This was yet was another whirlwind week in the ever expanding investigation into Russiagate. There was the breaking the news that 45th* President of the United States has been sued by the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland claiming violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Lost in the shuffle was the Senate vote to impose additional Russian sanctions and to restrict the ability of the President to lift them, approved by a 98 to 2 margin with you guessed it, Bernie Sanders, inexplicably supplying one of the no votes. With so much to digest,The Democratic Road is here to make sense about what has happened, and where things may be going. So please enjoy this, the first installment of This Week In Russiagate.
Who Will He Fire Next?
Before becoming a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the now 45th* President made himself famous by uttering the words “you’re fired” on a now ended television series. Early in the week, his surrogates began hinting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller might get the you’re fired treatment.
Jay Sekulow, a member of the President’s growing team of overmatched private legal advisers, got the ball rolling on one of the Sunday talk shows, implying that 45th* would not rule out firing Robert Mueller by saying that it
“Is an issue that the president with his advisers would discuss if there was a basis.”
The President’s media allies joined in to make the case for the firing of Robert Mueller. Former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and Newsmax Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Ruddy, suggested that Mueller should and actually would be fired. Just last month Speaker Gingrich had praised the appointment of Director Mueller, tweeting that,
“Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”
By Tuesday, both Gingrich and Christopher Ruddy walked back the firing talk. Ruddy, who on Monday implied that he had spoken with the President about firing Director Mueller, admitted on Tuesday that he had not actually spoken to 45th* about the subject.
The walk back of what might have been a trial balloon floated to gauge public support for the notion of firing Director Mueller continued, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took the place of Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifying on June 13, 2017 before the Senate Appropriations Committee concerning the mundane Department of Justice budget. Mr. Rosenstein made news confirming during his testimony that he, and he alone, has the authority to fire Mr. Mueller, and that as of this time, there is no cause for Mr. Mueller to be fired. Rosenstein also stated that,
“As long as I’m in this position, he’s not going to be fired without good cause.”
While the surrogates talk about Mueller being fired, we now know that 45th* interviewed Robert Mueller for the position of FBI Director on May 16, 2017, the day before the Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein named Mueller the Special Counsel for Russiagate.
The Deputy Attorney General wrote the memo that Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, said that he adopted as his reasoning for recommending to the President that FBI Director, James Comey, be fired. We knew, based upon the interview that the President gave to NBC’s Lester Holt on May, 2017, that the memo was a pretext for the firing given the interview on May 11, 2017, when the President told Holt,
“He was going to fire “showboat” FBI Director James Comey “regardless” of what the Justice Department recommended.”
The Deputy Attorney General may now be skating on thin ice as he continues to place himself into the position of being a witness in the investigation. Rosenstein’s participation in the firing of Director Comey has been viewed as the reason why he appointed the Special Counsel. Further evidence that the Deputy Attorney General is succumbing to pressure from the White House came late in the day on June 15, 2017 evidenced by the release of the following bizarre statement,
“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations.”
This cryptic, less than lawyerly, and apparently proactive statement from the Deputy Attorney General is not becoming of the Department of Justice, and is out of character with the policy of not publicly commenting on the news. The statement seems more like a presidential tweet than it does the opinion of our second highest law enforcement official. Interestingly, the President himself now seems to have acknowledged the fact that he is the subject of an investigation through an early morning tweet on June 16, 2017, saying that,
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”
The President continues to kneecap the Department of Justice and the White House Press Office by destroying the Administration’s cover stories through his tweets and other public statements. Attorney General Sessions has reportedly offered to resign, and one thing we know about the President is that when things go wrong the fault lies with others. This could lead the President to fire both Attorney General Sessions and/or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, especially if evidence comes forward that one or both followed instructions from the President himself to provide false or misleading information to the public. If this has happened, it could draw one or both further into the obstruction of justice investigation as potential targets. The President may choose the more politically palatable option of letting them go, over the more problematic option of firing the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, particularly in light of the fact that he now seems to view Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein as his witch hunter.
The Sessions Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions began his testimony in the afternoon on June 12, 2017 before the Senate intelligence Committee, by reading from a prepared statement denying any memory of a meeting with Ambassador Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. He also said that he had never participated in any meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, or with any Russians, discussing collusion in the 2016 election. This only amounts to a denial of legal conclusions as to the consequences of any discussions with any Russians. Given that Sessions acknowledged that the Ambassador was present at what was a foreign policy speech by the candidate on April 27, 2016, the Attorney General left the door open to some other discussions having occurred that day, in the event that his memory happens to be faulty as to having spoken with Ambassador Kislyak.
The Attorney General also acknowledged that there were meetings with the Russian Ambassador in July 2016, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and on September 8, 2016, in his Senate Office. The then Senator at the time was on the 26 member Senate Armed Services Committee. Sessions claims these meetings had nothing to do with any matters pertaining to the campaign for which he was an important adviser, yet 20 of the 25 other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have commented have confirmed that they had no meetings with the Russian Ambassador in 2016. The reasons for the presence of Ambassador Kislyak at these events continues to be a matter of curiosity, which has yet to be satisfactorily explained.
