Posts tagged with "Special Counsel Robert Mueller"

Fears confirmed: Leaks from Mueller’s team attest that report was more damaging than Barr revealed

April 5, 2019

We suspected it all along, but now, some of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have asserted that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page letter on the conclusions of the Russia investigation failed to adequately lay out the most damaging findings of the report, The New York Times posted on April 3.

At stake in the dispute — the first evidence of tension between Barr and the Special Counsel’s Office—is who will shape the American electorate’s opinion of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history,k the Times said.

Some members of  Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.

Barr has said he will move quickly to release the nearly 400-page report, but needs time to scrub out confidential information. However, House Democrats say that nothing needs to be redacted before they review the report.

What’s more, the special counsel’s investigators have told associates that they already had prepared multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Barr should have included more of their material in his  letter of  March 24 laying out their main conclusions.

However, the special counsel’s office never asked Barr to release the summaries, a person familiar with the investigation told the news outlet. And the Justice Department quickly determined that the summaries contain sensitive information—including classified material,  grand-jury testimony, and information related to ongoing federal investigations.

Barr also was wary, the Times reported, of departing from Justice Department practice not to disclose derogatory details in closing an investigation, according to two government officials familiar with the AG’s thinking. They pointed to the much-derided decision by James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, to harshly criticize Hillary Clinton in 2016 while announcing that he was recommending no charges in the inquiry into her email practices.

Indeed, according to officials familiar with the attorney general’s thinking, he and his aides limited the details they revealed because they were worried about wading into political territory. Mr. Barr and his advisers expressed concern that if they included derogatory information about Mr. Trump while clearing him, they would face a storm of criticism the one that. Comey endured after the Clinton investigation.

Although it still is not clear what findings the special counsel’s investigators viewed as troubling for the president, Barr has suggested that Mueller may have found evidence of malfeasance in investigating possible obstruction of justice. “

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to let its chairman use a subpoena to try to compel Barr to hand over a full copy of the Mueller report and its underlying evidence to Congress. The chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), clear on Wednesday that he did not trust Barr’s characterization of what Mueller’s team had found.

Republicans, who have embraced Barr’s letter clearing Mr. Trump, have accused the Democrats of trying to prolong the cloud over his presidency and urged them to move on, the Times said.

Research contact: @nytimes

House Democrats move to stop Barr from ‘running out the clock’

April 3, 2019

House Democratic leaders are desperately trying to stop Republicans from “running out the clock.”

As it stands now, the GOP is focused on delaying the release of the full Mueller report until the American electorate can be cajoled by the president and his party’s leaders into accepting that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page analysis of the findings is a fait accompli.

On April 2, Politico reported, Democrats called for Barr to appear immediately for a hearing to explain his decision last month to release the top-line summary without unveiling the full report.

Barr’s four-page memo asserted that the special counsel did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to sway the 2016 presidential election in his 400-page report—but it also said that Mueller did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. However, Barr added that he would not charge the president with obstruction of justice. Trump has touted the letter as a complete vindication.

The chairmen of six House committees, including Judiciary’s Jerry Nadler, said in their letter sent Monday to Barr that he should testify “as soon as possible — not in a month, as you have offered, but now” to discuss his rationale.

In their letter and an accompanying nine-page memo to Barr, the Democrats also quibbled with the potential edits and modifications that could limit their ability to see the full Mueller report.

But Barr said before he releases the Mueller report, he would remove four categories of sensitive information: materials gathered during the grand jury process, which are protected by law; classified information dealing with intelligence sources and methods; information tied to ongoing investigations; and anything harmful to “reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Democrats pushed back, urging Barr to ask a federal district court judge to give DOJ permission to release materials otherwise protected under grand jury secrecy rules. And they argued that Barr has no authority to hold back information that could harm someone’s “reputational interests,” including materials related to Trump family members who work in the White House.

The Democrats also called on Barr to make a “detailed log of each redaction and the reasons supporting it” in case there are fights later with lawmakers.

