Wbgld7z98iyqlejy9lce

Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

Articles by

Asked about President Donald Trump’s barrage of attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, conservative lawyers and legal experts exhausted the synonyms for the word “crazy.”

“The President clearly has lost his mind,” Richard Epstein, one of the country’s preeminent scholars on classical liberalism and a Trump opponent, told TPM on Tuesday.

“Just plain nuts,” “bizarre,” “really weird” and “pathological” were among the expressions of open disbelief from other Republican and libertarian legal minds about the fact that Trump is on a campaign to publicly malign the head of his own Justice Department and one of his earliest presidential backers.

By now, Trump’s disregard for norms and the ease with which he boots out subordinates deemed insufficiently loyal are well-documented. But these experts say that Trump is moving into uncharted territory that undermines both the independence of the Justice Department and the viability of his own administration.

“It’s the way you deal with a subordinate on a reality show, not in an actually functioning organization,” Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve University Law School professor who has criticized Trump in the past, said of the President’s behavior, adding that it compromises the Justice Department’s ability to “achieve the rest of Trump’s agenda.”

The President has recently lashed out at his attorney general by sending tweets calling Sessions “beleaguered” and “VERY weak” for declining to pursue investigations into his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton; by dispatching senior staffers to tell national press outlets that he wants Sessions gone; and by floating possible replacements with his inner circle.

During a Tuesday afternoon chat with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he was “very disappointed” in Sessions and acknowledged he was “looking at” removing him from office.

Behind Trump’s long-simmering rage is Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and other matters related to the 2016 campaign. Trump believes Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel can be traced back to that move, as he told The New York Times last week in an extraordinary interview.

Sessions has said that he plans to continue serving “as long as that is appropriate,” leaving the decision to oust him in Trump’s hands. Why the President is embarking on a public smear campaign instead of wielding his authority to simply fire his attorney general remains unclear.

“There’s a rational theory and there’s a theory that just makes no sense,” Al Latham, a Trump critic who worked on civil rights issues for the Reagan administration, told TPM. “The rational one is that if Sessions quits rather than being fired and then Trump uses that to take steps to fire Mueller by appointing a new Attorney General it looks less like obstruction of justice.”

“Then there’s a theory that simply makes no sense at all,” he continued, “that for whatever reason this is who Trump is, this is how Trump does things, and he has no sense of limits, boundaries or propriety.”

Trump has taken such a norm-shattering step before: firing FBI Director James Comey because he disapproved of Comey’s handling of what he called “the Russia thing.” These efforts to get rid of the individuals with oversight of the federal investigation into Russia’s election meddling make him look suspicious even to those individuals who believe there is nothing behind that probe.

“I continue to think that the Russia stuff is a bunch of mostly hot air, but Trump continues to act like something to hide with his neuroses about the process,” Josh Hammer, a member of the conservative Federalist Society who’s served as a law clerk for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), said of the possibility of Sessions’ departure. “For someone who a lot of us continue to think probably has nothing to hide, he sure as hell acts like he does.”

Whether Sessions is dismissed or resigns, the experts agreed that his’ current situation is untenable. If he departed, Session would either be replaced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who assumed oversight of the Russia probe after Sessions’ recusal and has also taken heat from Trump, or by a new attorney general appointed by Trump who would need Senate approval.

Adler noted that Rosenstein is “less pliable and certainly less loyal to Trump as an individual” than Sessions, and that anyone else who Trump nominated to lead the DOJ would face a grueling confirmation process at the mercy of senators eager to ensure that individual would not do Trump’s bidding.

Epstein noted there would be few candidates willing to replace Sessions after watching him endure prolonged public humiliation. He characterized working directly for Trump as an experience equivalent to putting “your head into a meat grinder” and a threat to “sanity and sobriety.”

The “strongest reason” why Trump wouldn’t fire Sessions, Epstein believes, “is that he can’t find anyone to replace him. He literally can’t find anyone who will do that job.”

Read More →

When he meets with Senate investigators this week, Paul Manafort is expected to provide contemporaneous notes he took during a June 2016 meeting billed as part of the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign, Politico reported.

An anonymous source “close to the investigation” told Politico that the former Trump campaign chairman is expected to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced that it had issued a subpoena to compel Manafort to testify at a public hearing Wednesday.

“Mr. Manafort, through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff,” committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a bipartisan statement about the subpoena order.

“While the Judiciary Committee was willing to cooperate on equal terms with any other committee to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request, ultimately that was not possible.”

