Trump Has Been Refusing Since Last January To Do An Interview With Mueller

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

The date had been picked, the location too, and the plan was penciled in: President Donald Trump would be whisked from the White House to Camp David on a quiet winter Saturday to answer questions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

But as the Jan. 27, 2018, date neared and Mueller provided the topics he wanted to discuss, Trump’s lawyers balked. Attorney John Dowd then fired off a searing letter disputing Mueller’s authority to question the president. The interview was off.

Nearly a year later, Trump has still not spoken directly to Mueller’s team — and may never. Through private letters, tense meetings and considerable public posturing, the president’s lawyers have engaged in a tangled, tortured back-and-forth with the special counsel to prevent the president from sitting down for a face-to-face with enormous political and legal consequences.

The prolonged negotiation speaks to the high stakes for Trump, Mueller’s investigation of his campaign and the presidency. Any questioning of a president in a criminal investigation tests the limit of executive authority. Putting this president on the record also tests his ability to stick to the facts and risks a constitutional showdown.

The process took a significant step forward this week when Trump’s lawyers handed over the president’s written answers to some of Mueller’s questions. The arrangement was a hard-fought compromise. Trump answered only questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election and not questions about whether he has tried to obstruct the broader investigation into potential coordination between Russia and his presidential campaign. It’s unclear whether Mueller intends to push for more — either in writing or in person.

Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined comment.

Even those written answers were months in the making.

In the months following Mueller’s May 2017 appointment, the White House pledged its cooperation, believing it the fastest way to end the investigation. The administration produced thousands of documents sought by the special counsel and made close Trump aides — including his legal counsel, chief of staff and press secretary — available for questioning. White House lawyer Ty Cobb predicted the investigation could conclude by the end of that year.

But it soon became clear that Mueller would want to interview Trump, given his involvement in several events under scrutiny. The president had fired FBI Director James Comey, harangued his attorney general over his recusal from the Russia investigation and dictated a misleading statement about a Trump Tower meeting involving his son and a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

But Trump lawyers Dowd and Jay Sekulow moved cautiously.

The last time a president is known to have been interviewed in a criminal investigation was nearly 15 years ago, and a commander-in-chief has not been subpoenaed before a grand jury since 1998, when President Bill Clinton was summoned in the Whitewater case. Trump’s lawyers were mindful such an interview would be a minefield for a president who often misstates the facts. They set out to avoid it however possible, even if it could lead to resisting a subpoena and bringing on a court fight over presidential power.

But first they tried to head off a request. Trump’s lawyers staked out a bold constitutional argument, declaring they considered his actions as president outside a prosecutor’s bounds. Mueller had no right to question the president on any of his decisions made at the White House, they argued, saying any outside scrutiny of those choices would curb a president’s executive powers.

At the same time, they worked to undermine Mueller’s case should he choose to challenge that argument. They furnished a trove of White House documents about key moments in the investigation in hopes of undercutting any claim that he could only get the information he needed by questioning Trump, according to people familiar with the strategy.

Trump had other plans.

As his lawyers plotted to dig in against any interview, he pushed for one, believing it would exonerate him. In January, he burst into a reporters’ briefing with chief of staff John Kelly and insisted he was eager to speak to Mueller. He might do so in weeks, he said, “subject to my lawyers and all of that.”

“I would love to do that — I’d like to do it as soon as possible,” Trump said.

What he didn’t mention was that his attorneys had already discussed, and scuttled, the planned interview with Mueller. That process had even progressed to discussing logistics with Kelly, who advised of ways White House officials could get people in and out of the building without the press knowing.

But the interest cooled after Mueller team prosecutor James Quarles dictated over the phone 16 topics Mueller wanted to cover, including Trump’s interactions with Comey, his knowledge of national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with the FBI and his involvement in the Trump Tower statement. Dowd responded that the answers could all be found in documents and witness statements provided to Mueller. He then canceled the interview and days later drafted a feisty letter contesting the interview’s appropriateness and offering extensive explanations on the incidents in question.

The investigation has been “a considerable burden for the president and his office, has endangered the safety and security of our country, and has interfered with the president’s ability to both govern domestically and conduct foreign affairs,” Dowd wrote.

In the following months, Trump told some of his closest confidants that he still wanted to interview with Mueller, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the White House who asked for anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss private conversations. The president repeatedly insisted he had done nothing wrong and believed he could convince Mueller of that.

