Thursday Reads: Will the Mueller Investigation Go Out “Not With A Bang, But A Whimper”?

Good Morning!!

Trump’s handpicked Attorney General has been in place for just a few days, and suddenly multiple news organizations are reporting that the Mueller investigation is ending soon. Interestingly, The New York Times has not yet reported this story.

What’s going on? There are multiple outstanding cases. Roger Stone was only recently arrested and the Special Counsel’s Office can’t possibly have gone through all the materials they collected in searches at three different locations. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the mystery foreign company that is resisting the  SCO’s subpoena. Andrew Miller is still fighting a grand jury subpoena. What about the case of Jerome Corsi, who said he was told he’d be indicted? What about Donald Trump Jr.?

I think we have to ask if in fact the Trump obstruction has finally worked. I’d also like to know why reporters are so gleeful about the purported end of the investigation? Why is there no skepticism about how coincidental this all seems.

There’s also this:

WTF? Note that Matt Schlapp’s wife Mercedes is the White House Director of Strategic Communications.

One more coincidence: the new politics editor at CNN is Sarah Isgur Flores, a right wing conspiracy theorist who most recently worked as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson at DOJ. Could she be a source for these stories about the end of the Mueller probe?

Vanity Fair: “She Was Pitching her Intimate Knowledge of the Mueller Probe”: Sarah Isgur Flores, Former Trumper, Talked to MSNBC Before Signing with CNN.

CNN’s hiring of Sarah Isgur Flores, a longtime G.O.P. operative who has worked for Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, and most recently served as a spokeswoman for Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department (a position that reportedly involved a loyalty pledge to Donald Trump), caused an immediate and fairly predictable media firestorm. Unlike Corey Lewandowski, who was hired to great consternation during the 2016 election cycle (and then terminated), Flores won’t simply be an ideological talking head—she’ll be playing a larger role in the editorial process. Despite a lack of journalism experience, she will be helping to coordinate CNN’s political coverage across platforms, as well as occasionally appearing on-air as a political analyst, which is the more customary role for former politicians and government officials. Within the media world, she is seen as a controversial and unorthodox appointment. Moreover, Isgur apparently has a history of lambasting the mainstream media on Twitter, including CNN, which she once termed the “Clinton News Network.”

Sarah Isgur Flores

All of this has led to a fair amount of bafflement as to why CNN would hire her in a senior editorial role reporting to political director David Chalian.“Why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question,” Margaret Sullivan wrote Wednesday in The Washington Post.

As far as how the talks came about in the first place, it appears that Isgur, as she was preparing to exit the D.O.J., wasn’t only shopping around for a media gig at CNN. Cable-news sources told me that she also passed through 30 Rock to discuss a potential role at MSNBC, where she met with top newsroom management in recent months. “She had a detailed idea of what she wanted to do,” someone with knowledge of the discussions told me. “She wanted to do something on-air combined with some sort of quasi-management, behind-the-scenes planning kind of work. I think she looked at Dave Chalian and said, I wanna do that.” A second source with direct knowledge of the talks said that such a role “was never under consideration.” This person added, “She was pitching her intimate knowledge of the Mueller probe as a selling point.”

Read the rest at Vanity Fair.

Here’s some speculation from Emptywheel: The Significance of the Rod Rosenstein/William Barr Window.

This is happening in the window of time when Rod Rosenstein is still around and — because William Barr has presumably not been through an ethics review on the investigation — presumably back in charge of sole day-to-day supervision of the investigation. But it is happening after Barr has been confirmed, and so any problems with the investigation that might stem from having an inferior officer (an unconfirmed hack like the Big Dick Toilet Salesman) supervising Mueller are gone.

I’m fairly certain the concerns about Barr coming in and forcing Mueller to finish this are misplaced. I say that, in part, because Mueller seemed to be preparing for this timing. I say it, too, because Barr is too close to Mueller to do that to him.

That says that Mueller is choosing this timing (and choosing not to wait for the appeals to be done). Whatever reason dictates this timing, by doing it in this window, Mueller can ensure the legitimacy of what happens, both legally (because Barr will be in place) and politically (because it will be clear Rosenstein presided over it).

I still don’t get it. It looks to me like we are going to have to count on the Democrats in the House to continue the investigation. Meanwhile Andrew McCabe is just beginning his book tour and he clearly thinks that Trump is a Russian asset.

This afternoon, Roger Stone will learn whether he is going to jail for threatening the judge in his case or if he at least will have to pay some bail instead of continuing to be free on his own recognizance. It’s also still possible there could be indictments tomorrow. And Mueller could file a detailed “report” in the sentencing memo for Paul Manafort on Friday. It’s also possible that Mueller isn’t really wrapping up. We’ll have to wait and see.

