Manafort worked on op-ed with Russian while out on bail, prosecutors say

CNN reports: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was ghostwriting an op-ed while out on bail last month with a Russian who has ties to the Russian intelligence service, Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team said Monday.

In a new filing Monday afternoon, Mueller’s investigators said Manafort was working on an editorial in English as late as last Thursday and that it related to his political work for Ukraine, which factored into his money-laundering and foreign lobbying criminal charges.

The filing asks for the court to revisit a bail agreement Mueller’s office and Manafort’s lawyers made jointly last week. The court had not yet approved a change to his $10 million unsecured bail and house arrest.

“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court’s November 8 Order if it had been published,” prosecutors wrote. “The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his long-time associate to ghostwrite it in another’s name).” [Continue reading…]

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Trump tweet bolsters case for obstruction of justice

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s personal lawyer said on Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador.

Trump lawyer John Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat — a statement disproved by a U.S. intelligence intercept of a phone call between Flynn and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump was aware of the issue a couple of weeks before a conversation with then-FBI Director James B. Comey in which Comey said the president asked him if he could be lenient while investigating Flynn, whom Trump had just fired for misleading Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s uncontrollable tweeting triggers deeper anxiety among advisers

Politico reports: It took nearly 24 hours for President Donald Trump to tweet about the news that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents — a delay that Trump’s advisers said was not uncommon for the president, who often tweets after catching up on cable news.

Many Republicans at first saw the radio silence as a welcome sign of restraint.

But by Sunday, the notoriously hot-headed president had already claimed Flynn was fired earlier this year in part for lying to the FBI and had moved on to accusing the nation’s top law-enforcement agency of being “in tatters.”

“Worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness,” he tweeted.

The tweets all combined to reignite fears among people close to Trump that the president is not taking the special counsel’s investigation seriously enough and is getting bad advice from his legal team.

Trump supporters, former campaign aides and former administration officials are beginning to privately raise red flags that the White House can’t keep up with the president’s own tweets and doesn’t have a coherent messaging strategy on the Russia investigation, according to interviews with a half-dozen people close to the president.

The people close to the president stressed that they are not worried that special counsel Robert Mueller will ensnare the president or find evidence of collusion. But they nonetheless fear that the near-daily revelations about the investigation will overtake Trump’s presidency.

“There’s no quarterback. There’s no strategy. They’re literally making it up as they go along,” said one of the people. “We’re in very dangerous territory.” [Continue reading…]

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Why the Trump team should fear the Logan Act

Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner write: President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, acknowledged in court last week that he lied to F.B.I. investigators about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States in the run-up to Mr. Trump’s inauguration. While Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to only one count of making materially false statements, his admissions leave little doubt that he also violated a federal criminal statute known as the Logan Act. Mr. Flynn’s filings further reveal that a “very senior member” of the Trump transition team almost certainly violated the Logan Act, too.

We do not yet know the identity of this “very senior” official. Possibilities include Jared Kushner, who is Mr. Trump’s son-in-law; Mike Pence, vice president-elect at the time; and Mr. Trump himself. Whoever it was, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, can make out a powerful criminal case against that person.

The Logan Act makes it a crime for a United States citizen, “without authority” from the federal government, to communicate with foreign officials in order to “influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government” in a dispute with the United States or “to defeat the measures of the United States.” A conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to three years.

The statute, which has been on the books since the early days of the republic, reflects an important principle. The president is — as the Supreme Court has said time and again — “the sole organ of the nation in its external relations.” If private citizens could hold themselves out as representatives of the United States and work at cross-purposes with the president’s own diplomatic objectives, the president’s ability to conduct foreign relations would be severely hampered.

The statute applies squarely to Mr. Flynn. [Continue reading…]

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In pre-dawn Twitter message, Trump issues a fresh denial about intervening in Flynn investigation

The Washington Post reports: President Trump issued a fresh denial Sunday that he asked former FBI director James B. Comey to halt an investigation into the conduct of his dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn,” Trump said in a pre-dawn message on Twitter. “Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!”


The tweet was the latest in a running commentary on the case from Trump that began Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with a Russian official.

Trump fired Flynn 25 days into this administration for misrepresenting the nature of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador, to Vice President Pence and other administration officials.

Comey has alleged that the day after that, Trump urged him to be lenient with Flynn, producing notes that said Trump told him, “I hope you can let this go.”

Trump stoked the controversy with one of his Saturday tweets in which he said part of the rationale for firing Flynn was that he had lied to the FBI.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump wrote in that tweet.

But critics pounced Saturday on Trump, arguing that if he knew at the time of his conversation with Comey that Flynn had lied to the FBI and was under investigation, it may constitute an attempt to obstruct that investigation.

