Friday, April 26, 2019

Pistol-Packin' Butina: Feds Parlay A Weak Case Into An 18-Month Sentence

The case against Mariia Butina for being a Russian spy was never strong.   She never worked directly for the Kremlin, knew of no secret codes or safe houses, and didn't engaged in covert activity.  And so the feds ended up charging her with the rather tame offense of failing to register as a foreign agent. 
The Siberian-born gun-rights activist, an oxymoron if there ever was one since gun owners in Russia have no rights, made her debut as a bit player in the Russia scandal way back in 2013, five adventure-filled years before her arrest in July 2018 in Washington, D.C. as she was literally packing her bags to skip town. 
In the latest chapter in that odyssey, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan sentenced the 30-year-old Butina to 18 months in prison on Friday after she admitted last December to working as an undeclared agent of a foreign government.  She did not admit and was not charged with espionage, although a former FBI agent said that Butina’s conduct had the earmarks of a "spot and assess" operation, meaning that she was passing information along that the Russian government could later use to determine potential targets for intelligence recruitment.   
Butina will be credited for more than nine months served and deported to Russia upon her release under terms worked out by the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department's national security division, which handled the case instead of oversubscribed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose prosecutors did conduct a brief interview with her. 
In court before she learned her sentence, Butina said "ignorance of the law is not an excuse, in the United States or in Russia, and so I humbly request forgiveness." 
"The United States has always been kind to me, and though it was not my intention to harm the American people, I did that by not notifying the Attorney General of my actions. I deeply regret these events," said Butina, who was dressed in a green prison uniform and spoke with emotion.  "Please accept my apology and allow me to begin again." 
While Butina's actions "might" have been legal had she disclosed that she was working as an agent for the Russian government, it was precisely because she did not that they "were so dangerous and constituted a threat to our democracy," Chutkan said, because it prevented the U.S. government and others from recognizing what she was doing or taking actions in response. 
It was in 2013 that Butina first cozied up to Republican operative Paul Erickson, a former American Conservative Union board member and associate of David Keene, then president of America's largest and most powerful terrorist organization, the National Rifle Association.  (Don't get me wrong.  The NRA was perfectly fine when its mission was teaching gun safety, but as it grew more wealthy and powerful, its mission became making it perfectly legal for nuts with mass murder in their hearts to buy combat-grade automatic weapons designed to inflict maximum carnage.  At that it has been catastrophically successful.)  
Anyhow, Butina was a protégé of Alexandr Torshin, once a member of the Russian parliament and later a chief deputy of its central bank and himself a protégé of Vladimir Putin.  Torshin, whom Butina acknowledged to prosecutors she took orders from, had been visiting heartland cities in the U.S. regularly since 2009 in a clandestine effort to advance Moscow's long-term objectives by establishing common political interests with American conservatives, including gun lovers.  
That act apparently was getting a little stale, so in 2014 Butina kind of took over for Torshin and began "dating" Erickson.  Then in 2016, he became her sugar daddy when he set up an LLC that he claimed was for Butina's tuition at American University in Washington.  
In February 2016, Torshin tweeted that Butina was now in the U.S. and said "She writes me that D. Trump (NRA member) is ready for cooperation with Russia."   
When not hitting the books, Butina squeezed in a meeting with Dana Rohrabacher, the slavishly pro-Putin U.S. representative from California, and initiated a series of contacts with J.D. Gordon, who was the Trump campaign's director of national security and at the time a big wheel in Trump's transition team.  This included taking him to a Styx concert.  
On the morning after Trump's surprise victory, Butina contacted Torshin, saying "I'm going to sleep.  It's 3 am here.  I am ready for further orders."  It is not known if those orders included Butina throwing a costume party for her birthday a week later at trendy Cafe Deluxe in Washington where she dressed as Empress Alexandra while Erickson came as Rasputin.  She bragged to partygoers that she had been "part of the Trump campaign's communications with Russia."  (You really can't make this stuff up.)  
