The Russia probe 2019

Written by  //  April 18, 2019  //  Justice & Law, Russia, U.S.  //  No comments

See also: The Russia probe 2017-18
Robert Mueller III, Special Counsel
The 45th President of the U.S. Chapter III

Jonathan Chait: Trump Beat the Rap, but Mueller Uncovered a Historic Scandal
(New York) Perhaps the most haunting passage in the special counsel’s report on Russian election interference is a fragment of a sentence, most of which is hidden behind black redaction lines. Some figure, whose name is hidden, writes to Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian regime crony, “Putin has won.”
The Mueller report is the story of a crime that succeeded and a cover-up that quite possibly did too.
Trump has repeatedly claimed, and his attorney general has repeated, that the Mueller report proved (as William Barr put it Thursday morning) “there was in fact no collusion.” Mueller’s report shows this claim of exoneration is at best highly misleading and at worst outright false.

24 March
What to Make of Bill Barr’s Letter
By Mikhaila Fogel, Quinta Jurecic, Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Benjamin Wittes
(Lawfare) Leave it to President Trump to describe as “Total EXONERATION” a document that specifically quotes Special Counsel Robert Mueller as saying that one of his principal findings “does not exonerate” the president.
The brief letter sent by Attorney General William Barr to congressional leaders on Sunday afternoon summarizing Mueller’s findings is a complicated document. In key respects, it contains very good news for President Trump about a scandal that has dogged his presidency since before he even took office. The determination of just how good the news is—whether it amounts to the exoneration Trump claims on these points or whether we’re dealing with conduct just shy of prosecutable—will have to await the text of Mueller’s report itself. But for those who quite reasonably demanded a serious investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and of cooperation and coordination with it on the part of the Trump campaign, it has to be significant that Mueller, after the better part of two years of investigating, has not found that anyone associated with the Trump campaign knowingly conspired with Russia’s efforts.
In other respects, however, Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report is ominous for the president. While Mueller did not find that Trump obstructed his investigation, he also made a point of not reaching the opposite conclusion: that Trump didn’t obstruct the investigation. Indeed, he appears to have created a substantial record of the president’s troubling interactions with law enforcement for adjudication in noncriminal proceedings—which is to say in congressional hearings that are surely the next step.
What makes the document more complicated still is the fact that it offers only a skeletal description of Mueller’s report. It only purports to convey Mueller’s top-line findings and does not include any of the evidence or legal analysis that underlies those findings. It doesn’t tell any of the stories that the Mueller report will tell. It only distills and announces two high-altitude legal conclusions from those stories. Assuming that Barr is characterizing Mueller’s findings reasonably, that leaves a whole raft of questions unanswered about what those stories will be—and what their impact will be.

The Mueller Probe Was an Unmitigated Success
The scandal is how much corruption it exposed—and how much turns out to have been perfectly legal.
By Franklin Foer
(The Atlantic) The Mueller investigation has been an unmitigated success in exposing political corruption. In the case of Paul Manafort, the corruption was criminal. In the case of Trump, the corruption doesn’t seem to have transgressed any laws. As Michael Kinsley famously quipped, “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal.” Lying to the electorate, adjusting foreign policy for the sake of personal lucre, and undermining an investigation seem to me pretty sound impeachable offenses—they might also happen to be technically legal.
Through his investigation, Mueller has also provided a plausible answer to the question that first bothered me. Trump’s motive for praising Putin appears to have been, in large part, commercial. With his relentless pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, the Republican nominee for president had active commercial interests in Russia that he failed to disclose to the American people. In fact, he explicitly and shamelessly lied about them. As Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen implied in his congressional testimony, Trump ran his campaign as something of an infomercial, hoping to convince the Russians that he was a good partner. To enrich himself, Trump promised to realign American foreign policy.
… Along with Trump’s stalwart defenders, many left-wing critics of hawkish foreign policy have been quick to tout Attorney General William Barr’s letter as exoneration. Matt Taibbi has compared the coverage of the Russia scandal to the media’s gullible reporting about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The accusation is that the media are prone to parrot whatever self-serving conspiracy the national-security state has to offer. But Mueller has apparently endorsed the fundamental underlying case emanating from the intelligence community: The Russians were actively working to secure Trump’s victory. What makes their interference so horrifying is that it involved the theft of information and the active manipulation of public perceptions. All of that is arguably far worse than Watergate. David Frum: The Question the Mueller Report Has Not Answered — Why?

