Trump accuses NYT reporter of breaking the law by alerting FBI to Kushner meetings with Russians

President Donald Trump accused a New York Times reporter of breaking the law by tipping off the FBI to developments in the Russia investigation.

Times reporter Michael Schmidt alerted the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs in March 2017 that he and some colleagues had found out Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn had met in December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who then set up a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law and a Russian banker.

Schmidt’s email was then forwarded to FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the bureau’s Russia investigation, and Jonathan Moffa, an FBI counterintelligence officer, reported the Washington Examiner.

Trump reacted with a pair of tweets suggesting that Schmidt had fed false information to the FBI.

“Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper. Is what they have done legal?”

[Raw Story]

Trump calls newspaper report on Russia power grid ‘treason’

President Donald Trump has lashed out at The New York Times, saying it engaged in a “virtual act of treason” for a story that said the U.S. was ramping up its cyber-intrusions into Russia’s power grid.

The Times reported on Saturday that the U.S. has bored into Russian utility systems in an escalating campaign meant to deter future cyber activity by Russia. It comes as the U.S. looks for new ways to punish Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and prevent a recurrence.

The Times, in its official public relations account, called Trump’s accusation “dangerous” and said it had told officials about the story before it was published and no security issues were raised.

The newspaper, basing its reports on three months of interviews with current and former government officials, said this campaign was conducted under new cyber authorities granted by Trump and Congress. But it also reported that two administration officials believed the president had not been briefed in detail, fearing he might countermand the action against Russia or reveal sensitive information to foreign officials.

In a pair of tweets sent Saturday night, Trump asserted the story wasn’t true and denounced reporters as “cowards.”

“Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia. This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country,” he wrote.

The story reported the deployment of American computer code into Russia’s grid and other targets to act as a deterrent. The newspaper also said the U.S. Cyber Command, part of the Department of Defense, has explored the possibility that Russia might try to initiate selective blackouts in key states to disrupt the 2020 election.

In a second tweet, Trump added about the story: “ALSO, NOT TRUE! Anything goes with our Corrupt News Media today. They will do, or say, whatever it takes, with not even the slightest thought of consequence! These are true cowards and without doubt, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

The New York Times’ response also noted that the paper described the article to government officials before publication. “As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns.”

The paper said there was no evidence the US had actually activated the cyber tools.

[Associated Press]

Trump Cites AOC to Say He Shouldn’t be Impeached, AOC Responds: ‘I’ll Call Your Bluff’

President Donald Trump attempted to cite Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY) to put down talk of impeachment, but the progressive lawmaker quickly responded “I’ll call your bluff any day of the week.”

Trump tweeted out a partial quote from AOC’s interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl Sunday morning, using it to argue against impeachment.

Her full quote was “I think that we have a very real risk of losing the presidency to Donald Trump if we do not have a presidential candidate that is fighting for true transformational change in the lives of working people in the United States.”

Ocasio-Cortez herself later responded directly to the president via his favored medium.

“Opening an impeachment inquiry is exactly what we must do when the President obstructs justice, advises witnesses to ignore legal subpoenas, & more,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

[Mediaite]

TRUMP INSISTS THE CONSTITUTION’S ARTICLE II ‘ALLOWS ME TO DO WHATEVER I WANT

President Donald Trump insisted that Article II of the U.S. Constitution “allows” him to do “whatever” he wants, arguing that he never planned to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller but had every legal right to do so.

The president made the remarks during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ host George Stephanopoulos, part of which was released last week and another part of which was released ahead of its airing on Sunday.

Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on specific allegations of obstruction of justice, as many legal experts have defined them, laid out in the second portion of Mueller’s report. One of the primary examples that critics of the president often point to, is the allegation that Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller.

“Number one, I was never gonna fire Mueller,” Trump insisted. “I never suggested firing Mueller.”

Stephanopoulos pushed back, pointing out that McGahn’s testimony to the special counsel and the report told a different story.

“I don’t care what he says,” Trump replied. “It doesn’t matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was. Now he may have got confused with the fact that I’ve always said to anybody that would listen: Robert Mueller was conflicted.”