He told one confidant last spring he was frustrated his lawyers didn’t believe he should do it and snapped that he didn’t understand what was taking so long, according to one Republican in contact with the White House.

Tensions were on display at a March meeting where Dowd and Sekulow met with Mueller to discuss the need for an interview. Mueller said he needed to know if Trump had a “corrupt intent” when he fired Comey, such as by intending to stymie the investigation, according to a person familiar with the encounter. Dowd responded that the question was ridiculous and the answer was obviously no. Investigators at the same meeting raised the prospect of a subpoena if Trump didn’t cooperate, Dowd has said.

Later that month, Mueller’s team produced its most detailed list of questions yet — dozens, in different categories from Trump’s time as a candidate, through the transition period and into his presidency.

Trump’s own views soon began to shift. He had his first misgivings in mid-April after FBI raids on his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, thinking they were a sign that he could “not trust” Mueller, according to one of the Republicans close to Trump who spoke with the AP.

As Rudy Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team in April, the White House settled into a new strategy: Drag out the interview drama for months, and use that time to ratchet up attacks on Mueller’s credibility and complaints about the cost and time of the probe, according to the officials and advisers familiar with the strategy.

Giuliani led the charge. His scattershot arguments sometimes frustrated others in the White House, as he frequently moved the goalposts as to what would be required to have an interview. But the effect was to ensure the process would drag out longer.

Trump, meanwhile, continued complaining about the investigation even as his lawyers quietly negotiated acceptable interview terms.

A key breakthrough occurred earlier this fall when Mueller’s team said it would accept written answers on Russian election interference and collusion. The concession ensured that Mueller would get at least some on-the-record response from Trump. Prosecutors tabled questions about obstruction, reserving the right to return to that area later.

Giuliani seemed to foreclose future dialogue Tuesday, saying, “It is time to bring this inquiry to a conclusion.”

Whether Mueller agrees is a different story.

Trump reportedly wanted to order the DOJ to prosecute Comey and Clinton

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

Trump reportedly wanted to order the DOJ to prosecute Comey and Clinton

Donald Trump
Trump has repeatedly tried to weaponize the DOJ against his rivals.
 Christian Hartmann/Reuters
  • President Donald Trump reportedly wanted to order the DOJ to prosecute former FBI director James Comey and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • Trump only backed down when then White House counsel Don McGahn told him he didn’t have the power to order investigations into his political rivals.
  • The move is the latest in a series of documented efforts in which Trump has tried to use the DOJ as a weapon against his perceived enemies.

President Donald Trump wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his biggest political rivals but backed down when he was told he didn’t have the authority to do that, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Trump wanted the DOJ to investigate former FBI director James Comey and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the report. But when the president floated the idea to then White House counsel Don McGahn in the spring, McGahn is said to have told Trump he couldn’t order the DOJ to conduct investigations.

McGahn reportedly added that Trump could request an investigation, but that the move would likely spark a public outcry and accusations that he was abusing his power.

After The Times’ story broke, CNN reported that Trump also broached the topic of investigating Clinton and Comey with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

One source told CNN that Whitaker came prepared to answer questions about what the DOJ was doing on matters related to Clinton, including the Clinton Foundation and the Uranium One deal. The person reportedly added that while Whitaker was trying to capitulate to the president, he did not appear to cross any line.

Tuesday’s revelation is the latest in a series of documented efforts Trump has made to exert control over the nation’s top law-enforcement agency. The DOJ is meant to be independent of the White House, but Trump has previously shown that he believes it is a political tool to be wielded against his perceived enemies.

In addition to publicly pressuring the DOJ to prosecute his rivals, Trump once reportedly asked advisers why he couldn’t have “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” do his bidding.

Trump has long harbored resentment toward both Comey and Clinton. When he ran against the former first lady in the 2016 election, Trump and his surrogates regularly led chants calling to “lock her up” in response to revelations that Clinton used a private email server to conduct government business when she was secretary of state.

He initially backed down after he won the presidency, but Trump soon resumed his calls for her prosecution when Clinton began criticizing him after the election, and as the FBI began investigating his campaign’s contacts with Russia.

Comey, meanwhile, moved into Trump’s crosshairs when he publicly confirmed the existence of the Russia investigation last March, shortly after Trump took office.

Subsequent reporting and congressional testimony revealed that after Trump learned of the investigation, he repeatedly pressured Comey to publicly state he was not personally under investigation, or to drop the probe entirely. When Comey refused, Trump fired him and later publicly stated he ousted the FBI director because of the Russia investigation.

