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The Russia Investigation

Ty Cobb Out At White House As Another Trump Legal Team Shake Up Signals Possible Change In Strategy



WASHINGTON, May 2, 2018 — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday announced the retirement of Ty Cobb, the veteran Washington attorney who has managed the Trump administration’s relationship with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, and the hiring of Emmett Flood, who served on President Bill Clinton’s legal team during impeachment proceedings in 1998.

“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt,” Sanders said in a statement. “Ty Cobb, a friend of the President, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month.”

Like Cobb, Flood is a veteran attorney who is respected in Washington, DC legal circles. His addition to Trump’s legal team, the possibility of which was reported by The New York Times earlier this year, brings potentially relevant — and difficult to find — experience to the White House legal team. Flood was one of many attorneys who represented then-President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. He later served in the White House Counsel’s office under George W. Bush, where he was that office’s point person in dealing with congressional investigations, including the probe into Bush’s decision to dismiss a group of United States attorneys.

As has been the case with many sudden personnel announcements, Sanders said Cobb had been discussing his departure with Chief of Staff John Kelly for “several weeks,” and that Cobb informed Kelly last week that he would, in fact, be leaving the White House, where he has held the title of Special Counsel and served alongside White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Cobb, a respected veteran of beltway legal circles, joined the White House Counsel’s office in July of 2017, two months after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation into possible ties between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.

His addition to the White House legal team brought much-needed gravitas and expertise to a White House Counsel’s office lacking in experience dealing with intense federal investigations, as well as an end to media reports questioning whether Trump’s legal team was up to the job of dealing with a prosecutor of Mueller’s caliber.

For a time, Cobb’s strategy of engaging, cooperating and assuring a restless president that the investigation would soon come to an end combined with McGahn’s threats of resignation to restrain Trump from moving to fire the former FBI director or attacking him  directly, even as his surrogates waged a scorched-earth public relations campaign to define Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” conducted by a team of Democrats (Mueller is a lifelong Republican).

But President Trump has appeared to grow tired of Cobb’s strategy, as evidenced by his decision to begin attacking Mueller directly via Twitter earlier this year, even as he continues to contemplate the possibility of heading off a grand jury subpoena by voluntarily sitting for a formal interview.

Although Trump once expressed enthusiasm about the idea, which had been a source of tension between him and his legal team which led to the departure of John Dowd, another veteran Washington lawyer who until recently headed up the president’s personal legal team.

While Flood’s name was floated as a possible replacement for Dowd, he will not be serving on Trump’s personal legal team, which is currently led by Jay Sekulow, an experienced civil litigator who moonlights as a talk radio host, and Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who made his political bones as a federal prosecutor. Unlike Flood, however, neither possess any recent experience in criminal law or dealing with complex federal investigations.

Despite the reports of Trump’s frustration with Cobb’s strategy of conciliatory cooperation, a senior administration would not say if such tensions or disagreements on strategy had anything to do with Cobb’s decision to exit at a time when the investigation appears to be moving into a new phase and the president’s rhetoric is becoming increasingly combative.

But in an interview with CBS News, Cobb dismissed the idea that his departure and Flood’s arrival marked a change in strategy for the White House.

“People will think this means we’re going to war but I would not read that into this,” said Cobb, who added that he did not mind being described as a “peacemaker,” and that President Trump had wanted him to stay on.

Cobb explained that the task for which left a lucrative career in private practice was largely completed.

“The key point is all the documents requested by the Special Counsel were produced by late October,” he said. “All the interviews with White House personnel were conducted by late January. The bulk of the work was done. It’s easier for me to leave now.”


Andrew Feinberg is the Managing Editor and lead Washington Correspondent for Breakfast Media, and covers the White House, Capitol Hill, courts and regulatory agencies for BeltwayBreakfast and He has written about policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007.

The Russia Investigation

Longtime Trump Associate Roger Stone Arrested, Charged With Lying to Congress, Obstruction and Witness Tampering



WASHINGTON, January 25, 2019 — A Washington grand jury working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” and former Trump campaign official Roger Stone, Jr., on charges of obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, and witness tampering.

Citing Stone’s attorney, television morning shows first reported that FBI agents had picked up the longtime Trump associate at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home just after 6:00 a.m. Friday. 

While other Trump associates who’ve charged by Mueller’s grand jury have been allowed to voluntary surrender, Video footage broadcast by CNN revealed Stone’s arrest was carried out by a team of heavily-armed FBI agents in body armor.

Footage broadcast by CNN shows FBI agents pounding on Stone’s door.

The CNN footage shows the agents surrounding Stone’s home, at which point one agent approached the house’s front door, pounded on it three times, and announced “FBI! Open the door!”

Under Justice Department procedures, he will make his initial appearance in a federal district court in Florida on Friday. 

