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.

 

 

Inquiries of concern to Trump

More has been revealed about what investigators have found out from the Muller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The more concern Donald Trump shows the more one could wonder why he is so concerned.

Both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have been accused of lying too investigators. Trump claims they have been ‘pressured into lying’ by investigators. But why would they lie?

Bloomberg: Manafort Lied About Contacts With Trump Administration, Mueller Says

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about his efforts to reach someone in the Trump administration this year while he awaited trial and about his contacts with a business associate who had ties to Russian intelligence, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort misled prosecutors in recent debriefings about his communications and a meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, the associate with ties to Russian intelligence, according to a filing Friday in federal court in Washington by Mueller, who is investigating Russia interference in the 2016 campaign.

He also lied to investigators when he told them that he never tried to communicate a message to anyone in the Trump administration this year, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said that they met 12 times with Manafort and that he testified twice to a grand jury, on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Mueller concluded that Manafort had “lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions,” his prosecutors wrote in the 10-page filing, adding that “these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”

Reuters: Cohen Gave Significant Help on Russia Probe, Mueller Team Says

RealClear Politics: Prosecutors Recommend Several Years in Prison for Michael Cohen

Prosecutors offered a vastly different assessment Friday of the president’s former fixer, dismissing him as a duplicitous figure who badly misplayed his hand.

In a court filing ahead of Cohen’s sentencing next week, they assailed him as a greedy opportunist who rode Trump’s coattails to wealth and is now exaggerating his level of cooperation with investigators.

Cohen, 52, is facing the possibility of roughly four years in prison at a sentencing Dec. 12 for crimes that include tax evasion and helping to coordinate hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

In a separate court filing, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office had a more kind view of Cohen’s cooperation, saying he had provided useful information about attempts by Russian intermediaries to influence Trump, as well as other matters.

New York prosecutors said that while Cohen was helpful, he had declined to sign a formal cooperation agreement, which would have required him to confess any other crimes he might have committed. Cohen, they wrote, wasn’t willing to do so. They suggested only a slight reduction in his sentence for his cooperation.

For the first time prosecutors have directly linked trump to arrangements to pay hush money to two women during the campaign.

Reuters:  Prosecutors Name Trump in Hush Payments to Two Women

U.S. prosecutors said on Friday President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to make illegal hush payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, and also detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help the Trump campaign.

The documents turned up the heat on Trump by confirming prosecutors’ belief of his involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016, legal experts said.

“In total, the prosecutors seem to be saying the president was more aware than he has claimed to be,” former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said.

While Cohen implicated the president in the hush payments to two women — adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in his guilty plea in August in New York, the filing on Friday marked the first time federal prosecutors officially concurred.

It said Cohen made the payments in “coordination with and the direction of” Trump.

Last week, Cohen admitted to lying to congressional investigators in an attempt to minimize his efforts to secure the Kremlin’s help for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow. He has said he did so to stay in sync with Trump’s political messaging, and that he consulted with the White House while preparing to testify to Congress.

Mueller said on Friday that Cohen repeated his false statements about the project in his first meeting with Mueller’s office, admitting the truth only in a later meeting in September after he had pleaded guilty to the separate New York charges.

On Friday, Mueller said Cohen’s false statements to Congress had “obscured the fact” that the skyscraper project held the potential to reap “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for the Trump Organization.

The future for both Manafort and Cohen looks a bit bleak. Prison is a big price to pay for trying to protect themselves and Trump.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also claimed that Russia interfered in the election: Rex Tillerson makes rare public appearance in Houston

When asked if he believes that Russia interfered in the presidential elections, Tillerson replied “there’s no question” and that it was well documented by intelligence agencies.

“What Russia wants to do is undermine our confidence and undermine the world’s confidence in us,” Tillerson said.

The relationship between him and Trump became strained after the president grew tired of the former Exxon Mobil CEO telling him that he could not do things the way he wanted.

Tillerson said the two had starkly different styles and did not share a common value system.

“So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law,” Tillerson said.

Trump would get very frustrated when they would have those conversations, he said.

Trump responded in typical fashion:

In the meantime Trump has attacked court decisions he doesn’t like again: Trump condemns ‘disgraceful’ 9th Circuit, dubbing it rubber-stamp for his foes

In lengthy and fiery comments to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday, President Trump excoriated the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as a “disgrace” hours after a federal judge there issued a nationwide injunction against his newly announced emergency restrictions on asylum claims.