Masha Gessen: After the Mueller Report, the Dream of a Sudden, Magic Resolution to the Trump Tragedy Is Dead
(The New Yorker) The Russian-collusion story dangled the carrot of discovering that Trump was entirely foreign to U.S. politics, a puppet of a hostile power. It also held the appeal of a secret answer to our catastrophe, one that would make the unimaginable suddenly explicable.
The truth about Trump has been in plain view all along. The President has waged an attack on political institutions, the law, and culture, and has succeeded to an astonishing extent. We are no longer surprised, for example, that more than a month passes between White House press briefings, or that the President and his spokespeople lie openly and routinely. The assumption that the Administration should at least act as though it were accountable to the public has vanished, and we barely took notice.
The Internet age creates the illusion that it is possible for the media to pursue an unlimited number of stories, as though we could follow the Mueller investigation and everything else, too. But, while the Web might be boundless, human attention is not.

Trump Might Not Be Guilty, But Neither Is the Press
As the president trumpets his ‘exoneration,’ let’s not forget that Mueller gave reporters plenty of malfeasance worth reporting on.
(Politico) The president is not a crook.
That’s the six-word précis of Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary of the still- to-be-paginated report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III of his 674-day investigation into Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
… In defense of the coverage, let’s remember that charges of collusion didn’t arise in a vacuum. Thanks to Mueller, we now know about the steady and suspicious dalliances with Russians during the campaign by the easily compromised, ethically challenged, political amateurs inside Trumpworld—George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. (and Michael Flynn after the campaign). Recall how many documented lies Mueller has caught the president’s men telling. Recall again the relationship between Manafort and his business associate Konstantin V. Kilimnik, believed by Mueller to be allied with Russian intelligence. The Russians weren’t just SoulCycling in their many encounters with the president’s men; they were peddling dirt or an agenda distinctly favorable to the Kremlin. Just because Mueller’s report concluded that the president didn’t commit a crime doesn’t mean there was nothing going on. We still don’t know why Trump was so eager to end FBI Director James Comey’s investigation of Russian influence, and so willing to take two years of political punishment for firing him. All of these questions—and more—will now be taken up by the various House committees.

15 March
Mueller Ready to Pounce on Trumpworld Concessions to Moscow
New court filings by Mueller’s office could answer a central question of the Russia investigation: What did the Kremlin hope to get from its political machinations? (18 December 2018)

The House voted 420 to 0 to release the Mueller report. So why is Lindsey Graham blocking the bill?
By Aaron Blake
(WaPost) … politically speaking, there are many reasons Graham should want to vote for this, and now.
Voting in favor of disclosure now would put GOP senators on the record on this topic at a time when it’s not a very difficult decision. They could help inoculate themselves from this whole situation by simply saying they would like to see what Mueller found, and then let Barr make his decisions (which may or may not actually be influenced by these votes). That puts the onus on Barr to be the Bad Guy, rather than them. ‘We already voted for disclosure!’ they could say.
Graham’s demand for a special counsel to look into alleged Justice Department wrongdoing is clearly a politically motivated one. There is already a U.S. attorney looking into these things, but Graham wants to make the argument that Democrats aren’t curious about potential wrongdoing within the top levels of U.S. law enforcement.
But Graham is also someone who has seen merit in getting out ahead of potentially damaging situations involving Mueller. At one point he was a leading advocate for a bill to protect Mueller from being fired by Trump. (Since becoming Judiciary Committee chairman and having the power to actually move such a bill, Graham has backed off and said there’s no need.)

28 February
Michael Cohen’s Stunning Testimony About Trump
New claims from the president’s former fixer help fill in essential gaps in the Russia investigation.
(The Atlantic) Cohen’s testimony, at less than 4,000 words, doesn’t change the fundamental picture so much as fill in essential gaps. Cohen will say that Trump was informed of conversations with WikiLeaks about releasing emails related to Hillary Clinton—something the president has denied. Cohen will present a copy of a check reimbursing him for hush money, dated August 2017. While Cohen has already implicated Trump in a violation of campaign-finance law in court pleadings, that check places the crime during Trump’s presidency. Cohen will allege that he lied to Congress at Trump’s direction, though by his own account the direction was implicit. Finally, Cohen will claim that Trump was aware of a meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials, including his son and son-in-law, and Russians in June 2016.
Why 1 simple lie by Michael Cohen could invalidate his entire testimony
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
…the key to the believability of Cohen as liar-turned-truth-teller is that he actually, you know, told the truth in his testimony on Wednesday. Which brings me to the news that Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) referred Cohen to the Justice Department Thursday for possible prosecution for perjury during his testimony. While the referral from Jordan and Meadows argues that Cohen didn’t tell the truth on a number of fronts, the most worrisome charge for Cohen is that his assertion that he never wanted to work in the White House seems to be false.
Jordan, in his questioning of Cohen, sought to make that case — arguing that Cohen’s decision to plead guilty and turn on Trump was due to the fact that “you wanted to work in the White House. ”
… Cohen’s claim that he never wanted to work in the White House was immediately greeted with mockery by Trump allies and family.  … If the feds have texts from Cohen that make clear he wanted a job in the White House, that’s big trouble for him. … Cohen had a credibility problem going into Wednesday’s hearing. If it can be proven he lied in that hearing, his credibility is ruined forever.
Jonathan Chait: Michael Cohen’s Testimony Is the First Hearing in President Trump’s Impeachment
Robert Mueller’s indictments have outlined a conspiracy connecting Russian intelligence to the hackers who stole Democratic emails, the hackers to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks to Stone. Cohen is now connecting Trump to Stone.
Trump’s inner circle has obviously been aware of this. Asked in December if Stone ever gave Trump a heads-up on what WikiLeaks had obtained, his lawyer [Giuliani] equivocated.
If this can be proved, it would also likely expose Trump to direct perjury charges. In his written answers to Mueller, Trump reportedly denied having been informed in advance about emails obtained by Wikileaks. And this explains why Mueller settled for allowing Trump to answer written questions rather than demanding a live interview. He knew he could commit Trump to supplying false answers that would expose him to perjury charges.
Ex-lawyer Cohen assails Trump but gives no direct evidence of collusion
(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen assailed the president’s character in a tense congressional hearing on Wednesday, calling him a “conman” who knew in advance about the release of stolen emails aimed at hurting his 2016 election Democratic rival. But Cohen, the Republican president’s onetime “fixer,” said he had no direct evidence that Trump colluded with Moscow to bolster his White House campaign, a key line of inquiry in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation which has dogged Trump during his two years in office.

