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.

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

President Trump is ‘considering’ firing Mueller

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN AND PBS)

Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy says President ‘considering’ firing Mueller

Washington (CNN) One of President Donald Trump’s friends said Monday he believes the President is considering dismissing special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to lead the FBI investigation into Russia’s potential ties to the 2016 election.

“I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Christopher Ruddy — who was at the White House Monday — told PBS’ Judy Woodruff on “PBS News Hour.” “I think he’s weighing that option.”
A source close to the President said Trump is being counseled to steer clear of such a dramatic move like firing the special counsel.
“He is being advised by many people not to do it,” the source said.
However, a White House official said Ruddy did not speak to the President about potentially terminating Mueller.
And deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said simply: “Chris speaks for himself.”
Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media, based his Mueller comment on a television interview with one of Trump’s lawyers. When asked about the interview by CNN, Ruddy said: “My quote is accurate.”
He told Woodruff he thinks firing Mueller “would be a very significant mistake, even though I don’t think there’s a justification … for a special counsel.”
“Chris speaks for himself,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary.
Mueller was appointed FBI Director by President George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2013, when Comey took over as head.
Since being appointed special counsel in May, he has built a team of formidable legal minds who’ve worked on everything from Watergate to Enron. He has long been widely respected by many in Washington from both sides of the aisle, with many lawmakers praising Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein’s pick.
Still not everyone is a fan.
Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich reportedly told radio host John Catsimatidis that Congress should “abolish the independent counsel.”
“I think Congress should now intervene and they should abolish the independent counsel,” the former House speaker said. “Because Comey makes so clear that it’s the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation by the FBI director leaking to The New York Times, deliberately set up this particular situation. It’s very sick.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, disputed that report.
“I don’t think Newt said that,” Graham told reporters. “I think it’d be a disaster. There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What had he done to be fired?”
After news of Ruddy’s interview surfaced on the web, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.
“If President fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately re-establish independent counsel and appoint Bob Mueller,” the California lawmaker tweeted. “Don’t waste our time.”
Schiff later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was considering ousting Mueller.
“You have to hope that common sense would prevail,” Schiff said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me at all, even though it would be absolutely astonishing were he(Trump) to entertain this. The echoes of Watergate are getting louder and louder.”

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