Trump asked Whitaker if he could put prosecutor in charge of Cohen probe

President Donald Trump asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if a US attorney he appointed could oversee an investigation tied to himself after the US attorney in question had already recused himself from the probe, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Times report cited several US officials with direct knowledge of the call that the paper said occurred late last year. 

Trump tapped Whitaker to lead the Justice Department in November after he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump regularly slammed for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump soured on Whitaker as well, according to Times, which said it was “unclear” what Whitaker did after the call. The Times said there was no evidence Whitaker took steps to intervene in the investigation Trump asked about, although the report said he told Justice Department associates that the prosecutors needed “adult supervision.” 

CNN reported in December that Trump had lashed out at Whitaker on at least two occasions, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced Trump in crimes to which his former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty. The first instance came after Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, and the second came after prosecutors implicated Trump in a hush-money scheme to silence women.

Trump later denied the CNN report in a tweet saying he had “great respect” for Whitaker. 

Attorney General William Barr was confirmed last week to take over the department permanently. 

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month that “‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.’ Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony,” she said. When pressed directly by House Judiciary Committee members about any conversations with the President about the southern district of New York investigation Whitaker refused to answer.

Trump on Tuesday denied a question from a reporter about whether he asked Whitaker about a recusal matter in the case.

“No, I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump said.

Trump went on to praise Whitaker as “a very, very straight shooter” and said he had “a lot of respect” for him.

The President also praised Whitaker’s performance during the House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, calling it “exceptional.”

“He should be given a lot of thanks from our nation,” Trump said. 

The investigation Trump called Whitaker about is led by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, a Manhattan-based team that has prosecuted Cohen. After a showdown early in his White House tenure, Trump fired the head of that office.

Preet Bharara, the former US attorney who is now a CNN contributor, later said he felt if he had stayed on the job, Trump would have asked him “to do something inappropriate.” 

Trump’s then-Attorney General Sessions went on to appoint Geoffrey Berman, a former law partner of Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, to lead the high-profile office. CNN reported after the federal raid on Cohen last year that Berman had been recused from the probe.

[CNN]

Trump says Democrats ‘cannot legitimately win’ 2020 presidential election

Donald Trump has claimed the Democratic Party “cannot legitimately win” the 2020 presidential election, in an angry tweet condemning congressional oversight of his administration.

“The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see,” Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday morning.

“When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn! The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!”

The US president’s comment, in response to a grilling of his acting attorney general by the House judiciary committee, echoed similar ones he made in 2016 when he threatened to not accept the results of the “rigged” presidential election should he have lost.

Ned Price, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, accused Mr Trump of launching an early bid to sow doubts about the legitimacy of next year’s vote.

“The first two sentences are laughable. The third is frightening—especially the use of the adverb “legitimately”, he tweeted.

“He’s setting the stage, months in advance, to be able to say the 2020 election was stolen. It’s fair to start asking whether Trump would cede power peacefully.”

Prominent lawyer and Trump critic David Leopold accused the president of attacking “the legitimacy of the 2020 election which he increasingly expects to lose”.

“That’s what thugs in power do,” he added.

Sam Vinograd, a former director on the National Security Council, said Mr Trump was aligning with Russia in “undermining confidence” in American democracy.

Mr Trump went on to claim on Twitter, without providing evidence, that America would be in recession if he had lost the election to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

“We have a great economy DESPITE the Obama Administration and all of its job killing Regulations and Roadblocks,” he wrote. “If that thinking prevailed in the 2016 Election, the U.S. would be in a Depression right now! We were heading down, and don’t let the Democrats sound bites fool you!”

The president’s outburst came the day after Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was repeatedly pressed by judiciary committee members on his relationship with the White House and his views on Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.

Mr Whitaker, an appointee of Mr Trump, at one point caused the committee and audience members to gasp in disbelief when he avoided answering a question from the chairman by telling him his time had run out.

“Mr Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up,” he said in response to Jerrold Nadler.

The heated exchange arrived after the committee chairman asked Mr Whitaker whether he had “ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel”.

[Independent]

Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations

President Donald Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the President’s actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he’s potentially implicated in.

Whitaker and William “Bill” Barr, Trump’s nominee to replace Sessions, are facing increased scrutiny this week for their criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Whitaker refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. And a memo from Barr came to light in which he wrote that Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey did not amount to obstruction.

