6:13 AM 5/18/2017 – Now it's up to the special counsel

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“They fired Comey because they wanted the Russia investigation to go away. It backfired. Now they have a special counsel and they have got someone who is going to be even less susceptible to pressure than Comey was,” said Ohlin. “Their ability to influence and manage this situation has gone out of the window. Things have definitely gotten worse for the White House.”

Now it’s up to the special counsel

Thursday May 18th, 2017 at 5:58 AM

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A presidency that had seemed in danger of slipping legal restraints — for example after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in an apparent bid to shut down the FBI Russia investigation — now appears constrained by the rule of law.

“I think it in one sense it is bad news for Trump and it is good news for people who want a robust investigation because Mueller is definitely a straight shooter and he has a good reputation as an FBI director,” said Jens David Ohlin, a Cornell University law professor. “It means that the investigation goes on. It is not going to be stopped and it also means that the Deputy Attorney General doesn’t want to do Trump’s bidding on this.”

The checks and balances of democracy, in other words, hold.

Wednesday’s announcement might also be remembered as the moment that the norms that apply to other politicians finally also ensnared Trump. For so long, the President has broken rules that govern public life.

So confident was he of his own immunity to convention that he once boasted he could shoot someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose voters. But as President, that impunity has been challenged and Trump’s behavior became a liability. Ultimately, had he not fired Comey in a fit of pique about the Russia investigation, it might never had emerged that he reportedly asked the FBI chief to cool it in his investigation. And Rosenstein’s hand may not have been forced and Trump may not have faced a special counsel.

Whatever Mueller eventually concludes, his reputation for fairness, reflected by the high praise that showered him from both sides of the aisle Wednesday, may ensure, crucially, wide acceptance of his eventual conclusion.

“I think we are going to see justice. If crimes were committed we will find that out. If no crimes were committed we are going to find that out, too,” said senior CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “That’s all you can ask of a criminal justice system.”

If there was wrongdoing, that gives the President plenty of cause for concern.

But it also means Trump’s critics, who have confidently predicted his guilt in the Russia episode, will have little choice but to accept any finding by Mueller that no indictments are necessary — a fact that Trump, given his insistence that the Russia meddling story is a big hoax, should welcome.

“When (Mueller) says we don’t have probable cause to pursue this — there are no charges that are going to be put forth, I think that will be a good thing for the Trump administration,” said Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany on CNN.

Toobin: Robert Mueller a brilliant choice

Political ramifications

But there are broad political ramifications that flow from Wednesday’s announcement.

The appointment represents a significant loss of control of the Russia story for the administration. Previously, it appeared that the administration sought to influence the course of a House intelligence committee inquiry. Trump told NBC News that he was thinking of the Russia probe when he fired Comey. And The New York Times and then CNN reported Tuesday that he had asked the former FBI director to drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn before he fired him.

Mueller’s arrival on the scene represents another learning experience for a President determined to wield wide executive power but who has been thwarted by checks built into the nation’s political infrastructure, for example, the courts that blocked his travel ban for people from Muslim nations.

“They fired Comey because they wanted the Russia investigation to go away. It backfired. Now they have a special counsel and they have got someone who is going to be even less susceptible to pressure than Comey was,” said Ohlin. “Their ability to influence and manage this situation has gone out of the window. Things have definitely gotten worse for the White House.”

Mueller will also have discretion to take the investigation where he sees fit and will likely be well resourced, in terms of manpower and his own vast experience, and will be able to convene a grand jury and lay indictments.

“He will have the powers of a United States attorney, he will be able to issue subpoenas, get access to all the documents, potentially interview the President himself,” said Susan Hennessey, managing editor of the Lawfare blog and a CNN national security and legal analyst. “He is going to be incredibly empowered. Bob Mueller has a remarkable, impeccable reputation.”

Most concerning for the White House may be Mueller’s investigative freedom. He could for example subpoena the President’s tax returns, which Trump has refused to release publicly, and which his critics say could contain evidence of exposure to Russian debt or investments that could pose a conflict of interest or cloud his judgment. The White House would likely fight such a step in court, triggering what would be a damaging showdown that would have damaging political reverberations.