One could question Trump’s mental capacity to be President, and whether his attacks on anyone who says something he doesn’t like and his attacks on court decisions he doesn’t like are a disgrace.

Trump successfully worked with a dysfunctional democratic system to become president, but it seems that a democracy with legal checks and balances on power are not something he wants to work with.

Trump does have the power to pardon Manafort (and Cohen but that seems unlikely after Cohen implicated Trump in shady dealings), but if he does that would be just about as bad a look as if Trump tried to interfere with or stop the Mueller investigations.

Manafort pleads guilty, to cooperate with Mueller investigation

Signalled yesterday, confirmed today (Friday US time) – Paul Manafort, who was soon to face further charges, has entered a guilty plea after a deal of “full cooperation” with  prosecutors investigating whether any Trump associates played a role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Manafort already faces a possible lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty on eight counts of federal tax and banking crimes last month.

Fox News:  Paul Manafort pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in deal with Mueller team

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty in federal court Friday as part of a plea agreement that involves cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and allows him to avoid a second trial.

“I plead guilty,” Manafort, 69, told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman in Washington.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge that Manafort’s deal includes a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, who are investigating whether any Trump associates played a role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That could include interviews with prosecutors and testifying in court.

A defense attorney for Manafort told Fox News the deal includes “full cooperation.”

Manafort, in a trial set to begin Sept. 24, had been facing seven counts of foreign lobbying violations and witness tampering in federal court in Washington.

Manafort faces up to 10 years on these charges in Washington.

Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters after the court hearing it was a “tough day” for his client, “who has accepted responsibility.” He said Manafort “wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.”

The case was brought by Mueller’s team, which is probing potential crimes related to the 2016 election. But Manafort has not been charged with anything related to the campaign.

There were the predictable denials and distancing from Trump spokespeople:

“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement to Fox News. “The reason: the president did nothing wrong.”

Bloomberg: Mueller Wins Manafort’s Cooperation in Plea Deal

The White House, which has repeatedly played down Manafort’s role on the campaign, responded to news of his guilt. “This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated,” said Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary.

Perhaps this is because Trump is innocent of any electoral crime. Perhaps thou doth protest too much.

Manafort certainly worked with at least one foreign government (before he worked for Trump).

After a year of withering financial pressure and a jury conviction in another case, Manafort admitted Friday that he laundered more than $30 million earned over a decade while working as a consultant for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, cheated the U.S. government of $15 million in taxes and tampered with a witness.

As part of his plea, Manafort admitted that he conspired to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not telling the Justice Department about a multimillion-dollar campaign to improve the image of Yanukovych and his Party of Regions in Europe and the U.S. Prominent U.S. firms like the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs LLC were hired to help him, along with several European former elected officials.

Manafort organized the European politicians, known as the Hapsburg Group, to lobby U.S. senators in a campaign to defeat a resolution that criticized Yanukovych’s treatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was convicted and imprisoned. Manafort never told the senators that the lobbyists or Hapsburg Group members were paid by Ukraine.

In May 2013, one Hapsburg Group member met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. They also met with senior U.S. officials in the executive and legislative branches, according to the filing.

One of the potential witnesses against Manafort was Sam Patten, who pleaded guilty on Aug. 31 to failing to register as a Ukrainian agent. He also helped a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch gain access to Trump’s inauguration.

Manafort’s legal team had repeatedly challenged Mueller’s authority to investigate business activities related to Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign. Prosecutors said they had to examine whether Russia-backed politicians and oligarchs served as a back channel to members of the Trump campaign.

The investigation looked at such interactions “before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications,” prosecutors wrote. “And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting activities.”

Prosecutors will ask Manafort about his months running Trump’s campaign. In June 2016, he attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Kremlin-backed attendees promised to offer damaging information about Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the meeting.

Manafort faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. Perhaps he still will, but hoovering over this is the possibility that Trump will pardon him.

As part of his guilty plea, Manafort agreed to brief prosecutors, produce documents and testify if warranted. Asked by the judge whether he understood that his deal with the government required him to cooperate “fully and truthfully,” Manafort replied, “I do.”