Separately, Politico noted, the letter previewed another major moment ahead, calling on Barr “to refrain from interfering with Special Counsel Mueller testifying before the Judiciary Committee — and before any other relevant committees —after the report has been released regarding his investigation and findings.” No date has been scheduled for a Mueller hearing in the House, although Democrats have long signaled plans to call the special counsel in for testimony if they don’t get a complete look at his findings.

Originally, Nadler had set an April 2 deadline for Barr to hand over Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence. His Democratic-led panel plans on Wednesday to vote on authorizing the use of a subpoena to compel its release “in unredacted form.”

Research contact: @politico

House Democrats say they will subpoena the full, unredacted Mueller report

April 2, 2019

House Democrats say they intend to vote this week to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s complete, 300-page report, as well as underlying evidence, and other materials—rejecting as insufficient Attorney General William Barr’s promise to provide a redacted version of the report “by mid-April,”  Mother Jones reported on April 1.

According to a story by posted in late March by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard-of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.

The president is expected to invoke executive privilege on parts of the report. Barr also has said that the report will be scrubbed to exclude grand jury testimony; information that could compromise intelligence “sources and methods”; material that could affect ongoing Justice Department investigations; and information that might “infringe on the personal privacy” or reputation of “peripheral third parties,” Mother Jones noted.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York.) announced on Monday that the panel will meet Wednesday morning to consider a resolution that would authorize the subpoenas. Democrats say they need to review the entire report as part of their own investigation into Trump’s Russian ties and alleged obstruction of justice.

Nadler and other Democrats set an April 2 deadline for Barr to turn over the whole report—without redactions—and to start handing over underlying evidence. It is extremely doubtful that they would meet that target date,

According to Mother Jones, Nadler, who has not said when he may issue subpoenas the committee okays on Wednesday, also said he will also seek authorization to subpoena documents from a number of ex-White House aides: former senior adviser Steven Bannon; former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks; former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; former White House Counsel Don McGahn; and Ann Donaldson, McGahn’s former deputy. Nadler said those people “may have received documents from the White House relevant to the Special Counsel investigation, or their outside counsel may have, waiving applicable privileges under the law.” 

Research contact: dfriedman@motherjones.com

‘There’s nothing routine about this’: Barr moves to send Mueller’s report to Trump

March 29, 2019

More than three in four Americans (77%), including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report should be released to the public, based on findings of a survey conducted by CBS News and released on March 28.

However, after summarizing the 300-plus-page report in fewer than 1,000 words and coming to his own conclusion on obstruction of justice charges, Attorney General William Barr now has said he intends to hand the document over to the president—instead of to Congress and the American public.

Indeed, according to a story by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.

Typically, the news outlet notes, when the government obtains information that can be protected under presidential privilege claims, it sets up a separate filter team to separate out that information before prosecutors see it. Justice Department veterans said they were surprised Barr chose to forego that option and send the report directly to the White House.

Over a dozen current and former White House officials have given testimony and turned over documents to Mueller, and legal scholars say President Donald Trump’s team could theoretically assert executive privilege over all that information.

The dilemma could put Barr in a difficult position, one former federal prosecutor pointed out to the news outlet: “Say Barr sends this report to the White House and tells them to pull out anything they think is privileged. What if the White House sent back one-third of the report and redacted the rest? What does Barr do with that? Does he just accept it and only release the parts that weren’t redacted, or if he feels like the White House is wrong or abusing their power, does he challenge them?”

“There’s nothing routine about this,” Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department when Barr was acting attorney general in the 1990s, told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to look for a precedent to what Barr’s planning on doing here, because there’s never been a report issued under the special counsel statute Mueller’s operating under.”

“I’m not sure why Barr felt this was the appropriate way to go about handling potentially privileged information,” Cotter said, adding, “You shouldn’t be able to use it in a way that gives you an unfair advantage,” Cotter said.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Whodunnit? House Judiciary Committee intends to find out

March 5, 2019

It reads like a whodunnit. On March 4, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced that he and his colleagues would investigate alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Donald Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration—among them, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, David Pecker of American Media, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, Trump son-in-law and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Trump buddy Roger Stone; and the president’s sons, Eric and Donald, Jr.