Comey’s firing now makes up the basis of a separate inquiry, overseen by the special counsel Robert Mueller, into whether Trump sought to obstruct justice in the Russia probe.

When Comey began publicly criticizing Trump after his removal, the president called for prosecutors to investigate Comey for leaking classified information to The Times when he had his friend share a memo with the paper that documented some of what Comey believed were his most troubling interactions with the president. The memo did not contain any classified information.

He has also called for Comey and other current and former FBI and DOJ officials to be investigated over their handling of the Clinton email probe during the election.

SEE ALSO: In a ‘self-defeating and self-incriminating’ slipup, Trump just indicated he installed Matthew Whitaker to kill the Russia probe

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

“He is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Graham said.
Image: Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham speaks with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Nov. 18, 2018.NBC News

 / Updated 
By Kailani Koenig

WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday harshly condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his alleged role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling him “unhinged” and pointedly refusing to work with the prince in the future.

“The fact that he didn’t know about it is impossible for me to believe,” Graham said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.” The South Carolina senator said he hasn’t been given an official briefing on the matter, but maintained that the conclusion that the crown prince had a role in Khashoggi’s murder should be clear to anyone with knowledge about the country.

“If he is going to be the face of Saudi Arabia going forward, I think the kingdom will have a hard time on the world stage,” Graham added. “They are an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and I have no intention of working with him ever again.”

The United States announced sanctions this week against 17 Saudi Arabian officials over the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

NBC News reported on Friday that the CIA has concluded that the crown prince himself ordered the assassination.

Graham said he doesn’t want to let the individuals who carried out the killing to become “the fall guy,” but instead, “I am going to do whatever I can to place blame where I believe it lies: I am going to put it at the feet of the crown prince who has been a destructive force in the Mideast.”

The senator noted that he previously had a lot of hope for the prince’s potential as a reformer in the region, but “that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham is concerned.”

Graham’s language on Saudi Arabia stands in stark contrast to President Trump, who repeatedly told “Fox News Sunday” this weekend that the crown prince has continually denied involvement in the incident.

Asked whether the prince was lying, Trump responded, “he told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points.”

The president also asked, “Will anybody really know? He did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved.”

On Sunday, Graham was asked about the bond between the crown prince, Trump, and Jared Kushner, and he said, “I’ll leave it up to the president to find out how to handle Saudi Arabia from the executive branch side.”

“From the legislative branch side, we’re going to do as much as we can, as hard as we can, to send a signal to the world,” he continued. “This is not how we expect an ally to act. What happened in Turkey violates every norm of civilized society and it will not stand. And if John McCain were alive today, he’d be the first one saying that.”

Graham also maintained that the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, should not be allowed back in to the United States as ambassador.

Also on “Meet The Press,” Graham publicly called on the president to move forward on the issue of criminal justice reform, asking him to “pick up the phone” and lobby Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring their bill on the issue to the floor.

“The Republicans are the problem here, not the Democrats,” Graham said.

Trump says ‘good time’ for a government shutdown if no money for border wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump says ‘good time’ for a government shutdown if no money for border wall

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Saturday that this would be a “good time” for a government shutdown if he doesn’t get funding from Congress for his border wall.

“I think probably, if I was ever going to do a shutdown over border security, when you look at the caravans, when you look at the mess, when you look at the people coming in, this would be a very good time to do a shutdown,” Trump said.
Trump added, however, that he didn’t think a shutdown would “be necessary, because I think the Democrats will come to their senses.”
Congress averted a government shutdown in September by passing a massive spending bill to fund a large portion of the government. The package did not, however, include money for Trump’s border wall, and Congress passed a shorter-term spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, among other agencies, until December 7.
With the midterm elections now over, Congress is anticipating returning to a battle over funding for Trump’s promised border wall before the December deadline. Since most of the government is funded, Congress will be trying to avoid a partial shutdown.
Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan predicted a “big fight” over border security on the horizon, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the GOP is “committed” to working to secure the funding the President wants for his signature campaign pledge.
Congress allocated $1.6 billion for border security in a spending bill enacted in March.
At a White House event in August, Trump said he was looking for about $5 billion for the wall to cover this fiscal year, which some Democrats have already said they would vote against.

