Trump administration invokes privilege again, blocks intel committee from classified Mueller docs

The Trump administration has been quietly engaged in an escalating tug-of-war with the House and Senate intelligence committees over sensitive documents from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the latest in a series of attempts to stymie Congress, including with claims of executive privilege, sources have told ABC News.

“The scope of confidentiality interests being asserted by the executive branch is breathtaking,” said Andrew M. Wright, an expert on executive privilege who served as a congressional investigator and as a White House attorney in two Democratic administrations. As is “the lack of accommodation and compromise,” he added.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee sent a letter in mid-April to the CIA and other covert agencies asking them to share copies of all the materials they had provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over the course of their 22-month investigation, according to sources familiar with the request. The requests were referred by the intelligence agencies to the Department of Justice, which has custody of all of the records gathered as part of the Mueller probe.

Though Mueller’s report does not discuss the classified intelligence gathered during the investigation, congressional investigators believe the team was given access to a range of materials that could include intercepts, secretive source interviews, and material shared by the spy agencies of other foreign governments.

More than three months later, the attorney general’s office has still not produced them. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department officials have argued that they are, for now, shielded by the same blanket privilege they initially asserted in response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for the entire trove of special counsel records.

Trump administration attorneys declined to comment on the matter, and the Department of Justice has not responded to questions. Experts said the response was part of a pattern.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said the DOJ did produce a subset of underlying documents related to the special counsel’s investigation to their members for review, “although it has failed in recent weeks, despite repeated requests, to produce key materials central to the Committee’s oversight work.”

The House committee said Justice Department lawyers did not invoke privilege with them when refusing the requests. “None would be warranted given the Committee’s jurisdiction,” a committee spokesman said. “The Committee remains engaged with DOJ to ensure it complies fully and completely with the Committee’s duly authorized subpoena.”

Experts have been monitoring the conflict between branches as it has escalated.

“The way the administration has been using executive privilege has been extraordinary,” said Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School and a co-founder and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. “It’s a level of non-cooperation with Congress that has been striking. We’ve never seen it to this degree.”

Congress and the White House have been locked in a range of disputes over records and testimony that the administration has withheld – covering a variety of subjects that includes the president’s personal finances, his tax returns and the administration’s policy on the census. Just Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents concerning the addition of a citizenship question to the census.

In May, the Trump administration invoked executive privilege for the first time in response to the request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, for the un-redacted Mueller report and the entire trove of investigative documents.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time that members of Congress were exercising their proper authority to review the Mueller material on behalf of their constituents.

“This is not about Congress or any committee of Congress,” Pelosi told ABC News at the time. “It’s about the American people and their right to know and their election that is at stake and that a foreign government intervened in our election and the president thinks it is a laughing matter.”

This latest stalemate – over sensitive materials gathered in connection with the 2016 elections — has frustrated leaders on the intelligence committees, sources told ABC News. In part, that is because the committees have sweeping oversight powers when it comes to the secretive agencies. The National Security Act says “congressional intelligence committees [must] be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.”

The congressional committees have invoked such powers during a range of sensitive probes. Congress fought for and received intelligence documents during its investigation into the Iran-Contra affair during the late 1980s. And more recently, the senate prevailed during a review of allegations that the agencies engaged in torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. After a protracted fight, the senate received the documents and drafted its scathing report.

One Trump administration source familiar with the matter told ABC News that the stand-off is temporary – with the response to the intelligence committee on hold until the Department of Justice finishes releasing Mueller-related materials to the Judiciary Committee.

In early June, the DOJ and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement allowing committee members access to some of the documents that underpinned Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. Members and some committee staff were also allowed to see a less-redacted version of the full Mueller report, with the exception of grand jury material that was included.

The DOJ is in the midst of reviewing the special counsel documents, and under an agreement with the Judiciary Committee, has pledged to turn over documents they believe do not run afoul of their assertions of privilege.

As the review process for the House Judiciary Committee grinds forward, an administration official familiar with the effort said that may free up some of the documents in the subset of materials requested by the intelligence committees. But, the source said, the intelligence request will have to wait until the negotiations with Judiciary are resolved.

Congressional sources told ABC News they believe Justice Department officials have no grounds to hold the intelligence records, and are merely stalling.

Experts said the stand-offs between branches of government may ultimately force the third branch of government – the judiciary – to get involved.

“A lot of it is going to get resolved in court,” said Wright, the expert on executive privilege who served in two Democratic administrations. “But some may only get resolved at the ballot box.”