26 February
Trump’s inner circle might escape Mueller charges — but still won’t be safe
Federal prosecutors and Democratic committees are just getting started.
(Politico) Even if special counsel Robert Mueller finishes his work without filing new charges, President Donald Trump and his associates won’t be in the clear.
In recent weeks, several prominent figures close to Trump have insisted that they’ll survive Mueller’s probe unscathed. Trump himself maintains that Justice Department officials have told his lawyers he is not a target of the special counsel’s investigation. And his family members have sent similar signs. Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, recently told ABC News that she has “zero concern” about the investigation. Her brother, Donald Trump Jr., told Fox News on Monday that he wasn’t worried because “we know there’s nothing there.”
But Mueller is far from the only threat to the president, his family and aides.
Federal prosecutors in New York are examining Trump’s 2016 campaign, inauguration and businesses. Congress has given the Justice Department dozens of hearing transcripts that could contain lies told under oath. State and local prosecutors have reportedly prepped new charges that can’t be erased with a presidential pardon. And a slate of sealed indictments sit in the Washington, D.C., federal courthouse, raising the prospect that some in Trump’s circle may have already been indicted and just don’t know it.

Big moments in Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in 2016 U.S. election
(Reuters) – The following is a timeline of significant developments in the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help get Donald Trump elected:

22 February
Justice Dept. official: Mueller report not expected next week
(CNN) Special counsel Robert Mueller is not expected to deliver his report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election next week, a Justice Department official briefed on the plans told CNN.
As CNN has previously reported, the precise timing of the announcement has been a moving target, but Justice officials are cognizant of President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam next week, which could play a role in the report’s timing. Trump said Wednesday that it’s “totally up to Bill Barr” whether Mueller’s report comes out while he is overseas next week
CNN reported Wednesday that newly confirmed Attorney General Barr was preparing to announce the report’s completion as early as next week, signaling the impending end of the investigation and the start of a potentially contentious political battle over what parts of the report will be made public.
But lawmakers have already prepared for a fight. A bipartisan Senate duo introduced legislation last month that would require Mueller to provide a summary of his findings to Congress and the public.
The bill, introduced by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, would circumvent Barr and streamline the report’s pubic release.

25 January

Who’s been charged in Mueller-linked probes, and why
By Julie Vitkovskaya, Samuel Granados, Kevin Uhrmacher and Aaron Williams
Thirty-five people, including 26 Russian nationals, have been charged by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in the ongoing probe of possible Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election and in other related cases. Here’s what we know about the charges and who is involved.