Military border mission

Trump also said Saturday that the US military will remain at the US-Mexico border “as long as necessary,” suggesting that the 5,900 troops deployed to the border could stay there past December 15, the scheduled end of the mission.
The President also touted the “tremendous military force” assigned to the border mission in Texas, Arizona and California, lauding the troops for building “great fences.”
“They built great fences. They built a very powerful fence, a different kind of a fence, but very powerful. The fence is fully manned,” he said.
On Tuesday, CNN reported that the troops are expected to finish their assigned task of reinforcing border crossing points, largely with barbed wire, in the coming days. After that, it’s unclear what additional orders they will be given other than putting up more wire, two defense officials told CNN.
Trump ordered the troops to the border to deter a caravan of migrants making its way through Mexico from seeking asylum in the US. Trump has called the caravan a threat and has alleged that gang leaders and criminals are among the migrants.
A senior administration official told CNN that the use of troops at the border is “a paper tiger.”
“A total joke,” the official said. “Of limited operational utility, and a waste of our troops’ time. (Defense Secretary James) Mattis knows it. (Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen) Nielsen knows it. (White House Chief of staff John Kelly)knows it. But that battle was lost with the President. He was hell-bent on troops.”

If Mueller Is Fired What Can/Could/Should He Do

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Let’s assume a worst-case scenario: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker straight-up fires special counsel Robert Mueller — no half-measures of refusing to allow Mueller to take certain investigative steps, or drastically cutting Mueller’s budget to starve his Russia investigation of resources, but a flat out “You’re fired!”

If that were to happen before Democrats take control of the House in 2019, no congressional committee is likely to subpoena Mueller to testify to his findings or the evidence he has obtained. Until January, the Republican majority will continue to stand behind President Trump. So what could Mueller do to disclose his investigation in the absence of receiving a congressional subpoena to testify or hand over his findings? And what would he choose to do — assuming he believed the president has committed wrongdoing the public should know about?

Taking the second question first, Mueller may choose to do absolutely nothing. We know that Mueller is a military man; he follows orders. And his marching orders as special counsel, pursuant to the governing regulations, are to conduct relevant investigations, bring appropriate charges, and write a confidential report for the Department of Justice (DOJ). So, once the job is done, by firing or otherwise, it wouldn’t be out of character for Mueller to simply go quietly off into the sunset. To date, he has kept an extremely low profile. He doesn’t even show up in court when his cases are brought, and the leak-proof nature of the ship he captains is the stuff of legend.

But let’s assume for a moment that Mueller instead goes the way of former FBI Director James Comey and is more than willing, upon an unceremonious firing, to present his side of the story to the public in any way he’s asked to do so. Or that (perhaps more likely) Mueller reluctantly concludes, upon his firing, that we have reached a point of constitutional crisis requiring the immediate publicizing of the president’s misdeeds because the DOJ under Whitaker is not acting in the best interests of the country. What would Mueller’s options be for disclosing currently non-public evidence and conclusions of his investigation without a subpoena from Congress?

The special counsel regulation, 28 CFR 600 et seq., requires the special counsel to write a report at the conclusion of his work, explaining his prosecution and declination decisions. It also states that the attorney general can publicly release the report, if that is in the public interest, to the extent that release complies with applicable legal restrictions. And there’s the rub — Whitaker would be hard-pressed to explain how Mueller’s report being released is not a matter of massive public interest, but he could fall back on secrecy rules of the grand jury to argue that grand jury materials disclosed in the report should not be released, resulting in the continued secrecy of most or all of the report.

Federal grand jury rules, which apply to Mueller as special counsel, are strict. Generally speaking, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), a government lawyer cannot disclose proceedings before, or evidence gathered by, the authority of the grand jury, even after the lawyer leaves government service. Exceptions are limited. One exception states that a government lawyer can disclose material or testimony gained under a grand jury subpoena  to local or state lawyers, for the purpose of assisting in the prosecution of a federal criminal law violation.

Prosecutors use this provision to share information when conducting an investigation in conjunction with a district attorney’s office, or a state attorney general’s office, for example.  Without question, Mueller has been in communications with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and could share information with them under this exception of Rule 6(e), although this would not be a public disclosure on Mueller’s part. It is also possible that additional pieces of the Mueller investigation could make their way to the Southern District of New York or another U.S. attorney’s office and, ultimately, could come to light through charges that way.