“Are you ADMITTING you knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when you asked Comey to back off Flynn?” Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, asked in a tweet Saturday afternoon.

Trump lawyer John Dowd drafted the president’s tweet, according to two people familiar with the message. Its authorship could reduce how significantly it communicates anything about when the president knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI, but it also raises questions about the public relations strategy of the president’s chief lawyer.

Two people close to the administration described the tweet simply as sloppy and unfortunate.

Dowd declined to answer questions about how and when Trump learned of Flynn’s alleged lies to the FBI, a deception that did not become public until several days after Flynn’s dismissal. [Continue reading…]

If — unlikely as it might be — Trump ever goes on trial and faces cross examination, just imagine the number of times he’s going to be asked by prosecutors whether he wrote a specific tweet and the number of times he’s going to say, “I can’t remember.”

Meanwhile, he should probably be asking himself about the competence of his own lawyers when they assume the responsibility of communicating on his behalf and while doing so, apparently make sloppy statements.

I guess Trump gets the quality of legal representation he deserves.

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Is it too late for Robert Mueller to save us?

Dahlia Lithwick writes: In our ongoing national nightmare of creeping authoritarianism, we talk a good amount about normalization and the numbing effects of a barrage of shocking daily news. But I have also tried to be vigilant about all the ways in which magical thinking about law and lawyers—this is a nation of laws, not men, we’re told—can also numb us, and lead to a declining sense of agency or ownership.

Democrats don’t like giving up on their institutions easily, and the Mueller investigation has served as both the best and the worst manifestation of that alluring Democratic reasonableness. So long as he is working away, filing documents and convening grand juries, nobody needs to take to the streets. But as the year has progressed, it’s become clear that absolutely nothing will persuade Trump supporters and Republicans in Congress that it’s time to disavow the president—not lying, not spilling state secrets, not abject failure in crisis management, and not openly performed corruption. Given that reality, it often feels like it wouldn’t be enough for Mueller to hand us a smoking gun and an indictment. What if they threw a conviction and nobody came?

It seems as though truth and law are forever losing ground in the footrace against open looting and overt totalitarianism. The more abjectly deranged Trump’s behavior and the more Republicans in Congress cover for him, the less likely it is that anything Mueller can magic up in his underground hall of justice will matter. Trump’s legal antagonists like to think that the next legal “tick, tick, tick, boom” will be the one that ends all this chaos. But with every passing day, as Trump escapes consequences and attacks the courts and the press, the chances that a “tick, tick, tick, boom” will be played off as #fakenews also increase. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller removed top agent in Russia inquiry over possible anti-Trump texts

The New York Times reports: The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, removed a top F.B.I. agent this summer from his investigation into Russian election meddling after the Justice Department’s inspector general began examining whether the agent had sent text messages that expressed anti-Trump political views, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The agent, Peter Strzok, is considered one of the most experienced and trusted F.B.I. counterintelligence investigators. He helped lead the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified information on her private email account, and then played a major role in the investigation into links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.

But Mr. Strzok was reassigned this summer from Mr. Mueller’s investigation to the F.B.I.’s human resources department, where he has been stationed since. The people briefed on the case said the transfer followed the discovery of text messages in which Mr. Strzok and a colleague reacted to news events, like presidential debates, in ways that could appear critical of Mr. Trump.

“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the special counsel’s office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” said a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, Peter Carr.

The inspector general’s office at the Justice Department said that as part of a larger inquiry it was conducting into how the F.B.I. had handled investigations related to the 2016 election, the office was “reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals, and will report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them.” [Continue reading…]

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The more threatened Trump feels, the more dangerous he will become

Dana Milbank writes: I bumped into Bret Baier, the Fox News host, at a Washington cocktail party Wednesday night where it seemed everybody was chatting about the latest White House insanity: President Trump’s joking about “Pocahontas” to Native Americans, reviving the Obama “birther” allegation, suggesting the “Access Hollywood” video was fake, retweeting anti-Muslim videos made by British white supremacists.

Most assumed Trump was just being crazy, but Baier had a theory: Whenever Trump escalates such antics, he is agitated about news that is about to break. Maybe, Baier speculated, Trump knew something about the Russia probe we didn’t yet know.

Now we do. On Friday morning came former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, the most ominous development for Trump yet in the Russia investigation. Court documents show that Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and that Flynn’s Russian contacts were done under direction from higher-ups — and there weren’t too many higher than Flynn on the campaign other than Trump himself. The notion that Flynn has the goods on Trump would explain why Trump was reluctant to fire him, tried to get the FBI to stop probing Flynn — and seemed unglued this week as news of Flynn’s cooperation was about to become public.