Decades of Dirty Tricks Finally Catch Up to Roger Stone
Trump’s longtime adviser said after appearing in federal court, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Throughout his decades-long career operating in Republican circles, Stone, who has a likeness of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, has taken pride in mastering the “black arts” of politics. He’s been accused of threatening political opponents, has been sued for defamation, and regularly spreads conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination and Hillary Clinton’s infidelity. He served as Trump’s Washington lobbyist in the late 1990s and early 2000s and has been encouraging him to run for president for more than a decade.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says he’s falsely accused after indictment by special counsel in Russia investigation
Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to President Trump, was arrested Friday by the FBI in Florida on charges that he lied and tried to tamper with a witness to hide his efforts to learn about releases of Democrats’ hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Stone was charged with seven counts, including one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering.
Will Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner Be Indicted? Odds Rise Following Roger Stone Arrest

14 January
Subpoena the only other American present at a 2018 Trump-Putin meeting, David Frum argues. Alongside an intensification of the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s Russia ties, the president has taken extreme steps to conceal his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin—from both the public and even officials in his own administration. Last July, Trump met with Putin in Helsinki for more than two hours without any aides present. One other American was in the room—Marina Gross, Trump’s interpreter. Frum makes the case that Congress should take the dire step of subpoenaing her because of the lingering questions of collusion that are dogging Trump’s presidency.
Greg Sargent: Trump is doing immense damage. He has a hidden helper
(WaPost) Two new blockbuster scoops about President Trump’s relations with Russia — combined with fresh signs that Trump will drag out the government shutdown indefinitely — should renew our focus on the quiet but critical role that Mitch McConnell has played in enabling the damage that Trump is doing to the country on so many fronts. … thanks to new reporting over the weekend, the basic question of whether Trump has at pivotal moments acted in Russia’s interests, to the detriment of U.S. interests — is being thrust to the forefront with new urgency.This should cause us to revisit the role that McConnell played during the campaign in preventing members of Congress from showing a united public front against Russian sabotage of the election.
One shadow narrative unfolding in the background over the past two years has been the gradual discovery of just how broad the scope of Russian sabotage of the 2016 election really was. This has made certain events during the campaign appear more serious in retrospect.

11 January
Rudy Giuliani Says Trump’s Team Should Be Able to ‘Correct’ Mueller Report Before It’s Released
(Daily Beast) Rudy Giuliani said President Trump’s legal team should be given the chance to “correct” Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before it’s released to Congress or the public, The Hill reported Friday. “As a matter of fairness, they should show it to you—so we can correct it if they’re wrong,” the site says the Trump lawyer said in an interview late Thursday. “They’re not God, after all. They could be wrong.” He added that “Of course we have to see [the report] before it goes to Congress. We have reserved executive privilege and we have a right to assert it. The only way we can assert it is if we see what is in the report.” Giuliani also reportedly dismissed the revelation that Michael Cohen will testify in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee with a sarcastic “Big deal!” and minimized the importance of the allegation that former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data with a Russian protégé with alleged intel-agency ties. “Should he have done it? No. But there’s nothing criminal about it,” Giuliani said.
Rachel Maddow blog: So, in Giuliani’s vision of how the process should work, Mueller and his team would prepare a final report, which may implicate Trump in serious wrongdoing. Before that report is circulated, however, the president’s lawyers would have an opportunity to give the document some touch-ups.
Giuliani’s argument is obviously quite foolish and wholly at odds with how any system of justice is supposed to work. (Name another target of a criminal investigation who’d get the chance to “correct” an investigative report on their suspected misconduct before its release.) But let’s also not forget that this is at odds with Team Trump’s original plan.
In August, Giuliani bragged about a “voluminous” counter-report the president’s legal team was preparing, which would rebut possible allegations raised in Mueller’s findings. As of early December, however, Giuliani’s counter-report didn’t appear to exist.
Now, however, instead of writing their own document to correct the record, Trump’s lawyers would prefer to simply “correct” Mueller’s report itself.
The special counsel probably won’t want to go along with this. Call it a hunch.

9 January
Max Boot: The collusion case against Trump just got a lot stronger
(WaPost) Attorneys for Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, inadvertently included a big reveal in a court filing on Tuesday through their clumsy failure to properly redact key portions. They admitted that during the 2016 campaign Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence, discussed a peace plan for Ukraine and that Manafort also shared with him political polling data.
Peace plan? Where have we heard that before? Oh, that’s right: Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former Mafia-linked, Russian American business associate Felix Sater and Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko conspired after the 2016 election to present a peace plan to incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was himself suspiciously friendly to the Russians. The plan would have legitimated Russian annexation of Crimea and lifted sanctions on Russia. In other words, it would have been the payoff that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking from his well-documented intervention on behalf of candidate Trump — and it could easily have come to fruition if the Russian election interference had not become a scandal. So now we know that there was yet another senior figure in Trump World who was plotting to sell out Ukraine to the Russians.
But the even more significant part of the Tuesday revelations concerns the polling data that Manafort allegedly shared with Kilimnik. Why would an individual with ties to Russian intelligence need polling data on the U.S. election? There is only on reason I can think of: to help direct the covert social-media propaganda campaign that Russian intelligence was running on Trump’s behalf. The Russians reached 126 million people via Facebook alone and millions more on other social-media platforms. Combined with Russia’s theft and strategically timed release of Democratic Party emails, this most likely swung an exceedingly close election — decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states — to Trump.

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