Of course, much evidence is not subject to Rule 6(e). Witness statements, for example, given to agents or prosecutors do not fall under the rule’s protections. Documents provided voluntarily to the special counsel’s office, instead of being provided pursuant to subpoena, likewise can be discussed publicly. And, of course, anything disclosed publicly through the criminal processes that have played out in cases the special counsel has charged, is fair game.

Finally, Mueller’s conclusions about crimes committed, as opposed to descriptions of the underlying evidence itself, aren’t prohibited from disclosure under Rule 6(e), although he would have to be careful about violating DOJ guidelines for discussing criminal subjects and proceedings, even with a subpoena.

In short, if Mueller were fired tomorrow, he would be very limited in what he could say about his investigation — and that indeed may be the impetus for the president’s action in firing Jeff Sessions and replacing him with a man who appears, by most accounts, to be a Trump loyalist.  We would all have to wait for what certainly would be the world’s most anticipated congressional subpoena.

Joel Cohen, a former state and federal prosecutor, practices criminal defense law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP in New York. Cohen is an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. He regularly lectures and writes on law, ethics and social policy for the New York Law Journal and other publications, and is the author of “Broken Scales: Reflections on Injustice.”

Jennifer Rodgers is a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. Until mid-2018, she was executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School and now serves on its advisory board.

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The Senate shouldn’t be sleeping on Whitaker’s unconstitutional appointment

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER NEWS)

 

The Senate shouldn’t be sleeping on Whitaker’s unconstitutional appointment

The resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his replacement with “acting Attorney General” Matthew Whitaker has proven quite controversial since it was announced. Big-name, right-of-center constitutional experts — including, it appears, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by a backdoor route — have opined that it is straight-up unconstitutional.

It is a conclusion that’s hard to disregard on its merits. But the failure of the administration to respect the “advice and consent” clause of the Constitution is not the only reason why the Senate should be pushing back, and hard, on the acting attorney general situation.

There’s a far more straightforward reason: The appointment of Whitaker is a blatant power grab, and no senator worth his salt should be willing to give up his power over the staffing of the administration.

[Read more: Maryland challenges Whitaker’s appointment as acting AG]

That is especially so if the politician in question is named Mitch McConnell.

The Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky regards himself as being “in the personnel business.” What McConnell means by that is that the most important impact he and his colleagues can have in government is getting people they like confirmed to high office, where they can make legally bulletproof decisions that will shape the future of this country for decades to come.

The area where this is most evident, pertinent, and with the longest-term consequence is in the judiciary. But Senate-confirmable administration posts count as well — not only those confirmed or blocked, but also those thwarted or prevented behind the scenes.

Why, then, would McConnell — let alone his other 99 colleagues — allow their power to be grabbed in such an overt and easily stopped manner by any president? Why not demand that if President Trump wants Whitaker, he put him forward as a nominee for attorney general? And if he does not want Whitaker, why not demand he name his preferred successor to Sessions right now, so the Senate can get on with the constitutionally mandated confirmation process?

The reality is, Trump should have had a nominee’s name ready to announce the second news broke of Sessions’ resignation. It’s not like he hasn’t had time to think about it. Rumors that Sessions would exit after the midterm elections have been swirling D.C. for months now. Trump has wanted him gone for much longer than that.

But it is simply unacceptable that the Senate would not be forcing the president to get on with it now. Every day he delays is an erosion of the Senate’s power and reason for existence.

Under former President Barack Obama, we saw a consistent erosion of the notion that administrations need to adhere to constitutional law.

That was actually the problem at issue in the case that George Conway, Kellyanne Conway’s husband, and former Solicitor General Neal Katyal cited in their op-ed last week dubbing the “acting attorney general” situation unconstitutional.

And Thomas, Trump’s “favorite justice,” considered what the Obama administration did with National Labor Relations Board appointments to be not merely unlawful but unconstitutional — and he was right.

Trump can and should do better than Obama did in this regard. But so should McConnell, if he really is in the personnel business. The majority leader should not tolerate this unconstitutional power grab, which overtly and directly hurts him and his caucus.

Liz Mair is president of Mair Strategies and strategist to the Swamp Accountability Project.

The Fraud On The American People That Is Donald Trump And Matt Whitaker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Former Attorney General Says Whitaker Appointment ‘Confounds Me’

Matt Whitaker participates in a round table event at the Department of Justice on Aug. 29, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The former attorney general under President George W. Bush is voicing doubt about whether President Trump has the authority to appoint Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, saying there are “legitimate questions” about whether the selection can stand without Senate confirmation.

