Trump calls into Sean Hannity’s show, revives debunked wiretapping claim

Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated most of his show on Wednesday night to another phone interview with President Donald Trump.

While most of the talking points were familiar to anyone who bothered to tune into Trump’s reelection kickoff speech Tuesday night or any of his other recent interviews on Fox News, Trump did let slip that he still believes his phones were wiretapped during the 2016 campaign.

Repeating his claim that intelligence agencies were “spying” on his campaign, Trump said, “We will have to find out if they were listening on my calls, that would be the ultimate. If they spied on my campaign, and they may have, it will be one of the great revelations in history of this country.”

Trump assured Hannity, who often pushes baseless conspiracy theories himself, that Attorney General William Barr was working very hard to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing during the lengthy investigations into Trump’s campaign. At no point did the conversation address the fact that six Trump campaign officials were indicted as a result of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year long investigation, five of whom pleaded guilty, nor did it address the many outside investigations referred by the special counsel’s office.

Two months into Trump’s administration, he declared on Twitter, without any evidence, that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer even suggested at the time that British intelligence may have wiretapped the Trump Tower phones at President Barack Obama’s request.

Since then, the Department of Justice has said on at least two different occasions that it has no records of such wiretapping while Trump was a candidate.

Trump said earlier this year that his 2017 wiretapping claim was based “just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom maybe.” He appeared to believe that because the brazen accusation received so much attention, that actually proved that he was onto something.

“It blew up because they thought maybe I was wise to them,” he said, speaking to Hannity at the time, once again without presenting any evidence to back his claim. “Or they were caught. And that’s why. If they weren’t doing anything wrong it would’ve just gotten by, nobody would’ve cared about it.”

In his interview with Hannity, Trump reiterated Spicer’s claim that “other countries were involved.” Admitting it was pure speculation, he said, “I think perhaps, just based on what I’m seeing, they used other countries because they didn’t want to get caught doing what they were doing in this country.”

It is true that U.S. investigators wiretapped Carter Page and Paul Manafort, former officials on Trump’s campaign, to investigate potential wrongdoing and their connections with foreign governments. But Trump seems to think that there was some greater conspiracy that targeted him directly, and he expects Barr to find proof that he was the real victim.

“I think he’s a very honorable gentleman who wants to do the right thing,” Trump said Wednesday night.

[ThinkProgress]

Reality

Trump’s DOJ admitted in a “court filing notes two separate instances in which the Trump administration has rubbished the claims made by its own executive.”

The DOJ also admitted it has “no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets” in a September 2017 court filing.

Trump said earlier this year that his 2017 wiretapping claim was based “just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom maybe.” He appeared to believe that because the brazen accusation received so much attention, that actually proved that he was onto something.

Media

Trump: Intelligence agencies must ‘quickly and fully’ cooperate with Barr review of 2016 surveillance

President Donald Trump on Thursday directed that U.S. intelligence agencies must “quickly and fully” cooperate with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation “into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. 

Barr has also been delegated the authority by Trump to declassify information related to the investigation, the White House also announced.

Sanders said that Barr had requested and recommended that the president issue the directive to the intelligence community.

“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” Sanders also said in the statement.

Trump’s order came just hours after he stood in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and reiterated his claim, without providing evidence, that when FBI officials launched the initial probe into Russia that the decision amounted to “treason.”

“These are bad people,” Trump told reporters during an event with farmers. “That’s treason. That’s treason. They couldn’t win the election, and that’s what happened.”

The initial Trump investigation began when former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told a foreign diplomat that Russia had collected thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails and would use them to damage the Democratic candidate’s campaign. The diplomat tipped off the FBI to the conversation.

The developments advance Trump’s desire to dig into the very beginnings of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that later became part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Trump and his allies have alleged the investigation began with political motivations, though there has been no smoking-gun evidence to support that theory.

Trump has repeatedly promised to declassify the documents, which many Republicans view as critical to deciphering the origins of the Russia probe. Some redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court records were released last year, but Trump allies have sought more information about the evidence the FBI presented to obtain a wiretap on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

That wiretap was not authorized until after Page left the Trump campaign, but the president has used its existence to argue that the FBI was “spying” on him.

Barr last month at a congressional hearing, without providing evidence, said “I think spying did occur” on Trump’s 2016 campaign. And Barr has more recently made similar suggestions in media interviews. 

