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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Nov 18 – 24, 2018

russia

(Adrienne Cobb) #1

Too long, didn’t read summary

Today, November 26th, Mueller is expected to file a status report updating the judge on Manafort’s cooperation. Also today George Papadopoulos is supposed to surrender himself to jail to serve 14 days for lying to federal investigators. However, Papadopoulos’ new lawyers asked the judge to postpone his sentence until after Andrew Miller’s case challenging Mueller’s appointment is resolved. Roger Stone’s associate Jerome Corsi has been negotiating a plea deal with Mueller’s team. Trump had scheduled an interview with Mueller for January 27, 2018, but backed out upon seeing the list of questions Mueller planned on asking. Two weeks ago, a US District judge ruled that collusion can be a crime. Last week, it was reported that Trump sought to direct the DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey, in what might amount to further evidence of obstruction of justice.

Lawyers for Maria Butina, alleged Russian agent, asked a judge to dismiss charges against her as unconstitutional. Russian officials re-asserted charges against Kremlin-critic Bill Browder and stated they are hopeful Trump’s administration will be more helpful in pursuing him than Obama’s was. Igor Korobov, the chief of Russia’s military intelligence agency, died last week after a “serious and long illness.” He is the second chief to die in two years.

The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee is hiring money-laundering and forensic accounting experts to prepare for investigations into Donald Trump. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, in one of his acts as an elected official, subpoenaed former FBI chief James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to testify privately before Congress; Comey refuses to testify unless it is public. Senate Democrats Blumenthal, Whitehouse, and Hirono have filed a suit to block Matt Whitaker from serving as acting attorney general, joining lawsuits by Maryland and a challenge in a guns rights case before SCOTUS. A New York state judge has sided with the NY attorney general against Trump, allowing the case against him and his family for violating charity laws to continue.


Mueller Investigation

Major update? Today, November 26th, Mueller is expected to file a status report updating the judge on Manafort’s cooperation. Mueller’s team did not offer any additional details, but experts have speculated that Manafort could be a major witness or co-conspirator in a brand new case, meaning the court will have to push his sentencing way back.

Corsi cooperation? Roger Stone’s associate Jerome Corsi told the AP that he has been negotiating a plea deal with Mueller’s team. He declined to provide any further details. Two weeks ago Corsi told the media he anticipated Mueller would indict him for lying to investigators, while also maintaining his innocence on the charges.

Papadopoulos sentence. Today, November 26th, George Papadopoulos is set to surrender himself to jail to serve 14 days for lying to federal investigators. A last minute ruling by the judge yesterday struck down Papadopoulos’ attempt to avoid jail. His new lawyers asked the judge to postpone his sentence until after Andrew Miller’s case challenging Mueller’s appointment is resolved. The judge sided with Mueller.

  • Mueller responded to Papadopoulos’ request by pointing to inconsistencies in Papadopoulos’ statements, especially his tweets. Despite expressing regret for his actions at his sentencing, Papadopoulos later tweeted that the FBI’s investigation was “the biggest case of entrapment” and claiming to have been framed. Prosecutors wrote that “his public statements following his sentencing indicate that this motion is being made for the ‘purpose of delay.'”
  • Papadopoulos’ former lawyers have spoken out on why they withdrew from the case, stating it was due to his contradicting statements. “We felt it best to withdraw from the case based on George’s public statements that he gave contrary to the facts in the case. We know that George and his wife are interested in a pardon but we could not in good conscience support their method of attempting to get a pardon. George was not communicating with us so we were unable to advise him properly…We felt that he should stop making public statements, even though it is his right to do so.”

Failed interview. The AP reported that Trump had scheduled an interview with Mueller for January 27, 2018 but backed out as the date approached. “Trump’s lawyers balked” at the topics Mueller wanted to discuss and sent a “searing letter disputing Mueller’s authority to question the president.”

  • At first, Trump insisted he wanted to sit for an interview with Mueller. He even “told one confidant last spring he was frustrated his lawyers didn’t believe he should do it and snapped that he didn’t understand what was taking so long, according to one Republican in contact with the White House.” After Rudy Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team, however, the strategy shifted to dragging out the interview drama for months and using “that time to ratchet up attacks on Mueller’s credibility.”

Return of Giuliani. Speaking of Giuliani, now that the midterms are over he has returned to the spotlight. In an interview with Axios, Giuliani re-asserted that Trump would fight any subpoena from Mueller, and Giuliani predicted Mueller “would not win a legal battle if he did that.” About the Mueller’s questions for Trump, Giuliani said it “looked like a law school exam… one big long group of questions, that were multi-part questions.”

Nail in the collusion coffin? Two weeks ago, a US District Judge ruled that an independently lawful act can become a crime when it is performed with the intent to impair or obstruct the lawful function of any part of government. This means that “collusion itself can be a crime if it’s for the purpose of pulling a fast one on a department of the federal government.” Thus, the argument that ‘collusion is not a crime’ might not hold up well in court, and Mueller knows this.

