FBI Special Council Mueller Gets Important Warrant: Trump And Family Federal Prison Bound?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

  • Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant for records of “inauthentic” Facebook accounts
  • It’s bad news for Russian election interference “deniers”
  • Mueller may be looking to charge specific foreign entities with a crime

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime.

Mueller would not have sought a warrant targeting Facebook as a company, Rangappa noted. Rather, he would have been interested in learning more about specific accounts.

“The key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”

It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, said that the revelation Mueller obtained a search warrant for Facebook content “may be the biggest news in the case since the Manafort raid.”

The FBI conducted a predawn July raid on the home of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in late July. The bureau is reportedly investigating Manafort’s financial history and overseas business dealings as part of its probe into possible collusion between the campaign and Moscow.

jared kushnerWhite House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Donald Trump answer questions regarding the ongoing situation in North Korea, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Facebook warrant “means that Mueller has concluded that specific foreign individuals committed a crime by making a ‘contribution’ in connection with an election,” Mariotti wrote on Saturday.

“It also means that he has evidence of that crime that convinced a federal magistrate judge of two things: first, that there was good reason to believe that the foreign individual committed the crime. Second, that evidence of the crime existed on Facebook.”

That has implications for Trump and his associates, too, Mariotti said.

“It is a crime to know that a crime is taking place and to help it succeed. That’s aiding and abetting. If any Trump associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller’s search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible way, they could be charged.”

Congressional intelligence committees are homing in on the campaign’s data operation as a potential trove of incriminating information.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC earlier this month that he wants to know how sophisticated the Russian-bought ads were — in terms of their content and targets — to determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign.

The House Intelligence Committee also wants to interview the digital director for Trump’s campaign, Brad Parscale, who worked closely with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Kushner was put in charge of the campaign’s entire data operation and is  now being scrutinized by the FBI over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador and the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank in December.

Facebook said in its initial statement that about 25% of the ads purchased by Russians during the election “were geographically targeted,” and many analysts have found it difficult to believe that foreign entities would have had the kind of granular knowledge of American politics necessary to target specific demographics and voting precincts.

In a post-election interview, Kushner told Forbes that he had been keenly interested in Facebook’s “micro-targeting” capabilities from early on.

“I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner said.

“We brought in Cambridge Analytica,” he continued. “I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world, a nd I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch.”

FBI Raided Paul Manafort’s Home July 26th, 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Washington (CNN) FBI agents raided a home of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort last month, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The agents seized materials in Manafort’s home as part of the ongoing Russia investigation led by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the source said.
“FBI agents executed a search warrant at one of Mr. Manafort’s residences. Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well,” Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, told CNN. He declined to provide further details.
The so-called no-knock warrant, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was served at Manafort’s home in Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs on July 26, the day after Manafort met with Senate intelligence committee investigators.
The tactic appears unusual for a case that has been under investigation for months and for which Manafort has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators. The source told CNN the documents seized included financial and tax records and at least some of the information had already been provided to Senate investigators.
Since his appointment in May, Mueller has quietly gathered a team of more than three dozen attorneys, investigators and other staff in a nondescript office in Washington. Officials familiar with the probe describe it as akin to a small US attorney’s office, with FBI agents and prosecutors assigned to separate groups looking into various aspects of the investigation.
These include groups of investigators and lawyers focused separately on Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, as well as the investigations focused on Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a US official briefed on the investigation has told CNN.
So far, Trump’s campaign has turned over approximately 20,000 pages to the Senate judiciary committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the election, while Manafort turned over approximately 400 pages and Donald Trump Jr. turned over about 250 pages.
Fusion GPS, the firm that compiled a dossier at the center of the federal Russia probe, has not yet turned over any documents, according to the committee’s spokesperson, though a source told CNN the firm plans to provide the committee with “thousands” of pages of documents Wednesday.
The spokesperson declined to provide details about the specific contents of the documents.

Is It Past Time To Arrest AG Jeff Sessions For Obstruction Of Justice And For Lying To Congress?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show

 Play Video 2:09
Sessions discussed Trump campaign matters with Russian ambassador, according to U.S. intercepts
The accounts from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to his superiors, intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, contradict public assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Post’s Greg Miller explains. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
 July 21 at 6:51 PM
Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions at a time when his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous.

Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’s recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated that he regretted his decision to make the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russian contacts during the campaign.

Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.

“Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman in a statement. She reiterated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.

Russian and other foreign diplomats in Washington and elsewhere have been known, at times, to report false or misleading information to bolster their standing with their superiors or to confuse U.S. intelligence agencies.

But U.S. officials with regular access to Russian intelligence reports say Kislyak — whose tenure as ambassador to the United States ended recently — has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.

Sessions removed himself from direct involvement in the Russia investigation after it was revealed in The Washington Post that he had met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, contacts he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing in January.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said when asked whether anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with representatives of the Russian government.

He has since maintained that he misunderstood the scope of the question and that his meetings with Kislyak were strictly in his capacity as a U.S. senator. In a March appearance on Fox television, Sessions said, “I don’t recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way.”

Sessions appeared to narrow that assertion further in extensive testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, saying that he “never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”

But when pressed for details, Sessions qualified many of his answers during that hearing by saying that he could “not recall” or did not have “any recollection.”

A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.

Sessions had a third meeting with Kislyak in his Senate office in September. Officials declined to say whether U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted any Russian communications describing the third encounter.

As a result, the discrepancies center on two earlier Sessions-Kislyak conversations, including one that Sessions has acknowledged took place in July 2016 on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

By that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to embark on a secret campaign to help Trump win the White House by leaking damaging emails about his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Although it remains unclear how involved Kislyak was in the covert Russian campaign to aid Trump, his superiors in Moscow were eager for updates about the candidate’s positions, particularly regarding U.S. sanctions on Russia and long-standing disputes with the Obama administration over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Kislyak also reported having a conversation with Sessions in April at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where then-candidate Trump delivered his first major foreign policy address, according to the officials familiar with intelligence on Kislyak.

Sessions has said he does not remember any encounter with Kislyak at that event. In his June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions said, “I do not recall any conversations with any Russian official at the Mayflower Hotel.”

Later in that hearing, Sessions said that “it’s conceivable that that occurred. I just don’t remember it.”

Kislyak was also a key figure in the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to leave that job after The Post revealed that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak even while telling others in the Trump administration that he had not done so.

In that case, however, Flynn’s phone conversations with Kislyak were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, providing irrefutable evidence. The intelligence on Sessions, by contrast, is based on Kislyak’s accounts and not corroborated by other sources.

Former FBI director James B. Comey fueled speculation about the possibility of a Sessions-Kislyak meeting at the Mayflower when he told the same Senate committee on June 8 that the bureau had information about Sessions that would have made it “problematic” for him to be involved in the Russia probe.

Comey would not provide details of what information the FBI had, except to say that he could only discuss it privately with the senators. Current and former officials said he appeared to be alluding to intelligence on Kislyak’s account of an encounter with Sessions at the Mayflower.

Senate Democrats later called on the FBI to investigate the event in April at the Mayflower hotel.

Sessions’s role in removing Comey as FBI director angered many at the bureau and set in motion events that led to the appointment of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.

Trump’s harsh words toward the attorney general fueled speculation this week that Sessions would be fired or would resign. So far, he has resisted resigning, saying that he intends to stay in the job “as long as that is appropriate.”

Matt Zapotosky and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Trumps New Choice For FBI Director Deleted Russian Case From His Bio

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK AND CNN)

President Donald Trump’s FBI director pick, attorney Chris Wray, reportedly represented an American energy executive who was facing a criminal investigation by Russia in 2006. However, as Trump deals with multiple investigations amid speculation about his campaign’s ties to Russia, one wouldn’t know that particular detail of Wray’s career history.

Why? Wray himself deleted the reference this year, well before he was up for one of the country’s top law enforcement jobs, CNN reported Tuesday.

As early as 2009, Wray’s profile for law firm King and Spalding described his clients and included the line: “An energy company president in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities.”

The firm said that Wray made the changes in January but that he wasn’t the only attorney to work on the case over the years for a client the firm would not name. With offices spread across the globe, King and Spalding have previously represented companies that dealt with Russian state-run energy companies Rosneft and Gazprom, CNN reported.

“Chris made this change to his bio, along with other minor tweaks, in an attempt to make the material more current. At the time, he made the adjustments, January 12, 2017, he was not being considered for, and did not anticipate being nominated for, FBI director or any position in government,” a firm spokeswoman told CNN. “Moreover, the representation that was dropped from his online bio related to a matter where Chris, King and Spalding and the client were adverse to the Russian government. Mr. Wray worked on this matter in 2006. Other attorneys at the firm worked on the matter in 2006, 2007 and 2011.

“The executive is an American citizen and lives in the United States,” the spokeswoman continued. “During the course of the dispute, the Russian government sought to exert leverage against this executive and the company by initiating a criminal investigation in Russia against him. Chris and the firm were engaged to handle the U.S. legal issues that arose from the situation.”

A call, with a request for comment, from Newsweek to Wray’s Washington, D.C., office was not immediately returned. Based on internet archive service Wayback Machine, the reference to the client facing Russian scrutiny was found on Wray’s profile as recently as November 18.

To date, Trump has not formally nominated Wray. To do so, the formal nominee must be sent to the U.S. Senate, but the White House has yet to do so, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Thursday during a press briefing.

“There’s a pretty lengthy paperwork process, I know, that goes with selecting that individual,” Sanders said. “And so I believe they’re in the middle of that process. And as soon as it’s completed, it will be sent over.”

Wray, who will face a Senate confirmation hearing to replace James Comey at the FBI, previously served as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division from 2003 to 2005 during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Though a date has not been scheduled for Wray’s nomination hearing, he has faced increased scrutiny of late. Wray represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the infamous “Bridgegate” scandal and is reportedly still working for Christie, the Asbury Park Press reported Monday.

Wray’s firm has made $2.1 million after being hired by Christie in 2014, a sum that includes more than $650,000 for work on Bridgegate-related material.

Kushner Is Said to Be Reconsidering His Legal Team

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Abbe Lowell, right, a prominent trial lawyer, in 2014. Mr. Lowell was said to have been recently contacted about joining Jared Kushner’s legal team. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

Representatives of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, have quietly contacted high-powered criminal lawyers about potentially representing him in the wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Some of Mr. Kushner’s allies have raised questions about the link between his current lawyer, Jamie S. Gorelick, and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity. Before the Justice Department named him to the special counsel post, Mr. Mueller was a law partner with Ms. Gorelick at the Washington firm of Wilmer Hale.

Such connections are common in Washington legal circles and are often resolved by an acknowledgment from the client of the possible conflict. In this case, Ms. Gorelick urged Mr. Kushner to consider other representation first.

In recent days, Mr. Kushner has had discussions with at least one prominent trial lawyer, one of the people said. And if Mr. Kushner chooses to hire a new lawyer, this person may either supplement or replace Ms. Gorelick’s team.

Continue reading the main story

So far, Mr. Kushner’s legal team remains unchanged. Ms. Gorelick, who has repeatedly said Mr. Kushner will cooperate with all Russia-related inquiries, is preparing him for a meeting with investigators for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mr. Kushner also provided a statement on Sunday from Ms. Gorelick describing the recent discussions with other lawyers as seeking advice as opposed to replacing or adding to his legal team.

“After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel,” the statement from Ms. Gorelick said.

The outreach to other lawyers began last month, the people briefed on the matter said, when news reports revealed that at a meeting with Russia’s ambassador in December, Mr. Kushner had reportedly discussed establishing a secret communication channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow. Mr. Mueller’s investigators are examining Mr. Kushner’s contacts with Russian officials as part of a broader investigation into whether any Trump advisers colluded in Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

 

Video

Meet the Connection Between Jared Kushner and Putin

Jared Kushner is now under congressional and F.B.I. scrutiny after his meeting with a close ally of Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Here’s how the Russian banker Sergey N. Gorkov could benefit from meeting President Trump’s senior adviser.

By NATALIA V. OSIPOVA and MARK SCHEFFLER on Publish Date June 5, 2017. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters…Watch in Times Video »

Mr. Trump has denounced Mr. Mueller’s investigation, describing it on Twitter on Thursday as a “witch hunt” led by “some very bad and conflicted people.”

Given the president’s sentiments, he might view any link to Mr. Mueller with suspicion, including Ms. Gorelick’s representation of Mr. Kushner, according to one person who has been contacted about the matter. An official close to the president disputed that, saying Mr. Trump is pleased with Ms. Gorelick’s representation of his son-in-law.

Although Ms. Gorelick is a well-known lawyer who has often handled complex cases involving government investigations — and some of her colleagues on her team are noted courtroom litigators — she is also not primarily a trial lawyer.

In contrast, people within Mr. Kushner’s circle recently reached out to some courtroom litigators about possibly joining his legal team. Among the lawyers contacted, one person said, was Abbe D. Lowell, a prominent trial lawyer whose previous clients include Jack Abramoff, the powerful Republican lobbyist, in a corruption scandal that shook Washington in 2005. Mr. Lowell is currently defending Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, against federal corruption charges.

Mr. Lowell declined to comment.

The outreach has come as a number of White House officials have mulled whether to hire personal lawyers. An aide to Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that Mr. Pence had retained Richard Cullen. Other White House officials are also considering hiring lawyers, and on Friday, the president added a well-known litigator, John M. Dowd, to his legal team.

Investigators have been interested for months in Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russian officials during the presidential transition. The meetings included a session with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak.

The White House has noted that transition teams typically meet with foreign officials, and that Mr. Kushner at the time was serving as a liaison to foreign governments and officials. He reportedly met with dozens of officials from a number of countries.

At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner also met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the head of the state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank. The bank is wholly owned by the Russian state and is intertwined with Russian intelligence.

F.B.I. and congressional investigators are scrutinizing whether Mr. Kushner may have met with Mr. Gorkov to help establish a direct line to Mr. Putin, or for reasons not cited by the White House.

Tensions are building inside the Justice Department

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Tensions are building inside the Justice Department as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein contemplates whether he will become a witness in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections.

Rosenstein, in office for less than two months, is the top Justice official overseeing the probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself.
But Rosenstein could end up recusing himself, too, Justice officials say, in part because he played a role in President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The Comey dismissal could become part of a widening investigation into whether the President tried to interfere with the ongoing Russia probe.
Officials familiar with the matter describe friction on the Justice Department’s fourth and fifth floors, home to the suite of offices belonging to the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, respectively, in part because of Rosenstein’s handling of the Russia matter.
Rosenstein was among those who advised Sessions to recuse himself, according to officials briefed on the matter. But then Rosenstein made the surprise move to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation, a development that people close to Sessions and Trump believe has worsened matters for everyone involved.
Sessions learned of the Mueller appointment at about the same time that the press was told, according to people briefed on the matter. The attorney general was at a White House meeting when the notification came from Rosenstein, prompting the enraged President to scold the attorney general for the turn of events. Trump had viewed Sessions’ recusal as unnecessary, even though Justice Department regulations made it almost impossible to avoid.
The focus on Rosenstein sharpened Friday because the President attacked the deputy attorney general in a tweet, blaming him for what he terms a “witch hunt.”
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the President tweeted.
The President’s tweet — seeming to confirm the probe based on news reports — came as a surprise to the President’s own legal team, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Mueller continues to hire a team of lawyers, and with FBI investigators is gathering information that is widely expected to lead to a formal investigation into whether President Trump attempted to interfere in the investigation. Comey’s firing likely will be part of that probe.

Special counsel members donated to Dems

Special counsel members donated to Dems 02:26
Rosenstein told the Associated Press earlier this month that when he hired Mueller he discussed the possibility of having recuse himself “if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation” and if recusal is necessary.
The strain on Rosenstein has increasingly become visible in recent weeks, according to Justice officials.
At a ceremony last month to welcome Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s third-ranking official, Rosenstein joked awkwardly about being at the center of criticism since taking office, according to people who were in the room.
If Rosenstein recuses himself, Brand, a Trump appointee, would become the top Justice official overseeing Mueller’s work.
On Thursday night, he issued a statement lashing out at news stories sourced to anonymous officials and that he believes are causing the President and Republicans to attack the Justice Department, the FBI and Mueller for alleged leaks.
Rosenstein’s unusual statement, which he issued over the objections of some advisers, said in part: “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials.'”
A Justice official said Rosenstein was motivated in part because of frustration that recent news stories have unfairly brought on a torrent of “leak” accusations against the FBI and Mueller’s team.

Trump lashes out at Russia probe; Pence hires a lawyer  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Trump lashes out at Russia probe; Pence hires a lawyer

June 15 at 9:39 PM
A heightened sense of unease gripped the White House on Thursday, as President Trump lashed out at reports that he’s under scrutiny over whether he obstructed justice, aides repeatedly deflected questions about the probe and Vice President Pence acknowledged hiring a private lawyer to handle fallout from investigations into Russian election meddling.Pence’s decision to hire Richard Cullen, a Richmond-based lawyer who previously served as a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, came less than a month after Trump hired his own private lawyer.

The hiring of Cullen, whom an aide said Pence was paying for himself, was made public a day after The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is widening his investigation to examine whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.

A defiant Trump at multiple points Thursday expressed his frustration with reports about that development, tweeting that he is the subject of “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history,” and one that he said is being led by “some very bad and conflicted people.”

Trump, who only a day earlier had called for a more civil tone in Washington after a shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., fired off several more tweets in the afternoon voicing disbelief that he was under scrutiny while his “crooked” Democratic opponent in last year’s election, Hillary Clinton, escaped prosecution in relation to her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Special counsel investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice
The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials to determine whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said. (Patrick Martin,McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Before the day ended, the White House was hit with the latest in a cascade of headlines relating to the Russian probe: a Post story reporting that Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-law and adviser.

“The legal jeopardy increases by the day,” said one informal Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss conversations with White House aides more freely. “If you’re a White House staffer, you’re trying to do your best to keep your head low and do your job.”

At the White House on Thursday, aides sought to portray a sense of normalcy, staging an elaborate event to promote a Trump job-training initiative, while simultaneously going into lockdown mode regarding Mueller’s probe.

At a previously scheduled off-camera briefing for reporters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, was peppered with more than a dozen questions about ongoing investigations over about 20 minutes.

In keeping with a new practice, she referred one question after another to Trump’s personal lawyer.

Sanders, for example, was asked whether Trump still felt “vindicated” by the extraordinary congressional testimony last week by James B. Comey, the FBI director whose firing by Trump has contributed to questions about whether the president obstructed justice.

“I believe so,” Sanders said, before referring reporters to Marc E. Kasowitz, Trump’s private attorney.

As Trump’s No. 2 and as head of the transition team, Pence has increasingly found himself drawn into the widening Russia investigation.

Pence — along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kushner, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Counsel Donald McGahn — was one of the small group of senior advisers the president consulted as he mulled his decision to fire Comey, which is now a focus of Mueller’s investigation.

He also was entangled in the events leading up to the dismissal of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who originally misled Pence about his contact with Russian officials — incorrect claims that Pence himself then repeated publicly.

The vice president was kept in the dark for nearly two weeks about Flynn’s misstatements, before learning the truth in a Post report. Trump ultimately fired Flynn for misleading the vice president.

There were also news reports that Flynn’s attorneys had alerted Trump’s transition team, which Pence led, that Flynn was under federal investigation for his secret ties to the Turkish government as a paid lobbyist — a claim the White House disputes. And aides to Pence, who was running the transition team, said the vice president was never informed of Flynn’s overseas work with Turkey, either.

On Capitol Hill on Thursday, Russian election meddling and related issues were a prominent part of the agenda.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats spent more than three hours in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, just days after he refused to answer lawmakers’ questions in an open session about his conversations with Trump regarding the Russia investigation.

Several GOP lawmakers said they think Mueller should be able to do his job — including probing possible obstruction by Trump — but added that they were eager to put the probe behind them.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, said he retains confidence in Mueller and that he’s seen nothing so far that would amount to obstruction by Trump. His assessment, Cornyn said, includes the testimony last week by Comey, who said he presumed he was fired because of Trump’s concerns about the FBI’s handling of the Russian probe.

“I think based on what he said then, there doesn’t appear to be any there there,” Cornyn said. “Director Mueller’s got extensive staff and authorities to investigate further. But based on what we know now, I don’t see any basis.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he didn’t find news that Mueller is exploring obstruction of justice particularly surprising given it’s clear he is “going to look at everything.”

“There has been a lot of time spent on the collusion issue — 11 months by the FBI and six months by Congress — and both sides agree they haven’t found anything there,” Thune said. “I hope at some point all this stuff will lead to an ultimate conclusion, and we’ll put this to rest.”

In the meantime, the Republican National Committee appears to be girding for a fight.

“Talking points” sent Wednesday night to Trump allies provided a road map for trying to undercut the significance of the latest revelation related to possible obstruction of justice.

“This apparent pivot by the investigative team shows that they have struck out on trying to prove collusion and are now trying to switch to another baseless charge,” the document said.

The RNC also encouraged Trump allies to decry the “inexcusable, outrageous and illegal” leaks on which it said the story was based and to argue that there is a double standard at work.

The document said there was “an obvious case” of obstruction that was never investigated against former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch related to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s email server.

In his afternoon tweets, Trump picked up on that argument. In one tweet, the president wrote: “Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?”

“Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” Trump said in another.

Trump restricted his musing Thursday on Mueller’s investigation to social media, passing on opportunities to talk about it in public.

The president did not respond to shouted questions about whether he believes he is under investigation as he departed an event Thursday morning designed to highlight his administration’s support of apprenticeship programs.

That event was part of a schedule that suggested no outward signs of concern by Trump about his latest troubles.

He was joined at the apprenticeship event by several governors, lawmakers and other dignitaries. Before turning to the subject at hand, Trump provided an update on the condition of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot Wednesday during the attack on Republican lawmakers at an early-morning baseball practice.

Attempting to strike a unifying chord, Trump said: “Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long-divided country.”

Later in the afternoon, Trump and the first lady traveled to the Supreme Court for the investiture ceremony for Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

Among the questions Sanders deflected Thursday was to whom exactly Trump was referring as “bad and conflicted people” in one of his early morning tweets.

“Again, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel on all questions relating to the investigation,” Sanders said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the outside counsel, did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment on the questions Sanders referred to him.

Earlier this week, one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., highlighted on Twitter an op-ed in USA Today that argued that Mueller should recuse himself from the Russia investigation because he has a potential conflict of interest, given his longtime friendship with Comey, a crucial witness.

The piece, which Donald Trump Jr. retweeted, was written by William G. Otis, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University who was a special counsel for President George H.W. Bush.

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Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s, made headlines this week when he said during a PBS interview that he believed Trump was considering firing Mueller.

The White House didn’t immediately deny that notion but made clear that Ruddy was not speaking for Trump. The following day, Sanders said Trump had no intention of trying to dislodge Mueller.

Sanders was asked again Thursday whether Trump still has confidence in Mueller.

“I believe so,” she said, later adding: “I haven’t had a specific conversation about that, but I think if he didn’t, he would probably have intentions to make a change, and he certainly doesn’t.

Ed O’Keefe, Karoun Demirjian and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.

FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs in custody after nearly a year on the lam

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Bishop Lyle Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was living out of his car for two weeks before his arrest in Yankton, South Dakota, an FBI official said Thursday.

Jeffs, who had been on the run from authorities for almost a year, did not resist arrest late Wednesday and is being held in Minnehaha County Jail in South Dakota. He appeared in court Thursday afternoon and didn’t answer reporters’ questions as he was brought in.
“The long arm of the law will eventually catch up with you and bring you back to justice,” John Huber, the US Attorney for the District of Utah, said earlier. “Undoubtedly, the flight from prosecution and his fugitive status will play a part (in the upcoming court case).”
The FBI received a tip from a citizen Tuesday, which included a partial description of Jeff’s vehicle. The tip was instrumental to tracking down Jeffs, said Eric Barnhart, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City, Utah, bureau.
Jeffs, 57, is expected to be extradited to Utah in the next couple of days “now that he is back in the loving embrace of law enforcement,” Barnhart said.
Jeffs, younger brother of notorious FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, escaped house arrest last July after using olive oil to slip a GPS tracking bracelet off his ankle. At the time of his escape, the FBI warned the public that Lyle Jeffs was traveling with bodyguards and was considered dangerous.
Jeffs took over leadership of the polygamist Mormon sect after his older brother was arrested on child sex charges related to his underage wives.
According to the FBI’s wanted poster, Jeffs was on home confinement while awaiting trial over his alleged involvement in a food stamp fraud case when he escaped.
He had been charged with conspiracy to commit benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

FLDS Life After Warren Jeffs orig_00031327

Life after Warren Jeffs: FLDS town divided

Jeffs, another brother, Seth, and other conspirators were accused of defrauding the government of more than $12 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — more commonly known as food stamps.
Church members were urged to allow the conspirators to use their food stamp cards to buy food, according to court documents.
Families that qualified for federal assistance were allegedly told to turn over their food stamp debit cards and take what they needed from a warehouse of pooled resources called “the bishop’s storehouse.”
As a result, the federal government alleges, some families subsisted on beans, rice and toast, while high-ranking church members got meat, turkey and seafood.
The government also alleges that the Jeffs brothers and others laundered money by swiping food stamp debit cards and ringing up “ghost” purchases at church-friendly businesses. The laundered cash allegedly was used on big-ticket items such as a $30,000 pickup truck, a $14,000 tractor and $17,000 in paper products.

warren jeffs children FLDS lisa ling orig_00002624

 Children of Warren Jeffs accuse him of sexual abuse

An additional $250,000 was allegedly spent on printing costs for Warren Jeffs’ self-published book of jailhouse revelations, “Jesus Christ, Message to All Nations.”
A $50,000 reward had been issued for Lyle Jeffs’ arrest. The disbursement of the reward money has not yet been determined, Barnhart said.
The FLDS split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1930s after the Mormon establishment rejected polygamy.
Warren Jeffs took the reins of the sect in 2002 after the death of his father, the church’s founder. He is serving a life-plus-20-year term for sexual assault. Jeffs was convicted in August 2011 of the aggravated sexual assaults of a 12- and a 15-year-old girl who he claimed were his “spiritual wives.”
Last year, federal authorities expressed concern that Jeffs, now 61, was reorganizing his sect from prison.

Senate Intelligence Committee: AG Sessions Flip-Flops And Lies His Way Throughout

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to have his cake and eat it too when it came to his explanations during congressional testimony Tuesday for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

On the one hand, Sessions didn’t feel like he needed to stay in the Oval Office on February 14 when President Trump said he wanted to speak privately with Comey. And he didn’t feel the need to do anything following a meeting the two men had in the days that followed in which Comey expressed his discomfort with these one-on-one conversations with the president.
Sessions’ justification in both instances was that Comey was a total pro, that he knew his stuff and that Sessions trusted him to handle his business.
“I felt (Comey), so long in the department — former deputy attorney general, as I recall — knew those policies probably a good deal better than I did,” said Sessions at one point. At another, Sessions said: “Our Department of Justice rules on proper communications between the department and the White House have been in place for years. Mr. Comey well knew them, I thought and assumed, correctly, that he complied with them.”
On the other hand, Sessions told the Senate intelligence committee that he and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had discussed removing Comey as FBI director and agreed that it was time for a “fresh start” at the bureau before either man was confirmed to their current positions.
Huh?
Either Comey was the ultimate pro who could be trusted to handle his business or he was someone who Sessions had decided months before needed to go because he had badly mismanaged his role in the 2016 election. Comey can’t simultaneously be highly competent and a bungling, bumbling fool depending on what image suits Sessions’ needs at the moment.
But, time and again, Sessions tried to hold those totally oppositional thoughts in his head — and insisted that they weren’t at all contradictory.
As Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, noted in Tuesday’s hearing, in July and again in October — following Comey’s initial announcement that Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of her private email server and his decision to re-open the case in October — Sessions praised the then FBI director.
This exchange between Reed and Sessions is telling:
REED: So, in July and November, Director Comey was doing exactly the right thing. You had no criticism of him. You felt that in fact he was a skilled professional prosecutor. You felt that his last statement in October was fully justified. So how can you go from those statements to agreeing with Mr. Rosenstein and then asking the President, or recommending he be fired?
SESSIONS: I think, in retrospect, as all of us begin to look at that clearly and talk about it, as perspectives of the Department of Justice, once the director had first got involved and embroiled in a public discussion of this investigation, which would have been better never to have been discussed publicly, and said he — it was over. Then when he found new evidence that came up, I think he probably was required to tell Congress that it wasn’t over, that new evidence had been developed.
Uh, what?
If you get what Sessions is driving at in his response to Reed, you are a better — and smarter — person than me.
(Also worth noting: Comey testified, under oath, that Trump called him several times in the first part of this year to tell him how great a job he was doing.)
Then there was the fact, revealed in Sessions’ testimony yesterday, that he had never met with Comey to discuss what he took to be his poor performance.
This back and forth with Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, gets at that oddity:
WARNER: So you were his — his superior, and there were some fairly harsh things said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise those concerns before he was actually terminated by the President?
SESSIONS: I did not do so. A memorandum was prepared by the deputy attorney general, who evaluated his performance and noted some serious problems with it.
Take one giant step back. We know, because Donald Trump told us, that the real reason he fired Comey was because of the former FBI director’s approach to the Russia investigation. Trump said that after his administration had tried to sell the same case Sessions was selling on Tuesday: That Comey was removed because of a memo from Rosenstein.
That’s the fact. Everything else — including Sessions’ attempts to spin his views on Comey and the circumstances surrounding his firing — are simply post-action spin.

AG Jeff Sessions: Seems He Can’t Remember Anything Except How To Lie To Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AND REUTERS)

AG Jeff Sessions says he can’t recall more meetings with Russian officials before admitting he ‘possibly’ had one

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had “no recollection” of any additional meetings with Russian diplomats during the 2016 presidential campaign, before acknowledging that he “possibly” had one.In testy testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election on Tuesday, Sessions also defended his role in firing FBI Director James Comey while repeatedly refusing to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump.

The attorney general acknowledged that Trump hadn’t evoked “executive privilege” — legalese for an ability to protect private conversations with the President — but still refused to answer any questions from senators regarding his conversations with Trump, including whether he and Trump had discussed the Russia investigation when talking about firing Comey.

Sessions’ repeated dodges and refusals to answer questions led to building frustration from Democrats throughout the hearing.

Columbia professor turns over James Comey documents to FBI

“You’re not answering questions. You’re impeding the investigation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said. “You are obstructing the congressional investigation by not answering questions.”

“I’m protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses” to executive privilege in the future, Sessions said.

Sessions also insisted he had every right to be involved with Trump’s decision to fire Comey, even though the FBI head was leading the Russia investigation Sessions had been forced to step away from.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“The scope of my recusal, however, does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI,” he said.

In aftermath of Comey’s bombshell testimony, Trump goes golfing

Sessions refused, however, to offer further explanation for his support in firing the former FBI director even though he’d recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

And he used carefully selected language to give himself an out about a potential unreported third meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., saying only that he did not “have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials” during a Trump event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the campaign.

Later, he muddied up that denial even further.

“I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it,” he said.

Senators had asked Comey to investigate Sessions’ Russia talks

“I don’t recall” was his favorite phrase of the day, as Sessions fell back on the pat answer time and again throughout the day.

While he was evasive in his answers, Sessions was fiery off the bat in defending his character against what he painted as “scurrilous and false allegations.”

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” he said.

He claimed that he’d planned to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the start, even though he had refused to commit to do so during his confirmation hearing, saying he “not aware of a basis to recuse myself,” and made no moves towards recusal until after he’d been caught in a lie about his previous contacts with Russian officials.

Trump says he’d testify on Comey claims, but won’t talk tapes

“If merely being a supporter of the President during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving him, then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions said in his January confirmation hearing. “I am not aware of a basis to recuse myself from such matters. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.”

Sessions even waited days to announce his recusal after the news of his previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador came to light.

The attorney general blamed his false testimony that he hadn’t met with Russian officials, when it turned out he did at least twice, on a misunderstanding of what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was asking him at the time, though he went much further to declare that he hadn’t met with any Russians when that wasn’t what Franken had asked.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Sessions said he has “confidence” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI probe into Russia. He said that he hadn’t talked to Trump about him after one of Trump’s friends said he was considering firing the special counsel on Monday, but stated he didn’t “think it would be appropriate” to fire Mueller.

While he defended his role in firing Comey and claimed there were performance issues, he repeatedly refused to discuss whether he’d recommended it or if Trump had asked him to come up with a rationale for a decision he’d already made, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t talk about any private conversations with the President.

“I’d come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing,” he said, though he admitted he didn’t discuss any job performance problems with Comey before the firing.

And he said while it “appears” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said he’d never asked about it at the DOJ, a stunning disinterest in the attack on democracy.

He returned to a favorite answer when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked him whether he’d confronted Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about Russia’s meddling in the election when they met twice last year: “I don’t recall.”

Tags:
JEFF SESSIONS
JAMES COMEY
RUSSIA
FBI
CONGRESS
DONALD TRUMP
2016 ELECTION
ROBERT MUELLER
AL FRANKEN
MARTIN HEINRICH

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