His arrest makes him the latest in a series of Trump campaign officials and associates to face charges as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Like another of the president’s confidantes, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, the bulk of the charges against Stone stem from false or misleading statements made in testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Stone’s career in politics began during Nixon’s 1972 campaign, after which he first gained a measure of notoriety as the youngest person interviewed by Watergate investigators. 

He was 19 years old — a mere boy among the president’s men — when allegations of obstruction of justice and abuse of power brought down the man he’d later call his mentor, whose face is still tattooed on his back.

Now 66 years old, the veteran lobbyist, political operative and pro-Trump media personality’s life has come full circle as he once again finds himself at the center of a White House scandal that has gripped the nation for the past two years.

Prosecutors allege that Stone lied to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about contacts he had with WikILeaks founder Julian Assange, conspiracy theorist and birther activist Jerome Corsi, and senior officials with Trump’s presidential campaign in the course of his attempts to gain information on when the Russia-linked stolen document repository would release emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

Mueller and his team also allege that Stone obstructed justice by encouraging a person identified as “Person-2” — widely believed to be radio personality Randy Credico — to lie to investigators from the House committee, and engaged threatened Credico in order to dissuade him from cooperating with the House probe.

The indictment, which was signed by Mueller himself, also strongly implies that either Trump or one of his family members directed Stone to contact WikiLeaks in pursuit of information.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to distance Trump from the man who’d been pushing him to run for president since the 1980s.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the president. It doesn’t have anything to do with the White House,” Sanders said while speaking to reporters outside the West Wing. She declined to answer reporters’ questions as to whether Trump had “directed” the “high-ranking Trump campaign official” to contact Stone.

Jay Sekulow, the conservative activist and litigator who serves as one of Trump’s personal attorneys, echoed Sanders’ comments in a statement to BeltwayBreakfast.

“The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else. Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress,” Sekulow wrote.

Despite the Trump team’s assertions to the contrary, several sections of the 27-page indictment link Stone’s actions to the president’s 2016 campaign.

In laying out the case that Stone lied to Congress about whether he discussed WikiLeaks with anyone during the 2016 campaign, it cites an October 3, 2016, email from Stone to a “supporter involved with the Trump campaign,” in which Stone wrote: “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”

But the most direct link to the president contained within the indictment might be the revelation that on October 4, 2016, Stone “recieved an email from the high-ranking Trump Campaign official asking about the status of future releases by [WikiLeaks].”

According to the indictment, the official — thought to be former Trump campaign manager and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon — “was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign.”

Stone replied to the “high-ranking Trump campaign official” that same day, informing him that WikiLeaks would release “a load [of stolen documents] every week going forward.”

This story was updated at 11:38 am to include a statement from Counsel to the President Jay Sekulow.

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The Russia Investigation

As Trump Tweets to Downplay Associates’ Felony Pleas, One Judiciary Committee Dem Says He Has “Ethics of a Mob Boss”



WASHINGTON, August 22, 2018 — In a series of tweets coming less than 24 hours after two of his closest associates from the 2016 campaign became convicted felons, President Trump praised one for refusing to cooperate with the Justice Department while simultaneously downplaying the seriousness of the other’s crimes and attacking him for accepting a plea deal from prosecutors.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!” Trump wrote early Wednesday, shortly after tweeting out a suggestion that those looking for “a good lawyer” not retain Cohen’s services.

Trump’s morning “Executive Time” tweet storm came the day after what some have described as the worst day of Trump’s presidency. But if Trump thought Tuesday was bleak after Manafort — his former campaign chairman — was convicted of eight counts of fraud and tax evasion in the first of two criminal trials he is facing at the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, things got even bleaker when Cohen, his longtime attorney and fixer pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

It is not known whether Cohen will cooperate with prosecutors, though his attorney, Lanny Davis, suggested in an interview on MSNBC that the former Trump lawyer had information to offer on the Russian government’s 2016 cyberattack against the Democratic National Committee.

Cohen charges result of ‘hush money’ payments

The charges against Cohen stemmed from his efforts to pay several women with whom Trump had had affairs in order to keep them from upending his electoral changes by going public. Cohen initially claimed he’d paid them with his own money until it was revealed that he’d accepted reimbursement from the Trump Organization.

Cohen, who once famously said he’d take a bullet for the president, took the deliberate step of implicating Trump directly during his plea hearing by reading a prepared statement in which he told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood that he’d made the illegal payments “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

Trump pointed to Obama’s 2008 campaign as proof that Cohen had been treated unfairly, but experts don’t agree

Continuing to tweet Wednesday morning, Trump attempted to downplay the significance of Cohen’s transgressions and deflect attention to a familiar scapegoat — his predecessor.

“Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!” Trump wrote, referring to a $375,000 fine the Federal Election Commission levied in 2013 against then-President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. The fine was for failing to file so-called “48-hour notices” for $1.8 million worth of contributions over $1,000 received during the last 20 days of the 2008 campaign.

