Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show

The Washington Post reports: Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions at a time when his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous. [Continue reading…]

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Citing recusal, Trump says he wouldn’t have hired Sessions

The New York Times reports: 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.

In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. [Continue reading…]

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Trump lawyers knew of Russia emails back in June

Michael Isikoff reports: President Trump’s legal team was informed more than three weeks ago about the email chain showing that his son Donald Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer last June, two sources familiar with the handling of the matter told Yahoo News.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that he learned just “a couple of days ago” that his son, Donald Trump Jr, had met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, after receiving emails that she would supply him with information that “would incriminate Hillary” and was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” That was the day after Donald Jr. released the email exchanges himself, after learning they would be published by the New York Times.

Trump repeated that assertion in a talk with reporters Air Force One on his way to Paris Wednesday night. “I only heard about it two or three days ago,” he said according to a transcript of his talk when asked about the meeting with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 attended by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chief, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But the sources told Yahoo News that Marc Kasowitz, the president’s chief lawyer in the Russia investigation, and Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, were both informed about the emails in the third week of June, after they were discovered by lawyers for Kushner, who is now a senior White House official.

On June 8, 2016, Trump Jr. had forwarded an email to Kushner and Manafort about the upcoming meeting with the subject line: “FW: Russia-Clinton-private & confidential.”

The discovery of the emails prompted Kushner to amend his security clearance form to reflect the meeting, which he had failed to report when he originally sought clearance for his White House job. That revision — his second — to the so-called SF-86, was done on June 21. Kushner made the change even though there were questions among his lawyers whether the meeting had to be reported, given that there was no clear evidence that Veselntiskya was a government official. The change to the security form prompted the FBI to question Kushner on June 23, the second time he was interviewed by agents about his security clearance, the sources said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump misrepresents intelligence findings on Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Thursday that only “three or four” of the United States’ 17 intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election — a statement that while technically accurate, is misleading and suggests widespread dissent among American intelligence agencies when none has emerged.

The “three or four” agencies referred to by Mr. Trump are the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, all of which determined that Russia interfered in the election. Their work was compiled into a report, and a declassified version was released on Jan. 6 by the director of national intelligence. It said that all four agencies had “high confidence” that Russian spies had tried to interfere in the election on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin.

The reason the views of only those four intelligence agencies, not all 17, were included in the assessment is simple: They were the ones tracking and analyzing the Russian campaign. The rest were doing other work.

The intelligence community is a sprawling enterprise that includes military officers who track enemy troop movements, accountants who analyze the finances of Islamist militants and engineers who design spy satellites. There are soldiers, sailors and Marines; tens of thousands of civilian government employees and tens of thousands of private contractors.

Asked about Russia’s election meddling during a news conference on Thursday in Poland, Mr. Trump repeated his familiar refrain that “it could” have been Russia or other countries that interfered in the election, and then appeared to suggest that there was hardly an intelligence community consensus on the matter.

“Let me just start off by saying I heard it was 17 agencies,” he said when asked about the intelligence assessment.

“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a lot.’ Do we even have that many intelligence agencies, right? Let’s check it. And we did some very heavy research,” Mr. Trump continued. “It turned out to be three or four — it wasn’t 17 — and many of your compatriots had to change their reporting, and they had to apologize, and they had to correct.”

Mr. Trump was also correct about inaccurate news reports. Some, including an article in The New York Times, incorrectly reported that all 17 American intelligence agencies had endorsed the assessment.

But there is no evidence that significant uncertainty or dissent exists across the intelligence community, simply because not all 17 were involved in the assessment of Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s personal arm-twister, Michael D. Cohen, sidelined under glare of Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: Just over a decade ago, Donald J. Trump was locked in conflict with a group of apartment owners who had taken control of the condominium board at his new glass tower across from the United Nations. Faced with accusations of financial impropriety and an affront to his authority, Mr. Trump turned to Michael D. Cohen, a former personal injury lawyer who helped run a taxi fleet.