The president also argued that McGahn lied under oath about being told to fire Mueller because he “wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer” or perhaps misunderstood Trump, because he constantly criticized the special counsel. “Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest,” the president argued.

“Look, Article II [of the Constitution], I would be allowed to fire Robert Mueller,” he asserted. “Assuming I did all the things… Number one, I didn’t. He wasn’t fired … But more importantly, Article II allows me to do whatever I want. Article II would have allowed me to fire him,” Trump claimed.

Again, the president insisted that he “wasn’t gonna fire” Mueller, pointing out that actions like that did not go very well for former President Richard Nixon, who resigned from office back in 1974. “I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody, and that didn’t work out too well,” he said.

Article II of the Constitution outlines the powers given to the president of the United States. The duties outlined in the article include making treaties in conjunction with the Senate, commanding the U.S. military and delivering the annual State of the Union address.

Legal experts disagree over whether or not Trump legally could fire the special counsel. Some have argued that he would have had to tell a Justice Department official to make the call, and they would have had to choose if they would carry out the demand. Others have contended, as Trump did to Stephanopoulos, that he had the legal authority to simply fire Mueller whenever he wanted to. However, many have viewed such an action as obstructing justice, as the special counsel was specifically tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether or not the Trump campaign conspired in that effort.

[Newsweek]

Trump says he’d accept dirt from a foreign government to see ‘if it’s bad’

Fox & Friends knows President Trump’s got some explaining to do.

After Trump caught heat for telling ABC News that he’d be open to receiving dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, the subject inevitably came up when he called in to Fox & Friends on Friday. The hosts invited Trump to “clarify” his comments on Thursday, but his birthday-morning call didn’t do much to settle the dust.

While Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would “maybe” report information from a foreign government to the FBI, he told Fox “of course” he’d present “anything bad” to the agency.

“I don’t think anyone would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country,” he began. But if he were hypothetically offered dirt by someone who momentarily forgot about his patriotism, he would definitely check it out. “Of course you have to look at it because, if you don’t look at it, you’re not going to know if it’s bad,” he explained, suggesting a foreign government could be reaching out to let him know how great his opponent is. “But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”

While Trump previously conflated opposition research and interference from a foreign government, on Friday he only mentioned undefined “bad” information, leaving it up to interpretation exactly what would be worth reporting. He wouldn’t want “bad” things affecting an election, Trump concluded — “I thought that was made clear.” 

[The Week]

Trump still thinks the courts can prevent impeachment (they can’t)

About a month ago, Donald Trump tried to address the Mueller report by falsely claiming it “didn’t lay a glove on me.” The president quickly added, however, “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

That didn’t make any sense, though the Republican doesn’t seem to realize that. Consider this exchange between the president and a reporter this morning during a brief Q&A on the White House South Lawn:

Q: Do you think they’re going to impeach you? Do you think they’re …

TRUMP: I don’t see how. They can, because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gotten into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word, the word ‘impeach.’ It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word and it had nothing to do with me.

The president’s etymological feelings notwithstanding, if he thinks “the courts” can block a congressional impeachment process, Trump is likely to be disappointed.

Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that the president, among his many scandals, has been credibly accused of criminal obstruction of justice. Why he thinks federal judges might deem this insufficient grounds for presidential impeachment is unclear.

But even putting that aside, Trump’s assertions are a civics failure, too. As we discussed in April, Congress is responsible for initiating, overseeing, and executing the impeachment process. Lawmakers, and no one else, determine whether a president has committed impeachable acts.

It’s not up to the judiciary to allow or forbid the legislative branch from exercising its legal authority.

When Trump is in a jam, he looks for a fixer. Indeed, he’s spent much of his presidency assuming that everyone from his attorney general to his congressional allies to his White House counsel can simply make his problems go away for him. Now, evidently, he’s making similar assumptions about the courts.

I’m curious as to why. Is the amateur president simply confused again? Is there someone at the White House giving him strange advice? Did Trump hear something along these lines from conservative media?

Whatever the explanation, if Trump plans to sue to make sure impeachment doesn’t happen, he should probably start working on a Plan B.