Trump has already shown a willingness to use the Justice Department to settle political scores. As CNN previously reported, the President questioned Whitaker about the progression of the investigation against Hillary Clinton when Whitaker was Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.

“It seems very clear that the only reason that Matt Whitaker was ever appointed to this role was specifically to oversee the Mueller investigation,” Mueller biographer Garrett Graff said on Friday in an interview on CNN’s Newsroom.

With Sessions, Trump ranted publicly about how he did nothing to curtail the Mueller investigation. Sessions had recused himself from oversight because of his role on the Trump campaign.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” the President tweeted in August.

The Justice Department declined to comment on any discussions between Whitaker and the President.

The President’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, could not confirm the conversations with Whitaker but said the President views the SDNY prosecutors as out of control. “The president and his lawyers are upset about the professional prosecutors in the Southern District of New York going after a non-crime and the innuendo the president was involved,” Giuliani said in a statement to CNN Friday.

One source close to Whitaker pushed back on the notion that the Cohen situation caused tension between the two, emphasizing that Whitaker and the President have a “great relationship.”

[CNN]

Whitaker rejected ethics official’s advice he should recuse from Russia probe

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker disregarded the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to step aside from overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Whitaker never sought a formal recommendation about whether he needed to recuse, but he received guidance on his options and the applicable rules during three meetings with ethics officials and multiple discussions with his own advisers, according to a senior department source and a letter from the Justice Department to CongressThursday night.

The decision to make was Whitaker’s alone and came the same day news emerged that Trump’s nominee to take the permanent job, Bill Barr, wrote the Justice Department last year to argue against the Mueller investigation, raising concerns on Capitol Hill that the President is selecting leaders based on their alignment with his critical view of the Russia probe and will seek to undercut the special counsel.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Mueller investigation in favor of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — to the constant annoyance of President Donald Trump — because Sessions had been an active participant on the Trump campaign.

Some of Whitaker’s comments about Mueller in 2017 mirrored Trump’s complaints. In one instance, speaking on the “Rose Unplugged” radio program in August 2017, Whitaker said the appointment of Mueller was “ridiculous” and it “smells a little fishy.”
“For whatever reason, Rod Rosenstein determined that the Department of Justice couldn’t handle this in their ordinary course of work, which I think was ridiculous,” Whitaker said. “So I think it smells a little fishy, but I just hope it doesn’t turn into a fishing expedition, because I will be one of [the people] jumping up and down making sure the limitations on this investigation continue because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

While ethics officials said there was no legal conflict of interest that would bar Whitaker from overseeing Mueller, the Justice Department letter states, it could look bad in the eyes of the public.

“If a recommendation were sought” from ethics officials, the letter states, “they would advise that the Acting Attorney General should recuse himself from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation because it was their view that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question the impartiality of the Acting Attorney General.”

While the process was ongoing, Whitaker was never briefed on the Mueller investigation, the senior Justice source told CNN. But Whitaker was given a heads up that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen would plead guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow before it was publicly announced.

It is expected he will be briefed as acting attorney general now that he has stated his position on recusal.

Rosenstein’s office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis, as CNN has previously reported.

[CNN]

Trump and Rudy Giuliani tweeting bogus claims about missing texts from ex-FBI agents Strzok and Page

President Donald Trump tweeted out a blatantly false claim intended to undermine the federal investigation of his campaign ties to Russia.

The president and his attorney Rudy Giuliani each passed along bogus claims that 19,000 texts between two former FBI officials had been destroyed by investigators — which contradicted new findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“How can Mueller’s gang get away with erasing over 19,000 texts of Trump haters Stroyk and Page?” Giuliani tweeted early Saturday, misspelling former FBI agent Peter Strzok’s last name. “They say it was DOJ policy to destroy evidence? I guess Mueller’s angry Democrats fall under the Hillary exception to obstruction of justice. She erased over 30,000 emails.”

Giuliani continued tweeting misleading claims about the story, citing conservative media reports, throughout Saturday morning, and then Trump chimed in.

“Wow, 19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI, in charge of the Russia Hoax, were just reported as being wiped clean and gone,” Trump tweeted, taking a pass on spelling out Strzok’s name. “Such a big story that will never be covered by the Fake News. Witch Hunt!”