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told USA TODAY recently that seeing more of the secret FISA court documents would be a key first step to understanding the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Kennedy said the Justice Department should also review what prompted the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, to ensure that politics weren’t involved in either case.

“The first thing I would like to see is the president declassify all documents to the FBI and Justice dealing with the 2016 election,” Kennedy said. “There will have to be redactions. But if he’s not willing to do that, then I would like to see Mr. Barr delve into the genesis of all investigations about the 2016 election – the Trump investigation and the Clinton investigation.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Donald Trump is an authoritarian, and investigating his investigators is just another checked box in the authoritarian checklist.

What does this mean?

Sweeping powers for Barr

Barr was given the authority to unilaterally declassify materials related to the investigation, allowing him to “direct” intelligence officials to declassify them. Such documents usually go through an interagency process to determine what can be declassified and released publicly, and the agency where the intelligence originated has to sign off on the final declassification.

Potential for conflict with intelligence community

While it’s not unusual for the intelligence community to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, some former officials say it will become problematic if Trump is seen as using the agencies to go after his political enemies.

Democratic fury meets Republican praise

Democrats, already critical of Barr’s handling of Mueller’s findings, have accused Trump and the attorney general of attempting to politicize the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Some suggested the administration may be looking to selectively release classified material to shape a false narrative.

Trump’s calls to ‘investigate the investigators’ get louder

Thursday’s developments illustrate Trump’s calls to “investigate the investigators” – a message he has used to counter an onslaught of investigations from Democrats following the release of Mueller’s report.

Trump has accused FBI officials involved in the original Russia probe – former FBI director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe and others – of engaging in “treason.”

More shoes to drop

Trump’s recent move all but guarantees his administration will release certain materials from the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Trump has long said he would declassify and release sensitive documents, including the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page, a highly redacted version of which the Justice Department made public last summer under pressure from Republicans.

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 hotels exempted from ban on foreign payments under new stance

The Department of Justice has adopted a narrow interpretation of a law meant to bar foreign interests from corrupting federal officials, giving Saudi Arabia, China and other countries leeway to curry favor with Donald Trump via deals with his hotels, condos, trademarks and golf courses, legal and national security experts say.

The so-called foreign emoluments clause was intended to curb presidents and other government officials from accepting gifts and benefits from foreign governments unless Congress consents.

But in a forthcoming article in the Indiana Law Journal, the Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark reveals justice department filings have recently changed tack. The new interpretation, Clark says, is contained in justice filings responding to recent lawsuits lodged by attorneys generals and members of Congress.

Clark’s article notes that in more than 50 legal opinions over some 150 years justice department lawyers have interpreted the clause in a way that barred any foreign payments or gifts except for ones Congress approved. But filings by the department since June 2017 reveal a new interpretation that “… would permit the president – and all federal officials – to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official,” the professor writes.

The justice department stance now closely parallels arguments made in a January 2017 position paper by Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon and several of her law partners. On 11 January 2017, just days before he was sworn in, Dillon said Trump isn’t accepting any payments in his “official capacity” as president, as the income is only related to his private business. “Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office,” Dillon said.

That goes against what many experts believe.

“For over a hundred years, the justice department has strictly interpreted the constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments clause to prohibit federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments, absent congressional consent,” Clark told the Guardian.

“In 2017, the department reversed course, adopting arguments nearly identical to those put forward by Trump’s private sector lawyers. Instead of defending the republic against foreign influence, the department is defending Trump’s ability to receive money from foreign governments,” Clark added.

A justice department spokesperson declined to comment, but pointed to its filings in the emoluments lawsuits which Clark has noted contain five arguments similar to those used by Trump’s business lawyers. Among the key justice arguments is that the foreign emoluments clause only was intended to prohibit the president accepting gifts and employment compensation from a foreign government, but allows him to benefit from what it calls “commercial transactions”.

Other legal scholars also voice strong qualms about the justice department’s current position on emoluments and criticize the administration’s lax attitude about conflicts involving Trump and his business empire.

“The heart of the matter is that these are clauses meant to guard against undue foreign influence and conflicts of interest,” John Mikhail, a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said.

Two attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland have filed lawsuits arguing the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where numerous foreign and state delegations have stayed or hosted events, has violated the anti corruption clauses. Some 200 members of Congress have also filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries.

