It’s been well over a month since President Trump’s attorneys jotted down the questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask the President.
But the leaking of the questions to the press earlier this week prompted Trump Wednesday morning to rail against one of Mueller’s apparent areas of interests, in a barely intelligible tweet that quoted an attorney Trump briefly considered hiring to his team.
“The questions are an intrusion into the President’s Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any Executive Branch Employee…what the President was thinking is an outrageous…..as to the President’s unfettered power to fire anyone…” Joe Digenova, former US Attorney
Joseph DiGenova, who ultimately did not join Trump’s legal team due to “conflicts,” is reportedly one of Trump’s favorites due to his aggressive, often conspiracy-theory-tinged television appearances. The quote Trump tweeted is from DiGenova’s appearance on Sirius XM’s POTUS Channel and was played on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Tuesday night. (Trump is known to record cable news programs and watch them later.)
DiGenova’s comments were a reference to an area of questioning Mueller has signaled to Trump’s legal team that he’d like to explore, concerning Trump’s motivations for firing former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.
“The questions are an intrusion into the president’s Article II powers under the Constitution to fire any executive branch employee,” DiGenova said. “To ask questions, as Mr. Mueller apparently proposes to do, about what the President was thinking when he fired Comey or Flynn or anybody else is an outrageous, sophomoric, juvenile intrusion into the president’s unfettered power to fire anyone in the executive branch.”
On Monday, the New York Times published nearly 50 questions Mueller told Trump’s legal team he’d like to ask the President. The questions were from notes Trump’s attorneys took at a March meeting with Mueller’s investigators where they discussed a potential interview with Trump. John Dowd, who was leading Trump’s legal team at the time, later resigned out of frustration that Trump was not inclined to heed his advice that he should not interview with Mueller. Trump since has reportedly become more hostile to the idea of sitting down with Mueller’s team, particularly after FBI agents, as part of a separate investigation, raided Trump’s longtime personal “fixer” Michael Cohen.
Update: This story was updated to reflect that a Kansas House-passed provision that would have forced Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s to pay personally for a contempt of court order was stripped in later budget negotiations.
A tussle between Kansas’ GOP-led House of Representatives and its Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach a over whether state money should pay for a penalty related to a contempt finding handed down by a federal judge last month was resolved Tuesday. Kansas lawmakers dropped their effort during budget negotiations Tuesday, the Wichita Eagle reported.
The Kansas House inserted a provision, offered by state Rep. Russ Jennings (R), in a budget bill that passed easily last week that would bar state funding for “any attorney fees, court costs or fines assessed against any statewide elected official who has been cited for contempt by a state or federal court.”
A mysterious professor who made a major appearance in court filings related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s plea agreement with former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopolous was in Russia just a few weeks before the court documents were unsealed, Buzzfeed reported Tuesday.
Joseph Mifsud participated in a Oct. 5, 2017 seminar in Moscow — timed to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud visit to the country — about Yemen security issues, according to Buzzfeed’s report. The report cites a visa dated Oct. 4, 2017, as well as two sources at the Russian Council of International Affairs, the think tanks that organized the seminar. The sources told Buzzfeed that Mifsud was a member of the Saudi king’s delegation.
On Oct. 30, Mueller unsealed court documents related to Papadopoulos’ plea deal that referenced communications Papadopoulos had with a professor who, among other things, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about those communications.
Mifsud, a Maltese citizen based in London, confirmed soon after the docs were unsealed that he was the professor in question. His whereabouts have been unknown since he was interviewed by an Italian news outlet in Rome on Oct. 31.
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort claimed in a court filing Monday evening that government leakers sought to boost Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and influence the grand juries that ultimately brought indictments against Manafort.
The court document, filed in the case against Manafort brought in Virginia, zeroed in on news stories detailing investigations into Manafort’s communications with Russian intel operatives. Manafort said the government has not turned over any evidence in its discovery process of such communications, leading Manafort to suggest that the leaks were an “elaborate hoax” to sway the grand jury.
He is asking that U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III hold a hearing on the issue later this month.
Manafort has been charged with bank fraud, tax fraud and other financial crimes, many of which stem from lobbying work in Ukraine that predated the 2016 campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to similar charges brought against him in Washington, D.C.
His court filing on Monday evening pointed to about a half dozen stories starting in October 2016 and through February 2018 that allegedly “contained information from government sources that was clearly subject to grand jury secrecy, was potentially classified information, or was simply false.”