Mr. Cohen did not seem to have extensive expertise in the arcana of New York City condo rules. But he had something Mr. Trump seemed to value more: devotion to the Trump brand. He had already purchased a number of Trump properties and had persuaded his parents, in-laws and a business partner to buy apartments in Mr. Trump’s flashy new development, Trump World Tower.

Plus, he had read Mr. Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” Twice.

With Mr. Cohen’s help, Mr. Trump regained control of the board, orchestrating a coup that culminated in a standoff between his security detail and private guards hired by the disgruntled owners, according to people who were there. Details of the dispute’s resolution are secret because of a confidentiality agreement, but Mr. Cohen said that his task was “masterfully accomplished.”

He went on to serve as a key confidant for Mr. Trump, with an office near the boss at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Officially, his title was special counsel, but he appears to have served more as a kind of personal arm-twister. If anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, Mr. Cohen, who was known to sometimes carry a licensed pistol in an ankle holster, would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit, according to a half-dozen people who dealt with him over the years.

“If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Mr. Cohen once said during an interview with ABC News. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI has questioned Trump campaign adviser Carter Page at length in Russia probe

The Washington Post reports: FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Over a series of five meetings in March, totaling about 10 hours of questioning, Page repeatedly denied wrongdoing when asked about allegations that he may have acted as a kind of go-between for Russia and the Trump campaign, according to a person familiar with Page’s account.

The interviews with the FBI are the most extensive known questioning of a potential suspect in the probe of possible Russian connections to associates of President Trump. The questioning of Page came more than a month before the Russian investigation was put under the direction of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. [Continue reading…]

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Trump slanders Comey in Fox & Friends interview

The New York Times reports: President Trump appeared to acknowledge on Friday in an interview that his tweet hinting of taped conversations with James B. Comey was intended to influence the fired F.B.I. director’s testimony before Congress, and he emphasized that he committed “no obstruction” of the inquiries into whether his campaign colluded with Russia.

The interview, with “Fox & Friends,” was shown one day after the president tweeted what most people in Washington had already come to believe: that he had not made recordings of his conversations with Mr. Comey.

Instead, the president explained in the television interview, his tweets were referring to the possibility that anyone could have taped those discussions.

“I’ve been reading about it for the last couple of months about the seriousness of the horribleness of the situation with surveillance all over the place,” the president said in the interview. “So you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape, and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.”

When the Fox interviewer suggested that the possible existence of recordings might make sure Mr. Comey “stayed honest in those hearings,” Mr. Trump paused before responding, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.”

Referring to Mr. Comey, the president said that “when he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed.” [Continue reading…]

“When he found out that I…” — at this point Trump’s brain catches up with his mouth. He can’t say that Comey “found out” that Trump recorded their conversations, having finally confirmed what everyone already assumed — that he didn’t record them.

Comey’s revelation, Trump would have us believe, was that thanks to a tweet, Comey firstly was alerted to the possibility that their conversations could have been recorded by parties unknown, and secondly on that basis he had second thoughts about lying about the content of those conversations.

Put simply, Trump is saying that had he not alerted Comey to the possibility of having been recorded, the former director of the FBI would have lied.

What Trump has yet to grasp is that each time he questions Comey’s integrity, he’s also implicitly questioning the integrity of the FBI officials and Mueller’s team who are currently investigating him.

Trump persistently acts as a man who sees himself as the target of an investigation he wants to thwart, undermine, and swiftly curtail. He has zero interest in assisting the investigation or supporting its conclusions.

He thereby provides compelling reason for the investigators to be tireless, tenacious and resolute in their pursuit of the truth.

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FBI investigating deals involving Paul Manafort and son-in-law

The New York Times reports: Federal investigators are examining financial transactions involving Paul Manafort and his son-in-law, who embarked on a series of real estate deals in recent years fueled by millions of dollars from Mr. Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The transactions involve the financing of apartments and luxury homes in New York and California using money from Mr. Manafort, as well as from other investors solicited by the son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, including the actor Dustin Hoffman and his son. F.B.I. agents have reviewed financial records related to Mr. Yohai, who has been accused in a lawsuit of defrauding investors, the sources said.