The inspector general at the General Services Administration, which oversees the government-owned Old Post Office building leased by the Trump International Hotel, has faulted the agency for “improperly ignoring (the) emoluments clauses” and for conflicts of interest involving the hotel while Trump is in office.

Former intelligence officials also expressed concerns. “There’s a perception among lobbyists for foreign governments that the White House is for sale,” said Robert Baer, a 21 year CIA veteran with a Middle East background. “It’s a counter intelligence nightmare.”

The Trump Organization did pledge that while Trump was president it would donate any profits from foreign entities to the treasury. To that end it has written checks for $342,000 to the government covering the years 2017 and 2018. But some ethics watchdogs have questioned the methodology for calculating these payments, arguing it doesn’t account for foreign revenues to Trump businesses which overall have had yearly losses.

Further critics note that while Trump opted to let his two sons run his real estate businesses, and pledged he would not be involved with it as long as he was president, he has not been shy about publicly touting his properties including his Scottish golf course. Advertisement

A chief focus of critics and the emolument lawsuits has been the Trump International Hotel which has become a mini mecca for numerous foreign delegations – including ones from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Turkey and the Philippines – who have used it for overnight stays and various meetings.

The hotel is leased from the GSA for 60 years and located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House. The IG’s report this January said the lease should have been reviewed again with Trump’s election to determine if it was in violation of the emoluments clause.

Critics of Trump’s ongoing ties to the Trump International and his business empire also note that some countries with major political and business problems in Washington have frequented his properties. “It appears that President Trump may be benefiting from foreign use of his properties designed to influence his decisions,” said the former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards.

For instance, a 60-person Malaysian government delegation stayed at Trump International in the fall of 2017 at a time when the justice department was conducting a major corruption investigation of Malaysian officials including the then prime minister, Najib Razak, who had a White House meeting with Trump during their stay, as first reported by radio station WAMU and Reveal.

Meanwhile, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent at least $270,000 at his DC hotel after Trump won the election, booking 500 rooms over an estimated three-month period, according to a Washington Post report.

Last March, a Saudi delegation traveling with the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemed to enjoy a lavish stay at Trump’s New York hotel, which helped to reverse a two-year revenue decline at the property, according to the Washington Post.

These foreign dealings with Trump hotels are exhibit A for many critics of the weak kneed enforcement of the emoluments clause in the Trump era.

“This administration gives off every appearance of turning the White House into a giant cash register,” said Mikhail. “ Rather than drawing bright lines between the Trump Organization and the Trump administration they seem intent on blurring those lines.”

The lawsuits have to wend their way through the courts – which could see tough battles given mixed court rulings thus far. But critics in Congress and outside are raising more questions about emoluments and Trump’s business conflicts as new issues keep arising.

“Congress now must conduct independent oversight so the American people can determine for themselves whether the President is acting in our nation’s best interests or his own,” said congressman Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House committee on oversight and reform.

Mike Carpenter, who served on the National Security Council in the Obama years, added: “When foreign powers patronize the president’s businesses it creates an enormous national security risk.”

[The Guardian]

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 tried to order the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton and Comey

President Donald Trump tried to order prosecutors at the Department of Justice to indict two of his political enemies — 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey — this spring, according to the New York Times.

According to the Times report, then-White House counsel Don McGahn warned Trump not to issue the order, and had lawyers prepare a memo for Trump explaining what would happen if he tried to prosecute Clinton and Comey. One of those possibilities was, reportedly, the risk of impeachment.

Presidentially directed indictments against specific individuals would be a massive breach of the independence of the Justice Department; the general expectation that prosecutors are supposed to issue indictments based on an examination of the evidence at hand; and the democratic norm against prosecuting political opponents for political acts.

The president’s lawyers reportedly asked the Justice Department to investigate Comey last year, according to the Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman. That request was not successful. And McGahn’s memo appears to have discouraged the president from going further — for now.

But the Times reports Trump has “continued to privately discuss the matter, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel to investigate both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey” — suggesting he hasn’t given up.

Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed shortly after Comey’s firing to both continue the investigation into Russia ties, and to investigate whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice by interfering into the investigation — including by firing Comey. (McGahn is known to be cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, and so has likely told Mueller about Trump’s musings on prosecution orders.)

The Times report suggests that new information could help him argue that the president did, in fact, obstruct justice by attempting to bend it to his will.