At this point, Butina might as well begin wearing a tiara with the words "Russian agent" in flashing neon lights, and indeed agents for the Justice Department's national security office, working with the U.S. Attorney's office for Washington, were now wise to her and monitoring her contacts with visiting Russians with dodgy backgrounds, as well as her ongoing romance with Erickson.    
In the end, Butina's act as Natashia to Torshin's Boris turns out to have been as hapless as those wonderful animated characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle  
Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018 as she prepared to head home.  Held without bail in a federal lockup around the corner from the White House, she become the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election.   
In doing so, Butina admitted as part of a plea deal that she and "U.S. Person 1" (Erickson) "agreed and conspired, with a senior Russian government official" (Torshin) to act as a Russian agent.  
The plea deal included blabbing about the NRA's reported but as yet unproven role as a conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign, which directly and indirectly received over $30 million from the gun group and may have illegally coordinated campaign ad buys with it, in return for the possibility of less prison time.  
I continue to be mindblown at the extraordinary number of crooks and grifters Trump has sucked into his orbit whose moral compasses are badly broken.  One by one, they're finally going down.  If there is a God, that also will include the people who turned the NRA into a killing machine.         
Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Susie Ambry (January 2, 1950 ~ April 24, 2019)

It is a mark of the depth and breadth of one's life when people know you and love you for entirely different things.  So it was with Susie Ambry, a dear friend of 50 eventful years.   
Some people knew Susie as a whirling dervish at the many Grateful Dead concerts she attended back in the day, often with longtime love Simon at her tie-dyed side.   
Some people knew Susie as the longtime proprietress of the Malt Shoppe -- the rare woman running a business on Main Street in Newark, Delaware -- if they were one of the many employees she mentored or the regulars for whom her shakes, bagels or sprinkles-topped ice cream cones were daily gotta haves. 
Some people knew Susie as a pre-school teacher and later an elementary school teacher's aide.  
Some people knew Susie as wife and mother to Juri and Kat and maîtresse of their wonderful hilltop home and gardens in the woods. 
While I am way too old to have sat behind one of the wee desks in Susie's classrooms, I was fortunate enough to know her in all those other lives and am inestimably wiser and richer for that, insofar that humility can be considered a thing of value, which I do.   
Susie  was no simple Capricorn.  Practical and disciplined yes, but she was able to balance two sometimes diametrically opposite qualities in her own inimitable way -- being deeply spiritual and having a wonderful sense of humor.  Her's was a laugh for the ages.  
Susie left this mortal coil after a long battle with cancer that she somehow had kept winning.  Until the very end.   

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Why Hasn't The Gang Of Eight Been Briefed On The Counterintel Investigation?

In mid-May 2017, a few days after Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because the burgeoning Russia scandal investigation had become a threat to his presidency, acting Director Andrew McCabe became so concerned about the president's nutty behavior -- as well as whether he was working for Russia -- that he quietly ordered the FBI to begin obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations. 
A few days later, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel and inherited those investigations, but when he delivered his breathlessly awaited final report, nowhere in its dense 448 pages were the fruits of the counterintelligence aspect of his 22-month investigation. 
To what extent had Trump been compromised by Russia, undermining his constitutional duties as president?  What were his financial obligations to Russia?  What was to be made of his failure to even acknowledge Russian election interference and criticize Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader ordered his agents to poison people on foreign soil?   How about Trump's opposition to sanctions against Russia?   Or his disinterest in addressing Russian threats to the American electoral system in 2020 and beyond?   
And was Trump trying to undercut the Comey and Mueller investigations as a favor to Putin? 
A redacted version of Mueller's final report states that Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, the Trump campaign was willing to take that help because it expected to benefit electorally, Trump himself repeatedly pushed for obtaining Hillary Clinton's private emails and his campaign was in touch with allies in addition to Russia who were pursuing them; Trump himself was well in the loop, including knowing when WikiLeaks would release more damaging information in the form of Russian-hacked emails, and Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice sometimes failed only because his staffers refused to carry out his orders.  Or to be more precise, Trump did obstruct in at least 10 instances, but as president he can't be indicted, a hugely important but widely misunderstood conclusion. 
Yet Maximum Bob Mueller, it seems, had been less than maximum when it came to proffering a counterintelligence assessment. 