One early sign of trouble could come if Mueller seeks to block the release to congressional investigators memos written by Comey after Trump reportedly asked him to steer clear of Flynn. That could indicate that he is probing alleged interference in the FBI’s Russia investigation by the President.

Past presidents have chafed at the way independent counsels and prosecutors have taken their probes well beyond their initial bounds. In theory that could mean that Trump and his aides could find their past lives, as well as their present arrangements, open to investigation.

David Gergen, an adviser to multiple presidents and a CNN senior legal analyst, noted how former President Bill Clinton was “investigated on Whitewater and it ended up way over with Monica Lewinsky. Presidents and White Houses really, really don’t want to go here but they have to now learn to live with it.”

The impact of a special counsel investigation is almost certain to sap severely drained morale in the White House.

Already, the West Wing mood was desperately grim. One White House official told CNN’s Jim Acosta staff were exhausted by days of devastating reversals.

“It’s just been three days straight of these 5:45 pm announcements,” the official said.

Staffers now face the prospect that they will be examined by Mueller’s probe and will worry about their own potential legal jeopardy, and must cope with the corrosive reality of working in an administration that will now be under a dark cloud of investigation and uncertainty for months or even years to come.

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Schiff: Comey memo allegations disturbing

Chaotic storm of allegations

It is not just at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where the political impact of Mueller’s arrival will be felt.

For Capitol Hill Republicans, who have been whiplashed by the chaotic storm over allegations of wrongdoing by Trump and the White House, there was an audible sigh of relief.

GOP leaders have been caught between the White House’s increasing exposure on Russia and a desire not to offend the President’s voters, who represent a substantial portion of their party’s base and impatience that his troubles are slowing their best chance in decades to enact a conservative agenda.

Now, when House Speaker Paul Ryan is asked whether he will do more to investigate Trump, he can refer to the credible investigation that is being undertaken by Mueller. The GOP may get some space to push ahead with key goals like tax reform and hope for some insulation if Trump remains unpopular ahead of the midterm elections next year.

For Democrats, the announcement of Mueller’s new job represented good news and bad news. On the one hand it is a validation of weeks of demands and pressure for a special counsel to investigate the Trump White House.

“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” said Democratic Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer. “Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job. I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

But conversely, the Mueller probe could slow other congressional investigations or deprive them of key witnesses and evidence, as Democrats seek to use the investigations to pressure and discredit the Trump administration.

It seems unlikely, for instance, that Comey will now testify in public in what would have been one of the most significant congressional hearings in recent times. There is also no guarantee that if he does not decide to recommend criminal prosecutions, Mueller will feel the need to release a report into his investigation. That is one reason why Democrats will continue to press the case for sweeping congressional probes.

“The appointment of a special counsel is not a substitute for a vigorous investigation in Congress and the House intelligence committee will take steps to make sure our investigations do not conflict and ensure the success of both efforts,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

CNN’s Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Dana Bash, Jeff Zeleny and Jim Acosta contributed to this report

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Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians – sources

Thursday May 18th, 2017 at 5:22 AM

How a Special Counsel Alters the Russia Investigationby CHARLIE SAVAGE

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 11:20 PM

NYT > Home Page

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing the investigation, had resisted pressure to name a special counsel. Here is what the appointment means.

What Robert Mueller brings to the Russia probe – YouTube

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 10:28 PM

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Published on May 17, 2017

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named as a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian election interference. John Yang gets reaction from John Carlin, a former assistant attorney general for national security, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., plus what precipitated the decision by the Justice Department from Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.

Israeli Source Seen Key to Countering ISIS Threat

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 9:49 PM

WSJ.Com: World News

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The classified information that President Donald Trump shared with Russian officials last week came from an Israeli source described by multiple U.S. officials as the most valuable source of information on external plotting by Islamic State.

Deputy attorney general appoints special counsel to oversee probe of Russian interference in election by Devlin Barrett

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 7:01 PM

National Security

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Former FBI director Robert Mueller will over see the FBI probe, including any coordination between Trump associates and Russians.

House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump by Adam Entous

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 7:01 PM

National Security

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Speaker Ryan responded: ‘What’s said in the family stays in the family.’ GOP leaders now cast exchange as ‘an attempt at humor.’