As a first step, the committee has served document requests to 81 agencies, entities, and individuals believed to have information relevant to the investigation (see full list). 

“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” said Nadler.

“Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee,” he noted. “We have seen the damage done to our democratic institutions in the two years that the Congress refused to conduct responsible oversight.

“Congress must provide a check on abuses of power,” said the committee chairman. “Equally, we must protect and respect the work of Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller, but we cannot rely on others to do the investigative work for us.  Our work is even more urgent after senior Justice Department officials have suggested that they may conceal the work of the Special Counsel’s investigation from the public.

Nadler explained,“We have sent these document requests in order to begin building the public record.  The Special Counsel’s office and the Southern District of New York are aware that we are taking these steps.  We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence, and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people.  This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts.  That is exactly what we intend to do.”

The Committee’s investigation will cover three main areas:

  • Obstruction of Justice, including the possibility of interference by the president and others in a number of criminal investigations and other official proceedings, as well as the alleged cover-up of violations of the law;
  • Public Corruption, including potential violations of the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution, conspiracy to violate federal campaign and financial reporting laws, and other criminal misuses of official positions for personal gain; and
  • Abuses of Power, including attacks on the press, the judiciary, and law enforcement agencies; misuse of the pardon power and other presidential authorities; and attempts to misuse the power of the Office of the Presidency.

For the two years that the Trump administration has been in power, “in the absence of responsible oversight by the Republican Majority,” the House Judiciary Committee Democrats say that they have written—but received no response to—over 100 letters to the White House, the Administration, and House Republican Leadership documenting the failings of the Trump Administration and demanding accountability. With this investigation, they intend to finally get their questions answered.

Research contact: @RepJerryNadler

House chairs to AG Barr: Trump is ‘not above the law’ and Mueller report should be public

February 24, 2019

On February 22, the chairs of six House committees wrote to newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General William Barr to inform him of their expectation that he will make Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report public “without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.” The letter follows news reports that suggest the Special Counsel investigation is nearing an end.

The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Committee on Financial Services Chairperson Maxine Waters, Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, and Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel.

“As you know,” they said, “Department of Justice regulations require that, ‘[a]t the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.’”

The American people, they said, have a right to see the findings—noting, “After nearly two years of investigation—accompanied by two years of direct attacks on the integrity of the investigation by the President—the public is entitled to know what the Special Counsel has found.  We write to you to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you—without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

In addition, they said, there is “significant public interest” in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel about the nature and scope of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine our democracy.

Therefore, “…[if] the Department believes that certain aspects of the report are not suitable for immediate public release, we ask that you provide that information to Congress, along with your reasoning for withholding the information from the public, in order for us to judge the appropriateness of any redactions for ourselves.”

Specifically addressing comments by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concerning the agency’s reluctance to release materials on individuals who are not under indictment, the committee chairpersons wrote, “Finally, although we recognize the policy of the Department to remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of individuals who will not face criminal charges, we feel that it is necessary to address the particular danger of withholding evidence of misconduct by President Trump from the relevant committees.”

They concluded with a strong demand—stating that, “If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the President must be subject to accountability either in a court or to the Congress.

“But because the Department has taken the position that a sitting President is immune from indictment and prosecution,” the chairpersons said, “Congress could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct.  To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up.  The President is not above the law.”

Research contact: @HouseIntel

FBI carries out predawn raid, arresting Roger Stone and searching his home

January 28, 2019

In a predawn video by CNN, armed FBI agents and local police were shown arriving at the home of longtime Trump adviser and associate Roger Stone to arrest him—in a marked departure from how Special Counsel Robert Mueller is known to have handled other players tied to the Russia probe.

