Mueller sends wide-ranging request for documents to Justice Department

ABC News reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents, ABC News has learned.

In particular, Mueller’s investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source who has not seen the specific request but was told about it.

Issued within the past month, the directive marks the special counsel’s first records request to the Justice Department, and it means Mueller is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Hope Hicks may hold the keys to Mueller’s Russia puzzle

Politico reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks.

She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign.

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself.

Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Does cooperating witness have info on Flynn tie to Turkey?

NBC News reports: A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions on Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

But Zarrab is now out of jail and speaking to prosecutors — a move President Erdogan had been desperately hoping to avoid. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller issued subpoena for Russia-related documents from Trump campaign officials

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump’s campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election was a performance mostly for the benefit of non-American publics

Earlier this month, Ivan Krastev wrote: if we want to figure out why the Russians did what they did, we need to leave the terrain of spy games and move to the realm of foreign policy.

Here, we can start with a simple observation: While Russia’s meddling was a shock in the West, in Russia it was neither surprising nor scandalous. In my recent discussions with Russian foreign policy experts, they have made clear that if Moscow wants to be a world power, on an equal footing with Washington, it should be able and willing to match the United States. Russian leaders believe that Washington interferes in their domestic politics and that the United States intends to orchestrate a regime change in Moscow. So if they take that as given, the Kremlin should be able to similarly meddle and to show the world that it has the capabilities and will to do so. Reciprocal action is, after all, how you gain the respect of your enemies and the loyalty of your allies.

The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Secret finding: 60 Russian payments ‘to finance election campaign of 2016’

BuzzFeed reports: On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.”

That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.

The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Papadopoulos’s ‘extremely limited’ involvement in campaign included editing a major foreign policy speech for Trump

The New York Times reports: Publicly, Mr. Trump and former campaign officials have tried to distance themselves from [George] Papadopoulos. Although he once praised him as an “excellent guy,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said his involvement in the campaign was “extremely limited.”

But records and interviews show that in spring 2016, Mr. Papadopoulos was welcomed into the thinly-staffed campaign as a “surrogate” who could articulate the candidate’s views. He even helped edit a major foreign policy speech that Mr. Trump gave in Washington in late April, records indicate.

The day before he learned about the hacked emails, Mr. Papadopoulos emailed Mr. Miller, then a senior policy adviser to the campaign, saying Mr. Trump had an “open invitation” from Mr. Putin to visit Russia. The day after, he wrote Mr. Miller that he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Boris Johnson met ‘London professor’ linked to FBI’s Russia investigation

The Guardian reports: Boris Johnson is facing questions about the government’s links to key individuals named by the FBI in its Trump-Russia investigation, following the emergence of a photo of him with Joseph Mifsud, the “London professor” with high-level Kremlin contacts.

The foreign secretary is facing accusations of a potential security breach following the emergence of the photo of him with Mifsud, whose identity emerged as part of investigations into alleged links between Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

This development comes less than a week after Johnson denied meeting the professor, and at a time when concern is growing about possible Russian interference in the Brexit campaign, in which the foreign secretary played a crucial role.

Although the FBI had known about Mifsud’s role as a high-level go-between linking the Trump campaign and the Russian government since at least July, it appears British intelligence did not warn the foreign secretary about the potential embarrassment or security implications before he attended a fundraising dinner with Mifsud on 19 October. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Collusion: Trump sides with Putin on issue of election meddling by Russia

CNN reports: President Donald Trump suggested on Saturday he’s done confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s election meddling since it’s insulting to the Russian leader.

Trump said he took Putin at his word that Russia did not seek to interfere in the US presidential election last year, despite a finding from US intelligence agencies that it did. The fraught relations between the two leaders was underscored anew when Putin’s spokesman said election meddling did not come up when they spoke, even though Trump said it did.

And he stressed that bigger issues persist between the United States and Russia that require the two leaders to move on.

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit here, where the Russia meddling issue arose.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

“I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.

His remarks, which came near the end of Trump’s marathon swing through Asia, amounted to the clearest statement yet of Trump’s views about last year’s election meddling issue. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A London meeting of an unlikely group: How a Trump adviser came to learn of Clinton ‘dirt’

The New York Times reports: At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin’s niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia’s Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller probing possible secret lucrative deal between Turks and Flynn during presidential transition

NBC News reports: Federal investigators are examining whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration about a potential quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to carry out directives from Ankara secretly while in the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

Mueller is specifically examining whether the deal, if successful, would have led to millions of dollars in secret payments to Flynn, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller interviews top White House aide, Stephen Miller

CNN reports: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump’s inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators.