The Judiciary Committee is probing whether Manafort improperly failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for lobbying work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

The Intelligence Committee is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign facilitated those efforts.

Kushner and Trump Jr. also are meeting with congressional investigators behind closed doors this week to discuss their involvement in the Trump Tower rendezvous, which was pitched as an opportunity to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Read the full statement from the Senate Judiciary Committee below:

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last night issued a subpoena to compel Paul Manafort’s presence at a public Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday regarding enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and attempts to influence U.S. elections.

Grassley and Feinstein made the following comment:

“While we were willing to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request to cooperate with the committee’s investigation without appearing at Wednesday’s hearing, we were unable to reach an agreement for a voluntary transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee.

“Mr. Manafort, through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff. While the Judiciary Committee was willing to cooperate on equal terms with any other committee to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request, ultimately that was not possible.

“Therefore, yesterday evening, a subpoena was issued to compel Mr. Manafort’s participation in Wednesday’s hearing. As with other witnesses, we may be willing to excuse him from Wednesday’s hearing if he would be willing to agree to production of documents and a transcribed interview, with the understanding that the interview would not constitute a waiver of his rights or prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.”

Correction: This story wrongly identified the committee Manafort would turn his meeting notes over to as the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is expected to meet with investigators with the Senate Intelligence Committee. TPM regrets the error.

Read More →

Hours before Jared Kushner stepped out to a podium in front of the White House on Monday and said he has never “relied on Russian funds” for his businesses, The Guardian reported that he made a deal with a real estate mogul linked to a Russian firm accused in a multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme.

The President’s son-in-law and senior adviser paid $295 million in 2015 to acquire several floors of a Manhattan office tower from the U.S. branch of a company owned by the Soviet-born Israeli businessman Lev Leviev. Kushner entered into an agreement with Leviev’s Africa Israel Investments (AFI) to purchase the floors of the old New York Times building.

According to the Guardian, AFI was cited as a business partner of Russian-owned real estate company Prevezon Holdings in a lawsuit alleging that Prevezon laundered millions of dollars through Manhattan real estate. Kushner and Leviev did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

A month before Election Day, Kushner also took out a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank as part of a refinancing package for that some property—a transaction now under scrutiny by federal investigators looking into both Kushner and the President’s finances.

Kushner stated both in written testimony submitted to Congress and on camera Monday that he has “not relied on Russian funds” to support his family real estate company or other business interests.

A link between Prevezon and the Trump campaign came to light via a recently uncovered June 2016 meeting that had been billed to Donald Trump Jr., the President’s eldest son, as an opportunity to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Kushner attended the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, both of whom worked for Prevezon’s owner, Denis Katsyv.

Prevezon was accused of trying to use Manhattan properties to launder money stolen from the Russian treasury. Whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky uncovered the alleged scheme, and subsequently died in a Moscow prison under mysterious circumstances. Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya have lobbied heavily on Katsyv’s behalf against the U.S. sanctions bill that carries Magnitsky’s name, as TPM previously reported. They have also pushed for the reinstatement of a program that allowed U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children, which was abolished by Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to the Magnitsky Act.

Kushner said in his written statement that he knew nothing of the June meeting’s purpose or participants ahead of time, and that he skipped out early after deciding it was a “waste of time.” His attendance at the meeting as well as his business dealings are among the areas of interest of federal and congressional investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The U.S. settled its case against Prevezon and associated companies in May for a scant $6 million.

Read More →

Shortly after testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his contacts with Russia, Jared Kushner made a rare public appearance Monday in front of the White House to announce that he “did not collude with Russia” during the 2016 election.

“I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information,” Kushner said, reading from brief prepared remarks.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser seemed stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera, acknowledging that he hardly ever speaks to the media. Most of his remarks rehashed the 11-page statement he provided to the Senate panel about the four contacts he said he had with Russian representatives during the campaign and transition.

In an additional twist, Kushner said that suggesting Russia’s interference in the 2016 race on Trump’s behalf, as U.S. intelligence agencies have asserted, is an offense to the President’s voters.

“Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign. That is why he won,” Kushner said. “Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.”

Kushner is scheduled to face questions from the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

Watch his full remarks below:

Read More →

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, on Monday detailed what he said were his only contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign in the hope of putting “these matters to rest.”