Attorney General Sessions also testified that it would have been appropriate for Director Comey to have reported the inappropriate contact he had with the President to his direct supervisor, Dana Boente, implying that Comey failed to do so. Unfortunately for the Attorney General, Director Comey apparently did just that as Comey had previously testified that,
“He raised concerns with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente about Trump’s interventions, but there was no apparent action.”
Sessions, like Dan Coats and Mike Rogers last week, did not invoke executive privilege when he failed to answer questions on the basis that it was his judgment some unnamed and unspecified Department of Justice policy prevented him from doing so. Senator Martin Heinrich, (D-NM) suggested in substance that they were all obstructing justice, by refusing to answer the committee’s questions without a legal basis. The Attorney General asserted that he wasn’t answering certain questions relating to conversations with the President, so as to protect his right to invoke executive privilege at some unknown time in the future. The Attorney General, like his boss and so many of the President’s appointees, continue to show their aversion to the truth and their incompetence, as they make things up as they go along.
The Defense That Was, No Longer Is
Mike Rogers, the NSA Chief, before the the Sessions public testimony on June 12, 2017, met behind closed doors with the Senate intelligence Committee. According to Senior NBC news editor and writer, Bradd Jaffy, the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was scheduled to do the same on June 15, 2017.
It is possible that either Admiral Rogers or Director Coats, possibly both, changed their public positions on not feeling comfortable answering questions concerning the reports that both were pressured by the President to effect the FBI’s investigation, and answered truthfully to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. This would explain the news that broke on June 14, 2015, that 45th* is now being investigated by Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, for obstruction of justice.
Robert Mueller is also now interested in speaking to the NSA Chief, Mike Rogers and to DNI, Dan Coats, as well as Richard Ledgett,
“The former top civilian at the NSA, who wrote a memo documenting Rogers’ conversation with Trump.”
All three have reportedly agreed to sit down with Director Mueller, and the meetings could take place as early as next week.
Preet Bharara can also be added to the list of government officials who received unusual calls or requests from 45th*, which can be interpreted as pressure to bring the Russiagate investigation to a halt.This pressure, if true, brought to bear on FBI Director Comey, DNI Coats, NSA Chief Rogers, and on the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, tends to corroborate a prima facie case for obstruction of justice. Senator Chuck Grassley, (R-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, won’t rule out opening hearings on whether or not 45th* has obstructed justice. It seems that the President can no longer rely on the previous defense that he was not the subject of an FBI investigation, as everything now suggests that he is now.
An Ever Widening Net
Rachel Maddow has reported on her June 15, 2017 broadcast, that the FBI began an obstruction of justice investigation into the President on May 9, 2017, the day that Director Comey was fired, and that investigation has now been taken over by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. We already knew that Mueller’s investigation also includes taking over the grand jury proceedings that were being run by Dana Boente out of the Eastern District of Virginia, looking at the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Director Mueller has also taken control over the investigation into the alleged money laundering activities by Paul Manafort, the man in charge of the campaign at the time of the meetings between the campaign operatives, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in Cleveland, Ohio, during the Republican National Convention.
The New York Times is now reporting that 45th*’s associates are being investigated for money laundering. There is also the news that the Special Counsel has expanded the investigation to include Jared Kushner’s business dealings with the Russians. One can easily speculate that in addition to being the President’s most trusted advisor, Kushner, the Son-In-Law-In Chief, may have been instrumental in arranging some sort of deal involving financial benefits flowing to the President’s business organizations, in return for favored treatment flowing to the Russian government.
Almost buried at the end of another buy week of stunning revelations was the CNN story on the Digital Director for the winning Republican candidate’s campaign, Brad Parscale, who is yet another person that the House Intelligence Committee would like to question. Mr. Parscale was hired by the campaign in early 2015 and using a data bank developed by the Republican National Committee, working with his firm, Giles-Parscale, produced digital ads for which he was very well paid. When the campaign operations merged with those of the RNC, the Parscale team,
“Included Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with reported ties to Bannon and to Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, who invested heavily in Trump’s candidacy. Cambridge made waves before Election Day when a top executive suggested the firm had mined psychographic data — essentially personality profiles of voters — to find Trump voters.”
According to the Democratic Vice-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, the Committee has been,
“Investigating to find out whether voters in key states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, might have been served up Russian-generated fake news and propaganda along with information from their traditional news outlets.”
This new focus on Mr. Pascale could very well lead to the evidence that actually does complete the picture of collusion with the Russians to spread misinformation to targeted voters in those three critical states on social media through Breitbart, RT Today, and Sputnik. But for some 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, we would now have a different 45th President of the United States.
And while the President has lawyered up with his own private counsel over a month ago having hired the unqualified for the task, Mark E. Kasowitz, Vice President Mike Pence has hired the competent former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richard Cullen. The Vice President, whom we seem to rarely hear from in public, is able to choose his words with care and remain on script. As to the President, he continues to be a terrible client by failing to remain silent, and taking to twitter to reach out to his ever dwindling base with regular early morning tweet storms. Keep using those best words and tweet on Mr. President, tweet on.
This saga will surely continue to develop, and as it does The Democratic Road will continue to cover every twist and turn. Stay tuned next Friday for This Week in Russiagate.