Not really. 
Mueller conducted a counterintelligence investigation, which is cited in a single paragraph (Volume 1, Page 13) in his final report that describes how the special counsel's office met regularly with the FBI Counterintelligence Division and embedded counterintelligence agents for the express purpose of ensuring that the FBI captured the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information uncovered during the investigation. 
The work of those agents and their findings are not detailed in the report and will not be made public because of the methods and highly classified sources used, but the Gang of Eight should be briefed on Mueller's counterintelligence findings. 
It has not.     
The Gang of Eight is a colloquialism for the eight congressional leaders who by law are briefed on the most sensitive classified intelligence matters.  It grew out of the NSA warrantless surveillance program in the mid-2000s, which the Bush administration kept secret except for the Gang of Eight, which was forbidden to inform Congress or the public. 
The current gang includes the leaders of each of the two parties from both Senate and House (Republicans Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) and the chairs and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Committees on Intelligence (Republicans Richard Burr and Devin Nunes and Democrats Mark Warner and Adam Schiff). 
The Bush administration asserted that the briefings it gave the Gang of Eight sufficed to provide congressional oversight of the NSA program and preserve the checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, but that is highly questionable in the context of the Russia scandal and failed utterly in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign. 
That is when CIA Director John Brennan briefed the then-Gang of Eight about Russia election interference and President Obama pleaded with the gang to forge a bipartisan alliance to fight back against the Kremlin and work with state and local election officials to thwart Election Day threats.  McConnell, Senate majority leader then and now, refused. He accused Obama of politicizing the matter and issued a threat: If Obama went public about the interference, he would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Clinton, whose campaign at that very moment was being cybersabotaged.  
In May 2017, McCabe notified the Gang of Eight that a counterintelligence investigation into Trump was underway and there were no objections.  So McConnell and other Republicans who buy into Trump's fever swamp-informed view that the entire Russia investigation was a deep-state plot are being even more hypocritical than usual.   
Like I said, by law the Gang of Eight should be briefed on Mueller's counterintelligence findings. 
But Schiff, a Gang of Eight member and House Intelligence Committee chairman, indicates that has not happened in a Washington Post op-ed piece on Tuesday in which he notes that the work of counterintelligence agents and their findings are not detailed in the Mueller report. 
Schiff asks:
What did these counterintelligence agents under Mueller's supervision uncover?  What national security vulnerabilities did Russia’s covert campaign expose?  Did any Americans present an acute counterintelligence risk?  And what steps, if any, have been taken to address these threats? . . .  
The National Security Act requires that the House and Senate Intelligence committees be kept "fully and currently informed" of significant intelligence and counterintelligence activities.  There is no activity more significant than an investigation to determine whether a foreign power exercises leverage over the president or his inner circle. 
Schiff and Nunes, also a Gang of Eight member and the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, are unlikely bedfellows who never agree on anything, but they have jointly petitioned Attorney General William Barr for the counterintelligence findings. 
Trump, of course, believes himself above the law. 
He also is so allergic to any negative mention of Russia that, according to a report in The New York Times on Wednesday, in the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, when she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary --  preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election -- she was told by Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, that Trump equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory and said she was not to bring it up in front of the president.   
The Gang of Eight is likely to be stonewalled and eventual subpoenas ignored because those counterintelligence findings are sure to explosive and run counter to Trump's "complete and total exoneration" script for the Mueller report, as well as Barr's ongoing efforts to whitewash it.  
But Trump is feeling the heat and his script changed on Wednesday as "complete and total exoneration" became a "hit job."  If the Gang of Eight stonewall continues, it should be the basis for an article of impeachment (contempt of Congress) against Putin's best friend.   
And it is time to get cracking on impeachment.  
Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Why Are Dems Stiffing Voters By Refusing To Impeach Trump? They're Scared.

In America the law is king.  For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. ~ THOMAS PAINE 
It is time to impeach Donald Trump. 
A delay of a week or even a month in initiating proceedings to remove a man who should be sleeping in a prison cell and not the White House, a man that the encyclopedic 448-page Mueller report makes profoundly clear is a menace to America and all that righteous Americans hold dear, provides new opportunities for that man to step up his reign of terror. 
Democrats must stop playing into the president's hands.   
Mueller was, pardon the pun, barred from bringing criminal charges because of an untested Department of Justice ruling that sitting presidents cannot be indicted.   But the special prosecutor had a solution, writing that Congress "may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office [because it] accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law." 
And that DOJ ruling notes that there is an alternative to indictment: The availability of impeachment as a remedy. 
But the Democratic congressional leadership, led by Nancy Pelosi, wants to take the easy way out and kick the can down the road until the 2020 presidential election.  There is a certain . . . uh, logic in a strategy through which the responsibility to get rid of Trump falls to voters and not Congress, although that is where it rightfully and constitutionally belongs especially given the urgency to act. 
The "logic" is the implausibility of a Republican-controlled Senate, which would try Trump after the Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach, voting to convict him.  But there is no such thing as a failed impeachment because it is akin to an indictment.  Besides which, the Senate has never voted to convict in the two presidential impeachments -- Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Democrats are scared shitless of losing on impeachment and further roiling the storm-tossed American political seas, so they figure why not dump the whole mess in voters' laps? 
In talking points sent to Democratic lawmakers following release last Thursday of a redacted version of the Mueller report, the leadership urged them to highlight the special counsel's devastating findings, criticize Attorney General William P. Barr's distorted summary of the report, and call out Trump for repeatedly trying to obstruct the investigation.  There was not a word about impeachment. 
All of this will come as a cruel joke to voters who drove the Blue Wave last November in the expectation that if Democrats took back control of the House, which they did in grand style, they would move expeditiously to impeach Trump, not merely investigate him to a fare-thee-well. 
"We will have major hearings.  Barr and Mueller are just the first," pledged House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.  "We will call many other people."  
Of the 18 Democratic candidates running for president, none called for impeachment proceedings against Trump in the first 24 hours after the report's release.  Since then, only Senator Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro have said they support forcing Trump from office.  In the main, Democratic pols are more interested in focusing on issues that "more directly" affect voters like wage and income disparities and access to affordable health care, which were two huge Blue Wave winners.  
"I'm pretty sure he deserves to be [impeached]," media darling Pete Buttigieg said while campaigning over the weekend.  "But Congress will have to figure procedurally what to do." 
Pelosi has the audacity to say "He's just not worth it" of the potential political costs of impeachment. 
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says that it would not be "worthwhile" for House Democrats to pursue impeachment even after release of the Mueller report.  "Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment." 
Translation: The man who is destroying America is not "worth" -- or alternately "worthwhile" -- to take on.  
Jennifer Palmieri, a former senior aide to Hillary Clinton and President Obama, believes that Democrats have learned the wrong lessons from past attempts at impeachment like the Republican push to impeach President Clinton, which hampered Republicans’ midterm performance in 1998 amid voter concerns about investigative overreach. 
"They look to the past, but you've got to look to the moment you're in.  And look at the moment we're in," Palmieri says of fellow Democrats.  "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you stop pursuing what Mueller is putting in front of them, of course voters aren't going to think it's important.  Voters respond to leadership." 
Perhaps the "underlying evidence" that Nadler has demanded in his subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report will bring Democrats to their senses much as deputy presidential assistant Alexander Butterfield's revelation of the existence of Richard Nixon's White House tapes to the Ervin committee brought Democrats to their senses during Watergate. 
But in the meantime, political trepidations overcome constitutional duty, which is freaking insane when you consider the strength of Trump's electoral position. 
Trump the spinmaster is enjoying a personal high Gallup approval rating of 45 percent in April, up from 39 percent in March, and he controls the same national divisions and media landscape that he exploited to get to the Oval Office in the first place.  He also remains the master of the barbed catchphrase, be it "drain the swamp" or "witch hunt."   
Tone-deaf Democrats haven't even agreed upon a phrase, let alone one that effectively parries Trump's.  "Just not worth it" is not a winner.  
So there you have it.   