Kushner released an 11-page statement ahead of his interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee that raises questions about how forthcoming he was about those contacts, as well as why his descriptions of those contacts, in some cases, differ sharply from those of the Russian officials and businessmen with whom he met.

In the statement, Kushner painted himself as an overworked political novice who was prone to dispatching sensitive matters to his aides and seemingly unaware of the questions being raised about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship with Russia.

He faces questions from both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees this week in private session. Though he will reportedly not be giving those interviews under oath, it is a crime to knowingly lie to Congress.

Here’s a close look at the four Russian contacts that Kushner acknowledges he had, and what we still don’t know about those meetings.

Meeting Russia’s ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel

Who, what, where, when: Trump delivered a campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a Republican senator from Alabama, and Kushner were in attendance. All three met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S.

What’s been reported about it: Trump “warmly greeted” Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors at a V.I.P. reception held shortly before his first big foreign policy speech, in which he promised a push for “improved relations with Russia,” the Wall Street Journal reported last year. Kushner had organized the speech with the Center for the National Interest, a think tank, and both he and Sessions also chatted with Kislyak on the sidelines. Spokespeople for Kushner and Sessions denied that the two officials spoke to Kislyak one-on-one.

What Kushner says happened: Acknowledging the event was his “idea,” Kushner confirmed for the first time that he spoke with Kislyak at the event. He says he and the four ambassadors present merely “exchanged brief pleasantries” and he told them he “hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” according to his statement. According to Kushner, “each exchange lasted less than a minute.”

A separate spokesperson for Kushner told the Journal that the new statement doesn’t contradict previous denials because the exchange of pleasantries happened at a public reception instead of a private meeting.

What we still don’t know: Kislyak’s disclosure of the contact with Trump campaign officials to Moscow piqued the attention of U.S. officials who intercepted those conversations, CNN reported. We don’t know how Kislyak described the encounters or what exactly was discussed, or why Kushner waited until now to acknowledge this brief encounter.

Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer

Who, what, where, when: Donald Trump, Jr. and family acquaintance Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower for June 9, 2016 with a “Russian government lawyer” promising information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to help the Trump campaign. Trump Jr., Goldstone, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Kushner attended on the Trump side. They met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer; Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin; Ike Kaveladze, a representative for Goldstone’s client, Emin Agalarov, and his father, Aras Agalarov; and translator Anatoli Samochornov.

What’s been reported about it: Kushner was forwarded the entire email chain arranging the meeting, according to the New York Times. His outgoing personal lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the Times that he attended the meeting “at the request of his brother-in-law” and that it was so inconsequential that he didn’t think to include it on his amended security clearance application until his lawyers discovered the emails while preparing for his congressional testimony. Meeting participants said that Veselnitskaya briefly ran through the supposed dirt on Clinton she possessed at the start of the meeting, before pivoting to a discussion of a defunct program allowing U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner said he was asked to attend a “meeting” with his brother-in-law, and that he “did not read” the full email thread detailing the purpose of the meeting. It was scheduled as “Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner,” and “no one else was mentioned” as participating. Kushner said that by the time he arrived, Veselnitskaya was already discussing adoptions and that he emailed an assistant for an excuse to leave because he felt it was a “waste of our time” and he needed to “get back to my work.”

“No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” Kushner wrote.

What we still don’t know: Kushner says he read the email changing the meeting time, but hasn’t said whether the subject line “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” on that email caught his attention. He also does not explain why, as a senior campaign official with a packed schedule, he would agree to attend a meeting organized by his brother-in-law with no knowledge of who would be present, what would be discussed, or why he needed to participate. Other participants, including Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., have said Kushner departed the room early, but it’s also unclear when Kushner arrived and what he overheard. Kushner’s statement said he arrived “a little late,” but Veselnitskaya said he was “only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes,” which is when Trump Jr. said she presented the information about Clinton.

Trump Tower meeting with Russia’s ambassador

Who, what, where, when: Kushner met with Kislyak at Trump Tower on Dec. 1, 2016, where they discussed establishing a direct line of communications between the Kremlin and the transition team. Michael Flynn, then named as the incoming national security adviser, was also present for the meeting.