Though predictions are perilous in the age of Trump, this really could be the beginning of the end of the national horror his tenure has been. If Baier is correct — as I believe he is — that Trump gets ever more outrageous when he feels cornered, then this means the nation is entering a perilous period. We can expect Trump to grow more dangerous and desperate in his distractions as he hears Mueller’s footsteps. Although Trump’s erratic behavior is damaging in its own right to alliances and civility, the greatest danger is that while we chase Trump’s distractions, we lose sight of real calamity. [Continue reading…]

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The Flynn plea: A quick and dirty analysis

Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Vanessa Sauter, Shannon Togawa Mercer, and Benjamin Wittes, write: The news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn has reached a cooperation and plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could not come as less of a surprise. Reports of Flynn’s bizarre behavior across a wide spectrum of areas began trickling out even before his tenure as national security adviser ended after only 24 days. These behaviors raised a raft of substantial criminal law questions that have been a matter of open speculation and reporting for months. His problems include, among other things, an alleged kidnapping plot, a plan to build nuclear power plants all over the Middle East, alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) involving at least two different countries, and apparent false statements to the FBI. In light of the scope and range of the activity that reputable news organizations have attributed to Flynn, it is no surprise that he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for leniency.

The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are. There’s no whiff of the alleged Fethullah Gulen kidnapping talks. Flynn has escaped FARA and influence-peddling charges. And he has been allowed to plead to a single count of lying to the FBI. The factual stipulation is also narrow. It involves lies to the FBI on two broad matters and lies on Flynn’s belated FARA filings on another issue. If a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller.

The narrowness gives a superficial plausibility to the White House’s reaction to the plea. Ty Cobb, the president’s ever-confident attorney, said in a statement: “The false statements involved mirror the false statements [by Flynn] to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.” Cobb reads Friday’s events as an indication that Mueller is “moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion” of the investigation.

This is very likely not an accurate assessment of the situation. If Mueller were prepared to settle the Flynn matter on the basis of single-count plea to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, he was almost certainly prepared to charge a great deal more. Moreover, we can infer from the fact that Flynn accepted the plea deal that he and his counsel were concerned about the degree of jeopardy, both for Flynn and for his son, related to other charges. The deal, in other words, reflects the strength of Mueller’s hand against Flynn.

It reflects something else too: that Flynn is prepared to give Mueller substantial assistance in his investigation and that Mueller wants the assistance Flynn can provide. We are not going to speculate about what that assistance might be. But prosecutors do not give generous deals in major public integrity cases to big-fish defendants without good reason—and in normal circumstances, the national security adviser to the president is a very big fish for a prosecutor. The good reason in this case necessarily involves the testimony Flynn has proffered to the special counsel’s staff. The information in that proffer is not in any of the documents released Friday, and it may not even be related to the information in those documents. Prosecutors tend to trade up. That is, for Mueller to give Flynn a deal of this sort, the prosecutor must believe he is building a case against a bigger fish still. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner is said to have ordered Flynn to contact Russia

Eli Lake writes: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea Friday for lying to the FBI is alarming news for Donald Trump. But the first person it’s likely to jeopardize will be the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Two former officials with the Trump transition team who worked closely with Flynn say that during the last days of the Obama administration, the retired general was instructed to contact foreign ambassadors and foreign ministers of countries on the U.N. Security Council, ahead of a vote condemning Israeli settlements. Flynn was told to try to get them to delay that vote until after Barack Obama had left office, or oppose the resolution altogether.

That is relevant now because one of Flynn’s lies to the FBI was when he said that he never asked Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, to delay the vote for the U.N. Security Council resolution. The indictment released today from the office of special prosecutor Robert Mueller describes this lie: “On or about December 22, 2016, Flynn did not ask the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.”

At the time, the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements was a big deal. Even though the Obama administration had less than a month left in office, the president instructed his ambassador to the United Nations to abstain from a resolution, breaking a precedent that went back to 1980 when it came to one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member states to support the resolution with the Trump transition team. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI in Mueller probe

NBC News reports: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia.

A two-page charging document filed Thursday lists two false statements Flynn made about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.

It says Flynn falsely claimed that he had not asked Kislyak on Dec. 29 “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia,” and that he didn’t recall Kislyak telling him Russia had decided to moderate its response as a result of his request.

It also says he falsely claimed that he didn’t ask Kislyak on Dec. 22 to “delay a vote on or defeat” a U.N. Security Council resolution, and then falsely denied that Kislyak had described Russia’s response to the request.

According to the special counsel’s charge, Flynn made the false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24, two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser.

A source close to President Donald Trump said the developments regarding Flynn are “very, very, very bad.”