It was not clear if the F.B.I.’s interest was part of the broader investigation that has ensnared Mr. Manafort, who was President Trump’s campaign chairman until he resigned last August amid reports that he had received millions of dollars in off-the-book payments for his consulting work in Ukraine. Mr. Manafort has been the focus of several inquiries looking into his business activities, failure to file foreign lobbying disclosures and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s denial that he has recordings of Comey conversations, doesn’t satisfy lawmakers

The Washington Post reports: For the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were demanding that Trump provide information by Friday about the tapes’ existence, his tweet does not settle the matter.

“We have to have an official statement; tweets aren’t official,” said Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is running the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Until they get that official response, Conaway said, he would not comment on whether a subpoena may still be issued.

He added that it was “good for to clarify” his position and that “you always take the president at his word — until it’s proven otherwise.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, also said the president’s tweet was not sufficient.

“We’d all like to believe that our president can be trusted when he says something; regrettably, though, he has repeatedly proved otherwise,” Schiff said. “If this is meant to constitute his answer to the House investigation, then it needs to be fully truthful. … If the president is being less than candid about this, I think we have very serious problems with the White House.”

Schiff said that even if he accepts the president’s assertion that the tapes do not exist, he has questions about “why he would have said the opposite to begin with.”

“Was this an effort to intimidate James B. Comey? Was this an effort to silence James B. Comey?” Schiff asked. “Those questions still need to be answered.”

Schiff said he will continue to ask witnesses who come before the committee if they are aware of the existence of tapes and said he will consult with Conaway before deciding whether a subpoena is still in order. [Continue reading…]

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FBI fired Sebastian Gorka for anti-Muslim diatribes

The Daily Beast reports: The inflammatory pundit Sebastian Gorka worked for the FBI while he was a paid consultant to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, lecturing bureau employees on counterterrorism issues.

Until the FBI terminated Gorka for his over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric.

The Daily Beast has learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended its contract with Gorka just months before he joined the White House as a senior adviser to President Trump.

Law-enforcement officials attending an August 2016 lecture from Gorka, whose academic credentials and affiliation with a pro-Nazi group have recently come under fire, were disturbed to hear a diatribe against Muslims passed off as instruction on the fundamentals of counterterrorism.

Gorka told attendees at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course, an introductory-level class for participants in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, that all Muslims adhere to Sharia law, which he said is in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and American democratic values. Officials familiar with his lecture said Gorka taught law-enforcement officials there is no such thing as mainstream Muslims—only those radicalized and those soon to be radicalized.

The following month, a senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka for any subsequent lectures or instructions, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]

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‘This is a very real threat’: Top intelligence officials lay out blunt case on Russian hacking as Trump again casts doubt

Business Insider reports: Current and former officials said in testimony before the congressional intelligence committees on Wednesday that Russian hackers infiltrated election systems in at least 21 states leading up to Election Day in a “well-planned, well-coordinated” campaign directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The overlapping House and Senate hearings were held amid questions about President Donald Trump’s stance on Russia’s election interference and whether he believes it occurred at all.

Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month that Trump asked about the Russia investigation only with regard to how it affected him personally rather than how it affected US national security. And The New York Times reported that Trump — who has called the investigation a “fake” attempt by Democrats to justify their defeat — was questioning whether Russia was behind the hacks as late as March in conversations with intelligence chiefs.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not provide a definitive answer Tuesday when asked whether Trump believed Russia interfered in the election, telling reporters that he had not “sat down” with Trump and asked him about it since he took office five months ago.