Trump may (or may not) be innocent of anything, but some of his family at least may be feeling a tad more nervous now that Manafort has agreed to full cooperation with the Mueller investigation.

More US views (from RealClear Politics):

US democratic dysfunction continues

Facebook says it has identified further attempts to use social media to interfere with US elections, while Robert Mueller has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York – as this involves people associated with Democrats as well as Republicans President Trump should at least be partially supportive of legally confronting the swamp.

NY Times: Facebook Identifies an Active Political Influence Campaign Using Fake Accounts

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.

The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The dream of the Internet enabling a revolution in ordinary people involvement in democracy has become an electoral nightmare in the US.

And we are not immune from it in New Zealand, but the greatest risk here is probably self inflicted wounds by ‘social justice warriors’ and political activists trying to impose their views and policies on everyone else, and trying to shut down speech they don’t like or they disagree with.

Also in the US, illicit foreign lobbying is in the spotlight with the trial of Paul Manafort under way – Manafort on trial: A scorched-earth prosecutor and not a mention of Trump

The nation’s inaugural look at special counsel Mueller’s team in action started with a bang. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, brought onto the special counsel’s staff from the Alexandria federal prosecutor’s office for this case, faced the jury and declared: “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him.”

With more than a dozen of his colleagues from the federal investigation alongside and behind him, Asonye recovered quickly, keeping jurors riveted through a 26-minute opening statement that portrayed Manafort as someone who lied about his taxes, his income, his business, and a litany of other topics.

Only once, toward the end of the first day, did anyone mention the words “special counsel.” Zehnle said it, casually, in passing, with no reference to Trump or Russia or any of the political firestorm that has dominated the news for all of this presidency.

Yet the reason the courtroom was packed, the reason an overflow courtroom three stories below was also full, the reason the lawn in front of the building was given over to TV crews in their ritual encampment awaiting news, the reason for all of this was the cases yet to come, the deeper layers of the onion.

And three more lobbyists are also under investigation – Mueller Passes 3 Cases Focused on Illicit Foreign Lobbying to Prosecutors

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York who are already handling the case against President Trump’s former lawyer, according to multiple people familiar with the cases.

The cases cut across party lines, focusing on both powerful Democratic and Republican players in Washington, including one whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted — the Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta. The cases are unlikely to provoke an outburst from Mr. Trump similar to the one he unleashed in April after prosecutors raided the home and office of Michael D. Cohen, then the president’s lawyer. But these cases do represent a challenge to Washington’s elite, many of whom have earned rich paydays lobbying for foreign interests.

They also tie into the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump: All three cases are linked to Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, whose trial on financial fraud charges began Tuesday in Alexandria, Va.

Under American law, anyone who lobbies or conducts public relations on behalf of a foreign interest in the United States must register with the Justice Department. The law carries stiff penalties, including up to five years in prison. But it had rarely been enforced, and thus widely ignored, until recently.

Trump should be happy that the political swamp of Washington is at least under scrutiny, albeit a long way from being drained.

Image result for monster swamp washington

The jury is still out on whether Trump is going to monster the swamp, or if he is a monster of the swamp.

But it is obvious that dysfunction in US democracy is a long way from being rectified, if that is at all possible.

 

FBI raid of Trump’s personal lawyer’s office

A high development in the US with the FBI raiding the home and office of Michael Cohen, a lawyer closely associated with Donald Trump. This doesn’t mean Trump has been found to have done anything wrong, but it looks a more serious situation for Cohen.

Reuters: FBI raids offices, home of Trump’s personal lawyer

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday raided the offices and home of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, law enforcement sources said, in a dramatic new development in a series of probes involving close Trump associates.

Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan, said that U.S. prosecutors conducted a search that was partly a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

Mueller is investigating whether members of Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia during the U.S. presidential election. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion.

The raid could increase legal pressure on the president, because it involves the records of his longtime attorney and indicates a second center of investigations in Manhattan, alongside Mueller’s Washington-based probe.

Cohen has been at the center of a controversy over a $130,000 payment he has admitted making shortly before the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has said that she had sex once with Trump in 2006 and was paid to keep quiet about it.

Trump reacted with unusually harsh language to news of the raid.

“It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said.

Former federal prosecutor @renato_mariotti tweeted:

This is the most important paragraph of today’s article about the search warrant of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office.