In an interview with NPR, Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general from 2005 to 2007, also said that critical comments made by Whitaker about Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election “calls into question his impartiality.”

Gonzales’s comments add to a chorus of criticism that has faced the Whitaker appointment since Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday that he was resigning as attorney general at the request of the president. In selecting Whitaker, who served as chief of staff to Sessions, the president passed over the official who had been in charge of the Mueller probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“I’ve got some issues with this, quite frankly, because the notion that the chief of staff who is not Senate confirmed would have more experience, more wisdom and better judgement than someone like the deputy attorney general or even the solicitor general, people in the line of presidential succession within the Department of Justice, to me, it confounds me,” Gonzales said in an interview Saturday with NPR’s Michel Martin.

The Whitaker appointment has fueled uncertainty about the future of the Mueller investigation, with many Democrats now urging the former U.S. attorney and Division I football player to recuse himself from overseeing the probe.

Those concerns stem from comments made by Whitaker before he joined the Justice Department last year. In an op-ed for CNN, Whitaker argued that the Mueller investigation had gone too far. He also told the network that he could envision a scenario where Sessions is replaced with an attorney general who “reduces [Mueller’s] budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”

In a separate interview last year with the Wilkow Majority on SiriusXM radio, Whitaker opined on the Mueller investigation, saying, “The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign … There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that is not the collusion with the campaign.”

Addressing Whitaker’s past statements, Gonzales said he questioned “whether or not putting Mr. Whitaker in this position at this particular time was the wise move.” Even if the appointment is lawful, Gonzales said, Whitaker’s comments raised “a whole specter of whether or not he should recuse himself, so again, we’re right back in the situation where you’ve got the leadership at the department subject to questioning as to whether or not they can effectively lead the department with respect to one of the most politically charged investigations that’s ongoing right now.”

On Friday, President Trump responded to criticism that he appointed Whitaker in order to rein in the investigation, saying he has not spoken to him about the probe. The president also said, “I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” even though he has met with him more than a dozen times. In October, President Trump also told Fox News, “Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Adding to the concerns of Democrats is Whitaker’s ties to a witness in the Mueller investigation: Sam Clovis. In 2014, Whitaker chaired Clovis’s campaign for Iowa state treasurer. Clovis went on to work as an adviser to the Trump campaign, and is believed to be one of the campaign officials who spoke with another aide, George Papadopoulos, about overtures Papadopoulos was getting from Russians in London.

The Washington Post, citing “two people close to Whitaker,” reported on Thursday that the new acting attorney general has no intention to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In a statement on Wednesday, Whitaker said he is “committed to leading a fair Department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law, and seeks justice for all Americans.”

As NPR’s Miles Parks and Philip Ewing reported this week, there are multiple ways Whitaker would be able to complicate Mueller’s work:

One is simply by declining to continue to pay the investigators or attorneys working for the special counsel. Or by re-assigning them back to their previous jobs in the FBI and the Justice Department or the intelligence community.

Another way is by constraining the authority that Mueller and his office have to conduct the investigations they want.

… When the special counsel’s office wants to issue a subpoena or send investigators or call witnesses before a grand jury, the deputy attorney general is often involved. If the new leadership at the Justice Department didn’t want to go along, however, that could constrain Mueller’s ability to investigate as he sees fit.

And, if nothing else, having an attorney general who isn’t recused from Mueller’s work might give the White House a clearer look inside it.

Gonzales said he was unsure of what could be done if Whitaker moved to stop the Mueller investigation. Such a dramatic step is sure to trigger a fight between Congress and the executive branch about access to what Mueller has so far found, he said.

“The [Justice] Department may simply assert privilege based on law enforcement privilege to protect the integrity of the investigation and to encourage honest dialogue between investigators and prosecutors. Whether or not that privilege would be upheld in the court remains to be seen,” he said.

But Gonzales said it shouldn’t have to come to that.

“I’m extremely troubled that a change may have been made here to stop an investigation, which by all accounts is almost complete,” he said. “I think we just wait and let this thing play out, let Bob Mueller write his report and let the American people know what actually happened here.”

The audio version of this story was produced by Dana Cronin and Ammad Omar.

‘He’s a F*cking Fool’: Justice Department Officials Trash Whitaker, Their New Boss

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE DAILY BEAST)

 

NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

‘He’s a F*cking Fool’: Justice Department Officials Trash Matt Whitaker, Their New Boss

The new, acting attorney general will have profound powers on things not just related to the Russia probe.