Manafort acknowledged that some of the stories don’t specifically say they came from government sources. But he alleged that even in those instances it is “abundantly clear” that the sources were current or former government officials. To support that claim, he brought up a CNN story about Rick Gates working on a plea deal in which Gates’ attorney did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. By process of elimination, Manafort concluded that the “only reasonable inference” is that government officials leaked the negotiations.
Regardless, his filing urges that the alleged leakers be identified.
In a 14-7 vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved of legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being improperly fired by President Donald Trump.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), the GOP sponsors of the legislation, voted for advancing it, as did Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, which was also sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is not seeking re-election, also voted for the bill.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week that he didn’t think such legislation was necessary and thus did not plan on bringing it up for full vote on the Senate floor.
Citing Justice Department policy not to confirm or discuss details of investigations, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to say Wednesday whether he has recused himself from the federal probe into President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
“The best answer for me, having given it some thought, is to say I should not announce that,” Sessions told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who asked the attorney general whether he was recused at an Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Sessions assured Leahy that he had not violated his recusal obligations. Later in the hearing, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asked Sessions if he would recuse himself from the Cohen probe if he discovered any connection between it and the Russian investigation or anything else related to the 2016 election.
“Yes,” Sessions said.
Cohen has been under a months-long federal grand jury investigation, prosecutors in Manhattan revealed in court filings having to do with the legal dispute over a raid on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room earlier this month. Sessions is recused from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, but it has been reported that Sessions has not recused himself from the Cohen investigation, aside from specific questions he may step back from, according to Bloomberg.
His recusal from the Russia investigation has been a point of tension in Sessions’ relationship with Trump.
Leahy also asked Sessions if he would resign if Trump improperly fired Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing Mueller’s probe. The Washington Post reported that Sessions floated the possibility that he might quit if Rosenstein was fired in a phone call with White House counsel Don McGahn.
“Senator Leahy, that calls for a speculative answer, your question calls for speculation. I am not able to do that,” Sessions said.
Update: This story has been updated to include Attorney General Sessions’ response to a question from Sen. Coons.
Aden Hassan immigrated to the United States from a Somali refugee camp just a week before President Trump’s travel ban went into effect. On Wednesday morning, he spoke before hundreds of protestors in front of the Supreme Court where the justices would be hearing a case challenging the latest iteration of the travel ban, which restricts travel from Somalia and about half a dozen other mostly Muslim countries.
“I and my family came to the refugee camp 20 years ago, where there is no life, there is no food, there is no good education. When I come to the United States, I was expected there to be democracy and welcoming people, but I see that democracy is just the surface,” Hassan told the crowd, which was braving a light, misty rain. “My mother she is still in the camp. She has heart conditions. She has diabetes. I am so worried about her because she has nobody to take care of her because I am the only one.”
It’s been over a year since he’s seen his mother, because of the ban.
According to Wardah Khalid — who works with the Church World Service, which helped settle Hassan and other refugees — the resettlement numbers have “dropped drastically,” with only 11,000 refugees resettled this fiscal year.
“Right now we are only on track to settle 20,000 refugees, which is just abysmal and completely contrary to what America stands for, as a country that has always stood for welcome and refuge,” she told TPM outside of the courthouse, about an hour before oral arguments were scheduled to begin.
Hassan was just one of dozens present at the Supreme Court’s front patio who said the ban has personally affected their lives.
A rainy morning isn’t keeping protestors of Trump’s travel ban from the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case challenging it today pic.twitter.com/Pl06vX8XFR
Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR Minnesota who is originally from Somalia, said that his family and friends have been blocked from traveling by the ban.
“This has impacted all of us, and it has impacted us in many ways, including people leaving the country,” Hussein told TPM. ” I remember talking to a family of three, where the husband was so worried — even though he had a clear path to citizenship — he was so worried that he’d travel in the middle of winter and entered Canada. It has created a lot of fear.”
The demonstrators said they hoped, beyond considering the legal issues surrounding the policy, that the justices would think of its practical effects.
Arjun Sethi, a Georgetown Law professor, said that the travel ban was a “destructive policy that has separated families, deprived people of life-saving health care, denied people education and deferred dreams.”
“It would be very easy for the Supreme Court justices to just focus on the legalese, but President Trump from the very beginning has made is intent clear all along,” Sethi told TPM, referencing Trump’s campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “The fact of the matter is this is a policy that is rooted in discriminatory intent, rooted in bigotry and the court should call it out as such.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), a sponsor of legislation that would defund implementation of Trump’s ban, spoke to the crowd and recalled the scene at Los Angeles airport the weekend the administration imposed the first version of the ban in January 2017.