What’s been reported about it: The Washington Post reported that Kushner proposed setting up a secret, secure communications line between Trump’s transition team and Russia. To the surprise of Kislyak, Kushner himself proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities to discuss U.S.-Russia policy without being monitored by the U.S. intelligence community, per the Post. The New York Times reported that the intention was to have Flynn directly speak to a senior military official in Moscow about Syria and other policy concerns.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner wrote that he waited two weeks after first receiving a request from Kislyak to arrange a meeting. He said he had no ongoing relationship with the Russian ambassador and had to email a contact to ask for the ambassador’s name the day after the election in order to confirm the validity of a congratulatory email from Putin’s office. According to Kushner, during the “twenty-thirty minute”-long meeting, he “stated our desire for a fresh start in relations” and asked who in Russia’s government to contact for direct discussions.

According to Kushner, Kislyak said he wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and asked if there was a secure line to convey this information to the transition team. In response, “I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn,” Kushner wrote. Kislyak said “that would not be possible” and the conversation stalled; according to Kushner, the conversation did not amount to a request for “a ‘secret back channel’” and U.S. sanctions against Russia were never raised.

What we still don’t know: Setting aside the oddness of Kushner emailing a contact for Kislyak’s name rather than doing a quick Google search, his statement doesn’t address the fact that the media and Democratic lawmakers had been raising concerns about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia for months by the time he agreed to the meeting with Kislyak.

It’s also unknown if Kushner and the ambassador had additional conversations over the phone. Reuters reported that the pair had two calls between April and November 2016; Kushner said in his statement that he could not find records of those conversations and is “highly skeptical these calls took place.”

Trump Tower meeting with a Russian banker

Who, what, where, when: Kushner met with the CEO of Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, at Trump Tower on Dec. 13, 2016. The Russian financial institution was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

What’s been reported about it: After Kislyak requested a second meeting to “deliver a message,” Kushner dispatched a deputy to go in his stead, the New York Times reported. At the time, Kushner was still serving as chief executive of Kushner Companies, his family real estate business, and seeking funding for 666 Fifth Avenue, an overleveraged office tower in Manhattan. While Trump’s campaign said Kushner arranged the meeting in his official capacity as the campaign’s liaison to foreign entities, Gorkov told the press that it was a business meeting.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner acknowledges that he agreed to attend a sit-down with Gorkov at Kislyak’s urging. He said he received two small gifts from Gorkov, which he formally registered with the transition, and that Gorkov made “some statements about the Russian economy.” They did not discuss “specific policies,” sanctions, or his business dealings, Kushner wrote.

What we still don’t know: It’s unclear why Gorkov and White House officials differed on which hat Kushner was wearing during the meeting: campaign official or real estate tycoon. It’s also unclear how much Kushner knew about Gorkov, who has close ties to Putin, before taking the meeting, or why he agreed to meet with the banker days after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had worked to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Read More →

Money laundering. Targeting voters with fake news articles. Undisclosed lobbying on behalf of foreign interests. A meeting between the President’s oldest son and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Much to Donald Trump’s chagrin, what started as a federal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has snowballed into a wide-ranging investigation that has reached his and his associates’ financial transactions. The President and his outside legal team now are forcefully arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller is overreaching and that his investigation should be strictly focused on Russia.

But the subjects of Mueller’s investigation are all covered by the broad mandate laid out in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo appointing him special counsel. Links between the Trump campaign and Russia, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and any attempts to impede or obstruct it are all explicitly covered in the document. Previously existing investigations into various Trump associates have been subsumed into the special counsel probe, too, as they “directly” relate to the effort to determine motivation for Trump campaign associates’ potential collusion with Russian operatives to interfere with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s office has managed to keep a relatively tight lid on leaks, here’s everything reporters have gleaned about his investigation to date.

Russia’s interference in the election

Hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic operatives

The root of the investigation was the systematic hacking of servers and email accounts linked to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and big-name Democratic operatives like Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the hackers worked for the Russian government and helped distribute the materials on sites like DCLeaks.

Fake news bots and voter targeting in key districts

Another early subject of federal scrutiny was Russia’s use of data targeting to strategically disseminate “fake news” stories to key voter demographics and even specific districts in swing states. Federal investigators want to know if the Trump campaign’s data operation, which was ultimately helmed by the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, helped guide Russian operatives to states like Michigan and Wisconsin, which were crucial to Trump’s upset electoral victory.

Potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives

June 2016 Trump Tower meeting

Donald Trump, Jr.’s recently-released email chain showing that he attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer to obtain “ultra sensitive” information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to help his father’s campaign provided the clearest indication yet that the President’s inner circle was open to accepting help from the Russian government. Those emails, the meeting, and the White House’s response to its disclosure are all under scrutiny by Mueller’s team.