There were many questions the witnesses — including former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and one of the FBI’s top counterintelligence officials, Bill Priestap — could not answer because of restrictions on disclosing classified information in an open setting. But they were unequivocal on one point: Americans should have no doubt that Russia meddled in the election. [Continue reading…]

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Trump, Russia and a shadowy business partnership

Timothy L. O’Brien writes: Trump has repeatedly labeled Comey’s and Mueller’s investigations “witch hunts,” and his lawyers have said that the last decade of his tax returns (which the president has declined to release) would show that he had no income or loans from Russian sources. In May, Trump told NBC that he has no property or investments in Russia. “I am not involved in Russia,” he said.

But that doesn’t address national security and other problems that might arise for the president if Russia is involved in Trump, either through potentially compromising U.S. business relationships or through funds that flowed into his wallet years ago. In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.

Bayrock partnered with the future president and his two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, on a series of real-estate deals between 2002 and about 2011, the most prominent being the troubled Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.

During the years that Bayrock and Trump did deals together, the company was also a bridge between murky European funding and a number of projects in the U.S. to which the president once leant his name in exchange for handsome fees. Icelandic banks that dealt with Bayrock, for example, were easy marks for money launderers and foreign influence, according to interviews with government investigators, legislators, and others in Reykjavik, Brussels, Paris and London. Trump testified under oath in a 2007 deposition that Bayrock brought Russian investors to his Trump Tower office to discuss deals in Moscow, and said he was pondering investing there.

“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said in that deposition. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.” [Continue reading…]

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Mueller team lawyer brings witness-flipping expertise to Trump probes

Reuters reports: A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.

Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section before joining Mueller’s team last month, is best known for two assignments – the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York – that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation.

Securing the cooperation of people close to Trump, many of whom have been retaining their own lawyers, could be important for Mueller, who was named by the Justice Department as special counsel on May 17 and is investigating, among other issues, whether Trump himself has sought to obstruct justice. Trump has denied allegations of both collusion and obstruction.

“Flipping” witnesses is a common, although not always successful, tactic in criminal prosecutions.

Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth Starr as the independent counsel examining former President Bill Clinton, noted that Trump’s fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has already offered through his lawyer to testify before Congress in exchange for immunity, suggesting potential willingness to cooperate as a witness. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s lawyer clear as mud about whether he wants us to think his client is or is not under investigation

 

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In Trump-Russia investigation, Mueller follows the money

Business Insider reports: Robert Mueller in recent days has hired lawyers with extensive experience in dealing with fraud, racketeering, and other financial crimes to help him investigate whether President Donald Trump’s associates colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel last month to lead the probe into Russia’s election interference, is also homing in on money laundering and the business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, according to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The developments indicate Mueller is taking a follow-the-money approach to the investigation that could leave Trump’s sprawling business empire hugely vulnerable.

Mueller has hired Lisa Page and Andrew Weissmann. Page is a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s organized-crime section whose cases centered on international organized crime and money laundering, and Weissmann is a seasoned prosecutor who oversaw cases against high-ranking organized criminals on Wall Street in the early 1990s and, later, against 30 people implicated in the Enron fraud scandal.

Mueller has also recruited James Quarles, who specialized in campaign-finance research for the Watergate task force, according to Wired; Michael Dreeben, considered by some to be “the best criminal appellate lawyer in America”; and Aaron Zebley, a former senior counselor in the DOJ’s National Security Division specializing in cybersecurity. [Continue reading…]

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Under pressure from a Trump tweet, is Rod Rosenstein now obliged to recuse himself?

Noah Feldman writes: Is President Donald Trump trying to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein without actually firing him? That’s the logical inference from the president’s tweet Friday morning asserting that he’s being investigated for firing FBI Director James Comey by the person who told him to fire Comey, namely Rosenstein. The immediate effect of the tweet is to pressure Rosenstein to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Rosenstein will now have to do so — soon.


Whether Trump has thought it through or not, that will leave Rosenstein’s supervisory obligations in the hands of Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. She’s a horse of a different color from career prosecutors such as Rosenstein, Comey and Mueller. Brand is more like Trump Supreme Court appointee Neil Gorsuch: a high-powered conservative appellate lawyer who clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court, worked in the George W. Bush administration, and is prominent in Federalist Society circles. Her attitude toward the investigation is likely to be a bit different from Rosenstein’s, more informed by the structure of presidential authority and less by unwritten norms of prosecutorial independence.