The concern in the White House is that Flynn will offer up information that could be harmful to the president.

The charge to which Flynn pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. However, senior federal prosecutors not involved in the case say it is unlikely Flynn will ever spend a day in jail.

The prosecutors said that since Flynn is not being charged with a violent crime, it is likely that government prosecutors would ask for probation and a fine at sentencing. Of course, the federal judge assigned to the case can ultimately impose the maximum sentence and is not bound by the prosecutors’ wishes. [Continue reading…]

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New York radio personality was Roger Stone’s WikiLeaks contact

CNN reports: President Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone was in contact with a New York radio personality who had conversations with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign season, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The radio host, Randy Credico, is the individual Stone referred to as an intermediary between him and Assange. Stone initially declined to reveal his name to the House Intelligence Committee because he said they had an “off-the-record” conversation, though he insisted there was nothing untoward about their conversation. Stone later did privately disclose the identity of the individual to the panel.

Credico received a subpoena this week to appear Dec. 15 before the House Intelligence Committee, something Credico’s attorney Martin Stolar says he “certainly” plans to comply with. Credico tweeted out a copy of the subpoena on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner met with special counsel about Flynn

CNN reports: Jared Kushner met earlier this month with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

Mueller’s team specifically asked Kushner about former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is under investigation by the special counsel, two sources said. Flynn was the dominant topic of the conversation, one of the sources said.

“Mr. Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so,” Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s lawyer, told CNN.

The conversation lasted less than 90 minutes, one person familiar with the meeting said, adding that Mueller’s team asked Kushner to clear up some questions he was asked by lawmakers and details that emerged through media reports. One source said the nature of this conversation was principally to make sure Kushner doesn’t have information that exonerates Flynn. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel delays grand jury testimony amid signs of Flynn deal talks

CNN reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has postponed an anticipated grand jury testimony linked to his investigation into Michael Flynn amid growing indications of possible plea deal discussions.

Additional witnesses were expected to be questioned soon including a public relations consultant hired by Flynn’s lobbying firm who was given an early December date deadline to appear before the grand jury, according to a person at the company.

Ahead of the delay, the impression was that the testimony needed to happen soon, the source said. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller’s Russia probe may now include Flynn’s DIA tenure

Buzzfeed reports: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn appears to be under investigation for his activities while he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration, according to a letter the agency sent to BuzzFeed News.

The disclosure suggests that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking more broadly than previously thought at Flynn, whom President Donald Trump fired in February after 24 days as his top security adviser.

Mueller’s investigation previously has been reported to include a probe of Flynn’s activities after he was ousted from the DIA in 2014 and traveled to Russia, lobbied for the Turkish government, and joined Trump’s presidential campaign. Until now, however, there has been no indication that Mueller was looking into Flynn’s two-year tenure as head of the nation’s leading producer of foreign military intelligence.

The DIA suggested otherwise in a Nov. 15 letter to BuzzFeed News that denied a reporter’s three-year-old request for Flynn’s emails, job evaluations, and other records related to his work as the agency’s director. The letter to reporter Jason Leopold says that releasing Flynn’s records could “interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigative activities.” [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s lawyer meets with members of special counsel’s team, raising specter of plea deal

ABC News reports: The lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn met Monday morning with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team — the latest indication that both sides are discussing a possible plea deal, ABC News has learned.

Trump’s legal team confirmed late last week that Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner alerted the team that he could no longer engage in privileged discussions about defense strategy in the case — a sign Flynn is preparing to negotiate with prosecutors over a deal that could include his testimony against the president or senior White House officials.

That process would typically include a series of off-the-record discussions in which prosecutors lay out in detail for Flynn and his lawyers the fruits of their investigation into his activities. Prosecutors would also provide Flynn an opportunity to offer what’s called a proffer, detailing what information, if any, he has that could implicate others in wrongdoing. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s role in Mideast nuclear project could compound legal issues

The Washington Post reports: In June 2015, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn took a little-noticed trip to Egypt and Israel, paid for by a U.S. company he was advising. The company hoped to build more than two dozen nuclear plants in the region, in partnership with Russian interests.

Flynn’s quiet involvement in that project — and his failure to disclose his ties to the effort — could complicate the legal issues facing President Trump’s former national security adviser, who has signaled that he may be willing to cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Congressional Democrats say Flynn may have violated federal law by failing to disclose the Middle Eastern trip in his security clearance renewal application in 2016. A top House Republican declined the Democrats’ request for a congressional inquiry but referred the allegations to the special counsel. [Continue reading…]

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FBI gave heads-up to fraction of Russian hackers’ U.S. targets

The Associated Press reports: The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.

Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.

“It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”

The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”

Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks. [Continue reading…]

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