Conservatives introduce measure demanding Mueller’s resignation

Politico reports: Three House Republicans on Friday moved to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to resign over what they contend are “obvious conflicts of interest,” the latest instance of rising GOP resistance to his Russia probe.

Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), introduced a measure that, while nonbinding, would put the House on record describing Mueller, a former FBI director, as unfit to lead the probe because of his relationship with James Comey, his successor at the bureau.

“[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states. [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Sessions denied knowing about Russian contacts. Records suggest otherwise

The New York Times reports: Standing before reporters in February, President Trump said unequivocally that he knew of nobody from his campaign who was in contact with Russians during the election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate the same thing.

Court documents unsealed this week cast doubt on both statements and raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions could be called back to Congress for further questioning.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, unsealed his first charges Monday in a wide-ranging investigation into Russian attempts to disrupt the presidential election and whether anyone close to Mr. Trump was involved. Records in that case show that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser, had frequent discussions with Russians in 2016 and trumpeted his connections in front of Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions.

For months, journalists have revealed evidence that associates of Mr. Trump met with Russians during the campaign and the presidential transition. But the court documents represent the first concrete evidence that Mr. Trump was personally told about ties between a campaign adviser and Russian officials.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

Several of Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers attended the March 2016 meeting, and at least two of those advisers are now in the White House: Hope Hicks, the communications director, and Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser. [Continue reading…]

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Are Bannon’s ongoing contacts with Trump illegal?

Norman Eisen, Richard W. Painter, and Virginia Canter write: The latest news in the saga of Steve Bannon is that the former White House senior adviser has reportedly been pushing President Donald Trump to be more forceful against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Bannon’s ideas allegedly include urging Trump to cut funding for the probe, telling Trump to withhold documents and pressing Trump to bring in more aggressive lawyers. These latest alleged Bannon-Trump communications come on top of other reported contacts between the two since Bannon left the White House. And it all raises serious questions as to whether Bannon is violating federal ethics laws and perhaps other statutes, including those concerning obstruction of justice.

Former White House staff members—whether encamped at Breitbart News or anywhere else—are constrained by 18 USC 207, which governs “restrictions on former officers, employees, and elected officials of the executive and legislative branches.” One provision of this statute prohibits former senior executive branch officials from communicating with their former agency for one year on behalf of other persons, whether their current employers, persons who are targets of a government investigation or anyone else. And former very senior White House officials, such as Bannon, are subject to a two-year cooling off period, which bars them not only from making such communications on behalf of others back to White House staff, but also to other very senior people in the government, such as the attorney general—and also the president.

Another provision of the same statute prohibits former executive branch employees from contacting any part of the executive branch, including the president, with the intent to influence official decisions in any particular party matter in which the former official participated personally and substantially while in the government—all on behalf of others. The Russia investigation is such a party matter, and this means that any former government official who participated in deliberations or a decision about the Russia investigation—for example the White House decision to fire FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation—may not represent back to the government on behalf of anyone else with intent to influence a government decision about the Russia investigation. The press has reported that when Bannon served in the White House he was involved in deliberations regarding the Comey firing and the Russia investigation.

None of these provisions prohibit a former government official from expressing an opinion in an op-ed or similar public forum. A former government official is also permitted to represent back to the government on behalf of himself, provided that is all he is doing and he is not acting on behalf of any other person. A former official who is being paid by someone else for work that includes communicating with government officials, however, can violate the statute. [Continue reading…]

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Ongoing Trump migraine: His initial foreign policy team

The New York Times reports: One lasted only 24 days as President Trump’s national security adviser, done in by his lack of candor about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Another has been hauled in front of a federal grand jury investigating Russia’s interference in the election.

A third has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his own contacts with Russians.

Such is the fate of some of the earliest foreign policy advisers that Donald J. Trump announced with great fanfare in early 2016, a time when he was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It was a team born out of a political problem: Mr. Trump’s surprise march to the nomination had left the party’s establishment openly questioning whether he had the foreign policy experience and was too much of a loose cannon to be entrusted with the presidency.