Proposal to set up a covert communications channel with Russia

Investigators are looking into Kushner’s December 2016 discussions with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about establishing a secret, secure line of communication with the Kremlin to discuss diplomatic issues.

Contacts with Russian officials and businessmen

Aside from the conversation between Kislyak and Kushner, a whole host of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians are being investigated, most notably between Kislyak and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Kislyak and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Former campaign adviser Carter Page, who also spoke with Kislyak, is additionally under scrutiny for his longstanding business ties to Russia and his July 2016 visit to Moscow, in which he gave a speech advocating for better U.S. relations with the Kremlin. Russian intelligence agents had previously attempted to recruit him as a spy.

Trump associates’ financial transactions and business dealings

Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey

Mueller has assumed control of a federal grand jury probe into the $530,000 lobbying contract Flynn carried out to benefit Turkey while working for the Trump campaign and transition team. Flynn had to retroactively register as a foreign agent for that work after leaving the White House, and investigators want to know if his lobbying contract influenced military decisions he made during his brief tenure as national security adviser.

Paul Manafort’s complex web of shell companies

Investigators are on the hunt for possible money laundering by the former campaign chairman, who reportedly received millions of dollars for lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. The banking records and complex web of shell companies Manafort uses to manage his real estate properties are being picked apart for evidence of fraud.

Trump’s Russia-related business deals

Despite the President’s protestations that making money from Russia is not his “thing,” he has done a number of Russia-related business deals in recent years that are of interest to investigators. Bloomberg reported that these include Russian purchases of condos in Trump buildings, his work on a SoHo development with a mob-affiliated real estate firm, the 2013 Miss Universe contest he held in Moscow, and his 2008 sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch.

To that last item, Jay Sekulow, a top member of Trump’s outside legal team, objected. “They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago. In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation,” he told the Washington Post.

Kushner’s efforts to secure funding for his family’s properties

Investigators want to know if Kushner met was trying to obtain funding for his family real estate company’s troubled 666 Fifth Avenue office building when he met with the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a Russian financial institution under U.S. sanctions.

Wilbur Ross’ tenure with the Bank of Cyprus

Though few details have emerged, investigators apparently have questions about financial transactions at the Bank of Cyprus, where Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross formerly served as vice chairman. The Guardian previously reported that Ross oversaw a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin during his tenure at the bank.

Obstruction of justice in the Russia probe

Trump thinks he is “not under investigation” for obstructing justice by firing former FBI director James Comey for his oversight of the Russia probe, but he is. Rosenstein and Sessions both wrote memos supporting Comey’s firing, and the deputy attorney general has made it clear that their role in the dismissal also falls within the scope of Mueller’s investigation.

Read More →

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday accused his counterpart in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), of creating a false narrative about Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice.

Speaking to CNN after Rice was interviewed by the panel in closed session, Burr said he asked no questions about whether she improperly requested and revealed the identities of U.S. individuals swept up in intelligence reports—an accusation Nunes has made repeatedly.

“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened,” Burr told CNN. “But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”

With an assist from the White House, the House Intelligence chairman in March embarked on a one-man crusade to accuse Rice of improperly unmasking the identities of members of Trump’s campaign in intelligence reports. Though President Donald Trump said he believed Rice’s actions broke the law, bipartisan lawmakers who viewed the same classified reports from which Nunes drew his conclusions said they saw no evidence of wrongdoing. National security experts also told TPM that it was within Rice’s purview as national security adviser to request that names be unmasked as she tried to determine the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Nunes ended up temporarily stepping aside from the House investigation after ethics watchdogs accused him of improperly disclosing classified information in his public statements about Rice. He recently told CNN that he remains fully “read-in” to the House probe and never formally recused himself, however.

“I can do whatever I want, I’m the chairman of the committee,” Nunes said.

Read More →

The special counsel has requested that the White House preserve all documents related to the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, CNN reported Friday.

An anonymous source who viewed the letter to the White House told CNN that staff were asked to save “any subjects discussed in the course of the June 2016 meeting” and “any decisions made regarding the recent disclosures about the June 2016 meeting.”

This implies that special counsel Robert Mueller is not just interested in what happened during the Trump Tower meeting that Trump Jr. arranged after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Mueller also wants to know how the White House formulated its response to revelations about the meeting’s existence, which came to light earlier this month.

Trump Jr., the White House, and the President last week offered up a number of halting, occasionally conflicting, statements about the purpose of the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The President’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

According to CNN, Mueller’s document preservation request includes text messages, emails, notes, voicemails and other communications and documentation, as well as any related communication since then.