“I saw hundreds of people that turned into thousands of people that came out from every race, every religion to protest the Muslim ban and make sure that travelers that came here felt safe,” Chu said.
The initial iteration of the travel ban was struck down by courts, and the second attempt also saw multiple rulings invalidating it, though the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward with some tailoring. As for the third version, which the Supreme Court weighed Wednesday, the high court allowed it to go into full effect in December while the justices prepared to hear the case.
“While lawyers are inside showing that this ban violates our laws, the people outside are declaring that it violates our American values,” Chu told the crowd. In front of the stage were mock passports from Sudan, Libya and other countries affected by the ban.
No matter what the Supreme Court does with the Texas redistricting case it heard Tuesday, Texas Republicans have already won, in a way, in how they have been able to drag out the litigation over their 2011 state legislative and U.S. congressional map.
The conservative faction of the Supreme Court — whose questioning was dominated by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito — signaled that it had no problem with the most recent round of delay tactics Texas employed to get the case back in front of the high court for a second time.
The case is called Abbott v. Perez, and it stems from multiple challenges to the legislative maps Texas drew after the 2010 Census. One question the Supreme Court examined was whether this was even the proper juncture for it to intervene. A three-judge district court in San Antonio has issued multiple rulings finding the maps discriminatory against Latino and African American voters, but had not yet completed the remedy stage when Texas successfully sought a stay in the case from Justice Samuel Alito.
State and local officials were already bracing for a heavy lift in preparing for the 2020 Census, with an underfunded Census Bureau, a lack of the leadership at the agency, a climate of privacy concerns, and a distrust of the federal government exacerbated by President Trump’s rhetoric.
But the recent announcement that the survey will ask about citizenship has added yet another obstacle to getting an accurate count. Now, local officials are beginning to grapple with it.
“We are using all the tools at our disposal, but unfortunately it does seem [like] we’re swimming against the tide,” said Jorge Elorza, the mayor of Providence, where an end-to-end test run for the 2020 Census is already under way.
The lawsuits against the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for adding a citizenship question to the Census keep coming. The latest was filed Tuesday by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the City of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. It was filed in the Northern District of California, where the state of California has filed its own lawsuit. There are also federal lawsuits in Maryland and New York.
There's a new Census lawsuit, it appears, filed by Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of San Jose and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, challenging citizenship question https://t.co/bHWN2ZjCib
Missouri, meanwhile, is facing a new lawsuit accusing the state of violating the National Voter Registration Act by allegedly failing to provide Missourians who change their address with the DMV the opportunity to register to vote or to update their registration. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Missouri and local chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
The legal drama over the Pennsylvania congressional gerrymandering case, meanwhile, will seemingly never end, even though battle over throwing out the old maps appears to be over. (The U.S. Supreme Court, last month, said that it would not intervene in the state Supreme Court’s order for a new congressional map for November.) Last week, the President Pro Tempore of Pennsylvania’s state Senate, Joe Scarnati, appealed a federal district judge’s decision ordering him to reimburse the legal fees of those who challenged the gerrymandered the map.
After a legal fight, Maine will become the first state in the nation to use ranked-choice voting after the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the system could be implemented in the state’s June primary elections. Republican legislators have fought the move to ranked choice, which was approved by voters in a 2016 ballot referendum. It is still an open legal question whether ranked choice will be used in the general election in November.
Automatic Voter Registration is now the law of the land in New Jersey, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation on Tuesday.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will restore the voting rights of felons who are on parole. Under his executive order, the state will review a list of felons released on parole every month to determine who to re-enfranchise. Previously, New York felons had their voting rights restored only after completing parole. About 36,000 ex-felons on parole stand to be affected by the order.
We’re still waiting for a final district court decision in Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement case, but on Wednesday Judge Julie Robinson held Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is leading the defense of the requirement, in contempt of court for disobeying her previous orders in the case. The contempt decision stems from Robinson’s 2016 ruling to temporarily block the proof-of-citizenship requirement, a ruling that Kobach evaded, the judge ruled Wednesday. Kobach, in a Breitbart interview over the weekend, called her contempt decision “ridiculous.”
I’ll be at the Supreme Court this Tuesday for oral arguments in a Texas redistricting case, which challenges both state legislative and U.S. congressional districts alleging that they are racial gerrymanders.