Mr. Trump’s solution was to cobble together a list of men who were almost immediately written off as a collection of fringe thinkers and has-beens and unknowns in Washington foreign policy circles. Some from that group have now created far deeper problems for Mr. Trump, providing federal and congressional investigators with evidence of suspicious interactions with Russian officials and their emissaries.

Court documents and interviews with some of the advisers themselves revealed that many on the team embraced a common view: that the United States ought to seek a rapprochement with Russia after years of worsening relations during the Obama administration. Now, however, their suspected links to Russia have put them under legal scrutiny and cast a shadow over the Trump presidency.

White House officials and former campaign aides insist that two of the three foreign policy advisers now under scrutiny by federal authorities had very little influence on Mr. Trump’s campaign. They say that George Papadopoulos, who secretly pleaded guilty to charges of lying to federal agents in early October, was a young, low-level volunteer who served the campaign for only a few months.

They have described Carter Page, an energy executive who F.B.I. agents suspected had once been marked for recruitment by Russian spies, as a gadfly who had been “put on notice” by the campaign and whom Mr. Trump “does not know.” Mr. Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 was one of the triggers leading the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, and he has appeared before a grand jury in the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

It is harder for the White House to distance itself from Michael T. Flynn, a retired military intelligence officer who was forced out in February after less than a month as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. The White House has said Mr. Flynn resigned after it became clear he had not been forthright about conversations he had in late December with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador.

The fact that so many of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy aides from that period have now acknowledged contacts with Russian officials or their intermediaries hints at Moscow’s eagerness to establish links to his campaign. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page invoked his Fifth Amendment rights Thursday when asked by House Intelligence Committee members why he hadn’t turned over documents for their probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, lawmakers said.

“I’m helping to the greatest extent I can,” Page told reporters after exiting his interview, which was held in a secure Capitol hearing room. The committee is slated to release a transcript of his testimony in three days at Page’s request. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner’s team turned over documents to special counsel in Russia investigation

CNN reports: Jared Kushner has turned over documents in recent weeks to special counsel Robert Mueller as investigators have begun asking in witness interviews about Kushner’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, CNN has learned.

Mueller’s investigators have expressed interest in Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, as part of its probe into Russian meddling, including potential obstruction of justice in Comey’s firing, sources familiar with the matter said.

Their questions about Kushner signal that Mueller’s investigators are reaching the President’s inner circle and have extended beyond the 2016 campaign to actions taken at the White House by high-level officials. It is not clear how Kushner’s advice to the President might relate to the overall Russia investigation or potential obstruction of justice. [Continue reading…]

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Sam Clovis withdraws his nomination for USDA’s top scientist post after being linked to Russia probe

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist nominee, Sam Clovis withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday amid revelations that he was among top officials on the Trump campaign who was aware of efforts by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a relationship between the campaign and Russian officials.

Court documents unsealed Monday revealed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in early October to making false statement to FBI investigators about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections. In August 2016, Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to organize an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials, according to court documents. “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the campaign to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote. The meeting did not ultimately take place.

In a letter to the president Wednesday, Clovis explained that he did not think he could get a fair consideration from the Senate, which was slated to hold a hearing on his appointment on Nov. 9.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” wrote Clovis, who currently serves as USDA’s senior White House adviser. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.” [Continue reading…]

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White House was unaware top adviser testified before grand jury

ABC News reports: The White House first learned one of its senior staffers met with the grand jury hearing the case presented by the special counsel into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election not from the staffer but from media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News.

Former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis recently testified before that grand jury into his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture.

Clovis’ testimony comes on the heels of another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleading guilty to lying to federal authorities. As part of Papadopoulos’ admission of guilt, details of emails were disclosed that showed him describing to top Trump campaign officials communications he had with contacts in Russia. [Continue reading…]

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A note of caution for Robert Mueller: The attacks on the special counsel are working

Mieke Eoyang, Ben Freeman, and Benjamin Wittes write: The announcement that three Trump campaign-connected figures have been prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller have captivated the D.C. press corps and elites. “Capitol Hill is Reeling,” reads a CNN headline. An NPR headline called it “A Day of Legal Shock and Awe.”