The Democrats calling the shots are more interested in covering their asses because of an election nearly a year and a half away than dealing expeditiously with a true national emergency that voters expected them to confront head on.  They not only are shirking their constitutional duty, they are further breaking the system of checks and balances that congressional Republicans have so capriciously undermined. 
History, for what it's worth, will judge the Pelosis, Hoyers and Nadlers as cowards for lacking the moral compunction to try and perhaps fail on impeachment even if that allows Trump to claim further vindication rather than never having tried at all.  And instead choosing to use the Mueller report not as a blunt instrument but as a fundraising device.   
Trump eagerly climbed into bed with America's arch enemy in the greatest scandal since Russia stole atomic bomb secrets 70 years ago, lied about that for two years and broke the law to hide it.  Obstruction of justice is a crime, okay?   
Yes, the Russia scandal is much worse than Watergate.   Yet Democrats are absolving Trump.  Just like the Republicans who exulted when the president claimed "total and complete exoneration."  

Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Friday, April 19, 2019

'Total Victory' Is Devastating For Trump: 22 Takeaways From The Mueller Report

Thank God we live in a country where just about anyone can grow up 
to be Individual One ~ MSNBC analyst Chuck Rosenberg 
Donald Trump's lawyers chortled that it was a "total victory" for the president.  But beyond the confines of the fever swamp in which they toil in defending the indefensible, the 448-page "Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election," as the summary of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is formally titled, paints a devastating portrait of a White House deeply imbued with a culture of dishonesty and scheming and an unhinged and paranoid president constantly flirting with criminality as he lurches from crisis to crisis.    
In perhaps the most memorable passage in the report, Trump is told in the Oval Office on May 17, 2017 that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller. Trump "slumped" over in his chair, according to the report, and uttered "Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency.  I'm fucked." 
Not exactly.   
Despite an abundance of evidence, the special counsel was prevented from indicting Trump for conspiring with America's historic arch enemy to gift him a presidency he could never have attained on his own because of a legal quirk -- not being able to indict a sitting president -- and found ample evidence that Trump obstructed justice although his aides repeatedly refused to carry out his orders to do just that.  Mueller deferred to Congress on taking further action.
Herewith are 22 takeaways from the report, one for each month of the special counsel's investigation:
(1.) Mueller, working under extraordinary circumstances and unrelenting pressure, did not let down the American people.   He conducted a highly professional, by-the-book and leakproof investigation into the greatest scandal since Soviet spies stole U.S. atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago. 
(2.) Attorney General William Barr, in ignoring evidence of Trump's wrongdoing, not only let down the American people, he willingly sacrificed his sworn constitutional duties, as he was ordered to do, in a profound dereliction of duty reminiscent of John Mitchell during the Watergate scandal. 
(3.) Barr, in a March 24 summary of the report, took Mueller's words out of context in saying Trump had no motive to obstruct, omitted words suggesting Trump campaign coordination with Russia, and left out that Mueller noted the possibility that Trump could be charged after he left office. 
(4.) The report will not mean the end of Trump's presidency, but it will continue to be consumed by its findings and the several other investigations that Mueller spun off of it, rendering the "witch hunt" imprecations hurled by Trump even more hollow. 
(5.) Trump's unceasing scheming to end the investigation was driven by his belief that the intelligence community's conclusive determination of Russian interference threatened the legitimacy of his election.  Communications director Hope Hicks told investigators that was his "Achilles heel." 
(6.) The report is astounding in its sweep.  But while it contains a number of new revelations, much of its content -- including many of the contacts between Trump associates and Russians -- already was publicly known because of news media investigations and White House leaks.   
(7.) The report states that Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the campaign and presidential transition.  Michael Cohen had at least 25 contacts, Donald Trump Jr. at least 17, and Trump himself at least 13. 
(8.) Investigators were unable to reconcile conflicting accounts about several of the contacts, including a much-analyzed August 2, 2016 New York meeting involving campaign chairman Paul Manafort, deputy chairman Rick Gates and suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik. 
(9.) Mueller lamented that some key conversations between Trump associates and Russians were beyond investigators' reach because of end-to-end encrypted communications or devices that deleted relevant communications or did not provide for long-term data retention. 
