Tag Archives: Special Counsel

Team Trump to attack Justice Department investigators, explore pardons

As I posted yesterday, the Trump administration is seeking to discredit anyone in the chain of investigators investigating the Trump campaign and his financial connections to Russia in order to provide grist to the conservative media entertainment complex to wage a propaganda campaign against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators, for the purpose of laying the groundwork for Trump’s eventual move to a “Saturday Night Massacre” and finding someone at the Justice Department to “Bork” (fire) Robert Mueller.

Trump is also working on a “get out of jail free” card by having his lawyers explore the parameters of his issuing a presidential pardon to his ne’er-do-well family of grifters and con men, and more importantly, to himself.

If Trump is as innocent as he claims, he would be cooperating with Congress and the Justice Department to resolve this matter as quickly as possible to clear his name. He would not be going to war with his own Department of Justice. Trump is plainly behaving as a man who has something to hide.

The Washington Post reports, Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation:

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

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In Times interview, Trump foreshadows the Attorney General resigning and firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller

President Donald Trump gave a remarkable interview to the New York Times yesterday in which he signaled time bombs that will go off in the days and weeks ahead. Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions:

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

OK, two things. Sen. Sessions meetings with the Russian ambassador were not discovered and reported until after his Senate confirmation hearing, making him a potential fact witness and creating a potential conflict of interest which triggered his ethical obligation to recuse himself from the investigation. He could not have told Trump before he took the job that he would recuse himself under this timeline.

Second, Jeff Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president and has previously offered his resignation when the president expressed a lack of confidence in him. In an unprecedented move, Sessions now has been publicly undermined by the president who says he regrets hiring him. Session must resign, and he should do so today if he has any self-respect.

Actually there is a third point, Trump is expressing his view that he wanted an attorney general who would block and deflect any inquiries into his campaign’s coordination with the Russians, signaling that he believes the attorney general is loyal to him personally, and thus rejecting the independence of the Justice Department. See, Trump shows disdain for rule of law with new attacks on Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller. Update, President Trump’s Contempt for the Rule of Law.

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Jared Kushner a ‘person of interest’ in the Russian digital operation

McClatchy News continues its investigative reporting into the Russian cyber war against the U.S. during the 2016 election. Previous post McClatchy News: Russia uses ‘bots’ and trolls for information war against U.S.

Today McClatchy News reports Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation:

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks.

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Update: The ‘Flynn factor’ to Trump-Putin campaign collusion

The Wall Street Journal followed up its reporting on Friday night with another installment. GOP Activist Who Sought Clinton Emails Cited Trump Campaign Officials (sorry, pay wall article).

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo provides the details and some further analysis from a source for the story. This Is Big:

As you may have heard, this evening The Wall Street Journal published a major follow-up to its story from Thursday which described the work of a GOP money man and oppo research guy, the late Peter W. Smith, who was trying to get hacked emails from Russia and held himself out to be in contact with disgraced Trump advisor Michael Flynn. On its face, the big new break in this follow-up story is a new document from Smith. The document is from what is described as a package of recruiting materials Smith was using to enlist cybersecurity talent in his operation. The document listed key officials in the Trump campaign. These were apparently people Smith claimed he was in touch with or working with, though precisely how or why they were mentioned is not entirely clear.

Here’s the key passage from the Journal article

Officials identified in the document include Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for President Donald Trump; Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager and now White House counselor; Sam Clovis, a policy adviser to the Trump campaign and now a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who was a campaign adviser and briefly was national security adviser in the Trump administration.

A few caveats are in order.

From the Journal reporting at least it is not totally clear what Smith intended by listing these people. It’s also possible that Smith was freelancing. There are lots of people in the orbit of major campaigns puffing up their connections to top players. The Journal article has Bannon denying any knowledge of Smith. Conway says she knew Smith from GOP politics over the years but was never in contact with him about this.

That’s the story as presented in the Journal.

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The ‘Flynn factor’ to Trump-Putin campaign collusion

Michael Flynn is at the center of the Trump-Putin campaign investigations by the FBI, the Special Counsel, and congressional committees.

Earlier this year his lawyer publicly asked for an immunity deal for Flynn to “tell his story,” and there has been widespread speculation that Michael Flynn has turned on Donald Trump and is now cooperating with the FBI on Russia investigation. This has not yet been confirmed.

Keep this possibility in mind, however, with the Wall Street Journal’s breaking news story on the first direct evidence of collusion between Russian hackers and Michael Flynn, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, through a GOP intermediary. GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn (sorry, pay wall article).

Steve Benen provides the details from the WSJ report. Collusion questions grow louder in Trump, Russia scandal:

As Donald Trump’s Russia scandal has evolved, one of the key questions is whether the Republican presidential campaign cooperated in some way with our adversary’s attack on the American election. It is, of course, a matter of ongoing investigation . . . this line of inquiry took an important turn with this Wall Street Journal article.

Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

So, what we have here is a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who assembled a team in the hopes of obtaining Hillary Clinton’s emails. Smith and his team reached out to people they believed to be Russian hackers, affiliated with Russia’s government, because Smith and his cohorts thought these hackers may have stolen the materials.

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Russian cyber war, Trump appeasement

TIME magazine continues its excellent reporting on the Russian hacking of the U.S. election in 2016. Election Hackers Altered Voter Rolls, Stole Private Data, Officials Say:

The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers, current and former officials tell TIME.

In one case, investigators found there had been a manipulation of voter data in a county database but the alterations were discovered and rectified, two sources familiar with the matter tell TIME. Investigators have not identified whether the hackers in that case were Russian agents.

The fact that private data was stolen from states is separately providing investigators a previously unreported line of inquiry in the probes into Russian attempts to influence the election. In Illinois, more than 90% of the nearly 90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, according to Ken Menzel, the General Counsel of the State Board of Elections.

Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign, two sources familiar with the investigations tell TIME.

“If any campaign, Trump or otherwise, used inappropriate data the questions are, How did they get it? From whom? And with what level of knowledge?” the former top Democratic staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Bahar, tells TIME. “That is a crux of the investigation.”

Spokesmen for the House and Senate Intelligence committees declined to comment on the search for stolen data.

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