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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”

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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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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

The Russia Investigation

Trump Admits Russia Helped Him Get Elected

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting at the 2017 G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2019 — After two and a half years of denying that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was aimed towards boosting his candidacy, President Trump on Thursday admitted that Russia’s efforts had helped him win the presidency.

“Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist,” Trump wrote during a Thursday morning tweetstorm meant to frame counter-narrative to the declaration by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller that his team could not say the President did not obstruct justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey or by directing associates to order Mueller’s firing.

Mueller ended roughly two years of silence on Wednesday — his last day at the Justice Department — with a dramatic public statement revealing that his team had not been permitted to consider whether Trump violated the law because of a longstanding DOJ policy forbidding the indictment of a sitting chief executive.

“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said, adding later that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Trump’s statement that he “had nothing to do with Russia helping [him] get elected” is the first time he has ever acknowledged that either the massive social media disinformation campaign or the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team — and their distribution through third parties like WikiLeaks — played a role in his election.

But as he departed the White House en route to the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony, Trump went back on the attack against Mueller by repeating a number of baseless claims about alleged “conflicts of interest” that should have made the former FBI director ineligible for the Special Counsel position.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen because he wanted the FBI job and didn’t get it,” Trump said, repeating a false claim he has repeatedly made concerning a visit Mueller made to the White House in 2017, shortly before then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed him to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Despite Trump’s frequent claim that Mueller had asked to interview for the job he’d held from 2001 through 2013, page 293 of the Mueller Report describes how White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon “recalled that the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the President to offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI.”

According to the report, Bannon told investigators that “although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become Director again, he did not come in looking for the job.”

Trump also attacked Mueller for not looking into a wide range of conspiracy theories involving former FBI Director James Comey, ex-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Agent Peter Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page before suggesting Mueller was a “total conflicted person” who harbored political bias against him and his presidency “I think Mueller is a true ‘Never Trumper,’ he’s someone that dislikes Donald Trump,” he said.

When asked about his tweet that seemed to acknowledge Russia’s role in his 2016 win, he immediately began an attempt to walk back what he had tweeted earlier that day before suggesting — without evidence — that Russia’s efforts to boost his candidacy had instead helped “the other side” and equating unfavorable press coverage with a state-sponsored effort to sway another country’s election.

“You know who helped me get elected? I got me elected,” he said, pointing a finger at his chest. “Russia didn’t help me at all.”

However, one person who has acknowledged Russia’s role is Russian President Vladimir Putin. During a joint news conference with Trump at the two leaders’ summit in Helsinki, Finland, Putin was asked if he had wanted Trump to win and directed any actions to further that goal.

His reply?

“Yes, I did.”

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The Russia Investigation

Mueller Says Charging Trump ‘Not An Option’ Under DOJ Rules: ‘The Constitution Requires A Process Other Than The Criminal Justice System’

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WASHINGTON, May 29, 2019 — After more than two years of silence, Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday said that his office could not say “with confidence” that President Trump did not violate laws against obstructing justice, but charging him with violating them was “not an option” because Justice Department policy precludes indicting a sitting chief executive for a federal crime.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not,” Mueller said, directly contradicting claims of “no obstruction” made by both Attorney General William Barr and President Trump himself.

Instead, Mueller explained that his office was constrained by a legal opinion authored by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which concludes that indicting a sitting president would be unconstitutional.

“Under longstanding department policy, a president president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” Mueller said.

“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

In a clear nod toward Congress’ power to impeach and remove a chief executive for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Mueller explained that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Mueller’s refutation of Barr’s claims that Trump did not obstruct justice came nearly two years to the day he was named as Special Counsel by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a lifelong Republican who served in senior positions in the Justice Department during the the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations before serving as FBI Director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, following Trump’s firing of Mueller’s successor as FBI Director, James Comey.

In a letter sent to inform Comey of his termination, Trump cited a memorandum by Rosenstein which criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But Rosenstein decided to appoint Mueller as a Special Counsel after Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he’d fired Comey because of the FBI investigation into whether Trump or members of campaign had any involvement with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller described that interference campaign as consisting of “multiple systematic attempts” by individuals currently under indictment.

“That allegation [of interference] deserves the attention of every American,” he said.

Trump immediately brushed off Mueller’s refutation of his claim to have been exonerated by the report in a tweet which blatantly misstated what Mueller had said moments before.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!” Trump tweeted.

Other Trump associates weighed in shortly after, echoing the same claims Trumpworld figures have made since the Mueller Report’s release while largely ignoring Mueller’s statement emphasizing the fact that Trump could not be charged with a crime and that impeachment was the only constitutionally-permissible way to address wrongdoing by a President under DOJ rules.

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s remarks today confirmed what we already knew.  There was no collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and there was no case for obstruction,” Trump 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale said in an emailed statement.

“President Trump has been fully and completely exonerated.  Mueller said his investigation is over.  The case is now closed.”

Another statement posted to Twitter by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders closely tracked Parscale’s language and repeated some of the same baseless claims about what Mueller and his report had said.

“The Special Counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office, and has closed the case,” Sanders wrote in a tweet. “The report was clear — there was no collusion, no conspiracy — and the Justice Department confirmed there was no obstruction.”

“After two years, the Special Counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”

But Mueller’s statement did not support Parscale’s and Sanders’ assertions that there had been insufficient evidence to charge the President with obstruction of justice.

In his remarks, Mueller only noted that there had not been sufficient evidence to charge Trump or any of his associates with conspiring alongside any participants in Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election, while his report detailed numerous instances of Trump campaign officials meeting with Russian nationals and promoting material that Russia had stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign officials.

While Trumpworld dismissed Mueller’s remarks as nothing new, the sole Republican to speak out in favor of the House launching an impeachment inquiry, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., reacted to Mueller’s nod toward Congress’ impeachment powers in a tweet posted shortly after the Special Counsel concluded his statement.

“The ball is in our court, Congress,” he wrote.

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The Russia Investigation

Mueller To Break Silence With Statement On Russia Investigation

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Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller is pictured in the Oval Office in 2012

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2019 — Special Counsel Robert Mueller will deliver a statement on his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday.

Mueller, who was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2001 through 2013, has not spoken publicly since then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed him as a Justice Department Special Counsel in May 2017.

His remarks are set to begin at 11:00 am, though the Justice Department said Mueller will not take questions afterward.

A senior Trump administration official said the White House was notified of Mueller’s intention to speak last night, and that the administration would withhold comment until after he has concluded his remarks.

As White House communications staffers began what one press aide described as a “half-hour meeting,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders revealed that President Trump is “aware” of Mueller’s impending statement and was monitoring the situation

Sanders had no comment on whether Trump would speak following Mueller’s remarks or on whether the White House been briefed on what Mueller plans to say.

This is a developing story — check back for details.

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