You remember Michael Cohen’s opening line to Congress last month, “The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I’m here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump.” Big Daddy is not the only Trump he had lied for previously. Cohen was asked to edit his original congressional testimony specifically to exclude Ivanka and whitewash any dealings she had with the development of Trump Tower Moscow. Vanity Fair: President Trump, he said, had spoken in “code” to prompt Cohen to lie about the Moscow project. Moreover, Cohen said, his false testimony was coordinated with the president’s attorneys. “Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it,” he said in his prepared remarks. At the time, Cohen had a joint defense agreement with the president, so the document was reviewed by Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, as well as Abbe Lowell,the lawyer representing Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. According to Cohen, neither attorney raised objections to the document, which included his false statement about the Moscow project. Sekulow issued a statement protesting Cohen’s assertions: “Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.” But Cohen had communications detailing these alleged edits, some of which lawmakers requested in a closed-door hearing with the House Intelligence Committee the following week. One document, which I have reviewed, was an e-mail exchange between Cohen and his then attorney, Stephen Ryan, outlining changes that Ryan said Lowell had asked them to make in order to distance Ivanka from the Moscow deal. Attached to the e-mail were drafts he said were Lowell’s suggested edits. The extent of Lowell’s involvement has not been previously reported. “Abbe asks for us to affirmatively address in our statement on the 25th: -[Ivanka] was not involved in the backs and forths with FS [Felix Sater] and MC [Michael Cohen] -she did not know FS was involved in the possible project in that country -she was not in any meetings or calls with people putting it together (esp. from that country) -and maybe that, by then, MC knew she was at least skeptical about him.” Abbe Lowell is a top tier white-collar criminal defense attorney. How interesting that he would be son-in-law and First Daughter’s lawyer, in the first place — let alone see his way clear to minimize, if not eradicate, testimony about Ivanka’s true involvement the controversial Trump Tower Moscow project. Lowell’s involvement, unknown before now, is certain to be of interest to congressional investigators. Kushner was one of 81 individuals/entities asked to produce documents to the House. Here’s a final note of interest. Many, like former attorney general Jeff Sessions, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, and former Trump bodyguard Matthew Calamari, were asked for documents that could pertain to conversations between Ivanka and foreign governments. Cohen was also asked for documents related to Ivanka and any potential emolument violations, discussions with foreign governments, financial transactions with the Russian government or businesses, the Trump Tower Moscow project, and changes made to his initial congressional testimony. This is not even remotely normal. The Era of Trump is so strange and bizarre, that by now we are so numbed to terrible news about this family, that we might as well […]
Frank Bruni’s column makes the point today that not everything in this information age fits into tiny boxes, neatly labeled. We don’t live in a black and white world — although, admittedly, the tribalism that has been unleashed since the election of Donald Trump certainly makes it seem that way. But what rails against that kind of thinking is the fact that human beings are complex (although Trump is an exception to that rule) and both exemplary qualities and dastardly ones may in fact exist in the same human being. As Frank Bruni points out we tuck too many people and too many situations into tidy, cinching boxes. Hillary Clinton, for example. Last week I was speaking with a conservative who was never any fan of hers — quite the opposite — and he agreed with me that she might well have been an effective, wise president. I didn’t hear much of that from him and other conservatives years ago, before Trump or even during the 2016 campaign. They railed that she was secretive, defensive, sometimes dishonest and frequently self-righteous: all true. But she was also deeply informed, serious about policy, dedicated to public service and extensively schooled in the ways of Washington. With respect to Trump-Russia, it’s not black and white, and never has been. The unfortunate problem with that, is in this black and white, sound bite world, the initial black and white soundbite, that of William Barr’s, is dominating the narrative, to the detriment of what will probably be revealed when a common sense, basic demand to read the report is finally granted. Yes, many Democrats and many journalists went overboard with their obsessions about a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians, focusing on dots that weren’t fully there and connecting them in wildly speculative ways. No, these Democrats and journalists weren’t conjuring their fears from mere hatred of Trump and disgust with him. Has everyone somehow forgotten his performance at that Helsinki news conference, when he sided with Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence officials, doing as excellent an impression of a puppet as I’ve seen? It was — and is — reasonable to wonder and worry about why. Trump can be someone who at once faced a rush to judgment on the Russian front and has been spared sufficiently stern judgments (and consequences) on several others. In a sense — and in the end — the attention to “collusion” was a kind of gift to him, shifting lawmakers’ energy and Americans’ gazes away from his conflicts of interest, from the Javanka nepotism, from his embrace of tyrants, from the reckless undermining of American institutions and from the compulsive and maybe even pathological lying. William Barr did a great disservice to this country by presenting things in such simplistic terms that they could be interpreted the way they were, and now will be re-interpreted once the report is out. Barr would have done a much greater service if he had prefaced his remarks with a simple disclaimer, “Of course, when the Mueller report is read in full, all questions will be answered,” or words to that effect. All that Barr achieved was to create a false narrative which now will now be part of partisan warfare, as the full report is eventually released.