But over the very weekend that generated this frenzy, we generated some data that should be of concern to the special prosecutor and those of us who want an objective investigation into Russian interference. As part of an ongoing polling project, from Oct. 25-31 we asked six public opinion questions concerning Mueller and foreign influence in U.S. politics using Google Surveys. The bottom line? The general public actually doesn’t trust Mueller all that much. The continuing attacks on him by the President’s allies and conservative media outlets seem to be taking a toll. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn followed Russian troll accounts, pushed their messages in days before election

The Daily Beast reports: Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn followed five Twitter accounts based out of the Russian-backed “troll factory” in St. Petersburg—and pushed their messages at least three times in the month before the 2016 election.

Over 2,750 troll accounts based out of the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency were made public by House investigators on Wednesday. The accounts, some of which had previously been identified by The Daily Beast as Russian-generated, were pulled from Twitter due to their ties to the troll factory over the past three months.

The Daily Beast had previously discovered Flynn, Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, and Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale retweeted Ten_GOP several times in the month before the election.

The news that Flynn also pushed Russian propaganda comes at an unwelcome time for the former three-star general and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn is one of the people under investigation by Robert Mueller’s widespread probe into Russian influence in the 2016 campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Is civil war breaking out in the Wall Street Journal over the editorial board’s coverage of Mueller?

Joe Pompeo writes: The editorial page has been doing crazy shit for a long time,” a former long-serving Wall Street Journal editor told me this week. This person was referencing the time-honored divide in most journalistic organizations between the newsroom and the opinion desk. At the Journal, that divide can be particularly fraught. While the paper has long been a leading bastion of conservative thinking, its editorial writers are known to take positions that are more extreme than many of their colleagues in the newsroom can stomach.

The friction is, in some ways, a hallmark of the institution. A decade ago, an editorial-page columnist attacked a 2006 Journal series about the practice of backdating stock-option awards that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The page also once defended billionaire junk-bond king Michael Milken, who got a 10-year sentence for securities fraud in 1990 based in part on exposés by Journal reporters. Nevertheless, several Journal veterans I spoke with described the current rift as among the more fractious they’ve witnessed. “It does feel like this is a different level of crazy,” the veteran editor said. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the West Wing, Trump is apoplectic as allies fear impeachment

Gabriel Sherman writes: Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by securing indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise guilty plea from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.”

The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president. For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up.

The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller. For one, firing Mueller would cross a red line, analogous to Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox during Watergate, pushing establishment Republicans to entertain the possibility of impeachment. “His options are limited, and his instinct is to come out swinging, which won’t help things,” said a prominent Republican close to the White House. [Continue reading…]

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Leader of pro-Trump super PAC had mortgage on Paul Manafort property

The Guardian reports: The leader of a pro-Trump Super Pac once held a mortgage on one of the properties owned by Paul Manafort which federal prosecutors are trying to seize.

Tom Barrack, a close friend of Donald Trump’s who leads the Rebuilding America Now Super Pac, made a secured loan tied to Manafort’s house in the Hamptons in July 2004.

The loan – to Manafort’s wife Kathleen, who was listed as the owner of the house – consolidated $1.76m in previous loans and also included a loan of $382,002.98 with the property as collateral, according to records in the Suffolk County clerk’s office.

The county clerk records a satisfaction of mortgage or full repayment of the loan on 8 March 2006.

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the loan while a spokesman for Barrack simply told the Guardian “the loan was repaid in accordance with the terms” and declined to comment further.

