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The Russia Investigation

In A Post-Mueller World, Trump Turns To Revenge As Democrats Try To Press On

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Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2019 — A day after Attorney General William Barr told Congress that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had found President Donald Trump to have neither “colluded” with Russia during the 2016 election nor obstructed the investigation into alleged collusion, President Trump and Republicans are out for revenge. Democrats are vowing to press on in their search for answers.

Initial reactions from the White House focused on Barr’s declaration that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” during the 2016 election, and on his own finding that Trump’s conduct over the course of the investigation — including his decision to fire then-FBI Director
James Comey in May 2017 — did not fulfill the elements of the crime of obstruction of justice.

Although Barr noted in his letter to Congress that Mueller himself had stated that the report “does not exonerate” Trump, both the President and his advisors characterized Barr’s interpretation of Mueller’s report as leaving him completely exonerated.

While some observers characterized Barr’s letter was a chance for Trump to “reset” his presidency, it wasn’t 24 hours before Trump and his advisors began to hit back against those who, having conducted, supported, or reported on the investigation, had purportedly shown themselves to be enemies of the President.

Speaking to reporters outside the West Wing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders set the tone for the day by casting an investigation that was conducted by a Republican administration’s Justice Department, led by lifelong Republican Robert Mueller, and overseen by Republican — and Trump appointee — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as a waste of money and a coup attempt by Democrats and the press.

“I think that it’s disgraceful that we had $25 million in taxpayer money to chase a witch hunt that shouldn’t have taken place in the first place. I think Democrats and the liberal media should be absolutely embarrassed by their behavior over the last few years, by their breathless reporting,” Sanders said.

“It’s not just that they reported and spread a slanderous and malicious lie, but that they hoped for the takedown of the President of the United States.”

Sanders later took to her official government Twitter account to circulate a New York Post image of a mock NCAA basketball tournament “bracket” entitled “Mueller Madness,” which encouraged readers to vote for who’d be crowned “the worst” of the 64 Trump critics drawn from not just the print and television news media, but also comedians, network sitcom producers, and late-night television hosts.

One of Sanders’ counterparts from Trump’s reelection campaign also went beyond generalized attacks on the media by circulating documents reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s so-called enemies list.

Network news producers who checked their email on Monday found a memorandum from Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh and bearing the subject line: “Credibility of Certain Guests.”

The memorandum, which was first reported by Axios’s Jonathan Swan, advises producers against booking a number of current and former government officials who’ve criticized President Trump over his alleged ties to Russia and obsequious attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among those Murtaugh’s memo advises the networks to blacklist are the current chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Other elected officials targeted by Murtaugh are Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and member of the Intelligence Committee whose many TV appearances have given him a national following, and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who Trump has repeatedly attacked over his Vietnam-era service record. Rounding out the target list are Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and John Brennan, the former CIA director and Trump critic who the president retaliated against last year by ordering his security clearance to be revoked.

“Moving forward, we ask that you employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests to appear anywhere in your universe of productions,” Murtaugh wrote before advising producers to ask themselves the “basic question” of whether any of those he’d named “warrant further appearances in our programming, given the outrageous and unsupported claims made in the past.”

But the Trump administration’s plans for revenge may not be limited to his perceived enemies in the press. During an interview with the PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said she agreed with Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani and other Trump allies, who’ve called for the FBI and the entire Justice Department needed to be investigated for what Giuliani and others have characterized as an attempted coup.

“I think their point is, the Justice Department, the FBI, the shenanigans that were happening when Comey and McCabe and Strzok and Page and Ohr and the rest of that lot were there ridiculing the Trump voters, smelly Wal-Mart shoppers and things like that, saying they needed a — quote — “insurance policy” to make sure he wouldn’t be the president,” Conway said, rattling off a list of FBI officials who’ve become a staple of right-wing conspiracy theories over the past few years.

“I think, in the interest of full accountability, transparency in our great democracy, the public has a right to know what folks were doing to try to subvert a newly democratically elected president,” she added.

The President himself joined in as well, telling reporters that the conduct of those who’d supported — or reported on — the Mueller investigation had been “evil” and “treasonous.”