We’re in an interesting lull period now, a kind of dead-zone space, between William Barr’s cursory, self-serving analysis of the Mueller report, and the opportunity for everyone else to read it and decide what it really says. For the moment, however, Barr’s assessment has been translated into “total exoneration” and as long as that’s the ruling narrative of the day, Trump’s cronies are making hay while the sun shines, reprimanding Democratic leaders and asking for their resignations. At the center of the firestorm is none other than Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Donald Trump has disparaged Schiff before, and today’s assault was to call Schiff a “pencil neck” and to opine that Schiff couldn’t hit a golf ball more than 50 yards. Wow. I’ll bet that crushed him. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway, Matt Gaetz, and other Republican luminaries, have been calling for Schiff’s resignation. Where it gets comical, is that Schiff is being compared to Devin Nunes, do you love it? Washington Post: “He essentially spent 22 months lying to the country,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress. Gaetz said that in seeking Schiff’s ouster as committee chair, Republicans were following the example set by Democrats, who in 2017 sought to remove Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) when he chaired the committee. Democrats called for Nunes to step down as chairman after a controversial visit to the White House in which he reviewed classified reports with administration officials and then told reporters that aides to the president may have been caught up in wiretaps. Nunes was put under ethics investigation and was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but he stepped aside from running the Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe. During that episode, Schiff questioned Nunes’s motivation for the “midnight run,” as he called it, and later accused Nunes of being “misleading” in his efforts to portray federal law enforcement officials as corrupt and biased for seeking to conduct surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser. Republicans consider those episodes “important context,” Gaetz said, in their own calls for Schiff to step down, which have been voiced by figures as prominent as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. So, McCarthy, Kellyanne, and Junior think Schiff should resign, using the Nunes’ debacle as some kind of a template? Oh, my. What will they think of next? In any event, there is zero chance that Schiff will resign. This article is being written from a sunny room in California’s 28th Congressional District, Adam Schiff’s district, and we’re laughing here. I have not yet met the Congressman personally, but two of my bankers have, and they love the guy. Various business people here in the community, who have also met Mr. Schiff, do nothing but sing his praises. Here’s the bottom line: Politically, the GOP’s focus on Schiff “probably helps him,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a University of Southern California communication professor and close watcher of California politics. “You’re talking about California, the state that is the fulcrum of the anti-Trump resistance,” she said. “This will not hurt Adam Schiff in California, period.” Bear in mind at all times, friends, if this is new information to you: California hates Donald Trump with a passion. Yes, I know, […]
Robert Mueller’s report emphatically did not say that there was no collusion, nor did it say that there was no obstruction. William Barr chose his words carefully to create an inference that that was what was said, but if you take a look at what was actually said, and parse through it, you’ll see that Barr is obfuscating like mad. Take your time, and consider this your first class in “Mueller Report 101” because a lotttt of time is going to be spent henceforth going over the Mueller Report, the Barr letter, to a lesser extent, and then last but also emphatically not least, the results of all of those other ongoing investigations, which Trump & Cabal now are basically pretending don’t exist — as if the Barr letter was a magic wand, which, when waved, made them all go away. William Saletan, Slate: “The Russian government.” The letter quotes a sentence from Mueller’s report. In that sentence, Mueller says his investigation didn’t prove that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The sentence specifies Russia’s government. It says nothing about coordination with other Russians. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate who has been linked to Russian intelligence. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met secretly in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer. But neither Kilimnik nor Veselnitskaya is part of the Russian government. They seem to be excluded from Barr’s analysis. This is classic lawyer-speak. By use of the word “government” the analysis gets tailored down, and allows for exclusion of important facts and events. Look for more of the same to come. “Agreement—tacit or express.” A footnote in Barr’s letter says the special counsel defined coordination as “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” The letter doesn’t clarify whether this definition originally came from Mueller or from the Justice Department. This, too, limits the range of prosecutable collusion. We know, for example, that in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia” had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary … and would be very useful to your father.” The email said the offer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. wrote back: “If it’s what you say I love it.” Apparently, by the standards asserted in the letter, this doesn’t count as even “tacit agreement … on election interference.” Barr is reaching on this one. He passed first semester contracts and he knows that if, in the textbook example, you hold a book up in the air and nod at the owner of the bookstore, that creates a contract that you will pay for the book. So he knows what a tacit agreement is. And Don Jr. more than gave one. The problem here, and one which is already obvious, is that if we have to parse through each and every sentence to get to the truth of what Mueller reported, we’ll be here for years. And that, friends, is right. In fact, that is the long and the short of it. “Rosenstein and I have concluded.” Barr’s letter mixes two different authors. On questions of conspiracy and […]
This is one of the strangest cases ever reported, even thought it involves a celebrity and even taking place in the Time of Trump. First, it promoted outrage, when a young actor reported that he was accosted and assaulted by two racists, who proclaimed to him, “This is MAGA country,” while putting a rope around his neck. Then, that narrative was exposed as falsehood and Smollett was indicted in Chicago for filing a false police report. Now, everything is fine, apparently, and all charges all dropped. Chicago Tribune: “Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him,” the statement said. “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement. “Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions,” the statement continued. “This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong. It is a reminder that a victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result. “Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends.” Federal authorities are looking further into the letter that Smollett purportedly received at work, which contained threats. For a while, Chicago police were claiming that was fake as well. This story will be updated when more details become available.
Enemies lists are not something that exist in a democracy — or at least not until today. Tim Murtaugh, Director of Communications for Trump for President, sent a memo today to “Television Producers” attacking the “credibility of certain guests.” Murtaugh alleges that the Mueller report states there was no collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Then follows a list of Democratic leaders and others, whom Murtaugh accuses of “lying to the American people by vigorously and repeatedly claiming there was evidence of collusion.” Murtaugh says these people lied and made false claims on their airwaves and he now demands that their voices be silenced, in essence. Below are the names in the memo, what they said, and when they said it. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): “The evidence is pretty clear that there was collision between the Trump campaign and the Russians…” (MSNBC, “All In,” 10/17/18) • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): “I think there’s plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight.” (“CBS This Morning,” 8/5/18) • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): “There was obviously a lot of collusion. The question is how high. Every day we – every day – every so often we get new information about involvement.” (CNN, “Erin Burnett OutFront,” 10/27/17) • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA): “In our investigation, we saw strong evidence of collusion.” (CNN, “Wolf,” 3/16/18) • DNC Chairman Tom Perez: “And over the course of the last year we have seen, I think, a mountain of evidence of collusion between the campaign and the Russians to basically affect our democracy.” (NBC, “Meet The Press” 4/22/18) • Former CIA Director John Brennan: “I called his behavior treasonous which is to betray one’s trust and to aiding and abet the enemy and I stand very much by that claim.” (NBC, “Meet the Press,” 8/19/18) Here’s the rest of the memo: Moving forward, we ask that you employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests to appear anywhere in your universe of productions. You should begin by asking the basic question: “Does this guest warrant further appearances in our programming, given the outrageous and unsupported claims made in the past?” At a minimum, if these guests do reappear, you should replay the prior statements and challenge them to provide the evidence which prompted them to make the wild claims in the first place.The American people have been bombarded by these accusations, through the media, for two long years. They have been told that their legitimately elected president had colluded with Russia – a claim proven to be false. At this point, there must be introspection from the media who facilitated the reckless statements and a serious evaluation of how such guests are considered and handled in the future. This is very sobering. Trump is backlash mode, and this is going to get ugly.
