s team in recent days has shortened its estimate of the length of Manafort’s upcoming trial, which is scheduled to start on September 17. The special counsel’s prosecutors wrote it could be completed in around two, rather than three, weeks.

Research contact: @aviswanatha

Trump tied to Cohen’s guilty plea; Manafort considers next steps

August 23, 2018

“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” President Donald Trump tweeted early on August 22, following a day in which his former “fixer” surrendered to the FBI in New York City and pleaded guilty to eight violations of banking, tax, and campaign finance laws–implicating the POTUS in the process.

The feeling is mutual: For years, one of Trump’s most trusted confidantes, as well as his personal attorney, Cohen made it abundantly clear in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that he has flipped and is willing to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team about the Russia case—less than a year after he said he “would take a bullet for” the president.

His only loyalty now, he has said, remains with his wife, his children, and the American people.

Specifically, in court, he said that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump [referred to as a candidate for federal office] directed him to make payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with the president in exchange for their silence.

According to his lawyer Lanny Davis—who also represented President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal—Cohen has information that would be of “significant interest” to Mueller’s team. Davis told MSNBC that the information pertains both to “knowledge of a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI.”

Although Cohen’s recommended sentence for his crimes currently stands at five years, the implication is that—if he is of sufficient use to the Mueller team—that sentence may be reduced.

Also on August 21, Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was found guilty by a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, on eight out of 18 tax and bank fraud charges leveled against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a case meant to bring pressure against the defendant to turn on his former boss.

Manafort is due back in court in Washington, D.C., next month for a second trial centered on allegations of lying to the FBI, money laundering and foreign lobbying, according to the Washington Post. Pundits said he “had plenty to think about” on Wednesday night.

Trump has continued to call Manafort’s prosecution “sad” and to insist that his former campaign aide has been swept up in a “witch hunt” instigated by the Democratic Party.

“Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump told reporters in West Virginia. The verdict, he said, “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”

On August 22, according to Gallup, Trump’s favorability rating remained stable, at 42%.

Research contact: datainquiry@gallup.com