The appointment this week of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general has sparked sharp concerns among lawmakers over the possibility that he may bottle up Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

Inside the Department of Justice, however, the fears are more expansive. Whitaker is seen as a rogue and underqualified new leader whose impact won’t just be felt on the Mueller probe but throughout the federal government.

“He’s a fucking fool,” one trial attorney inside the department said of the new AG. “He’s spent so much time trying to suck up to the president to get here. But this is a big job. It comes with many responsibilities. He just simply doesn’t have the wherewithal.”

Whitaker’s ascension to the rank of top law enforcement officer in the country has been as swift as its been controversial. A former U.S. attorney-turned-conservative media pundit, he served for months as former AG Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff before being appointed to fill his old boss’s post. That resume hasn’t instilled confidence.

“We’ve seen this over and over again with the Trump administration. They never vet these people,” said one former official from the department. “It shows that they don’t really have a strategy when it comes to these things and then they end up having to backtrack.”

But there are some in the department who are willing to give him a chance. One attorney who knew and worked with Whitaker said that when he entered his job as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa in 2004, he faced a “steep learning curve.” But another attorney who encountered Whitaker said he was “humble enough to recognize that he didn’t know everything.”

“When I first encountered Matt I thought he was a bright guy who struck me as someone packaged in a very sort of good old farm boy football player package,” one of the attorneys said. “He was not a know-it-all. He asked a lot of questions. He really wanted to carry out the job effectively.”

But Whitaker is no longer occupying a post where he has time to learn and adjust. He now is running a department with more than 100,000 employees, a budget of roughly $30 billion, and with oversight of and input into every federal law enforcement matter in the country.  Already, Whitaker has signed off on a controversial new regulation that will allow President Trump to prohibit certain immigrants from seeking asylum. The department is currently prepping for December hearings in the AT&T-Time Warner case, in which DoJ has appealed the $85 billion merger. It is also also knee-deep in its lawsuit to block California’s new net neutrality law from going into place.

“We’ve seen this over and over again with the Trump administration. They never vet these people. It shows that they don’t really have a strategy when it comes to these things and then they end up having to backtrack.”
— A former official from the department.

Kerri Kupec, Acting Principal Deputy Director at DoJ defended Whitaker from his critics, saying that he is a “respected former U.S. Attorney and well-regarded at the Department of Justice. As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said today, he is a superb choice.”

Bu the vast powers that Whitaker has not been given has left officials and trial attorneys at DoJ fearful that, in efforts to impress President Trump, he will try to make up for his inexperience by making rash decisions about the direction of the department, including implementing policy changes in the Division of Civil Rights.

“This guy has spent his whole life trying to climb the rungs of power to get to a federal appointment,” one DOJ official said. “Now that he is here, and who knows for how long, he’s going to try and make a name for himself. And that could make things harder for us.”

Originally from Iowa, Whitaker started his career as an attorney in Des Moines before running unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2002. In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed him as the U.S. attorney. After leaving that office in 2009, he sought to build up his political connections, often meeting with influential lawmakers and think-tank leaders, two individuals who worked alongside him in the Department of Justice said.

Whitaker headed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign in Iowa in 2012 before moving on to work in a similar capacity for Texas Gov. Rick Perry during his short-lived bid that same year. In 2014, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa but lost in the GOP primary to eventual winner Joni Ernst. That same year, he worked as chairman for then-Republican candidate for State Treasurer Sam Clovis. Clovis, a former Trump campaign official, has been questioned by the Special Counsel’s office.

During the first year of the Trump presidency, Whitaker shuttled back and forth between Washington D.C. and New York, making numerous media appearances in an attempt to catch the president’s attention. In those appearances, Whitaker blasted the Mueller investigation, claiming there was “no collusion” between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

It worked. Though there are constitutional questions surrounding the appointing, Whitaker was named acting AG this Wednesday after Sessions’ forced resignation. On Friday, President Trump claimed he did not know Whitaker. But three people inside DOJ said that after stepping into his role of DoJ chief of staff in September 2017, Whitaker frequented the White House with Sessions and developed a working relationship with the president and his advisors.

It’s not just Whitaker’s efforts to appease the president that have people inside the Department of Justice on edge. His past business dealings and connection to FACT, a partisan watchdog group, have raised concerns that, as attorney general, he will make rash decisions about how to revamp department policies, including those that deal with immigration, criminal justice reform, gun rights and antitrust.