It’s no secret that many movies will be made about Trumpworld and the characters therein. As of today, one of those characters, former Trump Troll in Chief, Michael Avenatti, might end up having a movie made about just him, because his saga just got even more enticing. Avenatti was arrested Monday in Manhattan, charged with attempt to extort $20Mil from Nike, and in a separate case, for bank fraud and embezzlement in California. Celebrity attorney Mark Geragos was named as co-conspirator in the Nike matter. Wall Street Journal: After the March 19 conversation with Messrs. Avenatti and Geragos, Nike and Boies Schiller [law firm] contacted the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, people familiar with the matter said. At prosecutors’ direction, Scott Wilson, a Boies Schiller partner, recorded a March 20 conversation with Mr. Geragos and Mr. Avenatti, in which Mr. Avenatti “made it clear” he expected to be paid at least $10 million in exchange for not holding a news conference, according to the complaint. During the conversation, held on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call, Mr. Avenatti said that if his demands weren’t met, “I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap…I’m not f—ing around.” On Monday afternoon, Mr. Avenatti was scheduled for a meeting at Boies Schiller’s midtown offices—a sting operation at which Mr. Avenatti was to be arrested, two people familiar with the matter said. He never arrived at the meeting. Shortly after noon, Mr. Avenatti tweeted that he would hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss evidence he claimed to have of “a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated” by Nike. Mr. Avenatti’s tweet claimed the “criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike.” Within minutes, Mr. Avenatti was in custody. Avenatti, as you well recall, was considering a run for POTUS in 2020 on the Democratic ticket. Many Democrats soured on Avenatti’s hubris and after he presented a client of his, Julie Swetnick, to testify of allegations of sexual misconduct by then-SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it was deemed that this time Avenatti had gone too far. Democrats began to accuse Avenatti of carrying Kavanaugh “over the finish line.” The final nail in the coffin might be the fact that Stormy Daniels issued a statement Monday afternoon, declaring that she had severed her professional relationship with Avenatti. My statement regarding my former attorney Mr. Avenatti.. pic.twitter.com/9aKYCPNN6y — Stormy Daniels (@StormyDaniels) March 25, 2019 Sigh. I sure do miss how he used to troll Trump, that was epic. Oh, by the way, CNN announced today that Avenatti is no longer a contributor. And Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that maybe Avenatti could share a cell with Michael Cohen. Never a dull moment.
It’s time to get a grip. Yes, the Mueller report came out in a fashion which is at the very least, anti-climatic if not downright depressing, one big fizzle so far. However, take a look at what has really gone on: All that has happened is that Attorney General William Barr has issued a four page summary, and the summary is being picked apart for it’s inadequacies and inaccuracies, chiefly the fact that it concludes there has been no crime committed on Trump’s part, when Mueller in fact, said the opposite. David Leonardt of the New York Times kicked in his two cents this morning, with a column, “Three Takeaways From The Barr Letter.” Takeaway One is that Barr Should Release More Information: William Barr, the attorney general, works for the president. By releasing just a short summary on a matter of such importance, he comes off as a cross between a law enforcement officer and a spin doctor. It’s certainly conceivable that parts of Robert Mueller’s full report — the one that remains secret — would need to be redacted for national security or other reasons. But Barr’s four-page summary is unacceptable. So is his vague explanation that he will release as much of the report as he can. Until we get more information, the most reasonable assumption is that Barr is trying to protect Trump by hiding the full report. Our leaders, Schumer and Pelosi, are working on getting the full report. So for the nonce, let us not despair. The Third Takeaway is Trump is Unfit For Office (We’ll get to the second takeaway for reasons which will become obvious, last) He directed a criminal conspiracy to break campaign finance laws. He has used the presidency for personal enrichment. He has undermined democracy. He has damaged America’s global standing. He has lied repeatedly to the American people. He has obstructed justice. (Barr’s statement to the contrary is brief and unpersuasive.) Everybody seems to be massively disappointed with the fact that Mueller didn’t recommend any new indictments. But take a closer look at what really took place, albeit it in not the spectacular way people wanted. The Atlantic: Barr’s letter thoroughly quelled some of the fondest hopes of the anti-Trump “resistance.” The letter revealed that Mueller closed his investigation without recommending more criminal charges, and that no further indictments are under seal, as some had speculated. That’s a great relief for Trump and his family and associates, but it’s not the end of their federal criminal jeopardy. Barr also pointed out that Mueller “referred several matters to other offices for further action.” For instance, the special counsel sent the investigation of Michael Cohen’s hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which secured Cohen’s guilty plea for federal campaign-finance violations. That office is still actively investigating the matter—we know this because it carefully redacted the details of the investigation when it released the Cohen search warrants last week. But the special counsel’s investigation was the most prominent legal threat to the president and his family, and its closure without further indictments is a major victory for him. Now, Leonardt’s Third Takeaway Is That “Trump Critics Should Keep An Open Mind About Russia.” Leonardt basically says that critics of Trump should not go down the […]