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DAG Rosenstein Appoints Robert Mueller as Special Counselby Quinta Jurecic

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 7:00 PM

Lawfare – Hard National Security Choices

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian election interference. Rosenstein’s statement on Mueller’s appointment and his order are included below.

 

Order 3915 2017 Special Counsel (PDF)

Order 3915 2017 Special Counsel (Text)

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AssociatedPress’s YouTube Videos: AP Top Stories May 17 Pby AssociatedPress

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:35 PM

  1. VIDEO NEWS From Mikenova (66 Sites)

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From: AssociatedPress
Duration: 01:11

Here are the top stories for Wednesday, May 17: Mixed reaction over memo that Donald Trump tried to interfere with FBI investigation; DC and Turkey pointing fingers over clashes; Gang raids carried out in Los Angeles; Ringling Brothers to give last show.

Subscribe for more Breaking News: http://smarturl.it/AssociatedPress
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Find the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump’s latest press conferences, announcements, speeches and highlights here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnwt1fUa-EVgihKJ_26XtMdmGDOmABAAa

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AP’s commitment to independent, comprehensive journalism has deep roots. Founded in 1846, AP has covered all the major news events of the past 165 years, providing high-quality, informed reporting of everything from wars and elections to championship games and royal weddings. AP is the largest and most trusted source of independent news and information.
Today, AP employs the latest technology to collect and distribute content – we have daily uploads covering the latest and breaking news in the world of politics, sport and entertainment. Join us in a conversation about world events, the newsgathering process or whatever aspect of the news universe you find interesting or important. Subscribe: http://smarturl.it/AssociatedPress

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Washington Post’s YouTube Videos: Putin offers up transcripts, but U.S. lawmakers aren’t interested by Washington Post

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:32 PM

  1. VIDEO NEWS From Mikenova (66 Sites)

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From: Washington Post
Duration: 01:57

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scoffed May 17 at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to release transcripts from the May 10 meeting between President Trump and Russian officials.

Washington Post’s YouTube Videos

Former FBI Director Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:28 PM

Former FBI Director Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe – Washington Post

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:26 PM

Mueller – Google News

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Washington Post

Former FBI Director Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe
Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Wednesday appointed former FBI Director RobertMueller as a special counsel to oversee a federal investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential …

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House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:16 PM

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KIEV, Ukraine — A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the U.S. Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, prompting McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks…This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year.

[Read the transcript of the conversation among GOP leaders obtained by The Post]

The conversation provides a glimpse at the internal views of GOP leaders who now find themselves under mounting pressure over the conduct of President Trump. The exchange shows that the Republican leadership in the House privately discussed Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and Trump’s relationship to Putin, but wanted to keep their concerns secret. It is difficult to tell from the recording the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally.

The House leadership has so far stood by the White House as it has lurched from one crisis to another, much of the turmoil fueled by contacts between Trump or his associates with Russia.

House Republican leaders have so far resisted calls for the appointment of an independent commission or a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference, though pressure has been mounting on them to do so after Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey and the disclosure that the president shared intelligence with Russian diplomats.

Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests

Here are members of Team Trump who are known to have Russian connections and the story lines that have made those ties relevant.

Evan McMullin, who in his role as policy director to the House Republican Conference participated in the June 15 conversation, said: “It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking.”

McMullin ran for president last year as an independent and has been a vocal critic of Trump.

When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, said the congressman has been a consistent advocate of “working closer with the Russians to combat radical Islamism. The congressman doesn’t need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion.”

When McCarthy voiced his assessment of whom Putin supports, suspicions were only beginning to swirl around Trump’s alleged Russia ties.

At the time, U.S. intelligence agencies knew that the Russians had hacked the DNC and other institutions, but Moscow had yet to start publicly releasing damaging emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Trump’s Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton. An FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election would open the following month, in late July, Comey has said in testimony to Congress.

Trump has sought to play down contacts between his campaign and the Russians, dismissing as a “witch hunt” the FBI and congressional investigations into Russian efforts to aid Trump and any possible coordination between the Kremlin and his associates. Trump denies any coordination with Moscow took place.

Presidential candidate Trump’s embrace of Putin and calls for closer cooperation with Moscow put him at odds with the House Republican caucus, whose members have long advocated a harder line on Russia, with the exception of Rohrabacher and a few others.