Some of the participants in the meeting and the White House have dismissed the meeting’s importance, saying Trump Jr. did not obtain the damaging information he sought. But Mueller’s letter said that the sit-down “is relevant to the investigation,” according to CNN.

Read More →

President Donald Trump is careening towards a face-off with special counsel Robert Mueller.

The President and his legal team are going on the offensive after reports this week indicated that Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is digging into the President’s business transactions with Russian associates. Trump told the New York Times that he would see any review of his and his family’s finances unrelated to Russia as a “violation” of the probe’s parameters.

In just the past 24 hours, the Times and Washington Post have reported that Trump is taking extraordinary steps to discredit Mueller’s investigation, including digging through his teams’ campaign donations and past clients. The President has also asked about his power to pardon his aides, family, and himself, according to the Post, as if to preempt whatever Mueller’s team may find.

Jay Sekulow, who has assumed a larger role in the President’s reshuffled outside legal team, told the Post that reports that Mueller is investigating a number of Russia-related transactions Trump carried out in the last decade or so date too far back, and are thus “far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

Unfortunately for the President, legal experts and former DOJ officials say, this is just how large-scale government investigations work.

“The problem is you don’t really know what is Russian,” Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Watergate investigation, told TPM. “A lot of stuff could be hidden in companies and under names of other people, you just don’t know. You’ve got to look at everything to determine what really relates to the Russia connection here.”

“It’s not up to him as to what the scope of this probe is, that’s for sure,” Akerman added, saying investigators are “not going to ignore stuff that is criminal.”

Financial transactions are well within the wide purview Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein laid out in his May memo appointing Mueller as special counsel, as legal observers have noted.

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney at the National Security Agency’s Office of General Counsel and managing editor of the Lawfare blog, wrote on Twitter that the “Trump family finances are absolutely, 100% fair game.”

“The financial arrangements or dealings, those could be related to why there was collusion or incentive or motive to collude,” Tracy Schmaler, a former Justice Department spokesperson during President Obama’s first term, told TPM. “So I wouldn’t say it’s out of bounds so much as filling in the picture.”

“The relationship with Russia and Russian officials predates his run for the presidency,” Schmaler added.

Rosenstein’s memo granted Mueller sweeping authority to look into any links between the Trump campaign and Russia; “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”; and any matters within the scope of federal regulation 600.4(a), which includes obstruction of justice and other matters pertaining to efforts to derail the special counsel probe.

Although Trump told the Times that he is “not under investigation” and “didn’t do anything wrong,” the Washington Post previously reported that Mueller’s team had taken control of a federal investigation into whether the President obstructed justice by abruptly firing James Comey as FBI director because of the “Russia thing,” as Trump put it.

And as Comey testified before Congress in June, it’s possible that in the course of its work the special counsel could uncover crimes unrelated to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election or the Trump campaign’s potential coordination with those efforts.

“In any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation, that are criminal in nature,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Mueller’s powerhouse team of more than a dozen attorneys has experience in national security, fraud, money-laundering, organized crime, espionage, cybercrime and public corruption, offering an indication of just how wide-ranging the investigation may be.

A previous federal probe centered around a president’s private dealings took a winding path of a different sort. Independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr was appointed in 1994 to investigate a decades-old failed Arkansas real estate involving Bill and Hillary Clinton; the impeachment report he filed four years later focused instead on Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

All that special counsel investigators are required to do is follow the threads presented to them, wherever they might lead, as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) affirmed Thursday to CNN. Any topic related to Russia, Trump and his campaign associates is fair game.

“If they were investigating Donald Trump when he was five years old and ran a lemonade stand in Queens, I’d say, yeah, that’s probably beyond the scope,” Akerman, the former Watergate prosecutor said. “But if it turns out that the lemonade stand was done a year ago and was in Moscow and related to the same characters who showed up at the meeting with his son [Donald Trump Jr.], well I might feel a little differently about it.”

The looming, unanswered question, then, is whether a President who has fired his FBI director, scorned an attorney general who was his campaign’s most loyal supporter, and offered a national newspaper his view on the acceptable scope of a sprawling federal investigation that now touches on his own business dealings would go as far as to fire the man leading it—again.

Republican lawmakers have scoffed that there’s no chance, but his legal team is spreading the news that he’s already laying the groundwork to do so.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

LiveWire