Every search warrant has a list of “items to be seized,” and a warrant for a lawyer’s office has to be carefully written. Communications between Trump and Cohen were within the narrow categories of documents listed in the “items to be seized.”

That suggests that the communications between Trump and Cohen related in some way to the federal crime for which Cohen is under investigation. A “taint team” will review these communications to determine which are privileged.

That means that Cohen is under investigation and that there is substantial evidence that evidence of a crime was at his office. It also means that federal prosecutors believed that they could not obtain the same records via subpoena. That’s unusual and interesting.

The United States Attorneys’ Manual (DOJ’s guidelines for federal prosecutors) disfavors search warrants of attorneys’ offices. Section 9-13.420 states that “prosecutors are expected to take the least intrusive approach” and should consider subpoenas instead of a warrant.

Section 13.420 requires authorization by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, consultation with the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, a search warrant that is as narrow and specific as possible, and procedures to safeguard privileged materials.

The reason that searches of attorney offices are disfavored is because they can be abused by prosecutors who want to intimidate defense counsel or obtain privileged information. That is why all of those safeguards exist, and the fact that they were overcome tells us something.

The fact that federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant tells us that they believed that they would not obtain the same records if they used a subpoena. That’s not only what 9-13.420 requires, but it’s also common sense–the prosecutors had an incentive to use a subpoena.

Cohen is an attorney who has his own lawyer. If the prosecutors used a subpoena, Cohen’s attorney would be obligated to go through all the documents and materials himself and produce only what’s relevant to the prosecutors. He would be responsible for organizing them as well.

Instead, prosecutors and FBI agents decided to take upon themselves the hefty task of seizing these documents, setting up complicated procedures to weed out privileged materials, and organize and digitize the documents. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t have to.

This suggests that they have some information about Cohen that suggests that he would destroy evidence, hide evidence, or otherwise deceive the prosecution team. So what does this mean for Trump? It’s an issue for him for at least two reasons.

First, his relationship with Cohen appears to go beyond a typical lawyer-client relationship, by Cohen’s own description. Communications between Cohen and Trump would be reviewed by a “taint team” that is separate and walled off from the investigators.

If the taint team found communications between Trump and Cohen that were not privileged, those communications could be used in the investigation. An example would be communications that are completely unrelated to legal advice, or communications furthering an ongoing crime.

Second, Trump should be concerned because Cohen appears to have significant potential criminal liability. He could potentially cooperate against Trump, although he appears unlikely to do so. Trump could pardon Cohen for any federal offense, but he cannot pardon state crimes.

Most importantly, because the search warrant was required to be “drawn as specifically as possible,” the fact that the FBI seized Trump’s communications with Cohen suggests that the FBI believed that those communications may provide evidence in their criminal investigation.

That should worry Trump. It doesn’t necessarily mean that investigators believe Trump committed a crime, but it suggests that they believe that his communications would have potentially contained useful evidence. He was, at least, in close proximity of a crime.

One question that is raised by this news that we cannot answer is why Mueller chose to refer this case to Manhattan prosecutors instead of handling it himself. Perhaps we will learn more in the days to come that could shed light on his decision.

 

Gates to plead guilty

ABC News: Former Trump aide tells loved ones of plans to plead guilty, cooperate with special counsel

President Donald Trump’s one-time campaign aide Richard Gates has told family and close friends in a letter sent this morning he plans to plead guilty Friday in the special counsel’s criminal case against him, setting up the potential for Gates to become the latest well-informed Trump insider to assist in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential contest, according to sources close to the matter.

In the letter obtained by ABC News, Gates writes to family and friends “despite my initial desire to vigorously defend myself, I have had a change of heart,” Gates explained. “The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process.”

Gates is scheduled to appear before a federal judge Friday to face reduced charges of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal agents, according to a new court filing.

One could assume that the strength of the case against him had a part to play in his decision. It seems unlikely Gates would plead guilty if he was not guilty.

The potential for a guilty plea could dramatically change the dynamics in the investigation, just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller added a raft of new financial and tax charges to the criminal case against Gates and his longtime colleague, Paul Manafort.

It depends on what Gates tells the investigators beyond the charges he faces, in  particular if he provides information about contacts between the trump campaign and Russians intent in interfering in US elections.