Among GOP leaders in the House, McCarthy stood out as a Putin critic who in 2015 called for the imposition of “more severe” sanctions for its actions in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

In May 2016, McCarthy signed up to serve as a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention, breaking ranks with Ryan who said he still wasn’t ready to endorse the candidate. McCarthy’s relationship with Trump became so close that the president would sometimes refer to him as “my Kevin.”

Trump was by then the lone Republican remaining in the contest for the nomination. Though Ryan continued to hold out, Trump picked up endorsements from the remaining GOP leaders in the House, including Rep. Steve Scalise, the Majority Whip from Louisiana, and Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) — both of whom took part in the June 15 conversation.

Ryan announced on June 2 that he would vote for Trump to help “unite the party so we can win in the fall” but continued to clash with the candidate, including over Putin. While Trump sought to cast Putin as a better leader than then-President Obama, Ryan dubbed him an “aggressor” who didn’t share U.S. interests.

On the same day as Ryan’s endorsement, Clinton stepped up her attacks on Trump over his public statements praising Putin. “If Donald gets his way, they’ll be celebrating in the Kremlin,” she said.

Ukrainian officials were unnerved by Trump’s statements in support of Putin. Republicans, they had believed, were supposed to be tougher on Russia.

When Trump named Paul Manafort as his campaign manager in April 2016, alarm bells in Kiev started ringing even louder. Manafort was already well known in Ukraine because of his influential role as a political consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s former Kremlin-friendly ruler until a popular uprising forced him to flee to Russia. Manafort had also consulted for a powerful Russian businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

“Ukraine was, in a sense, a testing ground for Manafort,” said Ukrainian political scientist Taras Berezovets, who became a grudging admirer of Manafort’s skills in the so-called “dark arts” of political stagecraft while Berezovets was working for one of Yanukovych’s political rivals.

At the urging of Manafort, Yanukovych campaigned with populist slogans labeling NATO a “menace” and casting “elites” in the Ukrainian capital as out of touch, Berezovets said. Trump struck similar themes during the 2016 campaign.

The FBI is now investigating whether Manafort, who stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in August, received off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s party, U.S. officials said. As part of that investigation, FBI agents recently took possession of a newly-discovered document which allegedly details payments totaling $750,000. Ukrainian lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko, who first disclosed the new document, declined to comment on his contacts with the FBI.

A spokesperson for Manafort has said that Trump’s former campaign manager has not been contacted by the FBI. Manafort has also disputed the authenticity of the newly-discovered document.

Groysman, on an official visit to Washington, met separately with Ryan and McCarthy on June 15 at the Capitol.

He told them how the Russians meddled in European politics and called for “unity” in addressing the threat, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials. Ryan issued a statement after the meeting saying, “the United States stands with Ukraine as it works to rebuild its economy and confront Russian aggression.”

Later, Ryan spoke privately with McCarthy, Rodgers, Scalise and Rep. Patrick McHenry, the deputy whip, among others.

Ryan mentioned his meeting with Groysman, prompting Rodgers to ask: “How are things going in Ukraine?” according to the recording.

The situation was difficult, Ryan said. Groysman, he said, had told him that Russian-backed forces were firing 30-40 shells into Ukrainian territory every day. And the prime minister described Russian tactics that include “financing our populists, financing people in our governments to undo our governments.”

Ryan said Russia’s goal was to “turn Ukraine against itself.” Groysman underlined Russia’s intentions, saying “They’re just going to roll right through us and go to the Baltics and everyone else,” according to Ryan’s summary of the prime minister’s remarks in the recording.

“Yes,” Rodgers said in agreement, noting that the Russians were funding non-government organizations across Europe as part of a wider “propaganda war.”

“Maniacal,” Ryan said. “And guess, guess who’s the only one taking a strong stand up against it? We are.”

Rodgers disagreed. “We’re not…we’re not…but, we’re not,” she said.

That’s when McCarthy brought the conversation about Russian meddling around to the DNC hack, Trump and Rohrabacher.

“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.

Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.

“There’s… there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added.

“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.

Some lawmakers laughed at that.

“No leaks, alright?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” Scalise said.

“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added.

Andrew Roth in Moscow, Michael Birnbaum in Brussels and Robert Costa in Washington contributed to this report.

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Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 6:13 PM


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