Obstruction. We got a glimpse into the obstruction of justice aspect of Mueller’s investigation when the New York Times and CNN reported last week that Trump sought to direct the DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey. Specifically, while it is “inappropriate” to direct prosecution of a political rival like Clinton, the order relating to Comey “is most likely to amount to criminal behavior” because he is a witness in Mueller’s investigation.

  • Daily Beast: Obstruction of justice occurs when someone acts with a corrupt intent to interfere with an official proceeding, such as a grand jury investigation. An essential element of obstruction of justice is the person’s intent to act “corruptly.”

More Russian connections

Butina update. Lawyers for Maria Butina, alleged Russian agent, asked a judge to dismiss charges against her as unconstitutional. They argue that the law barring a person from acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government is “unconstitutionally vague,” and fails to define what types of acts are covered or who qualifies as an official. Prosecutors have until Friday, November 30th to respond to the dismissal motion.

Browder charges. Russia has accused Bill Browder of “leading an international criminal group” and plans on renewing their efforts to seek his arrest. Browder was instrumental in the creation of the Magnitsky Act and is an outspoken critic of the Kremlin. Russian prosecutors said last week that they hope Trump’s DOJ will be more helpful than Obama’s and allow them to pursue charges against Browder.

  • “The allegations [against Browder] are the same as those made by a Kremlin-linked lawyer at a controversial 2016 meeting with top Trump campaign officials” at Trump Tower.
  • When Trump and Putin met in Helsinki over the summer, Putin “made what Trump hailed as an ‘incredible’ offer. Putin said Russia would help the U.S. investigate alleged Russian election meddling in return for the right to question a number of U.S. citizens as well as Browder over an alleged $1.5 billion tax evasion.”

GRU death. Igor Korobov, the chief of Russia’s military intelligence agency, died last week after a “serious and long illness.” He was under US sanctions for “significant malicious cyber-enabled activities” and was likely to also be sanctioned for the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal. Korobov is the second GRU chief to die in two years; his predecessor died at age 58 under unclear circumstances.

Russian mafia. If you haven’t read any interviews with Craig Unger, author of “House of Trump, House of Putin,” another was published last week detailing the past three decades of Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia.

Congress/States

HPSCI plans. The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee is hiring money-laundering and forensic accounting experts to prepare for investigations into Donald Trump. Adam Schiff, likely to be chairman of the committee, has made it known he is interested in “the intersection of financial crimes and intelligence threats,” especially those involving Deutsche Bank.

  • Daily Beast: When other lenders were loath to lend money to Trump in the 1990s, Deutsche Bank stepped up and spotted him tons of cash. The president may still owe the bank up to $175 million, according to MarketWatch.

Comey subpoenaed. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, in one of his acts as an elected official, subpoenaed former FBI chief James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to testify privately before congress on December 3rd and 4th. Comey responded via tweet, stating he will resist a closed door interview but will be “happy to sit in the light and answer all questions.”

Challenging Whitaker. Senate Democrats Blumenthal, Whitehouse, and Hirono have filed a suit to block Matt Whitaker from serving as acting attorney general, arguing his appointment violates the Appointments Clause of the constitution because Whitaker was not Senate confirmed. The lawsuit faces a big hurdle, though, before it can advance: “the plaintiffs will have to show they have standing — meaning, that his appointment violated their rights.”

  • The three Democratic senators can argue Whitaker’s appointment “violated their constitutional right to advise and consent the president on cabinet-level appointments,” but it’s a hotly debated position and one not guaranteed to succeed.

More challenges. The senators join Maryland and a Washington DC lawyer in suing to stop Whitaker’s appointment. Additionally, Rep. Adam Schiff told CNN, “We are going to bring Whitaker before the Congress, assuming he’s still in his position at the time when Democrats take over.” He continued, “We may bring him in whether he’s in that position or not to find out the answers to these questions.”

  • Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, currently fighting the Trump administration over the Affordable Care Act healthcare law, is asking the judge in the case to declare Whitaker’s appointment illegal. Frosh says there are two legal grounds to challenge: (1) Rosenstein, as DOJ’s number 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions, (2) Whitaker was not confirmed by the Senate.
  • In a guns rights case pending before the Supreme Court, lead lawyer Tom Goldstein is asking the justices to rule that Rod Rosenstein is the rightful Attorney General, again using the Appointments Clause. The case was originally against Sessions, but now cannot proceed until the identity of his successor is confirmed by the justices.

Other

Charity suit. A New York state judge has sided with the NY attorney general against Trump, allowing the case against him and his family to continue. The lawsuit alleges that Donald Trump Sr., Don Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump violated charity laws when they used the Trump Foundation to pay off personal and campaign debts.

  • CNBC: Scarpulla [the judge] noted that the defendants “have failed to cite a single case in which any court has dismissed a civil action against a sitting president on Supremacy Clause grounds, where, as here, the action is based on the president’s unofficial acts.”