13 Russian nationals indicted for interfering in US elections

The FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 has made a major move.

From Fox News: 13 Russian nationals indicted for interfering in US elections

A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of interfering in U.S. elections, a spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office said.

According to the special counsel, the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is scheduled to hold a press conference Friday afternoon.

Reuters via Twitter:

U.S. says defendants’ operations included supporting ‘Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton,’ staging political rallies, buying political advertising while posing as grassroots U.S. groups

Defendants, in communicating with U.S.-based group, were advised to ‘focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida’ – indictment.

During 2016 presidential campaign, Russian defendants spread derogatory information about Clinton, Rubio, Cruz and supported Sanders and Trump – court document

U.S. says Russian defendants paid one American to build a cage and a second American to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform

Reuters: U.S. grand jury indicts 13 Russian nationals, three entities in alleged election meddling

In a court document, the U.S. government said Russian entities began interfering in U.S. political processes, including the 2016 presidential election, as early as 2014.

Some of the defendants, posing as U.S. persons, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the indictment said.

Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. deputy attorney general, will make a law enforcement announcement at 1:15 p.m. (1815 GMT), the Justice Department said on Friday.

Rosenstein:

“The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system.”

“The stated goal: of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The defendants allegedly conducted, what they called, information warfare against the United State.

They operated through a company that employed hundreds of employees, including recruitment of Americans. The campaigning staged rallies both before and after the 2016 election.

“They used stolen or fictitious American identities… The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans.”

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American knowingly participated”. “The Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.” The campaign went to great lengths to disguise who was behind it.

The special Counsel’s investigation is ongoing.

There is no indication in the indictment on any affect on the outcome of the 2016 election.

Fizzling ‘fake news’ excuse from Sideshow Don

Politicians have tried to discredit media when they report unfavourable news for a long time. All Donald Trump has done is raise it to new heights of ridiculousness – something that has worked in his favour to an extent, but is likely to turn against him over time. Especially when claims of ‘fake news’ are prove him to be the one trying to fake it.

CNN:  Sorry, Mr. President, the ‘fake news’ excuse isn’t good enough anymore

In Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, President Donald Trump was asked about reporting by a slew of media organizations — including CNN — that he had ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Bob Mueller.

“Fake news,” Trump replied. “Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories.”

And that was it. Which is not good enough. Not even close to good enough.

The reporting that Trump had ordered Mueller’s firing is a) deeply sourced b) confirmed — after being first broken by The New York Times — by a number of serious and credible media outlets and c) very detailed as to how and why Trump moved to fire Mueller.

Given both the seriousness of those charges and the depth of the reporting, it is a massive — and, likely, purposeful — cop-out by Trump to simply reply with his standard issue “fake news.”

What about it is fake? Did he not tell McGahn to get rid of Mueller?

Because, if he didn’t, then Trump should come out and say “I absolutely did not — at any time or ever — ask Don McGahn to remove Bob Mueller from the special counsel investigation.”

He didn’t say that. And White House lawyer Ty Cobb didn’t either, refusing to comment on the reports of the Mueller firing out of “respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process.”

Which means, almost certainly, that it did happen.

‘Fake news’ has become an overused Trump euphemism for ‘fuck the news’.

The broad point here is that saying “fake news” is not a denial of the details reported first by the New York Times and subsequently confirmed by a number of other outlets.

What Trump is doing is a sidestep in hopes of creating a sideshow.

A typical Trump tactic. Sideshow Don.

Sure, there is a chunk of people who will take his “fake news” comment as an ironclad assertion that The New York Times is wrong about his move to fire Mueller.

There will probably be a few comments here supporting the ‘fake news’ dismissal plus a few other repeated anti-Trump criticism slogans.

But, that doesn’t mean that saying “fake news” in any way, shape or form clears the air as to what Trump actually did.

It’s an attempt to distract from the serious allegation.

 

Claim that Trump tried to fire Mueller

The New York Times claims Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit

President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.

The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel.

After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.

One could ask why this leak has come out, purportedly from four different sources.

Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.

A typical fake news’ response from Trump:

“Fake news, folks,” Mr. Trump said. “Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.”