[ABC News]

Trump asserts executive privilege over subpoenaed census docs

President Trump has asserted executive privilege over congressionally subpoenaed documents on the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes as the House Oversight and Reform Committee is set to vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas for the documents.

“By proceeding with today’s vote, you have abandoned the accommodation process with respect to your requests and subpoenas for documents concerning the secretary’s decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“The executive branch has engaged in good-faith efforts to satisfy the legislative needs of the committee. Moreover, until the committee’s abrupt decision to seek a contempt resolution, the department was prepared to provide a significant number of additional documents responsive to the committee’s April 2, 2019 subpoena.” 

“Unfortunately, rather than allowing the department to complete its document production, you have chosen to go forward with an unnecessary and premature contempt vote.”

Boyd wrote that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the subpoenaed documents, including drafts of a letter sent from the Justice Department to Commerce Department officials requesting that the citizenship question be added to the 2020 census.

Cummings blasted the administration over the assertion, saying that he has been asking for the documents at hand for more than a year and questioning why the departments didn’t send their letters until moments before the vote was scheduled to be held.

“This does not appear to be an effort to engage in good faith negotiations or accommodations,” he said.

The chairman said that he would delay the contempt vote until this afternoon to allow members to review the letters on executive privilege.

The announcement came one day after Boyd sent a separate letter to Cummings, warning that executive privilege would be invoked if the House panel moved forward with the contempt votes for Barr and Ross. The Justice Department official also asked Cummings to delay the vote as Trump weighs whether the documents fall under the scope of executive privilege.

“As I indicated in my letter to you yesterday, this protective assertion ensures the president’s ability to make a final decision whether to assert privilege following a full review of these materials,” Boyd wrote Wednesday.

The Commerce Department on Wednesday also sent Cummings a letter notifying him that Trump has asserted executive privilege over some of the documents subpoenaed from that agency.

“The department regrets that you have made this assertion necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote,” wrote Charles Rathburn, the acting assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the Commerce Department.

In a letter sent Tuesday night, Cummings offered to delay the contempt vote if the two agencies handed over unredacted copies of certain documents requested by the lawmakers.

Boyd wrote in the letter Wednesday that the “department has explained to the committee on several occasions that these identified documents consist of attorney-client communications, attorney work product, and deliberative communications, and a federal court has already held many of these documents to be privileged in litigation.”

Wednesday’s move is the latest effort by the White House to assert executive privilege over documents sought by Democrats investigating Trump and his administration.

[The Hill]

Trump says he’ll refuse to stop skyrocketing drug prices if Democrats investigate him

President Donald Trump, during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden earlier this week, stressed that he refuses to work with Democrats in Congress on infrastructure projects as long as they continue to investigate him. But infrastructure isn’t the only thing Trump is holding hostage: on Friday, the president declared that he can’t work with Democrats on prescription drug prices either unless all investigations cease.

Trump asserted that “with Congress,” he could reduce drug prices in the U.S. by “40 percent and 50 percent, but I can’t do that when all they do is want to try and do a redo of the Mueller report.”

Bloomberg News’ Steven Dennis addressed Trump’s threat on Twitter, commenting, “So, if you’re Pharma, do you now hope for a year of impeachment proceedings?” And one Republican who, according to Dennis, clearly wants to see Trump and Democrats in Congress working together on reducing prescription drug prices is Maine Sen. Susan Collins—who told Bloomberg she thinks Trump will reconsider because he “wants action” on drug prices and other issues.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, ordinarily a passionate supporter of Trump, is also worried about Trump’s threat to quit working with House and Senate Democrats on key issues—telling Bloomberg that while he understands Trump’s “frustration,” refusing to work with Democrats in Congress altogether is “not a sustainable position.” The South Carolina Republican warned that the party giving the impression that “they don’t want to govern at all is going to be in real trouble.”

According to the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. has the highest prescription drug prices in the developed world—spending $1011 per capita compared to $351 per capita in Sweden, $401 per capita in Norway,  $553 per capita in France or $686 per capita in Germany.

[Raw Story]

Trump: ‘Mueller should not testify’

President Donald Trump said on Sunday that Robert Mueller “should not testify” before Congress, hours after a Democratic lawmaker confirmed that the House Judiciary Committee was still seeking to schedule a hearing with the special counsel for later this month.

“Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!” the president wrote on Twitter, after excoriating Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in a previous post.

“After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents — all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION — why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify,” Trumptweeted.

“Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION,” the president added.