Clinton’s sins are reportedly her emails and Uranium One; Comey’s are “leaking” and his treatment of Clinton

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton based on her use of a private email server as secretary of state — a campaign promise in line with the common Trump rally chant to “Lock her up!” However, when he fired Comey in May 2017, the stated reason (in a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) was that Comey treated Clinton too harshly during the investigation.

Trump didn’t stick to that pretext for long: a few days after Comey’s firing, he said in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt that his frustration with Comey was rooted in this “Trump-Russia thing” — the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia before Trump’s inauguration. And according to the Times, one of the reasons Trump’s lawyers cited in asking the DOJ to investigate Comey after his firing was his handling of the Clinton email investigation, presumably because Trump felt Comey was too soft on Clinton, not too hard.

In addition to the email issue, Trump now believes the Justice Department should prosecute Clinton for her approval of a uranium-mining deal as secretary of state, a long-time conservative bugaboo that has no evidence of criminal activity or intent, and that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to appoint a special counsel to investigate.

Trump’s lawyers’ request to the DOJ to prosecute Comey, meanwhile, were based both in his treatment of Clinton and in his supposed leaking of classified information.

Trump has spread the “leaking” claim around; as far as anyone can tell, it is a lie. It appears to be based on Comey’s recounting of conversations he had with Trump and others before the US Senate in June 2018, and his recording of events as FBI director in contemporaneous memos, some of which were subsequently leaked to the press. But there’s no evidence that Comey engaged in any illegal leaking, and it’s not clear what Trump wants him prosecuted for.

Attempting to prosecute Clinton would be an obvious presidential override of the official finding of an FBI investigation. Attempting to prosecute both Clinton and Comey — the man Trump fired because, ostensibly, he seemed too willing to prosecute her — would be a clear-cut sign that Trump was using the Justice Department for his own ends.

[Vox]

Trump on new acting AG: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker”

President Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, whose past business ties and comments on the Russia investigation and other topics have drawn scrutiny.

Trump elevated Whitaker to the post on Wednesday after forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, installing a Republican Party loyalist to oversee the special counsel investigation into possible ties between Russia and the president’s 2016 campaign.

Since then, Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff, has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller, based on critical comments he made about the investigation before joining the Justice Department last year.

Those include an op-ed in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate if he investigated Trump family finances and a talk radio interview in which he maintained that there was no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

There have also been reports about past comments questioning the power and reach of the federal judiciary, and about his ties to an invention-promotion company that was accused of misleading investors.

Asked about Whitaker on Friday, Trump told journalists: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions.”

He said he had not spoken with Whitaker about Mueller’s investigation, which until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Of the scrutiny Whitaker is facing, Trump said: “It’s a shame that no matter who I put in they go after.”

“He was very, very highly thought of, and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them,” Trump said

Trump has not said who he will nominate to permanently replace Sessions. That candidate, unlike Whitaker, would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is said to be a candidate, along with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, among others.

Trump told reporters he has not discussed the post with Christie, who he said was “a friend of mine” and “a good man.”

[Washington Post]

Reality

Matthew Whitaker, Mueller’s New Boss, Said There Was ‘No Collusion’ With Russia

A year-and-a-half before he took responsibility for overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Matthew Whitaker, now the acting attorney general, had already reached a conclusion.

“The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign,” he said in an interview on the Wilkow Majority show. “There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues.”

“The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

What Whitaker was basing this declaration on is unclear. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter was just three months old at the time and it has—and remains—a lock box when it comes to its findings.

But Whitaker no longer is merely just offering his analysis on the matter. On Wednesday he became the top law-enforcement officer in the nation and, with it, was given effective control of the Mueller probe. His critics—and there are many—fear he will use his leverage to either curtail or fully end the investigation. And they’ve pointed to comments like the one he made to the Wilkow Majority show as evidence that he not only brings a clear bias to his post but has pre-determined the outcome of the investigation he’s now running.

There are numerous other comments, too.

Less than two years ago, Whitaker was a former federal prosecutor and twice-failed political candidate in charge of a small conservative government watchdog group with only a handful of employees. But for conservative media audiences, he is quite familiar.

Over the past three years, he used his position as the executive director of conservative government watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) as an opportunity to become a right-leaning political pundit, penning opinion pieces in USA Today and the Washington Examiner, and appearing regularly across conservative talk-radio shows and cable news.

The majority of Whitaker’s media appearances focused on the promotion of one argument: Liberals in government are working to undermine Americans in a variety of troubling and unproven ways. And no one is a bigger threat than Mueller.