(10.) Investigators examined in great depth possible criminal charges related to the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting where a Russian cutout promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and interviewed most of the participants, but ultimately concluded there was not sufficient evidence regarding "intent." 
(11.) Jared Kushner makes numerous appearances in the report, including his effort to establish a backchannel through which his father-in-law could secretly communicate with Vladimir Putin, but Kushner's covert efforts apparently were not considered to be chargeably criminal. 
(12.) The report details the campaign's sustained effort to obtain from non-Kremlin sources 30,000 "missing" Clinton emails that Trump, in a stump speech, urged Russia to find.  These sources included now-deceased Trump supporter Peter Smith, but it appears the emails may have never existed. 
(13.) Eight key figures resisted Trump at critical junctures: Former AG Sessions, White House counsel McGahn, deputy chief of staff Dearborn, staff secretary Porter, New Jersey Governor Christie, deputy AG Rosenstein, transition aide McFarland and director of national intelligence Coats. 
(14.) Conspicuous in its absence from the report is what happened to the counterintelligence investigation that Mueller inherited from fired FBI Director James Comey.  The report is silent on whether Trump acted wittingly or unwittingly or under the influence of or in collaboration with  Russia.        
(15.) About 10 percent of the report was redacted.  According to one analysis, 69 percent of the nearly 1,000 redactions were because of ongoing investigations, 18 percent because of rules that generally forbid disclosure of grand jury material, and 8 percent because of classified intelligence information. 
(16.) It can be surmised based on the material surrounding two grand jury redactions that Mueller's grand jury wanted to subpoena Trump and Donald Jr. and Donald Jr. may have indicated that he would take the Fifth.  If that is the case, it is unclear how they dodged having to testify.    
(17.) Another redacted section alludes to potential criminal conduct involving Russian intelligence services coordinating with WikiLeaks the release of hacked Clinton and Democratic emails, but presumably was blacked out because of the ongoing criminal investigation involving longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. 
(18.) Trump's evasion of a face-to-face interview with Mueller on advice of his lawyers, who were convinced that he would try to mislead and lie, proved to be a successful legal strategy since Mueller chose not to subpoena the president because it would delay the investigation. 
(19.) The report contains over a dozen passing references to the Steele dossier, which detailed contacts between campaign officials and Russians.  Some of the more sensational dossier claims apparently were impossible to prove and some appear to be false, although the report does not say why that may be so.
(20.) While Trump has spent the last two years denouncing the news media and accusing journalist of peddling "fake news," Mueller concluded that the president himself employed the tactic and that the most unflattering stories about him were accurate. 
(21.) Victory was assured for Putin no matter the outcome of the investigation.  Partisan tensions were enflamed, public confidence in  government institutions was eroded, the investigation consumed the nation's attention and Putin got an easy-to-manipulate American president. 
(22.) Former President Obama comes off as looking weak.  The report flatly states that Russia began interfering in American democracy in 2014, and over the next two years that effort blossomed into interfering in the 2016 election. The Obama administration knew this was going on and yet did next to nothing.
Oh, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denies lying although the report states she admitted doing so to investigators. 
Meanwhile, on Friday the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena demanding that Barr hand over to Congress an unredacted version of  the report and all of the evidence underlying it by May 1, while the House Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold "major" public hearings in the wake of the release of the report. 
Mueller, who will testify before Congress, concluded in his report that Congress "may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office [because it] accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law." 
The question now becomes, should House Democrats initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump and Barr? 
The answer: Absolutely.

Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Barr Slavishly Defends Trump As He Parses A Highly Damaging Mueller Report

There is no question -- none whatsoever -- that Donald Trump's presidential campaign worked with Russia to cybersabotage Hillary Clinton and that Trump himself was well aware of and encouraged that assault on a bedrock of American democracy. 
But whether Robert Mueller could clear the extremely high bar to make a prosecutable criminal case always was in doubt, and the by-the-book special counsel apparently could not, which led Trump to claim "total and complete exoneration" and Attorney General William Barr to brazenly suggest without evidence that the FBI spied on the campaign, thereby endorsing the president's relentless claims that Mueller's investigation was a witch hunt from start to finish.    