“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things — I would say treasonous things — against our country,” Trump said Monday as he stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We can never, ever let this happen to another President again,” he added.

While Trump and his allies appeared to plot their revenge, House Democrats vowed to obtain Mueller’s full report and press on with their investigations, no matter what the President might say.

“We can’t worry about what he’s going to say. We have to worry about the American people and about vindicating the rule of law in America,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who serves on both the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Raskin stressed that Democrats are not talking about impeachment, only about getting to the facts, adding that the American people do not want Democrats to simply fold up their tents and go home based on the assertions made by Attorney General Barr, who he called an “unreliable narrator” on the subject of Mueller’s report.

“He already, long ago, committed himself on the point that the president’s cannot be found guilty of obstructing justice,” he said, referring to Barr’s authorship of a memorandum arguing that the President cannot obstruct justice when acting as the head of the executive branch.

White House officials contacted by BeltwayBreakfast rejected Raskin’s assertion that Barr is “the last person that question [obstruction] should have been left to” by noting that the attorney general’s letter specifically denied that his views on the president’s authority over the executive branch factored into his judgment that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.

Nevertheless, Raskin compared Barr’s presentation of Mueller’s findings to a high school book report by a student who’d read the Cliff’s Notes on the book instead of the book itself. Raskin said that he and his House colleagues are determined to get a look at both the full report and the underlying evidence used to compile it.

“I have a million questions about brief précis that was advanced to us by the attorney general,” he said, adding that the “opaque, inscrutable, and slippery” language in Barr’s letter “[generates] dozens of questions about what exactly is being asserted by the Attorney General and what was actually found by the Special Counsel.”

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anything else you can think of for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. Andrew 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 Allies Say Democrats Could Get Mueller Report If They Weren’t Afraid Of Impeachment

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2019 – Current and former Trump administration officials say that Congressional Democrats have ample justification to obtain the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but only if they launched a formal inquiry into whether to impeach President Trump.

And because Democrats are afraid to go down that road, say the current and former Trump officials, they’re stuck in an illegitimate quest for documents protected by executive privilege.

A judge would support the Democrats if they weren’t too chicken to talk about impeachment

In the wake of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee vote authorizing a subpoena for the entire report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, together with underlying evidentiary materials, the president, White House officials and their supporters are reverting to their usual gloves-off approach to dealing with Democrats’ investigations.

Democrats are characterizing their efforts to obtain Mueller’s report as a normal function of Congressional oversight, but the administration’s view is that Democrats’ investigation — as currently constituted — is an illegitimate effort to obtain material they are not legally entitled to see outside of an impeachment investigation.

The one set of circumstances laid out under the precedent most relevant to today’s conditions was the release of materials from Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s investigation as part of an impeachment investigation.

One senior administration official said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is asking the Justice Department to break the law when he should trust that Attorney General Robert Barr will release what he legally can.

 “Chairman Nadler is demanding secret grand jury information and classified material that he knows is against the law to release,” said the official.  “He should stop playing politics and allow the Attorney General to complete his work.”

But another source close to the president said House Democrats could make a strong case for obtaining the materials they seek under the precedent set during Watergate. That’s only if it were not for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s reluctance to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.

“[Nadler] is probably afraid to even think about impeachment, much less say it on the record,” the official said.

“He knows any judge will give Congress what it needs to conduct an impeachment inquiry, but he knows that if he does, we win. So he’s pretending what he’s doing is the same thing, but it’s illegitimate unless he bites the bullet and calls it impeachment.”

The Mueller Report might have been a role-reversal

After the reception of Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller Report appeared to “clear” President Trump of wrongdoing, Trump appeared to be engaged in a role-reversal: He said he was willing for the public to see the report. 

But after apparent statements by attorneys in the special counsel’s office disputing the characterization of the Barry summary of the Mueller Report, the president has shifted to the argument that releasing the report would run afoul of both the law and Department of Justice policy, rules and regulations. 

Trump’s acceptance of Barr’s exercise of discretion and putative adherence to the letter of the law governing protection of grand jury materials is an uncharacteristic turn for Trump. He spent the first two years of his term encouraging House Republicans’ efforts to release documents concerning ongoing investigations, while belittling and insulting his first Attorney General — former Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions — for following Justice Department rules by recusing himself from investigating Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Prior to this turnabout, Trump had relished the idea of presenting himself as reasonable, transparent, and deferential to the longstanding norms governing the White House’s interactions with the Department of Justice. 