Two More Reads on Mueller’s Supposed End

Neal Kaytal at The New York times: The Mueller Report Is Coming. Here’s What to Expect.

The special counsel Robert Mueller will apparently soon turn in a report to the new attorney general, William Barr. Sure, there is still a lot of activity, including subpoenas, flying around, but that shouldn’t stop Mr. Mueller.

The report is unlikely to be a dictionary-thick tome, which will disappoint some observers. But such brevity is not necessarily good news for the president. In fact, quite the opposite.

For months, the president’s lawyers have tried to discredit Mr. Mueller and this report, but their efforts may have backfired. A concise Mueller report might act as a “road map” to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives — and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors. A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

The report is unlikely to be lengthy by design: The special counsel regulations, which I had the privilege of drafting in 1999, envision a report that is concise, “a summary” of what he found. And Mr. Mueller’s mandate is limited: to look into criminal activity and counterintelligence matters surrounding Russia and the 2016 election, as well as any obstruction of justice relating to those investigations.

The regulations require the attorney general to give Congress a report, too. The regulations speak of the need for public confidence in the administration of justice and even have a provision for public release of the attorney general’s report. In a world where Mr. Mueller was the only investigator, the pressure for a comprehensive report to the public would be overwhelming.

This is where the “witch hunt” attacks on Mr. Mueller may have backfired. For 19 months, Mr. Trump and his team have had one target to shoot at, and that target has had limited jurisdiction. But now the investigation resembles the architecture of the internet, with many different nodes, and some of those nodes possess potentially unlimited jurisdiction. Their powers and scope go well beyond Mr. Mueller’s circumscribed mandate; they go to Mr. Trump’s judgment and whether he lied to the American people. They also include law enforcement investigations having nothing to do with Russia, such as whether the president directed the commission of serious campaign finance crimes, as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already stated in filings. These are all critical matters, each with serious factual predicates already uncovered by prosecutors.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Garrett Graff at Wired: 7 Scenarios for how the Mueller Probe Might “Wrap Up.”

THE BREAKING NEWS hit a snowy Washington on Wednesday: Newly installed attorney general William Barrappears to be preparing to announce the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

But what would “Mueller wrapping up” actually mean?

And does the rapid movement, soon after Barr was installed at the Justice Department, indicate that he shut down the Mueller probe prematurely? A recent New York Times article documenting Trump’s two-year-long campaign to obstruct and muddy the investigation exacerbated those fears, as did an ominous tweet by conservative commentator—and White House spouse—Matt Schlapp pronouncing that “Mueller will be gone soon.”

The tea leaves around Mueller in recent weeks seem especially hard to read—and they’re conflicting at best. CNN’s special counsel stakeout has spotted prosecutors working long hours, through snow days and holidays—just as they were in the days before Michael Cohen’s surprise guilty plea last fall for lying to Congress—yet there’s also been no apparent grand jury movement since Roger Stone’s indictment. So even as CNN’s stakeout spotted DC prosecutors entering Mueller’s offices—the type of people who Mueller might hand off cases to as he winds down—and the special counsel’s staff carting out boxes, there’s also recent evidence that Mueller still has a longer game in mind. The Roger Stone prosecution is just getting underway. Mueller is still litigating over a mystery foreign company. And he’s pushing forward trying to gain testimony from a Stone associate, Andrew Miller.

In fact, the list of loose threads at this point is, in some ways, longer than the list of what Mueller has done publicly. There’s conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi’s aborted plea deal; would-be Middle East power broker George Nader’s lengthy cooperation with Mueller, which has resulted in no public charges; the mysterious Seychelles meeting between Blackwater mercenary founder Erik Prince and a Russian businessman; and then—of course—the big question of obstruction of justice. Add to that the host of recent witness testimony from the House Intelligence Committee that representative Adam Schiff has turned over to Mueller’s office, in which other witnesses, Schiff says, appear to have lied to Congress. And besides, there are a host of breadcrumbs that Mueller left in the more than 500 pages of his court filings that would all prove superfluous if further action didn’t lie ahead.

Head over to Wired to read the rest.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.

 

 

 


Thursday Reads: Happy Valentine’s Day

Les Pivoines 1907 par Henri Matisse

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!

Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump will be released on Tuesday, and he will be interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. This might be one 60 Minutes I decide to watch.

McCabe was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey and he became acting director after Trump fired Comey. Trump attacked McCabe repeatedly, and eventually succeeded in driving him out of office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe one day before he could have retired with his full pension.

Today The Atlantic published an article adapted from McCabe’s book: Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House.