According to CNN reporters stationed outside of Stone’s residence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the authorities announced their presence while knocking on the door. The FBI agents also reportedly said they had a warrant to search the home.

President Donald Trump commented on Twitter, “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?”

And White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN, “This has nothing to do with the president and certainly has nothing to do with the White House. This is something that has to do solely with that individual.”

Meanwhile, CNN clapped back, tweeting, “CNN’s ability to capture the arrest of Roger Stone was the result of determined reporting and interpreting clues revealed in the course of events. That’s called journalism.”

Based on the same report, former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram commented,”There’s a reason” why the FBI arrested former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone “at the crack of dawn with agents fully armed,” even if the reason for that is unknown as of now. 

“This is a standard procedure to arrest someone when you don’t have a belief that they’ve come in voluntarily,” Milgram told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday morning. “… they clearly wanted the element of surprise.” 

A copy of the indictment by the Grand Jury for the District of Columbia was posted on The Hill. Stone is facing seven charges, including five counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, and one count of witness tampering.

“It’s clear that the Trump campaign was acting in a coordinated fashion to try to undermine this election and to try to get this information into public circulation,” Representative Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

“It’s pretty stunning to read these indictments … and compare them to the constant pronouncements the president has made. Clearly he has a distant relationship with the truth, but in this case he’s getting his wall: Unfortunately, it’s the wall that’s being built around him,” Kildee added.

Stone is the sixth associate of President Trump to be charged in connection with Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

A federal magistrate ruled that Stone could be released on a $250,000 signature bond. CNN reported that Stone told the judge that he does not have a current passport.

In a statement following the indictment, Stone said that would not plead guilty to the charges and believes that they are politically motivated. He also reinforced that he would not testify against the president.

Research contact: @davidgshortell

Beyond the point of no returns: Get Trump’s tax forms, progressive group tells House Dems

January 7, 2019

Americans for Tax Fairness—a coalition of more than 325 national, state, and local organizations that support progressive tax reform—reminded Democratic Congressional leaders this week about the “urgency of obtaining and publicly releasing President [Donald] Trump’s tax returns,” reminding them that “he broke decades of precedent and his own repeated promises by not making them public.

The group argued that Trump’s returns could shed light on “the complex financial structures and tax loopholes used by the wealthy.” They also believe the returns to be “the best source of answers to vital questions about Donald Trump’s presidency—including whether there are any conflicts of interest and/or foreign influences that could be adversely affecting his exercise of official duties.”

In fact, in a new 21-page white paper obtained by NBC News, the group—which the network describes as “a left-leaning organization backed by organized labor”— said that securing Trump’s tax returns “is an important public policy objective and a legitimate exercise of Congress’s oversight authority.”

As NBC News reported last month, Democrats plan to use a 1924 law26 U.S. Code § 6103—to compel Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to turn over Trump’s tax records to Representative Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), the newly designated chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The law appears to allow the committee to vote to make the returns public. Democrats say they expect that Mnuchin will not hand over the returns without a court fight, however.

Trump is the only major party nominee in the past four decades—other than President Gerald Ford— not to release his tax returns—and Ford released summaries of his returns. Trump has said he won’t release them because he is under audit.

House Democrats are pushing legislation that would require presidential candidates to release a decade of tax returns, aides told NBC News, but that bill’s chances of becoming law are uncertain.

The returns also are likely to provide information relevant to whether Trump’s public actions enhanced his private wealth, particularly in relation to his luxury Trump International hotel a few blocks from the White House, the report obtained by NBC News noted.

“The president has shown inexplicable deference to the leaders of foreign powers in conflict with the United States, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility that his business connections in those countries are influencing his conduct of American foreign policy and threatening national security,” the report says. “His tax returns and those of his business entities could provide evidence of foreign business connections that jeopardize his independence.”

“Obtaining the president’s tax returns is not some fishing expedition,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “The public has a right to know if the policies the president advocates are what he believes are in the best interest of the country or in the best interest of his personal finances.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by NBC News.