Attorney General William Barr previously told Congress that he has no objection to Mueller, who is a Justice Department employee, testifying before lawmakers. Peter Carr, the special counsel’s spokesman, declined to comment on the president’s tweet.

Earlier Sunday, a Judiciary Committee member, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), told “Fox News Sunday” that Mueller was tentatively scheduled to testify on May 15, but he later walked back that remark on social media.

“Just to clarify: we are aiming to bring Mueller in on the 15th, but nothing has been agreed to yet,” Cicilline wrote online. “That’s the date the Committee has proposed, and we hope the Special Counsel will agree to it. Sorry for the confusion.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said the committee is eyeing May 15 for Mueller to testify. The committee did not immediately respond to Cicilline’s comments.

The White House, Cicilline said in the Fox interview, has indicated it would not interfere with Mueller’s attempt to testify and “we hope that won’t change.”

As recently as last month, the request for Mueller to appear before the House Judiciary Committee was bipartisan; the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, wrote to Nadler in April encouraging him to invite the special counsel to testify.

Trump’s tweet — if interpreted by the attorney general as a direct order to stifle Mueller’s testimony — could set up the most consequential legal question related to the special counsel’s probe: whether executive privilege can be used to stop an executive branch employee from testifying about an investigation into the president.

The president’s post also aggravates a partisan fight over Mueller’s findings that was already under way Sunday morning when Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) criticized the special counsel for not revealing sooner that he had not found that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin criminally conspired to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

“It couldn’t have taken Bob Mueller that long to find that out,” King told a New York radio show. “The reports we get are that they knew a year ago there was no collusion. Well, didn’t he have an obligation to tell the president of the United States that? To let the world know?”

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, later tweeted a news report on King’s comments, adding: “More evidence that Mueller probe was part of a political plan,ie., insurance policy, to remove or hurt ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩. They failed because people wouldn’t lie.”

It is possible that Mueller could also appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked him in a letter Friday whether he “would like to provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation” by Barr concerning an exchange he had with the attorney general about the special counsel’s report.

Barr already faces a torrent of criticism from congressional Democrats after his testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that hearing, he was grilled by lawmakers about a letter he received from Mueller that expressed disagreement with the way the Justice Department handled the release of the special counsel’s report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Barr of committing a crime by lying to Congress about similar concerns by Mueller’s investigators, and Nadler on Friday threatened to hold Barr in contempt of Congress if he did not grant access to Mueller’s unredacted report and its underlying documents by Monday morning.

The scrutiny of Barr is likely to intensify in the coming days, as Democratic lawmakers await a potential response from the attorney general to the president’s tweet.

The issue of executive privilege has featured prominently in debates concerning Mueller’s report since the special counsel concluded his investigation in mid-March and submitted his findings to the attorney general later that month.

Trump waived the privilege during the probe, allowing former White House counsel Don McGahn and other figures in his administration to cooperate with Mueller’s team of federal prosecutors. But it is now unclear whether the president will try to assert the power to block those officials from publicly testifying.

Asked on Wednesday whether he had any objections to McGahn appearing before Congress, Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that McGahn was “a close adviser to the president” and remarked: “We haven’t waived executive privilege.”

Trump said Thursday that he did not want McGahn to testify.

“Congress shouldn‘t be looking anymore,” the president told Fox News. “This is all. It‘s done.”

[Politico]

Trump spent Friday morning offering sympathy to himself

After offering his condolences to the victims of the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, President Trump on Friday morning lamented the fate of another victim: himself.

Trump cited a report from One America News Network ostensibly about newly released testimony from former FBI agent Peter Strzok, then launched into a three-tweet thread about how unfair the investigation into Russian collusion was from the outset. It’s a neatly compacted distillation of Trump’s thoughts about the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — which appears to be nearing its conclusion — and is worth fleshing out in detail.

Here’s what the president wrote.

“New evidence that the Obama era team of the FBI, DOJ & CIA were working together to Spy on (and take out) President Trump, all the way back in 2015.” A transcript of Peter Strzok’s testimony is devastating. Hopefully the Mueller Report will be covering this.

So, if there was knowingly & acknowledged to be “zero” crime when the Special Counsel was appointed, and if the appointment was made based on the Fake Dossier (paid for by Crooked Hillary) and now disgraced Andrew McCabe (he & all stated no crime), then the Special Counsel should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller Report. This was an illegal & conflicted investigation in search of a crime. Russian Collusion was nothing more than an excuse by the Democrats for losing an Election that they thought they were going to win.

THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO A PRESIDENT AGAIN!

That One America report doesn’t actually say what Trump quotes. It’s more of a broad overview of the focus of the segment, which aired shortly after 5 a.m.

Believe it or not, the segment is less comprehensible and focused than Trump’s tweet about it. It’s pegged to the release of the Strzok testimony but is actually about a conspiracy theory that emerged in the summer. That theory focused on a text message sent from Strzok to FBI attorney Lisa Page, asking her whether she had gotten “all our oconus lures approved.” It was an apparent reference to setting up foreign (OCONUS, or “outside the continental U.S.”) informants (lures) for use in an investigation. But nothing about the text suggests it was related to Trump at all.

Nonetheless, OANN’s Pearson Sharp concluded that the text messages offered proof that “the FBI took steps to infiltrate Trump’s campaign with spies in December 2015.” Therefore former FBI director James B. Comey was lying under oath when he said the investigation began in July 2016 and the FBI broke its own rules about when it could use confidential informants. And, therefore, “it seems clear that Obama’s CIA, Department of Justice and the FBI were all working to take down President Trump in 2015, well before the FBI opened an official investigation,” Sharp said. That’s basically what Trump tweeted.

It is unmitigated nonsense predicated on a mistake (and citing as one source, the vastly discredited conspiracy site Gateway Pundit). It is either the laziest news report I’ve ever seen or the best example of what Trump would have decried as “fake news” had it not bolstered the message he hoped to hear.

So then, a bit later, he starts his riff, which picks up various threads from conservative media and his own tweets over a few days.

“. . . if there was knowingly & acknowledged to be ‘zero’ crime when the Special Counsel was appointed”: Trump has a habit of picking up bits of evidence that he likes and inflating them outward so he looks the way he wants.

Several days ago, he picked up on the idea that Mueller’s appointment came at a point when the FBI was still collecting evidence about possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. In testimony Page offered to Congress, she made that point.

Now, you’ll remember that investigations aren’t criminal trials and are meant to collect the evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed. If you couldn’t start an investigation until you could prove a crime, you wouldn’t need an investigation. And investigations often fail to uncover evidence of crimes.

But Trump picked up this Fox News report and used it to stipulate that no crime had occurred because no direct proof of a crime was available at the outset of looking into the crime. That then became a “knowing” “acknowledgment” of “’zero’ crime” having occurred, which is obviously untrue.

“ . . . if the appointment was made based on the Fake Dossier (paid for by Crooked Hillary) and now disgraced Andrew McCabe (he & all stated no crime)”: Trump has also repeatedly focused on a dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele. Those reports were written for Fusion GPS, a company that, at the time, was being paid by a law firm that did work for the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton (“Crooked Hillary,” in Trump’s phrasing). The dossier includes raw intelligence that was not verified at the time it was produced and which subsequently has only spottily hit the mark in describing what happened.

It was not, however, the basis of Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. Trump’s confusing his inaccurate arguments here. The dossier was alleged to have been the primary source for a warrant that the FBI obtained to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, not for Mueller.

The Mueller appointment was spurred by Trump’s firing of Comey and Comey’s subsequent allegation that Trump had pressured him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe discusses the appointment in his recently released book, but it was the ultimate determination of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — a Trump appointee.

McCabe and “all” have also not stated that no crime took place in relation to Trump’s campaign.

“ . . . the Special Counsel should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller Report”: The special counsel was appointed, according to McCabe, to ensure that Trump couldn’t interfere further with the investigation into his campaign, wherever it led.

But Trump tips his hand here: He’s clearly mostly worried about the release of Mueller’s final report on his investigation. Trump’s been effective at inoculating his base against whatever it might reveal, but he’s clearly still worried enough about it to claim that it shouldn’t come out at all.

“This was an illegal & conflicted investigation in search of a crime”: There is nothing remotely illegal about the Mueller investigation, which was established under Justice Department guidelines and which has been upheld in court.

Trump simply likes to describe things he doesn’t like or that he feels threatened by as “illegal.” In January of last year we tallied the things that he’d described as “illegal,” including Clinton’s email server, her emails, a fundraising notice from the Republican Party, Barack Obama’s amnesty order, the State Department’s defense of Clinton, the sharing of CNN town hall questions with the Clinton campaign, Comey sharing an unclassified document and so on.

The president has made a concerted effort to cast the probe as biased against him, criticizing the attorneys working for Mueller and claiming that Mueller is hopelessly conflicted because, years ago, Mueller left one of Trump’s golf clubs because of a fee dispute. Seriously.