Miller’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Kiev is buzzing about the Manafort indictment

Politico reports: Last week, as the news of Paul Manafort’s indictment on 12 counts of money laundering, tax evasion and lobbying violations rocketed through Washington D.C., a small group quietly celebrated in a nondescript Soviet-era building near the Dnieper River in the Ukrainian capital.

“It showed we’re on the right track,” Serhiy Gorbatyuk, head of a special investigations unit in the Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office, told POLITICO. Gorbatyuk and his team are tasked with digging into alleged illegal, under-the-table payments by Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in a pro-Western revolution three years ago. Manafort, whose work as political advisor to Yanukovych for nearly a decade provided the bulk of material for the U.S. indictment, figures in two of their Ukrainian investigations.

The first, referred to locally as the “black ledgers” case, concerns some $2 billion of allegedly off-the-books disbursements by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Last year the New York Times revealed that Manafort’s name appeared 22 times among the hundreds of pages of handwritten entries, for alleged payments totaling $12.7 million. (Though Manafort denied receiving the money, the revelations contributed to his resignation as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016.) [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Academic at heart of Clinton ‘dirt’ claim vanishes, leaving trail of questions

CNN reports: Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese academic suspected of being a link between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, was once a regular on the foreign policy circuit, attending conferences the world over.

Now, after being identified as a key figure in the US special counsel investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 US presidential election, Mifsud has gone to ground.

Last Thursday he disappeared from the private university in Rome where he teaches. Repeated attempts to reach him since have been unsuccessful, though he appears to have read some messages from CNN.

But more details are emerging of the background and contacts of the man who emerged last week as “Foreign Contact 1” in court filings relating to charges brought against former Trump aide George Papadopoulos. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller has enough evidence to bring charges in Flynn investigation

NBC News reports: Federal investigators have gathered enough evidence to bring charges in their investigation of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser and his son as part of the probe into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

Michael T. Flynn, who was fired after just 24 days on the job, was one of the first Trump associates to come under scrutiny in the federal probe now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Mueller is applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller braces for challenges to his authority

Politico reports: Robert Mueller is on an early winning streak.

Stacked with some of the country’s premier prosecutors, the special counsel has beaten back a pair of preliminary attempts to block his subpoena power and limit who he can question as a potential witness. In July, Mueller’s team also managed to win approval to execute a no-knock search warrant—unusual in a white-collar case.

But as the criminal case against former Donald Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates speeds toward a possible spring 2018 trial, Mueller’s team is bracing for an array of challenges to its authority.

The battle lines are already taking shape.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead attorney, submitted a document Friday indicating that he anticipates filing pre-trial motions that question “the legal basis for and sufficiency of the charges, the suppression of evidence improperly obtained by search warrant, subpoena or otherwise.” Downing also said he may try to prevent Mueller’s prosecutors from presenting some of their evidence during the criminal trial.

Mueller’s team responded to the court Friday with a brief note saying they would need three weeks to present their case, side stepping what will be an intense round of legal jockeying and attempts to undermine the way the special counsel has conducted its investigation.

“’Distort, detract, deny’ is a common playbook for defense lawyers,” said Julie Myers Wood, a former Whitewater prosecutor. “And if the allegations are serious here, I wouldn’t expect the lawyers to sit back or withhold any tool in a quest to undermine the perception of Mueller’s legitimacy.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump campaign adviser met with Russian officials in 2016

The New York Times reports: Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, met Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow, according to testimony he gave on Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee.

Shortly after the trip, Mr. Page sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing insights he had after conversations with government officials, legislators and business executives during his time in Moscow, according to one person familiar with the contents of the message. The email was read aloud during the closed-door testimony.

The new details of the trip present a different picture than the account Mr. Page has given during numerous appearances in the news media in recent months and are yet another example of a Trump adviser meeting with Russians officials during the 2016 campaign. In multiple interviews with The New York Times, he had either denied meeting with any Russian government officials during the July 2016 visit or sidestepped the question, saying he met with “mostly scholars.”

Mr. Page confirmed the meetings in an interview on Friday evening, but played down their significance. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail