General Flynn Supplies Lots Of Information To Mueller Investigation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JOURNAL TIMES)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser provided so much information to the special counsel’s Russia investigation that prosecutors say he shouldn’t do any prison time, according to a court filing Tuesday that describes Michael Flynn’s cooperation as “substantial.”

The filing by special counsel Robert Mueller provides the first details of Flynn’s assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe.

It was filed two weeks ahead of Flynn’s sentencing and just over a year after he became the first of five Trump associates to accept responsibility by pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Though prosecutors withheld specific details of Flynn’s cooperation because of ongoing investigations, their filing nonetheless underscores the breadth of information Mueller has obtained from people close to Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe — and those who cooperate with it.

This week, Trump lashed out at his former legal fixer, Michael Cohen, saying he is making up “stories” to get a reduced prison sentence after his latest guilty plea to lying to Congress. Trump also praised longtime confidante Roger Stone for saying he would “never testify against Trump,” adding in his tweet, “Nice to know some people still have ‘guts!'”

Mueller filing: Flynn gave substantial assistance
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Special counsel Robert Mueller told a federal court that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn has given “substantial assistance” to the Russia investigation and should not get jail time.
Published at: 9:39 PM, Tue Dec 04 2018

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It’s unclear if Trump will now turn his fury on Flynn, whom Trump grew close to during the 2016 campaign and who has drawn the president’s sympathy since he came under investigation.

Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn’s life has been destroyed by the special counsel’s probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.

That episode, which Trump has denied, is among those under scrutiny by Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months in prison for Flynn, leaving open the possibility of probation.

Mueller’s office said Flynn’s cooperation merits a sentence at the bottom end of that range. But prosecutors also say the long military and government service that sets him apart from all other defendants in the investigation makes his deception even more troublesome.

“Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” they wrote. “The defendant’s extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government.”

Flynn’s case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticized the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.

Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, stands accused of repeatedly lying to investigators since his guilty plea last September. Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, is serving a 14-day prison sentence and, though he pleaded guilty to the same crime as Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation is lacking.

But Flynn has largely remained out of the public eye, appearing only a handful of times in media interviews or campaign events, and dutifully avoided criticizing the Mueller probe despite widespread encouragement from his supporters to go on the offensive. He has instead spent considerable time with his family and worked to position himself for a post-conviction career.

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Flynn’s false statements stemmed from a Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI about his and others’ interactions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama administration was levying sanctions on the Kremlin in response to election interference.

In Tuesday’s filing, Mueller’s office blamed Flynn for other senior Trump transition officials making misleading public statements about his contacts with Russia, an assertion that matches the White House’s explanation of Flynn’s firing.

“Several senior members of the transition team publicly repeated false information conveyed to them by the defendant about communications between him and the Russian ambassador regarding the sanctions,” the filing said.

As part of his plea deal, Flynn said members of Trump’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, were involved in — and at times directing — his actions in the weeks before Trump took office.

According to court papers, in mid-December 2016, Kushner directed Flynn to reach out to several countries, including Russia, about a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. During those conversations with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to delay or vote against the resolution, a request the Kremlin ultimately rejected.

Flynn also admitted that later in December 2016 he asked Kislyak not to retaliate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, something he initially told FBI agents he didn’t do. Flynn made the request after discussing it with deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and being told that Trump’s transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Flynn was forced to resign his post on Feb. 13, 2017, after news reports revealed that Obama administration officials had warned the Trump White House about Flynn’s false statements. The White House has said Flynn misled officials— including Vice President Mike Pence — about the content of his conversations.

Flynn also admitted to making false statements about unregistered foreign agent work he performed for the benefit of the Turkish government. Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for the work when he became national security adviser.

Paul Manafort broke plea agreement, lied to investigators in Russia probe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JOURNAL TIMES)

(IF MANAFORT DID DO THIS HE IS EITHER A TOTAL FOOL AS HE WOULD KNOW THAT HE WILL SPEND THE REST OF HIS LIFE IN A FEDERAL PRISON, OR PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS GOTTEN A MESSAGE TO HIM THAT HE WILL GIVE HIM A PARDON IF HE SHUTS UP ABOUT THE RUSSIA PROBE. iF THIS IS THE CASE, MANAFORT WOULD BE BETTING HIS FREEDOM ON PRESIDENT TRUMP ACTUALLY TELLING HIM THE TRUTH ABOUT GIVING HIM A PARDON. MY QUESTION IS, WOULD YOU OR HE, BET YOUR LIFE ON TRUMP BEING TRUTHFUL TO YOU, FOR ONCE?)(oldpoet56)

Prosecutors: Paul Manafort broke plea agreement, lied to investigators in Russia probe

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Paul Manafort
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to federal investigators in the Russia probe, in breach of his plea agreement.

Prosecutors say in a new court filing that after Manafort agreed to truthfully cooperate with the investigation, he “committed federal crimes” by lying about “a variety of subject matters.” They are now asking a federal judge to set a date to sentence him.

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Manafort is denying that he lied. His attorneys say in the same filing that he believes he “provided truthful information.”

Manafort had been meeting with the special counsel’s office since he pleaded guilty in September and agreed to cooperate. He remains jailed while awaiting his sentence. He faces multiple years in prison.

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.

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 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?

Mueller’s investigation bears the hallmark of an organized crime case

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

Mueller’s investigation bears the hallmark of an organized crime case

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller has extensive experience prosecuting organized crime and white collar cases from his time as FBI director.
 Alex Wong/Getty Images

Analysis banner

  • Paul Manafort’s recent plea deal and cooperation agreement with the special counsel Robert Mueller is the latest indication of how the Russia investigation mirrors an organized crime case.
  • The hallmark of any prosecutor’s approach to an organized crime case is the use of cooperating witnesses to move up the chain.
  • “You start low and you ask people: who did you answer to? Who gave you orders? Who did you report to?” said one Justice Department veteran. “That’s the only way to get to the top of a criminal organization, and that’s exactly what Mueller’s doing.”
  • But there are also a few crucial differences that make the Russia probe similar to a complex white-collar investigation.

As the special counsel Robert Mueller works his way through the myriad of threads in the Russia investigation, his approach bears more and more similarities to what prosecutors do when they’re tackling complex organized crime cases.

Mueller’s recent plea deal and cooperation agreement with Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, is just the latest indication of that.

The hallmark of any prosecutor’s approach to an organized crime case, experts say, is the use of cooperating witnesses.

Going up the ladder is critical in these types of cases because the organization typically has a hierarchical structure and a clear chain of command. It also usually involves wide-ranging, multi-party criminal activity.

“The higher you go, the more insulated those people are,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York who successfully prosecuted more than 100 members and associates of the Sicilian Mafia. “So the best way to penetrate that closed inner circle is by flipping people, and flipping them up.”

After investigators get a sense of which players are part of a criminal enterprise, they start by targeting those at the lowest levels.

“If they don’t voluntarily cooperate, you get honest leverage on them to compel their cooperation,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti in the 1990s. “You find their criminal conduct and use that to force them to do what they should have done originally, which is to tell the truth.”

Paul Manafort
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty this week.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Honig said he once nailed a case by flipping someone who was the driver for a more powerful person in the organization.

“That led us right up the chain,” he said. “And you can see that happening in the Russia investigation.”

The first plea deal Mueller’s office announced was that of George Papadopoulos, who served as an early foreign policy aide to the Trump campaign. Next, he looped in Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who admitted to lying to the FBI.

In February, Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign, announced that he would be pleading guilty and cooperating with the special counsel. Gates’ cooperation led prosecutors upstream, and his courtroom testimony against Manafort helped them successfully convict his former boss on eight counts of financial fraud last month.

Likewise, legal scholars say, Manafort’s cooperation, as well as that of Trump’s former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, will likely help Mueller and New York federal prosecutors get information on an even bigger fish.

“It’s a classic strategy used in organized crime,” Cotter said. “You start low and you ask people: who did you answer to? Who gave you orders? Who did you report to? That’s the only way to get to the top of a criminal organization, and that’s exactly what Mueller’s doing.”

‘When you pull at a thread, you never know what you’re going to unravel’

michael cohen paul manafort
Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are the two highest ranking people who have flipped.
Associated Press/Craig Ruttle; Associated Press/Alex Brandon; Business Insider

That said, there are two critical differences between Mueller’s approach to the Russia probe and prosecutors’ approach to organized crime cases.

The first is that most criminal enterprises don’t have a clear paper trail.

“Organized crime is particularly dependent on insider witnesses, because everything is kind of hidden and done in the shadows,” said Alex Whiting, a former Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted organized crime and corruption cases when he worked at the US attorney’s office in Boston.

“These cases usually aren’t paper heavy because there’s no email trail or documentation,” he added.

The Russia investigation, by contrast, has often been document-heavy. Prosecutors introduced 400 pieces of evidence at Manafort’s first trial in Virginia last month, and they planned to put forward almost three times that amount at his second trial had he not struck a last-minute plea deal.

Similarly, their charging document against Gates extensively cited his financial records, emails, and communications with other witnesses.

In that sense, Whiting said, certain aspects of the Russia probe make it more like a white-collar case.

The other crucial difference is that organized crime cases cases involve activities that clearly cross legal boundaries.

But Mueller’s team is sifting through a mix of legal political activity and potentially illegal activity.

The prototypical example of that overlay, Whiting said, is Trump himself.

“The president has the legal authority to fire the FBI director, but is it obstruction if he fired him to hamper an investigation into him?” Whiting said. “Trump has the power to pardon anyone for any federal crime, but is he obstructing justice if he does it to prevent them from testifying? Is collusion a crime?”

“There’s a complexity here that you don’t often see with organized crime,” he added. “In that respect, it’s much more like investigating white-collar crime, because the main questions there are, what was the conduct, and did the conduct cross into illegal territory?”

The bottom line in a case like the Russia probe, Honig said, is that there’s no way to tell where it will ultimately lead.

“When you pull at a thread, you never know what you’re going to unravel.”

Trump’s aides stole his papers ‘to protect the country’: “Trump Is A F—ing Idiot”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Bob Woodward: Trump’s aides stole his papers ‘to protect the country’

Woodward book reveals ‘crazytown’ White House

(CNN)WARNING: This story contains graphic language.

President Donald Trump‘s closest aides have taken extraordinary measures in the White House to try to stop what they saw as his most dangerous impulses, going so far as to swipe and hide papers from his desk so he wouldn’t sign them, according to a new book from legendary journalist Bob Woodward.
Woodward’s 448-page book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” provides an unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President’s inner circle. From the Oval Office to the Situation Room to the White House residence, Woodward uses confidential background interviews to illustrate how some of the President’s top advisers view him as a danger to national security and have sought to circumvent the commander in chief.

Many of the feuds and daily clashes have been well documented, but the picture painted by Trump’s confidants, senior staff and Cabinet officials reveal that many of them see an even more alarming situation — worse than previously known or understood. Woodward offers a devastating portrait of a dysfunctional Trump White House, detailing how senior aides — both current and former Trump administration officials — grew exasperated with the President and increasingly worried about his erratic behavior, ignorance and penchant for lying.
Chief of staff John Kelly describes Trump as an “idiot” and “unhinged,” Woodward reports. Defense Secretary James Mattis describes Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth or sixth grader.” And Trump’s former personal lawyer John Dowd describes the President as “a fucking liar,” telling Trump he would end up in an “orange jump suit” if he testified to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown,” Kelly is quoted as saying at a staff meeting in his office. “I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
CNN obtained a copy of Woodward’s book, scheduled for release September 11. The explosive revelations about Trump from those closest to him are likely to play into the November midterm election battle. The book also has stunning new details about Trump’s obsession with the Russia probe, describing for the first time confidential conversations between the President’s lawyers and Mueller. It recounts a dramatic session in the White House residence in which Trump failed a mock Mueller interview with his lawyers.
Woodward sums up the state of the Trump White House by writing that Trump was an “emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader.” Woodward writes that the staff’s decision to circumvent the President was “a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Circumventing the President

The book opens with a dramatic scene. Former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn saw a draft letter he considered dangerous to national security on the Oval Office desk.
The letter would have withdrawn the US from a critical trade agreement with South Korea. Trump’s aides feared the fallout could jeopardize a top-secret national security program: the ability to detect a North Korean missile launch within just seven seconds.
Woodward reports Cohn was “appalled” that Trump might sign the letter. “I stole it off his desk,” Cohn told an associate. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”
Cohn was not alone. Former staff secretary Rob Porter worked with Cohn and used the same tactic on multiple occasions, Woodward writes. In addition to literally stealing or hiding documents from Trump’s desk, they sought to stall and delay decisions or distract Trump from orders they thought would endanger national security.
“A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas,” said Porter, who as staff secretary handled the flow of presidential papers until he quit amid domestic violence allegations. He and others acted with the acquiescence of former chief of staff Reince Priebus, Woodward reports.
Woodward describes repeated attempts to bypass Trump as “no less than an administrative coup d’état.”

The Russia obsession

Woodward’s book relies on hundreds of hours of taped interviews and dozens of sources in Trump’s inner circle, as well as documents, files, diaries and memos, including a note handwritten by Trump himself. Woodward explains that he talked with sources on “deep background,” meaning he could use all the information but not say who provided it.
His reporting comes with the credibility of a long and storied history that separates this book from previous efforts on Trump. The author and Washington Post journalist has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for his coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
In one revelatory anecdote, Woodward describes a scene in the White House residence. Trump’s lawyer, convinced the President would perjure himself, put Trump through a test — a practice interview for the one he might have with Mueller. Trump failed, according to Dowd, but the President still insisted he should testify.
Woodward writes that Dowd saw the “full nightmare” of a potential Mueller interview, and felt Trump acted like an “aggrieved Shakespearean king.”
But Trump seemed surprised at Dowd’s reaction, Woodward writes. “You think I was struggling?” Trump asked.
Then, in an even more remarkable move, Dowd and Trump’s current personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.
“He just made something up. That’s his nature,” Dowd said to Mueller.
The passage is an unprecedented glimpse behind the scenes of Mueller’s secretive operation — for the first time, Mueller’s conversations with Trump’s lawyers are captured.
“I need the president’s testimony,” Mueller said. “What was his intent on Comey? … I want to see if there was corrupt intent.”
Despite Dowd’s efforts, Trump continued to insist he could testify. “I think the President of the United States cannot be seen taking the fifth,” Trump said.
Dowd’s argument was stark: “There’s no way you can get through these. … Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jump suit.”
What he couldn’t say to Trump, according to Woodward, was what Dowd believed to be true: “You’re a fucking liar.”

Trump’s insults and humiliation

Throughout the book, Woodward portrays the President as a man obsessed with his standing in the media and with his core supporters. Trump appears to be lonely and increasingly paranoid, often watching hours of television in the White House residence. “They’re out to get me,” Trump said of Mueller’s team.
Trump’s closest advisers described him erupting in rage and profanity, and he seemed to enjoy humiliating others.
“This guy is mentally retarded,” Trump said of Sessions. “He’s this dumb southerner,” Trump told Porter, mocking Sessions by feigning a southern accent.
Trump said that Priebus is “like a little rat. He just scurries around.”
And Trump demeaned former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to his face, when Giuliani was the only campaign surrogate willing to defend then-candidate Trump on television after the “Access Hollywood” tape, a bombshell video where Trump described sexually assaulting women.
“Rudy, you’re a baby,” Trump told the man who is now his attorney. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?”
Trump’s predecessors are not spared either. In a conversation with Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump called President Barack Obama a “weak dick” for not acting in Syria, Woodward reports.