[MSNBC]

Trump says campaign was ‘conclusively spied on,’ calls it ‘treason’

President Trump on Friday asserted that his 2016 campaign had been “conclusively spied on” by the Obama administration while calling the charge akin to “treason” and demanding jail time for those behind it.

In a tweet, the president said “nothing like this has ever happened” while calling for prison sentences.

“A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!” he continued.

The president’s tweet comes days after Attorney General William Barrannounced the appointment of a U.S. attorney to review the decisions that led to the establishment of an investigation into Trump’s campaign and Russian election interference.

The attorney general infuriated many Democrats on Capitol Hill earlier this year when he asserted that “spying” on the Trump campaign had occurred in 2016, while declining to take a position on its legality. His choice of language has earned rebukes from former members of the Justice Department including former FBI chief James Comey.

Barr told The Wall Street Journal and Fox News in interviews published Friday that he had received insufficient answers from Justice Department personnel about the reasons why an investigation had been launched into the Trump campaign in the first place.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Barr told the Journal on Friday. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

“I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together, in a sense I have more questions today than when I first started,” Barr added in his interview with Fox.

“People have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale.”

[The Hill]

Trump: Discussing a Biden probe with Barr would be ‘appropriate’

President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter.

The question of whether Trump could pressure Barr to probe Biden is coming under scrutiny after Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said he would be traveling to Ukraine to urge the incoming government there to look at Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company that has reportedly been in prosecutors’ crosshairs. The efforts appear to be part of a broader campaign by Trump’s allies to damage the former Democratic vice president’s White House campaign and have raised questions about whether Trump’s team is trying to enlist a foreign government to aid the president’s re-election bid.

“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet. … It could be a very big situation,” Trump said in a 15-minute telephone interview on Friday afternoon, which stemmed from POLITICO’s inquiries for a separate story.

Barr also drew attention during his recent congressional testimony when he demurred on a question about whether anybody in the White House had ever suggested that he launch an investigation.

President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter.

The question of whether Trump could pressure Barr to probe Biden is coming under scrutiny after Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said he would be traveling to Ukraine to urge the incoming government there to look at Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company that has reportedly been in prosecutors’ crosshairs. The efforts appear to be part of a broader campaign by Trump’s allies to damage the former Democratic vice president’s White House campaign and have raised questions about whether Trump’s team is trying to enlist a foreign government to aid the president’s re-election bid.

“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet. … It could be a very big situation,” Trump said in a 15-minute telephone interview on Friday afternoon, which stemmed from POLITICO’s inquiries for a separate story.

Barr also drew attention during his recent congressional testimony when he demurred on a question about whether anybody in the White House had ever suggested that he launch an investigation.

“Because he’s a Democrat,” Trump said, the report had about “one-hundredth” the impact as it would have if he “were a Republican.”

That’s not for lack of effort by the president’s allies. As of Friday afternoon, Giuliani was about to travel to Ukraine in an effort to push the country’s president-elect to pursue the investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement with the energy company, Burisma Holdings. He also wants Ukraine to probe whether the country’s officials were trying to help Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election by releasing forged documents tied to Paul Manafort.

Giuliani was planning to leave Sunday and return Wednesday, he told POLITICO in an interview Friday afternoon. During his trip, Giuliani was expecting to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who was elected president of Ukraine last month and who has reportedly said he’s looking to replace one of the prosecutors involved in the cases.

“I just want to tell him, ‘Don’t let these crooks talk you out of the investigation. There are real facts there they’ve got to investigate,’” Giuliani said. “A lot of this stuff is a lot easier for them to get. They do get nervous if they think the government is going to scuttle this investigation.”

But later Friday, Giuliani said he had canceled his trip, explaining his change of plans in a text message to POLITICO that the original offer for a meeting was a “set up” orchestrated by “several vocal critics” of Trump who are advising Ukraine’s new president-elect. “Only got name yesterday and told pres elect is in hands of avowed enemies of Pres Trump,” Giuliani wrote. “Useless meeting.”

Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president said Friday he didn’t know much about Giuliani’s planned trip but wanted to speak with him about it.

“I have not spoken to him at any great length, but I will,” Trump said in the interview. “I will speak to him about it before he leaves.”

The former New York mayor for weeks has been talking with reporters about the Biden-Ukraine connection, insisting it is a scandal.

“I don’t see how you get from here to the presidency without that being investigated,” Giuliani said earlier on Friday, swinging back at critics who say the president’s attorney is openly encouraging a foreign government to meddle in the American election.

“If I wanted to meddle in the election, I’d be talking about it a year from now,” Giuliani said. “I’d have kept it for myself and I’d have popped it right before the Democratic convention. That’d be fun.”

Trump’s critics have long feared that the president would pressure the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump and his allies led chants of “Lock her up!” in reference to Clinton, though there has been no public follow-up on the Clinton investigation since the arrival of the Trump administration.

More recently, Barr has come under fire for his reply to Sen. Kamala Harris during a hearing last week where the attorney general did not explicitly answer the California Democrat’s questions about whether Trump or anyone else in the White House asked or suggested the DOJ launch an investigation.

“I’m trying to grapple with the world ‘suggest’,” Barr replied during the hearing. “I mean there have been discussions of, of matters out there that uh … they have not asked me open an investigation.”

Harris, who is running for president, followed up by asking if the White House had hinted at an investigation, and the attorney general replied, “I don’t know.”

Several former national security and law enforcement officials took issue later Friday with the president’s comment that he was within his right to approach Barr about a possible Biden investigation.

“Past Republican and Democratic administrations alike have recognized the critical importance of the wall of separation between the White House and DOJ when it comes to criminal investigations,” said Matt Axelrod, a former senior Obama Justice Department official. “This president’s belief that he can instruct the Attorney General to investigate his political rival is a wild break from past precedent and would represent a dangerous assault on the rule of law.”

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney at the National Security Agency wrote on Twitter after this story published that Trump’s comment was a “disturbing development people should pay attention to.”

[Politico]

Trump Twitter rages at ‘BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Bill” that he claims will hurt farmers

President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Capitol Hill Republicans to vote against a bill proving disaster assistance.

The commander-in-chief referred to the legislation as a “BAD DEMOCRAT” bill, writing in all capital letters.

Trump claimed the bill would harm states, farmers, and border security.

“We want to do much better than this. All sides keep working and send a good bill for immediate signing,” Trump demanded.

[Raw Story]

Reality

The major sticking point for Trump is the additional funding Democrats included to help Puerto Rico rebuild after Hurricane Maria severely damaged the island and killed 3,000 people. It amounts to more than $3 billion, including $600 million for nutrition assistance.

Trump has pushed back against giving more money to Puerto Rico, incorrectly stating that the federal government has already allocated $91 billion to help Puerto Rico. It’s actually promised about half of that amount and spent only $11 billion.

Trump Calls for the Prosecution of John Kerry Under the Logan Act

President Donald Trump called for the prosecution of former Secretary of StateJohn Kerry for his negotiations with a foreign government, namely Iran. In particular, Trump said Kerry violated the Logan Act.

“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me. John Kerry, he speaks to them a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That is a violation of the Logan Act. And frankly, he should be prosecuted on that,” he said. “But my people don’t want to do anything — only the Democrats do that kind of stuff. You know? If it were the opposite way, they would prosecute him under the Logan Act. But John Kerry violated the Logan Act.”

“He’s talking to Iran and has been, has many meetings and tells them what to do,” Trump added. “That is a total violation of the Logan act.”

The Logan Act came up before in the context of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. At the time, it was noted that the Logan Act is a 1799 law that is “rarely enforced” and has “never been used to successfully prosecute any American citizen.”

Here’s what 18 U.S.C. §953, the Logan Act, says:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Only two people have ever been indicted for a Logan Act violation, and neither of them were convicted.

[Law and Crime]

Reality

In September Marco Rubio sent a letter to the DOJ urging an investigation of the matter.

https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Press-Releases&id=2D9F248A-E57B-468D-8B76-99D0290EE080

Media

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