In an interview with BeltwayBreakfast, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., scoffed at the notion that Cohen’s crimes were in any way comparable to the violations the FEC settled with the Obama campaign.

“The halfhearted gesture at a technical campaign finance violation is an irrelevant distraction from whats going on here. Everybody agrees that technical violations of reporting requirements are dealt with as violations of administrative law, but deliberate violations and circumventions of material campaign finance requirements have always been treated as criminal.”

Raskin noted that the law prohibiting corporations like the Trump Organization from directly making campaign contributions — the Tillman Act — has been on the books since 1907.

It’s very clear that if the corporation is coordinating with the candidate in its contribution that it should be treated as a contribution rather than an expenditure,” he said.

Renato Mariotti, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and onetime candidate for Illinois Attorney General, told BeltwayBreakfast that Trump’s claims that Cohen’s violations could’ve been dealt with by the FEC as a civil matter are baseless.

A federal judge would not have accepted Cohen’s plea if he was not pleading guilty to a crime,” Mariotti said in a text message, adding that Cohen’s attorneys, the Justice Department and the judge all concluded that Cohen had committed crimes and not a less serious violation of election law.

Raskin says US is in grip of ‘overwhelming political crisis’

While Raskin, who teaches constitutional law at American University, did not think Tuesday’s events had the makings of a constitutional crisis, he said the nation was in the grip of “an overwhelming political crisis that emanates from the White House.”

“This is a president who maligns and disrespects the law at every turn, it never would’ve occurred to him that there was something wrong with spending hundreds of thousands of worth of hush money on his affairs with pornographic stars and having his company pay for it,” said Raskin. “If everything Michael Cohen is saying turns out to be true, the president himself is implicated in willful campaign finance violations. Certainly, this is more than Bill Clinton telling one lie about a sexual relationship that he had.”

Raskin said that Trump — who once claimed to hire “the best people” — has developed “a staph infection that has spread entirely through his campaign and his administration,” leaving the president “up to his neck in the criminality of his associates.”

As for Trump’s continuing insistence that Manafort is “a good man,” Raskin suggested that Trump’s capacity for praise would only hold as long as his former campaign chairman refused to cooperate with prosecutors.

Raskin compared ‘The Donald’ to a Mafia Don

“The president brings the ethics of a mob boss to all of the criminality around him. If a particular operative stays putatively loyal, he will endeavor to reward them but if they tell the truth…they’re dead to him and he considers them part of the ‘rigged witch hunt and deep state conspiracy,” he said.

While Raskin observed that Trump “would certainly have no ethical scruples” about using his pardon power to reward Manafort for not helping Mueller’s team, he suggested that one of the president’s advisers might be waving him off from issuing a pardon that would obviously benefit him.

“Somebody at the White House obviously understands that the use of the pardon power in Trump’s own personal wars certainly invites demand for impeachment,” he said, “The use of the pardon for corrupt purposes would undoubtedly be seen as a high crime and misdemeanor by large numbers of people in Congress.”

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The Russia Investigation

Citing GOP Congressman’s Alternative Explanation, Trump Denies Anger At Sessions Was Due To Russia Investigation



WASHINGTON, May 30, 2018 — In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that his frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions stemmed from a lack of candor over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from having any involvement in the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The extent of the president’s anger at Sessions was revealed Tuesday in a New York Times story detailing how he’d demanded that Sessions reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — a demand Sessions refused.

Trump subsequently ordered then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to ask for Sessions’ resignation shortly after he’d recused himself, but Priebus never completed the task. The president would later savage his Attorney General in a series of tweets, reportedly hoping he’d be humiliated enough to resign and pave the way for a more “loyal” replacement who’d presumably sideline the investigation.

The president’s tweets invoked an alternative explanation for the story offered by South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, in which Gowdy said Trump’s anger at Sessions stemmed not from Sessions’ failure to “protect” him from the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign had any ties to Russia but from Sessions failure to inform Trump before he took the job.

“I think what the President is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the President and I picked someone to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer, and they told me later, ‘oh, by the way, I’m not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office,’ I would be frustrated too…and that’s how I read that,” Gowdy said before imagining the president asking Sessions why he didn’t inform Trump and allow him to pick somebody else out of the many “really good lawyers in the country.”

“I wish I did!” Trump added.

But as a previous New York Times story reported, Trump’s anger at Sessions stemmed from his view that the job of the Attorney General — the nation’s chief law enforcement officer — was more akin to a “fixer” who’d “protect” the president from investigations. He also reportedly demanded that White House Counsel Donald McGahn interceded to dissuade Sessions from recusing himself.

McGahn did carry out the president’s request, but was unsuccessful, as Sessions refused and recused himself in accordance with Justice Department rules.

Trump also reportedly claimed that he expected the head of the Justice Department to protect him in the way then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy supposedly protected his brother, President John F. Kennedy. He reportedly asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” referring to the onetime counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc., who represented Trump during his early years as a New York real estate developer.


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