National security concerns

Woodward’s book takes readers inside top-secret meetings. On July 27, 2017, Trump’s national security leaders convened a gathering at “The Tank” in the Pentagon. The goal: an intervention to try to educate the President on the importance of allies and diplomacy.
Trump’s philosophy on diplomacy was personal. “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim,” he said of North Korea.
His inner circle was worried about “The Big Problem,” Woodward writes: Trump’s lack of understanding that his crusade to impose tariffs could endanger global security.
But the meeting didn’t go as planned.
Trump went off on his generals. “You should be killing guys. You don’t need a strategy to kill people,” Trump said of Afghanistan.
He questioned the wisdom of keeping US troops in South Korea.
“So Mr. President,” Cohn said to Trump, “what would you need in the region to sleep well at night?”
“I wouldn’t need a fucking thing,” the President said. “And I’d sleep like a baby.”
After Trump left the Tank, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared: “He’s a fucking moron.”
The book provides the context for the now-infamous quote that marked the beginning of the end for Tillerson’s tenure. Tillerson tried to downplay the dispute — “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said at a news conference after NBC reported the remark — but he was ultimately fired via tweet.
Woodward also quotes an unnamed White House official who gave an even more dire assessment of the meeting: “It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”
A recurrent theme in Woodward’s book is Trump’s seeming disregard for national security concerns because of his obsession with money — trade deficits and the cost of troops overseas.
In meeting after meeting, Trump questions why the US has to pay for such a large troop presence in South Korea.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis, the defense secretary, bluntly explained to Trump at one January 2018 meeting, which prompted Mattis to tell close associates afterward that Trump had the understanding of a “fifth or sixth grader.”
Trump still wasn’t convinced. “I think we could be so rich if we weren’t stupid,” he later said in the meeting, arguing the US was being played as “suckers,” Woodward reports.

The ‘Ernest Hemingway’ of Twitter

Trump’s tweets — and his infatuation with Twitter — are a theme throughout the book.
Woodward reveals that Trump ordered printouts of his tweets and studied them to find out which ones were most popular. “The most effective tweets were often the most shocking,” Woodward writes.
Twitter was a source of great consternation for national security leaders, who feared — and warned Trump — “Twitter could get us into a war.”
Appalled by some of his more outrageous posts, Trump’s aides tried to form a Twitter “committee” to vet the President’s tweets, but they failed to stop their boss.
Priebus, who was blindsided when Trump announced his firing on Twitter, referred to the presidential bedroom as “the devil’s workshop” and called the early morning hours and Sunday night — a time of many news-breaking tweets — “the witching hour.”
Trump, however, saw himself as a Twitter wordsmith.
“It’s a good thing,” Trump said when Twitter expanded its character count to 280, “but it’s a bit of a shame because I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.”

‘A zoo without walls’

Finally, “Fear” is filled with slights, insults and takedowns from both family and staff that speak to the chaos, infighting and drama that Trump allows to fester around him.
Both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are targeted by the inner circle.
There is a pointed shot at Ivanka from the President’s now-ostracized chief strategist Steve Bannon, who frequently clashed with the first daughter and her husband.
“You’re nothing but a fucking staffer!” Bannon screamed at Ivanka at a staff meeting, according to Woodward. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”
“I’m not a staffer!” she shouted back. “I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter” — she really used the title, Woodward writes — “and I’m never going to be a staffer!”
Two of the harshest comments in the book are directed at Trump and come from his chiefs of staff.
After Trump’s Charlottesville, Virginia, controversy, in which he failed to condemn white supremacists, Cohn tried to resign but was instead dressed down by Trump and accused of “treason.”
Kelly, who is Trump’s current chief of staff, told Cohn afterward, according to notes Cohn made of the exchange: “If that was me, I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times.”
And Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, encapsulated the White House and the thrust of Woodward’s book by describing the administration as a place with “natural predators at the table.”
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls,” Priebus is quoted as saying, “things start getting nasty and bloody.”
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