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 prosecutors while simultaneously downplaying the seriousness of the other’s crimes and attacking him for taking a plea deal.
“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.”
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.
Justice Department Watchdog To Expand Probe After Trump Meets With Wray, Coates, Rosenstein
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2018 — The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General will expand its new investigation into the use of an informant in the FBI’s Trump-Russia to include “to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Monday.
Additionally, Sanders said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
The announcement came shortly after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray left the White House after a meeting with President Trump to which he’d summoned them earlier that day.
Trump ordered the meeting a day after he’d announced in a tweet that he “hereby demanded that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration.”
Although Rosenstein is nominally the Deputy Attorney General, he is the Acting Attorney General for the purposes of anything having to do with the investigation into the 2016 campaign because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year after it was discovered that he’d met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during 2016, when he was an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.
The decision by Rosenstein to assign the DOJ’s internal watchdog the investigation into FBI’s use of an informant when looking into whether members of his Trump’s 2016 campaign worked with the Russian government rather than open a criminal investigation appeared to head off a confrontation that could have provoked a constitutional crisis.
Today’s announcement that the probe will be expanded appeared meant to mollify the president, but it is unclear whether it will satisfy his allies’ demand for a parallel investigation they can use to cloud the waters around Mueller’s investigation.
One potential confrontation that remains, however, is whether the FBI will reveal all it knows about the 2016 probe to House Republicans who’ve been pushing for more and more information.
While they maintain that their requests have been made as part of their normal oversight role, media reports have indicated that Justice Department officials are concerned that some Trump partisans, particularly Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are using their oversight authority to gain intelligence on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in order to pass it to the White House.
Trump Says He’ll Order Investigation Into His Own Claim That FBI ‘Infiltrated’ 2016 Campaign
WASHINGTON, May 20, 2018 — President Donald Trump went back to Twitter once more Sunday afternoon to announce that he’d be ordering the Department of Justice to investigate whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation had “infiltrated” his campaign “for political purposes.”
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration,” Trump wrote.
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
What apparently set Trump off was a series of stories in The New York Times which shed light on the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
A separate report story this weekend also revealed that the FBI and the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller have also been looking whether other countries besides Russia sought to work on the Trump campaign’s behalf.
Trump and his allies in conservative media have seized on the FBI’s use of an outside informant who met with two figures within the Trump campaign as evidence that the FBI, as Trump put it, “infiltrated” the campaign.
However, Trump and his allies have shown no evidence that the FBI was acting on behalf of the Obama administration and not in the normal counterintelligence role it has had since the days of the Cold War, nor has any been shown to exist.
In fact, the New York Times story detailing the early stages of the investigation, which the FBI later codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” was kept from Obama administration political appointees within the DOJ, noting that at the beginning, only five people within the FBI were aware of the probe, which began after Trump campaign adviser George Papadapoulos drunkenly bragged to an Australian diplomat that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton.
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any matters involving the Russia investigation or Trump’s 2016 campaign, the actual decision as to whether or not to launch an investigation as Trump has asked will fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
While the president can make referrals to the Department of Justice — as can any federal official — longstanding Department of Justice rules and procedures do not permit the president to directly order an investigation himself.