One-time White House Communications Director Scaramucci says Democrats are afraid

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci also weighed in, telling BeltwayBreakfast that Nadler’s actions are hypocritical in light of his previous opposition to the release of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on then-President Bill Clinton.

Democrats are “100 percent” afraid of raising impeachment for fear of triggering an outcome similar to that of what transpired during the 1998 midterm elections, in which voters rejected Congressional Republicans’ attempt to impeach then-President Clinton by declining to re-elect a number of GOP incumbents.

“They can’t go to impeach him because that’ll send his poll numbers through the roof and it’ll likely cause him to get reelected,” Scaramucci said.

“It’ll create a mass wave of voter participation in people who are supporting [Trump], so they can’t impeach him. What they’re really trying to do is they’re trying to harass him so that they can get their fundraising numbers up.”

Former Trump Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie says Trump should seize control of the Mueller Report

But not everyone in Trump’s orbit is counting on Democrats’ fear of blowback to provide a rationale for denying Democrats the full Mueller report. Trump 2016 Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie said that Trump should throw caution to the wind by directing the White House Counsel’s Office to assert control over the report’s release and scrub it of any material that would ordinarily be covered by executive privilege.

“I think the White House…needs to exert privilege claims over the report,” Bossie told BeltwayBreakfast. “Giving up the attorney-client privilege, the work-product privilege, the executive privilege and the deliberative privilege should be taken seriously, and just because the Democrats want something in is not a reason to have it in the report.” 

Bossie predicted that despite the Department of Justice’s “public relations” efforts to present the public with a process that is outside President Trump’s control, nothing resulting from the current process overseen by Attorney General Barr would satisfy Democrats because they are “incredibly dedicated to the President’s destruction and don’t care about process.”

“They don’t care about rules and they don’t care about precedent will do whatever it takes to try and destroy him,” he said. 

Democrats, he added are “not going to ever be satisfied” with any result short of impeaching the President, and will do whatever it takes to achieve that end “through any means necessary” and regardless of whether a formal impeachment proceeding is launched or not.

“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to call it [impeachment], but that’s what it is.”

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg says no reason to work with Democrats

One of Bossie’s colleague from the 2016 race, Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, said that from the President’s perspective, there’s no good reason to work with people who are trying to destroy him.

“They’re not going to cooperate on anything because it just won’t stop,” he said. 

“None of these inquiries are being done…in good faith, so what is the point of cooperating?” he asked before adding that nothing the White House did to respond to Democrats’ requests would ever be enough.D

Democrats defend their actions, deny interest in impeachment

One source close to Nadler wondered whether the President or his allies are attempting to goad Democrats into launching impeachment proceedings by refusing to comply with anything short of a formal impeachment inquiry.

Whether or not they are doing so is “their business,” said the source, who warned such maneuvers would not be successful because Nadler “would never do something because he’s goaded into it or anything else.”

Nadler, the source said, “has been very clear” about the need for “all the facts to be in” before he can apply “a very careful test in determining whether [he] would even move forward on impeachment.”

“There’s a lot of work that we need to get done before we’re even at a stage of being able to make that determination.

But one House Democrat who sits on both the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said that he and his colleagues have a responsibility to review Mueller’s evidence themselves and that their responsibility was far more wide-ranging than simply deciding whether or not to impeach a President.

I don’t think [impeachment] is a necessary predicate for our ability to obtain the Mueller report or any information that we consider relevant. We have a constitutional oversight responsibility that is far broader than just an impeachment investigation,” he said.

But one House Democrat who sits on both the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said that he and his colleagues have a responsibility to review Mueller’s evidence themselves and that their responsibility was far more wide-ranging than simply deciding whether or not to impeach the President.

I don’t think [impeachment] is a necessary predicate for our ability to obtain the Mueller report or any information that we consider relevant. We have a constitutional oversight responsibility that is far broader than just an impeachment investigation,” he said.

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The Russia Investigation

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

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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”

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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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