But also, from Fox News: Trump was talked out of firing Mueller last June, source says

President Trump told top officials this past June that he wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, but was talked out of doing so by White House counsel Don McGahn and other aides, a source close to the White House told Fox News late Thursday.

The source could neither confirm nor deny a New York Times report that Trump ordered Mueller’s dismissal, but backed down when McGahn threatened to resign instead.

However, the source added that then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steven Bannon believed last summer that Trump would fire Mueller and were very worried about the political fallout.

“They said, ‘This is going to blow up,'” the source recounted to Fox.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment on either the source’s account or the New York Times report “out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process.”

Another day, another Trump controversy.

Mueller silent against Trump noise

Donald Trump and his supporters have tried hard to play out the investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election, to win it in the court of public opinion. But Robert Mueller has not played ball, he has done things his way, professionally, and largely silently. Legal matters are won and lost in court, and public statements can be used against you.

Bloomberg: Mueller’s Silence Cuts Through Noise of Trump Russia Inquiries

Through all the controversy, threats and noise surrounding the Trump-Russia investigation, one person has been conspicuously silent: Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The former FBI director hasn’t uttered a single word in public since he was appointed in May to lead the probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election despite increasingly combative attacks by Republicans and their allies on the FBI, the Justice Department and the integrity of his probe.

Instead of press conferences, Mueller has spoken loudly through a series of indictments and plea deals related to various Trump associates.

Trump’s lawyers have been trying to build public expectations that Mueller will wrap up soon, but officials say the investigation is ramping up in some ways and is likely to last for most, if not all, of 2018. Areas where the inquiry is accelerating include a close examination of the activities of Trump’s son Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, said two U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous.

“When you’re a prosecutor, you put your head down, you do your job, and you try as much as you can to ignore the outside world,” said Patrick Cotter, a former U.S. prosecutor who worked in the 1990s with Mueller and others now serving on his team. “This case is not to be tried on cable TV. It’s to be tried in a courtroom.”

Trump has also failed to trash the investigation by Twitter.

“The way Bob has been doing this is out of the prosecutor’s rule book 101 as to how you handle an investigation,” Twardy said. “There is the court of public opinion, but the court he’s playing in is the district court. And he’s staying there.”

So far, the strategy appears to be working. Republicans have sullied his probe a bit with their attacks, but Mueller has won over key allies who would play instrumental roles should Trump try to force him out.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said in interviews this week that they support Mueller and would oppose efforts to remove him. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said he thinks there would be an “uprising” in the Senate if Mueller were fired. That would be “beyond the pale,” Corker said.

Trump has repeatedly denied any intention to fire Mueller.

Mueller’s lack of public comment shouldn’t be confused with a failure to communicate, said Cotter, who now heads the white collar criminal defense practice at the law firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. in Chicago. Mueller is speaking through legal proceedings, Cotter said.

“He’s communicating. He’s sending messages,” Cotter said. “I don’t think his intent is to send a message to the public. It’s to send a message to the people in the investigation, and that’s what he cares about.”

To date, Mueller has indicted Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates. The special counsel also secured a guilty plea and cooperation agreement from Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians. A low-level foreign policy adviser to the campaign also pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate.

Small targets so far, but aimed at lining up the big targets.

Mueller’s strategy has forced some critics to reorient their attacks, Cotter said. “You can’t stand there with a straight face and say there’s absolutely nothing here” after the indictments and Flynn’s agreement to cooperate, Cotter said.

There are ongoing attempts to discredit the investigation and the chief investigator, but these have been legally futile.

The new approach by Trump’s allies is to try to delegitimize Mueller’s investigation, such as by arguing members of the team are biased, Cotter said.

“It’s a tactical change,” Cotter said. “If you convince people that whatever the investigation comes out with is bad, just because of the people who did it, then you don’t ever have to deal with the facts.”

Cotter doesn’t believe the new tactic will fare any better, or prod Mueller into making a mistake. “I can’t imagine why Mueller and his people would possibly care,” he said. “The bias in law enforcement is always in favor of law enforcement. They don’t like criminals.”

The aim of the investigation is to identify criminal activity and if they find it to prosecute.

It could be some time until we know further criminal behaviour is discovered, or has been discovered and can be proven.

“Officials say the investigation is ramping up in some ways and is likely to last for most, if not all, of 2018”.

Until it is completed we simply don’t know what the outcome may be,