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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 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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