Russia investigation

Important and Inevitable

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

This is one of the important parts:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week by the special counsel’s office as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and whether the president obstructed justice since taking office, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

The meeting marked the first time that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, are known to have interviewed a member of Mr. Trump’s cabinet.

Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in Washington, D.C., on 29 November 2016. (Molly Riley/Associated Press)In response to questions from The New York Times, the spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, confirmed that the interview occurred. Mr. Sessions was accompanied by the longtime Washington lawyer Chuck Cooper to the interview.

(Schmidt)

The New York Times article goes on to sketch the drama so far, including a declaration that, “Mueller’s interest in Mr. Sessions shows how the president’s own actions helped prompt a broader inquiry”, but this is also part of setting up a seemingly obvious statement:

For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.

(more…)

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A Very Interesting Question

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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

Yes, that Jack Goldsmith, for Lawfare:

One puzzle that deepens with Mike Schmidt’s New York Times story on “Trump’s Struggle to Keep [a] Grip on [the] Russia Investigation” is why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has not recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

In short, before the Schmidt story, we knew that Rosenstein was intimately involved in the president’s decision to fire Comey. Rosenstein’s memo was used as a pretext to fire Comey;Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Rosenstein knew that the president wanted to fire Comey; and he read the Bedminster draft before he wrote his own memorandum.

In this light, it has been very puzzling for a while why Rosenstein does not have a conflict of interest in the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported unequivocally that Mueller’s investigation includes “whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice,” including, as a central issue, in his firing of Comey. Rosenstein was in the middle of that firing. He possesses information about the president’s beliefs and motives in firing Comey, and quite possibly a personal interest in how those beliefs and motives are construed, since he appeared to many to have been used by the president (and was reportedly very angry about it). Rosenstein would thus would very likely be a fact witness in any obstruction inquiry in connection with the Comey firing. It is hard to understand why he did not have a conflict of interest the moment Mueller’s investigation turned to obstruction in the firing of Comey.

File under, he might have a point, y’know.

Just sayin’.

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Image notes: Top —A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)  Right — Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Barrett, Devlin, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Sari Horwitz. “Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say”. The Washington Post. 14 June 2017.

Goldsmith, Jack. “Why Hasn’t Rod Rosenstein Recused Himself from the Mueller Investigation?” Lawfare. 5 January 2018.

Schmidt, Michael S. “Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump’s Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation”. The New York Times. 4 January 2018.

Sixty Million Dollars, and Probably Still Counting

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Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016; the Donald Trump campaign aide would eventually become campaign manager. (Detail of image from NBC News)

The headline from NBC News, that “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”, might actually be understated:

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

(Petropoulos and Engel)

The important point, then, might well be the sum of known dealings. In other words, the headline could soon need updating to a larger number. Then again, that would be kind of like the problem with trying to follow the sad, epic ballad of Paul Manafort, which, in turn, is much like trying to keep up with the spectacular disaster that is the Donald Trump Experience; things go downhill so quickly that if you stop to make the point it is already obsolete.

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Image note: Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016. (Detail of image from NBC News)

Petropoulos, Aggelos and Richard Engel. “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”. NBC News. 13 October 2017.

The Turn of the Page (Marooned Fifth)

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Composite — Donald Trump: Detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc; Carter Page: AP Photo; Puti-Toots: Artist unknown.

Should we take a moment to recall, oh, not quite six months ago, the ledes made a pretty straightforward setup:

President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional investigations on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the FBI and CIA.

(Chiacu)

† † †

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of resisting testimony from Carter Page, his former campaign adviser, because he “blows away” allegations they have made.

(Bennett)

And that really is a wasted setup, right? That is, since we already know the punch line:

Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, informed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he will not be cooperating with any requests to appear before the panel for its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and would plead the Fifth, according to a source familiar with the matter.

(Watkins)

#wellduh. Because of course he will.

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The Question of the Hour (Presidential Panic)

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Rachel Maddow“If there is going to be an independent investigation of this president, and his campaign and his ties to Russia, it is inconceivable that an independent investigation would not include an examination of the president’s financials, his tax returns, his business records, all the rest .... Is the president, or his family, potentially at risk of having violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a crime for which you go to jail? Is the president, or is his family, potentially at risk of being blackmailed by foreign business partners who have evidence of ties or behavior that might put the president and his family in legal jeopardy if those things were exposed?”

Rachel Maddow

A Brief Sketch (Not Quite Caviar)

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), January, 2014. (AP Photo)

We should probably sketch this detail of the cycle:

• Press Secretary defends Attorney General:

Sessions called the report “false” in a statement last night, saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” He repeated this morning that he would recuse himself wherever it is appropriate to do so.

However, Spicer said that would not apply in this case.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself [from]. He was 100% straight with the committee,” said Spicer, adding that Democrats should be “ashamed of themselves” for playing “partisan politics” on this issue.

(FOX News)

• President defends Attorney General:

President Trump defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday night, insisting that the former Alabama senator “did not say anything wrong” amid swirling criticism over his testimony earlier this year about contacts with Russian officials.

Trump appeared to be referring to Sessions’ statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation, when Sessions said he had not spoken to Russian officials. It was revealed this week that Sessions twice spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong,” Trump said in a statement posted on Facebook. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”

(Greenwood)

• The Attorney General runs to FOX News for a friendly interview:

Sessions explained that the question he received from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) at his January confirmation hearing focused specifically on whether he had spoken with Russia continually about the presidential campaign. While Sessions has now admitted he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year, he said they did not have any such conversations about political campaigns.

Why, though, Carlson wondered, did former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s own Russian scandal not raise any red flags with him? After all, Flynn was eventually pressured to resign.

“It was never a thought,” Sessions insisted. It was “unrelated.”

The Russian officials and any one else in the room at the times of his meetings would corroborate that he “did not say one thing that was improper.”

(O’Brien)

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