The 22-month investigation was not a witch hunt by any stretch of the imagination.  It involved 2,800 subpoenas, 500 witnesses and 500 search warrants leading to 199 individual criminal counts obtained against 34 people and three companies, admissions of guilt by six individuals and still outstanding indictments covering identity theft, money laundering, obstruction, witness tampering, lying to investigators and conspiracy. 
In a further assault on democracy and the hallowed concept of an independent Justice Department, Trump had nominated throw-out-the-book Barr to replace Jeff Sessions for one purpose and one purpose only -- to lessen the sting of Mueller's final report -- and so in Barr's pliable hands, the stage was set for a ratfuck of historic proportions. 
Barr had issued a grossly incomplete summary of the final report on March 24 and arbitrarily determined, along with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, that Trump had not obstructed justice although Mueller pointedly refused to make such a sweeping conclusion and pointedly said Trump was not shielded from obstruction laws. 
The AG then conducted ethically questionable briefings with Trump's lawyers about what was in the final report so they could put their own spin on it while stonewalling Congress in the run-up to his release on Thursday of an edited version of the report, one for public consumption and another more complete version for key members of Congress. 
Although there appear to have been far fewer redactions than critics of Barr had anticipated, he nevertheless delivered in grand style at a morning press conference, not merely laying out the facts, such as they are, but providing  a lengthy defense of Trump so over the top that he repeatedly employed Trump's go-to word "collusion" although there is no such legal term.   
The biggest takeaways from Mueller's 400-page final report (click HERE for a full redaction version) are that:
* Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, the Trump campaign was willing to take it, and expected to "benefit electorally"  from the Kremlin's interference.  
* Trump himself repeatedly pushed for obtaining Hillary Clinton's private emails, and his campaign was in touch with allies in addition to Russia who were pursuing them. 
* Trump himself was well in the loop, including knowing when WikiLeaks would release more damaging information in the form of Russian-hacked emails. 
* Trump's repeated efforts to obstruct justice in trying to shut down the investigation failed because the president's staffers defiantly "refused to carry out orders." 
In revealing new details about interactions between Russians and Trump associates, Mueller wrote that although the investigation "did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," that assertion was informed by the fact that coordination requires more than merely two parties "taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests." 
The report further stated that: 
"Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Other highlights of unredacted portions of the report:
* Mueller's investigators struggled with both the legal implications of investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice and the motives behind his most alarming actions, from seeking the ouster of officials to ordering a memo that would clear his name.
"The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment," the report stated.  "At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment." 
* The question of obstruction was further complicated by two overriding factors -- that under Justice Department guidelines, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, and that a president has a great deal of constitutional authority to give orders to government employees. 
Although Trump ultimately submitted written answers to investigators, Mueller's office considered them "inadequate" but did not press for an interview because doing so would cause a "substantial delay" in completing the investigation. 
* Trump was repeatedly saved from more serious legal jeopardy by his own staffers, who refused to carry out orders they thought were problematic or legally dicey. 
For instance, when the president was facing growing questions about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations about sanctions with a Russian ambassador, the Trump ordered another aide, K.T. McFarland, to write an email saying that the president did not direct those conversations.  Unsure if that was true and fearing it might be improper, she decided not to do so. 
"The President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency," Barr stated in attempting to explain away Trump's conduct while falsely claiming that the White House "fully cooperated" with the special counsel's investigation, among the other misrepresentations he trotted our in the course of his press conference. 
In other words, Trump's attempts at obstruction were okay because he was sincerely paranoid.  
And astonishingly if not surprisingly, Trump's legal team declared "total victory" and claimed he was victim of "a scheme to derail the president" by former FBI Director James Comey and other officials.  
If you are keeping score at home, the day was a sound-bite win for Trump but a defeat for the president if you actually read and understand how damaging the final report turned out to be.   
Meanwhile, Mueller is looking pretty damned good, and now that Barr has had his turn at defending Trump, the former special counsel will have his day in the spotlight as he testifies before Congress. 
"Total and complete exoneration," my ass.

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and related developments.