The property, located at 174 Jobs Lane, Water Mill, New York, is one of four owned by Manafort listed in the indictment that federal government seeks to have forfeited as “derived from proceeds traceable to the offense(s) of conviction”. [Continue reading…]

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Why a judge ruled Paul Manafort isn’t entitled to attorney-client privilege

Dahlia Lithwick and Scott Pilutik write: It’s not an overstatement to characterize the attorney-client privilege as the cornerstone of criminal law, an inviolable right that can and must withstand all manner of legal aggression. It’s also one of the small handful of criminal procedural notions sewn directly into our pop culture fabric. Even if all your legal knowledge comes from watching Law & Order, you’re still likely aware of your Miranda rights; that law enforcement needs probable cause to search your apartment and maybe (but maybe not) your car; and most especially that when you meet with your lawyer, you can tell her the whole ugly story because she can’t be forced to testify against you or even to divulge what you’ve discussed to anyone. Period. Right?

Well … mostly right. On Monday, Politico reported that Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had agreed to allow Robert Mueller to use something called the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege to compel testimony from an attorney who formerly represented Paul Manafort and Manafort’s onetime employee Rick Gates. Although that development got lost in the blizzard of Robert Mueller news, Howell’s willingness to pierce attorney-client privilege, as well as her frank description of falsehoods as falsehoods, was in some sense the big news of the day. It was an astonishing win for the special counsel, one that reveals both Mueller’s willingness to use tough tactics and the ways in which the judicial branch may be willing to treat the cover-ups that emerge from the Trump probe. In a way, the decision revealed that the courts may be as tired of houses built of deception as the rest of us are. [Continue reading…]

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Papadopoulos claimed Trump campaign approved Russia meeting

Bloomberg reports: Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos made a significant claim in an email: Top Trump campaign officials agreed to a pre-election meeting with representatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The message, if true, would bolster claims that Trump’s campaign attempted to collude with Russian interests. But it’s unclear whether Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was merely boasting when he sent the July 14, 2016, email to a Kremlin-linked contact. There’s also no indication such a meeting ever occurred.

The email is cited in an FBI agent’s affidavit supporting criminal charges against Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy volunteer on Trump’s campaign. But it’s not included in court documents that detailed his secret guilty plea and his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. [Continue reading…]

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Manafort has 3 passports, traveled to China with phone registered under fake name

CNN reports: How rich are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and where did they travel?

That question lingered over the pair’s court hearing on Monday after both faced the first indictments from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Because both men appeared to be globe-trotting multi-millionaires and faced charges for serious crimes related to their work abroad, the government said they should be held under house arrest. A judge agreed Monday.

A new court filing Tuesday showed exactly what Manafort and Gates told banks and investigators about their net worths and travel histories over the past few years.

Among the highlights:

* Manafort currently has three US passports, each under a different number. He has submitted 10 passport applications in roughly as many years, prosecutors said.
* This year, Manafort traveled to Mexico, China and Ecuador with a phone and email account registered under a fake name. (The name was not disclosed in the filings.) [Continue reading…]

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For ‘low level volunteer,’ Papadopoulos sought high profile as Trump adviser

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Tuesday belittled former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this week to lying to federal agents investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, tweeting that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”

But interviews and documents show that Papadopoulos was in regular contact with the Trump campaign’s most senior officials and held himself out as a Trump surrogate as he traveled the world to meet with foreign officials and reporters.

Papadopoulos sat at the elbow of one of Trump’s top campaign advisers, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, during a dinner for campaign advisers weeks before the Republican National Convention, according to an individual who attended the meeting.

He met in London in September 2016 with a mid-level representative of the British Foreign Office, where he said he had contacts at the senior level of the Russian government.

And he conferred at one point with the foreign minister of Greece at a meeting in New York. [Continue reading…]

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Clovis said to be ‘cooperative witness’ in Senate Russia probe

Politico reports: Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, has been “a fully cooperative witness” in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts told POLITICO.

Clovis, a former co-chair and policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, knew that another campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, was talking to Russians, according to documents released Monday as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and campaign and administration officials.

Papadopoulos was arrested in late July and pleaded guilty to a charge that he made false statements to the FBI about his contact with a professor who has ties to the Kremlin and promised thousands of pages of emails related to Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, NBC News reported Tuesday that Clovis has been questioned by Mueller’s team and has testified before Mueller’s grand jury. [Continue reading…]

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