Even before Trump commenced his assault on Rosenstein for conflict of interest, it was becoming conceivable that the deputy attorney general would have to recuse himself from supervising Mueller. If Mueller is focused on the Comey firing as a potential obstruction of justice, he would want or maybe need to know the details of how Trump interacted with Rosenstein around that decision.

The facts of whether Trump had already decided to fire Comey before getting Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing are unclear and at least partially contested. That would make Rosenstein into an important witness for the Mueller investigation — which would in turn make it difficult for him to be the figure to whom Mueller is supposed to report. Rosenstein acknowledged something like this in a recent meeting, according to reporting by ABC News.

Nonetheless, without Trump’s Twitter barrage, Rosenstein could potentially have refused to recuse himself by saying that Mueller, not he, is doing the investigating. The Department of Justice regulations do after all say that “the Special Counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the Department.”

Rosenstein could have asserted that although the regulations allow the attorney general (here Rosenstein because of Jeff Sessions’s recusal) to ask for explanations of the special counsel’s investigative process, and require periodic reports from the special counsel to the attorney general, he wasn’t going to be supervising Mueller’s investigation.

After Trump’s tweet, that course of action isn’t really available to Rosenstein. Trump not only made a concrete argument that Rosenstein has a conflict of interest, but also deepened that conflict by asserting that firing Comey was Rosenstein’s idea. If firing Comey was indeed obstruction of justice, then, according to Trump’s implicit logic, Rosenstein could be guilty of a crime of obstruction.

So Rosenstein will have to recuse himself. And that leaves Brand as the next highest Senate-confirmed official in the Department of Justice. [Continue reading…]

Before Trump’s tweet, I can see why Rosenstein might have felt he needed to recuse himself, but it seems like Trump has now provided a strong justification for Rosenstein to stay put.

By recusing himself, he would appear to be acceding to Trump’s pressure.

Trump has zero interest in the completion of an investigation whose outcome is determined by the facts. On the contrary, he wants an investigation that gets wrapped up as swiftly as possible and exonerates him fully. In other words, Trump is sparing no effort to rig the investigation.

Trump’s pressure on Rosenstein is nothing less than the latest example of Trump’s relentless effort to obstruct justice. So rather than bowing to such pressure, Rosenstein should resist it.

Rosenstein effectively recused himself by appointing Mueller. So why should he need to recuse himself twice?

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Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein acknowledges he may need to recuse himself from Russia probe, sources say

ABC News reports: The senior Justice Department official with ultimate authority over the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election has privately acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself from the matter, which he took charge of only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own recusal, sources tell ABC News.

Those private remarks from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are significant because they reflect the widening nature of the federal probe, which now includes a preliminary inquiry into whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice when he allegedly tried to curtail the probe and then fired James Comey as FBI director.

Rosenstein, who authored an extensive and publicly-released memorandum recommending Comey’s firing, raised the possibility of his recusal during a recent meeting with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s new third-in-command, according to sources.

Although Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to lead the federal probe, he still makes the final decisions about resources, personnel and — if necessary — any prosecutions.

In the recent meeting with Brand, Rosenstein told her that if he were to recuse himself, she would have to step in and take over those responsibilities. She was sworn-in little more than a month ago. [Continue reading…]

Eric Levitz writes: Brand boasts the quintessential résumé for a GOP Justice Department appointee. A graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was active in the arch-conservative Federalist Society, Brand clerked for Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy before joining a white-shoe law firm, lending a hand to Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign, and then taking a job in the George W. Bush administration.

During the Bush years, Brand first worked under White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (where she may have learned a thing or two about politicizing law enforcement), and then in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy.

Once Bush gave up steering America into epochal domestic and foreign policy crises for watercolor painting, Brand returned to the private sector. [Continue reading…]

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