Before joining the DOJ, Whitaker was one of the biggest critics of Mueller’s probe, dubbing it “political” and criticizing its mere existence in numerous media appearances.

During interviews with right-wing radio hosts over the last two years, Whitaker admonished Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing Muller last year, characterizing the probe as a drain on department resources, and suggesting the special counsel’s allies were leaking information designed to make him “look productive and on top of things.”

He expressed sympathy for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation, and in one interview last year, Whitaker said that “the real Russian ties were with Hillary Clinton.”

Prior to becoming a legal pundit, Whitaker worked as a U.S. Attorney in the George W. Bush administration. After that, he ran a series of businesses and an unsuccessful primary bid in 2014 for the Iowa Senate seat. Whitaker was also on the advisory board of a patent company that ripped off its customers for millions of dollars.

When he became the head of FACT in 2014, his media presence truly began to grow. Whitaker used that post to rack up countless talk radio hits across the country attacking Democrats. But while FACT billed itself as a nonpartisan watchdog, it served as a way to launder partisan opposition research to the public.

In 2016, according to public records, Whitaker helmed the group. The company paid $180,000 that year to America Rising LLC, an opposition research firm closely aligned with the Republican Party.

In press releases reviewed by The Daily Beast, America Rising touted FACT as a non-partisan government watchdog and highlighted Whitaker’s political commentary criticizing Democrats. A person familiar with the FACT/America Rising arrangement told The Daily Beast that on some occasions, America Rising’s opposition researchers would share material targeting Democratic candidates with FACT.

FACT would then file ethics complaints based on that research and publicly denounce the Democrats in question. America Rising, subsequently, would promote FACT’s denunciations to reporters as evidence that the Democrats in question were facing non-partisan criticism.

FACT has also criticized some Republicans, including Reps. Mark Meadows and Robert Pittenger. Joe Pounder, who heads America Rising, declined to comment on the group’s work with FACT.

“FACT is a non-partisan ethics watchdog which holds accountable government officials from both parties, as well as associated political campaigns and organizations,” a spokesperson for FACT said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Since 2014, FACT has filed over 80 complaints, over 60 of which were filed under Mr. Whitaker’s leadership. Mr. Whitaker served as Executive Director of FACT from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure, Mr. Whitaker conducted numerous media interviews analyzing government ethics issues and investigations including his time as a paid contributor to CNN.”

In many ways, Whitaker is the textbook Trump-era political talking head.

He spent most of his interviews arguing that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and that the FBI was providing “political cover” to the former secretary of state for “not releasing probably very damaging emails.”

He also criticized her political positions, calling her 2016 campaign platform a “grab-bag of failed and regurgitated liberal policies,” and lamented that “since she fell out of the public eye, it has not been as much fun” to conduct investigations into politicians.

Whitaker continued to provide Republicans with political cover after Trump won office in 2016, even pushing a conspiracy theory that suggested a Democratic House IT staffer, not Russian hackers, could have been behind the theft of Democratic emails in 2016.

Whitaker leveraged his position at FACT to draw attention to the case of Imran Awan, a former IT staffer for House Democrats who was charged with bank fraud in 2017.

Awan’s arrest drew plenty of attention from conservative media outlets, which spun elaborate theories speculating that Awan was either involved in nefarious activity with his Democratic bosses, spying on Democrats for a foreign intelligence agency, or even behind the hack of Democratic emails stolen by Russia.

Despite pressure from conservatives, the Awan case was ultimately a letdown for the right. Awan pleaded guilty only to lying on a bank fraud application and avoided a prison sentence. Prosecutors on the case even took the unusual step of saying in court documents that they had investigated the conspiracy theories alleging that Awan was behind any email leaks and found no evidence for them.

At the height of conservative interest in the Awan investigation, Whitaker and FACT called for an ethics investigation into the relationship between Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), one of Awan’s employers.

In an August 2017 radio interview, Whitaker implied there could be a link between Awan and the Russian email hack that cost Wasserman Schultz her position as head of the Democratic National Committee.

“Whether it’s related and part of a bigger theme, that’s what we have to see,” Whitaker said.

In the same interview, Whitaker complained that the Awan case wasn’t getting as much attention from the media as the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

“If it was Russia and Trump, there’d be a 24-hour news vigil,” Whitaker said.

[The Daily Beast]

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