More on Trump and the Russia probe

It has been revealed that just after Donald trump fired FBI chief James Comey the the FBI investigated whether Trump was secretly working for Russia. Trump has slammed the report (in the New York Times) but didn’t answer a question on whether he had worked for Russia in a friendly Fox interview.

New York Times:  F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017.

Trump does what he often does when something awkward comes up – attacked the source and ex-FBI leaders.

“Funny thing about James Comey. Everybody wanted him fired, Republican and Democrat alike. After the rigged & botched Crooked Hillary investigation, where she was interviewed on July 4th Weekend, not recorded or sworn in, and where she said she didn’t know anything (a lie), my firing of James Comey was a great day for America. He was a Crooked Cop.”

White House response (Sarah Sanders):

“This is absurd. James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.

“Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push American around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”

Fox News: Republican uncovered secret FBI debate over Trump motivation for Comey firing during House questioning

A House Republican’s line of questioning uncovered revelations that in May 2017 senior FBI leadership debated whether President Trump was directed by the Russian government to fire FBI Director James Comey, Fox News has learned.

Contacted by Fox, U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, confirmed his questions to former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker uncovered the claims, some of which were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Ratcliffe called the Baker transcript leak “selective,” adding that the full transcript of the Oct. 18 interview, which is undergoing a classification review by the FBI and the Justice Department, reveals “that in May 2017, political bias infected senior FBI leadership, and emotion — not evidence — drove their decision making.”

A separate source said Baker told investigators the internal FBI debate over the president’s decision to fire Comey on May 9, 2017, included personnel who have since left the bureau for cause, retired, or have been demoted.

Ratcliffe said he was surprised to read Friday’s New York Times report, which quoted part of his Baker interview, and reported that after the Comey firing “law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior” that they began investigating whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia.

The House Republican would not further describe the contents of the Baker transcript but said it was clear, based on his direct questioning of Baker, that in May 2017 “FBI senior leadership could not accept Comey was fired for cause and the president had the constitutional authority to terminate Comey.”

Ratcliffe said he was aware of the Baker revelations in October, and House Republicans had been working through proper channels to make the entire transcript public.

In a phone interview with a friend at Fox News (Jeanine Piro) Trump avoided answering a question about Russia:

The president was also asked to respond to a recent New York Times report that alleged that the FBI had investigated him for working on behalf of Russia.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I have ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written and if you read the article you see that they found absolutely nothing.”

“If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other … probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents.”

I don’t think ‘the folks in Russia’ are the people to ask about that.

Trump also addressed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election, saying “it’s all nonsense.”

“Here’s the bottom line. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. … It’s a witch hunt.”

That is still uncertain. The Robert Mueller investigation into Russian collusion has not yet revealed anything major against Trump. Time will tell whether it has found information that will be damaging for Trump or his family. In the meantime, the saga and slagging match will continue.

Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen is set to testify in congress next month, before he heads to prison in March to start a three year sentence. This could be awkward for Trump. However Cohen may be limited in what he can say.

Fox News:  Michael Cohen, seeking vindication, can’t use most ammunition against Trump

While President Trump’s former personal lawyer turning on him before a House committee will be a television spectacle, Cohen’s allies say he will testify under great constraints.

Cohen may have important new information that he has disclosed to Robert Mueller in 70 hours of interviews with prosecutors, but if so, he won’t be able to reveal it.

The major limitation, as Cohen has said, is that he can’t discuss anything still under investigation by the special counsel. That means Cohen, who is still hoping for a reduction in his sentence, can’t answer questions about Russian collusion or the proposed real estate project in Moscow. It also means he can’t address the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer (who was recently indicted on money-laundering charges).

The New York lawyer wants to explain why he went to work for Trump, why he is ashamed of having worked for Trump, and how he made the decision last July to turn on his longtime benefactor, who has called him a “weak person” and a “rat.”

Part of that explanation will focus on Cohen’s view that while certain behavior might be tolerable in a private businessman, the standards are very different when that person becomes president.

Cohen will offer personal anecdotes about his service to Trump and what he has termed his complicity in “dirty deeds,” the sources say. These would likely be unflattering blasts from the past but could have little to do with his record as president.

Trump has survived many unflattering blasts from the past before.

Everyone will have to wait until the Mueller investigation reveals what it has found out about what dealings Trump or his family or associates may have had with Russia in the 2016 election campaign.