Legal experts tell NBC News that Special Counsel Robert Mueller almost certainly already has obtained President Trump’s tax returns and other private business information as part of his investigation into whether Trump or his campaign coordinated with the 2016 Russian election interference operation.

But Mueller would not be able to make that information public unless it was relevant to a criminal case.

Research contact: @KenDilanianNBCAmericans

Flynn sentencing delayed following combative hearing

December 19, 2018

The former (and fleetingly ensconced) national security adviser for the Trump administration, Michael Flynn, is not off the hook yet.

Flynn—who admitted lying to the FBI in January 2017 about a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which he promised to relax U.S. sanctions; and who served as a foreign agent for Turkey concurrently with his day job at the White House—was scheduled to be sentenced on December 18 by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

However, the sentencing for crimes investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was postponed, Politico reported, after Judge Sullivan suggested that all sides wait until Flynn had finished cooperating with the Russia probe.

The surprise outcome came after an uncommonly combative hearing, during which Sullivan repeatedly admonished Flynn, telling him, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

The court had been expected to go easy on Flynn, after sentencing guidelines by the Mueller team noted that his “history and characteristics,” along with his contributions to the investigation, presented “mitigating” circumstances. “The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” the document said.

“All along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States,” Sullivan said at Tuesday’s hearing. “Arguably, that undermines everything that flag over here stands for.”

According to Politico, after about an hour of back and forth with Flynn and his lawyers, as well as Mueller’s team, Sullivan called an abrupt recess to give Flynn and his lawyers more time to reconsider whether they wanted to proceed with the sentencing, indicating he was not always comfortable sentencing those who are still cooperating with authorities.

Sullivan also noted that he was not obliged to follow Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn get little or no prison time for pleading guilty.

“This is a very serious offense,” said Sullivan, who noted Flynn’s crime involved a high-ranking official of the government making false statements to the FBI “while on the physical premise of the White House.”

After the recess, the news outlet said, Flynn attorney Robert Kelner said they would accept Sullivan’s offer to postpone sentencing so they can “eek” out every drop of cooperation benefit. “We do not take it as a wink-wink, nod-nod,” Kelner said.

“I’m not promising anything,” Sullivan replied.

For his part, Politico said, Flynn initially had said he didn’t want to take Sullivan up on his offer to postpone his sentencing hearing. “I appreciate that, but no your honor,” the former Trump official said.

After running through some housekeeping issues related to the Flynn case, including setting the March 13 date for the next status conference, Sullivan adjourned the hearing with a “happy holidays.”

Research contact: @dsamuelsohn

Trump: Contacts with Russia are just ‘peanut stuff’

December 18, 2018

The president admits that he sees “the elephant in the room”—that is, his campaign associates’ frequent contacts with Russian oligarchs, lawyers, and government officials. However, Donald Trump told Reuters last week during an interview, it was all just “peanut stuff,” despite his earlier blanket denials of any such interactions.

Indeed, during a February 2017 news conference covered by Breitbart, President Trump said, “Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia …. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”

Now—more than two years after the 2016 election and about 18 months into the Mueller investigation—court filings, public statements, and news reports indicate that at least 16 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign or transition.

It has been thoroughly demonstrated that the president and his associates reached out to Russia in many ways:  via face-to-face meetings; direct phone calls, text messages, emails, and video chats; and through a host of intermediaries.

However, as CNN reports, all of those who made the contacts—from former White House officials, to his personal lawyer, to his own son and daughter—uniformly deny participating in any “collusion” with the Russians.

The Reuters interview came a day ahead of the sentencing hearing in New York’s Southern District Court for Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen—who was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in hush-money cover-ups during the campaign, as well as for other felonies. What’s more, Cohen’s testimony to Robert Mueller about the president’s involvement with Russia represents a ticking time bomb that could explode within weeks, doing damage to everyone in Trump’s inner circle.

Trump, during the Reuters interview, criticized Cohen for cooperating with prosecutors and called for his former personal lawyer to receive a long sentence.

Research contact: @maeganvaz