The letter which William Barr sent regarding the Mueller report is some fabulist confection. Here’s a link to the full thing. Read it and you’ll be set up to understand what national security reporter Marcy Wheeler is saying. 2) Having defined the underlying crime as JUST the hack-and-leak and trolling, and not quid pro quo, but also having Mueller submit a legit case for obstruction, they said, "if not hack-and-leak, then not obstruction." — emptywheel (@emptywheel) March 24, 2019 Now, if your mind is already reeling and you’re saying “huh?”, you are not alone. Emptywheel:: Barr and Rod Rosenstein have spent 72 whole hours considering that evidence to come up with this judgment: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. [snip] In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. Here’s Wheeler’s commentary on this material. Here’s the thing, though: at least given what they lay out here, they only considered whether Trump was covering up his involvement in the hack-and-leak operation. It doesn’t consider whether Trump was covering up a quid pro quo, which is what there is abundant evidence of. They didn’t consider whether Trump obstructed the crime that he appears to have obstructed. They considered whether he obstructed a different crime. And having considered whether Trump obstructed the crime he didn’t commit, rather than considering whether he obstructed the crime he did commit, they decided not to charge him with a crime. There’s no mention of Roger Stone in Barr’s letter, and we know full well that Stone was 1. part of Trump’s campaign; 2. dealing with WikiLeaks, 3. doing so with Trump’s knowledge and consent. This fact is important because it’s indicative of the cherry picking that is going on right now, in order to frame the Mueller report in a light most positive to Trump. Pelosi and Schumer have already demanded a full copy of the report, and, as you recall, Trump said only last week that he had no problem with the report being made public. This is the beginning of a long, hot summer, and it only just turned Spring.
Beware the ides of March — or indeed, the entire month, if you’re a resident of Trumpworld. Trump started raging against the House addressing 81 individuals/entities who were requested to produce documents relevant to the issues of collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, and abuses such as payments to Trump’s mistresses — and this was before the Mueller report dropped Friday. The White House is more or less in a state of siege, and they’re handling it every bit as badly as you would expect. Daily Beast: Trump, for his part, has complained to associates that the committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and the committee’s inquiry into his administration, family, and orbit, is “not legitimate,” according to a person who has heard the president discuss the matter. Further, Trump has said that Democratic lawmakers have already made up their minds that the president is a crook, are simply in search of dirt, and are trying to distract Americans from what Trump sees as his successes. Early this month, the president told reporters, “I cooperate all the time, with everybody,” when asked about the new investigation. The very next day, however, Trump tweeted that the probe was the “greatest overreach in the history of our Country” and that the “Dems are obstructing justice and will not get anything done. A big, fat, fishing expedition desperately in search of a crime, when in fact the real crime is what the Dems are doing, and have done!” David Bossie, a former senior Trump aide who also worked as House Republicans’ top investigator into Bill Clinton’s White House, similarly sees another witch hunt. “The socialists running the House of Representatives right now are out for President Trump, and I don’t see this as a credible investigation, and therefore I would not cooperate with them at all,” Bossie told The Daily Beast. “It’s an illegitimate investigation and I would not cooperate with them at all if I were any of the 81 people or entities.” Rigged witches and socialists, and they’re all out to get Trump, who is as pure as the driven snow. Defending this ludicrous posture is none other than Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani, who wrote the committee stating they wouldn’t be handing over any documents. If Trump has a Civics 101 coloring book, now would be the time for him to consult it. He will learn that the House committees have subpoena power and he can’t ignore that. Trump cruised through his first two years in office with a unified Republican government, and zero oversight, but with the Democrats running the House and the Mueller report out in the world for consumption, reality in the White House could not be more different now. It is rude awakening time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If you’re a coffee pot or a television set, look out. Trump’s going to go berserk when it sinks in what’s really going on. Cornered rats are not pleasant beings.