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

Bouquet on a Bamboo Table (1903) Henri Matisse

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?

McCabe describes the reaction of FBI employees as one of shock and dismay. Trump then said he wanted to come to the FBI and “show all my FBI people how much I love them.” McCabe thought that was a terrible idea, but agreed to meet with Trump about it. Next, Trump:

Flowers and Fruit by Henri Matisse

…began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.

I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.

I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.

The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.

After that Trump taunted McCabe about his wife’s losing campaign for the Virginia Senate, asking McCabe, “How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?” and later saying “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”

I once had a boss who was a monstrous whack job like Trump. It was crazy-making. The entire department under this man functioned like an alcoholic family with an unpredictable, out-of-control father. You never knew what horrible thing would happen next. It was total chaos, as the White House seems to be. I’m glad McCabe is telling the truth about what he experienced.

Two more articles based on the McCabe book:

CBS News 60 Minutes: McCabe Says He Ordered the Obstruction of Justice Probe of President Trump.

The New York Times: McCabe Says Justice Officials Discussed Recruiting Cabinet Members to Push Trump Out of Office.

Bouquet of Flowers in a White Vase, 1909, by Henri Matisse

I expect Trump will be ranting about McCabe on Twitter and in the Oval Office, but he can’t do anything to shut McCabe up anymore.

Soon we’ll have a new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and already the corruption surrounding him has a very bad odor. CNN reports that Barr’s daughter and son-in-law are leaving the Justice Department for new jobs at FinCEN and the White House Counsel’s office respectively.

Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.

Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel’s office, two officials said.

It’s not clear if McGaughey’s switch is a result of Barr’s pending new role, and the kind of work he’ll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly’s husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department’s National Security Division for now.

Henri Matisse: Les Anemones

The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them “a good idea” to “avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him.”
However, Shaub added that McGaughey’s detail to the White House counsel’s office was “concerning.”

“That’s troubling because it raises further questions about Barr’s independence,” Shaub said.

Read more at the CNN link.

If you listened to Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew (or even if you didn’t) you should read this op-ed at The Washington Post by three attorneys who were involved in that corruption case: We should demand high standards from William Barr. Spiro Agnew’s case shows why, by Barnet D. Skolnik, Russell T. Baker Jr., and Ronald S. Liebman.

In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state’s governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.

On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew entered a plea to a criminal tax felony for failure to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d received in bribes and kickbacks as county executive, governor and even vice president. All paid in cash, $100 bills delivered in white envelopes.

And he resigned.

Henri Matisse. Vase of Irises. 1912

From the beginning of our investigation, months before we had seen any indication that he had taken kickbacks, Agnew, along with top White House and administration officials and even Nixon himself, repeatedly tried to impede, obstruct and terminate the investigation in nefarious ways. Some of those efforts were unknown to us then and have come to light only now thanks to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her “Bagman” podcast.

When newspapers began to report that he was under criminal investigation in the summer of 1973, Agnew aroused his base by screaming “witch hunt” and launching a vicious assault on the “lying” press, the “partisan” Justice Department, and the “biased” and “liberal Democrat” prosecutors in Baltimore.

If Agnew and Nixon had succeeded in derailing our investigation, the most corrupt man ever to sit a heartbeat away might have become the president of our country when Nixon was forced to resign less than a year later. But our investigation was protected — first, by our staunch and courageous boss, the late George Beall, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prominent Maryland Republican, and second, by the man who had become the new U.S. attorney general that spring, Elliot L. Richardson.

The authors then go on to explain why Barr should not be confirmed unless he commits to releasing Robert Mueller’s findings to the public. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

There is so much more news! Here are some links to check out:

Flowers by Henri Matisse

Just Security: Who is Richard Burr, Really? Why the public can’t trust his voice in the Russia probe. (This is an incredibly important story. Corruption is all around us.)

NBC News: ‘Whistleblower’ seeks protection after sounding alarm over White House security clearances.

Politico: Judge rules Manafort lied to Mueller about contacts with Russian.

The New York Times: House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen.

Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post: Trump confidant Thomas Barrack apologizes for saying U.S. has committed ‘equal or worse’ atrocities to killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The New York Times: Maria Ressa, Philippine Journalist Critical of Rodrigo Duterte, Is Released After Arrest.

HuffPost: I Wish I’d Had A ‘Late-Term Abortion’ Instead Of Having My Daughter. (Trigger warning for rape description)

Vice: Being Raised by Two Narcissists Taught Me How to Deal with Trump.

The New York Times: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.

Contemptor: Fox News Rejects Commercial for Documentary that Says Nazis are Bad.

So . . . what stories have you been following?