Mueller’s team has been largely quiet, not offering defenses against these charges. But it’s worth noting that any significant action that Mueller’s team takes had to be signed off by Rosenstein or, now, Attorney General William P. Barr.

“Russian Collusion was nothing more than an excuse by the Democrats for losing an Election that they thought they were going to win”: Trump’s made this claim before. Here’s a question: If the Democrats created allegations of Russian collusion to excuse losing the 2016 presidential election, how did the investigation start in December 2015, as OANN sloppily claimed? How did it even start in July 2016, as Comey testified under oath (and as all evidence suggests is true)?

The FBI saw a number of red flags during the 2016 election that spurred it to launch the probe in late July. Among those flags was a report from an Australian diplomat that he’d been told by a Trump campaign adviser that Russia had emails incriminating Clinton. Among those flags was that Trump’s campaign chairman at the time had obvious and established links to Russian oligarchs. Among those flags was that another adviser had traveled to Moscow earlier that month.

The Democrats really put in some effort laying the groundwork on this thing, I guess.

“THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO A PRESIDENT AGAIN!”: The good news is that, as presented, this never happened to a president in the first place.

[Washington Post]

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]

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 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 Just Blurted Out, Unprompted, That He Installed His Pet Attorney General Over the Russia Probe

Wednesday, we explored the career timeline of Matthew Whitaker, the man whom Donald Trump, American president, appointed acting attorney general after firing Jeff Sessions the day after the midterms. Trump passed over multiple Senate-confirmed officials in the actual line of succession to pick Whitaker, who’d become Sessions’s chief of staff close to a year earlier after repeatedly going on CNN to defend Trump against the Russia probe with the expressed intent of getting the president’s attention and a job. Even some conservative legal commentators have suggested his appointment was unconstitutional, and the state of Maryland is suing to that effect.

This was about as blatant a move to obstruct the investigation as the president could have made. Whitaker is an obvious Trump loyalist and longtime Republican operative who time after time attacked the special counsel’s investigation, including by promoting a story suggesting Robert Mueller’s team was a “lynch mob.”Whitaker has close ties to Sam Clovis, a grand-jury witness in the probe who advised him to start going on CNN to catch Trump’s eye.

After he got the job as Sessions’s chief of staff, Whitaker was described by Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department—an assault on the department’s independence and the rule of law. And even well before all this, Whitaker allegedly politicized a federal investigationas a U.S. attorney in Iowa, participated in scams and grifts in his business dealings, and once flexed his background in federal law enforcement to run protection for a company—of which he was on the board—that the Federal Trade Commission fined $26 million and shuttered as a criminal enterprise.

Still, no matter how clear something is, it helps to hear it from the horse’s mouth. The President of the United States, who once said on national television he was considering “the Russia thing” when he fired FBI Director James Comey, was happy to oblige in a typically freewheeling interview with The Daily Caller. As first flagged by journalist Brian Beutler, Trump seized on a softball question to spill the beans on Whitaker’s appointment.

THE DAILY CALLER: Sure. Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie —

POTUS: Matthew Whitaker is a very respected man. He’s — and he’s, very importantly, he’s respected within DOJ. I heard he got a very good decision, I haven’t seen it. Kellyanne, did I hear that?

WHITE HOUSE ADVISER KELLYANNE CONWAY: 20 pages.

POTUS: A 20 page?

THE DAILY CALLER: It just came out right before this, sir.

POTUS: Well, I heard it was a very strong opinion. Uh, which is good. But [Whitaker] is just somebody who’s very respected.

I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

THE DAILY CALLER: Right.

Right.

The president just admitted, unprompted, that he fired the head of the Justice Department and installed a loyalist over a Justice Department investigation into him and his associates. This is obstruction. This is corrupt. This is an untenable assault on the rule of law in a democratic republic. And the Republican majorities in Congress—to say nothing of his base—will happily let him get away with it.

Oh, and by the way: Trump’s claim he only knows Whitaker through Sessions is a blatant lie. And not just because Trump’s chief of staff said Whitaker was their “eyes and ears.” Here’s Trump on October 11, 2018—a month ago:

“I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy,” President Trump said in a Fox News interview. “I know Matt Whitaker.”

This is not the first time he’s lied about knowing Whitaker since appointing him to, incredibly obviously, interfere in the Mueller investigation.