[Raw Story]

Trump: Roger Stone has ‘guts’ for not testifying against me

President Donald Trump on Monday praised longtime associate Roger Stone for refusing to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, as the president continues to denounce the investigation.

“‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out-of-control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump,'” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!'”

Stone, who has come under scrutiny in Mueller’s Russia probe for possible contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, said on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that there’s “no circumstance in which I would testify against the president.” He has denied multiple times that he had any direct knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Stone also said Sunday that he has not discussed a pardon for himself or for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in a financial fraud trial brought by Mueller. The president told the New York Post last week that he has “never discussed” a pardon for Manfort, but “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon,” Stone said over the weekend.

Trump on Twitter also continued to denounce Mueller’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign, claiming without evidence that the special counsel “only wants lies.”

Stone during his Sunday interview claimed that Mueller wanted him to “bear false witness against” Trump, adding that he “would have to make things up.”

“Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats, don’t want the truth, they only want lies,” Trump tweeted Monday. “The truth is very bad for their mission!”

[Politico]

Trump suggests, without evidence, that Mueller is encouraging witnesses to lie in Russia probe

Donald Trump suggested without evidence on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are bullying witnesses into lying about collusion in order to be spared punishment, marking the president’s latest attempt to discredit the Russia probe.

The president on Wednesday complained in a tweet that “While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief.”

Though Trump did not specify to whom he was referring, Jerome Corsi, an associate of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, has been in the news in recent days for his refusal to agree to a plea deal with Mueller’s investigators.

Mueller’s team has investigated Corsi, who is known for his right-wing birther conspiracies, for possibly acting as a conduit between Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In a late-in-the-campaign bombshell, Assange published the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that were determined to be stolen by Russian hackers.

Corsi said the special counsel’s team sought to strike a deal on one count of perjury, but Corsi has insisted that he hasn’t lied to investigators and suggested that Mueller’s prosecutors were attempting to coerce him into a plea deal.

Another major player in the Russia investigation, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saw his plea deal put in danger this week after Mueller’s team accused him of lying to investigators. Manafort had entered into the deal and agreed to become a government witness following his first trial, but his subsequent lack of cooperation with investigators has renewed murmurs of a possible pardon from Trump.

There is no hard evidence that Trump’s claims are accurate and he neglected to provide proof of his accusations. But he invoked in his tweet the time period when Americans were falsely accused and investigated without evidence of being communists, calling this moment “our Joseph McCarthy Era!”

[Politico]

Trump Shares Image Calling For Mueller and Attorney General Rosenstein to Be Tried For ‘Treason’

President Donald Trump went on an extensive tweetstorm on Wednesday, which included retweeting a meme calling for his political opponents — and current attorney general — to be thrown in jail.

 

As you can see, the image shows former president Barack Obama, former FBI Director James Comey, the Clinton family, and several other Trump enemies behind bars after supposedly being tried for “treason.” Interestingly enough, the image also shows special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in prison as well.

Trump has ripped into Mueller several times this week, and today, he compared the Russia special counsel investigation to the Joe McCarthy-era Red Scare.

[Mediaite]

Trump Says Pardon for Paul Manafort is ‘Not Off the Table’

President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump told the New York Post.

The President’s comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller’s accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller’s team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August.

[CNN]

Trump Wishes Everyone Happy Holiday Then Bashes Chief Justice Roberts to Start Thanksgiving Day

President Donald Trump began the Thanksgiving holiday with a nice, generic, brief holiday greeting: “HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL,” he said, in all caps. The exact sort of greeting that you’d want from a president. Too bad twenty minutes later he decided to attack the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Again.

Chief Justice John Roberts rebuked Trump’s criticism of the judge who ruled against him on immigration in a comment to the Associated Press. Trump had referred to the federal judge as an “Obama judge.” Roberts said in a statement there are no Obama judges or Bush judges but just an independent judiciary.

Trump then returned fire at Roberts saying he was wrong and that the ninth circuit is an activist court.

The attendant outrage, news reports, and Twitter meltdowns escalated things. And so Trump started Thanksgiving with another swipe at the Republican appointed conservative chief justice.

[Mediaite]

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