Inside DOJ, Whitaker’s political views are known to be similar to Sessions’. But officials there said that his unpredictability, and lack of institutional experience, could lead the department in a more conservative direction. Whitaker has written several opinion pieces in the national media and spoken publicly about about his conservative take on the law.

“I have a Christian worldview,” Whitaker said in a 2014 interview while campaigning in Iowa. “Our rights come from our Creator and they are guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Whitaker has also said he thought Marbury vs. Madison—a landmark decision that gives courts the power to declare legislative and executive acts unconstitutional—was a “bad ruling.” It’s those comments that have trial attorneys inside the civil rights division of the Department of Justice worried.

“The civil rights division is always more political than the other divisions,” said one trial attorney. “But the feeling is this guy is going to come in and take a tougher stance on policy matters like immigration.”

A previous version of this story said that a spokesperson at DoJ did not comment. The reason they did not, however, was because of a technological mishap. Their comment has since been added to the story.

Whitaker backlash prompts concern at the White House

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Whitaker backlash prompts concern at the White House

(CNN)There is a growing sense of concern inside the White House over the negative reaction to Matthew Whitaker being tapped as acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions’ abrupt firing.

Whitaker, who was Sessions’ chief of staff, has faced criticism since Wednesday afternoon’s announcement for his previous comments on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Several senior officials told CNN they were surprised by the criticism, and believe it could potentially jeopardize Whitaker’s chances of remaining in the post if it continues to dominate headlines.
Whitaker is expected to take over oversight of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia. He has given no indication he believes he needs to step aside from overseeing the probe, according to one person familiar with his thinking, a belief echoed by White House officials. And a source close to the President told CNN that the idea of Whitaker ending or suppressing the Russia probe is not an option as of now.
But Whitaker has previously expressed deep skepticism about the probe, including arguing in a 2017 CNN op-ed that Mueller was “dangerously close to crossing” a red line following reports that the special counsel was looking into Trump’s finances and calling Mueller’s appointment “ridiculous” and “a little fishy” in a 2017 appearance on the “Rose Unplugged” radio program.
Whitaker also spoke about the investigation in numerous other radio and television appearances, including CNN, where he was a legal commentator.
It was not widely known among White House staff that he’d commented repeatedly on the special counsel’s investigation in interviews and on television — which is ironic given that this is what drew President Donald Trump to him and raises continued questions over the depth of the administration’s vetting process.
Sam Clovis, a 2016 Trump campaign national chairman who has close ties to Whitaker, encouraged him to get a regular commentary gig on cable television to get Trump’s attention, according to friends Whitaker told at the time. Whitaker was hired as a CNN legal commentator last year for several months before leaving the role in September 2017 to head to the Justice Department.
Along with the breadth of his previous comments on the investigation, there have been questions about the legality of Whitaker’s appointment.
George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, co-authored a New York Times op-ed published Thursday that called the appointment “unconstitutional.”
The Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, Conway wrote, “means Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.”
Whitaker’s standing ultimately depends on the President. But continued negative coverage will get Trump’s attention.

Donald Trump Jr. Expecting to Be Indicted by Mueller Soon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INTELLIGENCER NEWS AGENCY)

 

Donald Trump Jr. Expecting to Be Indicted by Mueller Soon

Donald Trump Jr. Photo: Scott Sonner/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Last year, Donald Trump Jr. testified that he never informed his father of a meeting with Russian officials promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It seemed hard to believe that the ne’er-do-well son would neglect to seek credit for his expected campaign coup from the father whose approval he so obviously craves. And now it seems that Robert Mueller has obtained proof that it is not in fact true. The Trump family lies all the time, of course, but doing it under oath is a crime.

Two days ago, Gabriel Sherman reported that White House officials are concerned about Donald Jr. “I’m very worried about Don Jr.,” a former West Wing official told Sherman, who fears Mueller will be able to prove perjury. Deep in a report about Trump’s 2020 campaign plans, Politico drops the news this morning that Trump Jr. “has told friends in recent weeks that he believes he could be indicted.”

If it’s what you’re saying, we love it.

The details of the expected indictment remain to be seen. But if Trump Jr. did lie under oath, the obvious question is why. He had a lawyer, who presumably informed him of the dangers of perjury. Why take the risk of perjury to deny having informed his father about a meeting with Russian officials if the contacts produced absolutely nothing?

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