All that said, there is a beautiful symmetry here. The rear-end of Donald Trump, a lifetime grifter who’s just trying to lie his way to the end of each day while his brain is steadily melted by television, may ultimately be protected by a ‘roided-out Mr. Clean who came to him through the teevee—and who once threatened peopleon behalf of a company peddling Big Dick Toilets. America the Beautiful.

[Esquire]

Trump: Don’t Forget That Mueller Probe Is A Total, Raging, Screaming Witch Hunt

How could we forget? Well, Donald Trump has been relatively quiet about the Robert Mueller probe lately, perhaps because of his work with his legal team in answering Mueller’s questions in writing. This morning, however, Trump let his anger out for an early morning walk in the Twitter neighborhood:

Actually, Mueller worked for Obama for four-plus years, and only two by dint of an Obama decision. George W. Bush appointed Mueller as director of the FBI in mid-2001 (and started one week before 9/11, in fact), but Obama extended it by two years after his ten-year term expired. That decision was met by unanimous acclaim in the Senate, with the only concern raised — briefly — by Chuck Grassley over the precedent it would set rather than any issue with Mueller’s performance. Between his eventual departure in September 2013 and his June 2017 appointment as special counsel, Mueller worked in the private sector at Stanford, the law firm WilmerHale, and then Booz Allen Hamilton — not for Obama.

Most media outlets wondered what prompted the sudden reversion to offense, but no one’s taking it seriously. Politico just recaps the Mueller-Trump relationship while noting the “revive[d] personal attacks.” The New York Times points out Trump’s being “relatively quiet about the investigation” of late, and also that his legal team had reportedly urged him to quit attacking Mueller on Twitter.

The catalyst for this morning’s eruption is likely the attacks on his choice for acting AG, Matt Whitaker. That’s the Washington Post’s take as well:

Trump’s rant, in a pair of morning tweets, came a week after the installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general, a move many Democrats have said appears designed to curtail Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.

Trump angrily dismissed a reporter’s question about that notion last week and said he had not spoken to Whitaker about the Russia probe before naming him to replace ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Many of Trump’s complaints in Thursday’s tweets were familiar, but they took on heightened significance with Whitaker now overseeing Mueller’s probe, which is also examining whether Trump has obstructed justice.

Is Whitaker actually overseeing the probe, though? So far that’s still Rod Rosenstein, with Whitaker overseeing Rosenstein. Courts will likely weigh in on whether Whitaker can oversee anything, but at least there’s been no indication of a transfer of that portfolio to this point.

All of this is likely much ado about nothing, anyway. There is a slim chance that Mueller will pull a smoking gun out of his report, but it’s far more likely that he’ll have little impact on Trump in the end. Columbia professor Lincoln Mitchell argues for Reuters that even drawing lines between Trump and the Kremlin won’t result in any action:

Trump has succeeded in making the Mueller investigation so partisan an issue that whatever Mueller has found, or will find in the future, will have little effect other than reinforcing existing views among voters and lawmakers. It is unlikely that anything, even evidence of criminal activity, beyond the campaign finance violations Cohen cited in connection with Trump, will change this.

Trump has never been a very popular president, but his support has been quite stable in the face of revelations that one might expect to influence public opinion. From the time he was inaugurated through the recent midterms, according to Gallup’s weekly polling, his popularity was always between 35 and47 percent, with fluctuations that were not particularly correlated to Russia-related revelations. By comparison, for a similar period, Obama’s ranged from 44 and69 percent and Bush’s from 51 and 90 percent. Trump’s numbers suggest that while he is never going to be well-liked by most Americans, there is a floor of about 35 percent that is not going to abandon him.

That base of 35 percent is significant because it roughly translates into more than 35 Republican senators whose voters like Trump and will continue to back him. The presence of those senators and their constituents’ unflappable support for the president is the guarantor that he will not be removed from office by Congress. Regardless of what Mueller finds, even if the Democratic House votes to impeach Trump, there seems to be zero chance that two-thirds of the Senate will cast the decisive vote required by the Constitution.

I’d guess, based on the process-crimes and old-news indictments generated by the Mueller probe thus far, that his final report won’t even be as significant as Mitchell presumes. He’s correct, though, in his assessment of what it would take to impeach and remove Trump at this point, in part because of Trump’s relentless campaign to cast the probe as a partisan “witch hunt.” If all Mueller has is a dumb decision by Don Jr and Jared Kushner to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya at the Trump Tower and campaign-finance violations over payoffs to former paramours, it won’t go much of anywhere in the Senate — and maybe not even an impeachment in the House.

[HotAir]

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