Tag Archives: special counsel

No need to lock him up . . . at least not yet?

Michael Flynn went before the judge today and got a snootful from the jurist who holds the man’s future in his hands.

The former Donald Trump national security adviser, though, was spared a prison sentence from U.S. District Judge Emmitt Sullivan until after Flynn is finished cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the alleged Russia collusion matter during the 2016 presidential election.

To be totally candid, I don’t really care whether Flynn serves time in prison for the felony crimes to which he has pleaded guilty. Mueller is asking the judge to spare Flynn prison time because of the extensive cooperation he has given the probe into allegations of collusion, conspiracy and perhaps other matters relating to the Trump campaign — if not the presidency itself.

Sullivan reminded Flynn this morning that he is under no obligation to follow Mueller’s recommendation and scolded the retired Army lieutenant general for being an “unregistered agent” for a foreign power while serving as national security adviser. Sullivan told Flynn that “arguably you sold your country out.” The hearing reportedly was contentious as Sullivan — who was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton — gave Flynn the holy what-for in connection to his admitted involvement with the Russian government.

Mueller is going to get more information from Flynn as he seeks to conclude his investigation. I hope the end arrives sooner rather than later.

As for Flynn — who once led Republican National Convention cheers to “lock up!” Hillary Clinton for using her personal email server while she was secretary of state — all I want from him at this point is full cooperation with Mueller and his team of legal eagles.

Something tells me Flynn has more beans to spill regarding Trump’s campaign and whether the president himself committed illegal acts on his way to being elected to the nation’s highest office.

Tax returns: the gift that keeps on giving

Tax returns have, um, returned to the top of our awareness.

Not my tax returns. Or yours. I refer to the president of the United States.

You’ll recall when Donald Trump stiffed 40 years of political tradition by refusing to release his returns for public scrutiny. He said dubiously that he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. That was more than two years ago! He still hasn’t released them. He is showing not a single indication that he’ll do so voluntarily.

Presidential candidates of both parties since 1976 have released their tax returns in the spirit of full transparency. Trump talks about being transparent, then hides his returns.

They’re increasing in relevance to what has developed. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, likely knows what is in those returns. He likely knows about whether the president has invested in “Russia matters.” He likely knows whether the president has benefited materially from his office, which could be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the part that says presidents cannot accept money from foreign governments.

We’ll know in due course whether Mueller has those returns. We’ll know also in due course whether the special counsel has anything incriminating regarding those returns.

The idea that Trump has refused to release those returns because of an IRS audit falls apart on two levels. First, he’s never produced any evidence that the IRS is even auditing his tax returns. Second, the IRS — which doesn’t comment on individual audits — has made it clear that an audit does not preclude any public figure from making those returns public.

My direct plea to the special counsel is this: Make those returns available to those of us who want to know the truth behind our president’s financial dealings.

The walls are closing in on the president

I am pretty sure we can toss aside the comment from the White House that Paul Manafort’s guilty plea will have no impact on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

We have come to expect such false bravado from Donald J. Trump’s team. It delivered the goods yet again when Manafort pleaded guilty to two felony charges and gave Mueller a promise to “cooperate” with his probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians who attacked our electoral system.

Manafort is the biggest fish that Mueller has reeled in. Manafort is the former campaign chairman for Trump. He left the campaign in mid-stride, handing over campaign management duties to Kellyanne Conway.

I, of course, have no way of knowing with any certainty about the mood within the White House. However, when I do the math, I find that two plus two still equals four.

Manafort’s guilty plea and pending cooperation cannot bode well for the president. That brings me to the question of the day: Will the president pardon Manafort and expose himself to accusations of obstruction of justice?

The threat is growing

Trump shouldn’t go there. Then again, he has shown a tendency to do things just because he can. The president has unquestioned power to pardon anyone he chooses. Is this president enough of a fool to do the most foolish thing imaginable at this point in the investigation? I am not putting a single thing past this guy.

Yes, the walls are closing in. However, I won’t predict the president’s downfall. I mean, he wasn’t supposed to win the 2016 election in the first place.

We all know what happened.

Is the president going to slit his own (political) throat?

How can Donald J. Trump make things worse than they are already?

Here’s a scenario to ponder: He can fire U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections, nominate a new person to lead the Justice Department, then he can fire special counsel Robert Mueller and hope the Senate confirms a new AG who’ll shut down the investigation that Mueller has been conducting for more than a year.

Can you say “impeachment”?

Read The Hill report here.

The president clearly has no trust in the current AG because of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from anything to do with the Russia investigation. The special counsel is trying to determine whether there was any conspiracy by the Trump presidential campaign to collude with Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election outcome.

Does he fire the AG? Does he then nominate someone who’ll do the president’s bidding? Does the AG nominee pledge some sort of fealty to the president even if it means he doesn’t follow the law?

Trump, to no one’s surprise, has concocted a phony excuse for his displeasure with Sessions. “Never took control of the Justice Department,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.”  “And it’s sort of a regrettable thing.”

What utter crap! Sessions’s “mistake” was to recuse himself from the Russia matter. Why? Because the AG couldn’t possibly lead an investigation into a presidential campaign in which he was a major player. So he did the only thing he could do under DOJ rules of conduct.

Is the president capable of turning a bad situation into something so very much worse? You’re damn straight he can.

Waiting for many more ‘other shoes’ to drop

As I watch the Donald Trump administration continue to writhe and twist itself into something unrecognizable, I keep thinking about all the things we don’t know about the president’s campaign and some of the baggage it is lugging around.

We have those Trump tax returns, which the then-candidate refused to release in 2016, flouting four decades of political tradition.

Nor do we know whether there’s been any violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the provision that prohibits presidents from taking gifts from foreign governments.

We have all those questions about possible campaign violations regarding the payments to (a) a porn star who alleges a one-night stand with the future president and (b) a Playboy centerfold model who alleges she had a nearly yearlong affair with the same future president. Trump paid these women big money to keep quiet — about relationships that Trump said never occurred. Go figure.

Is “collusion” with the Russians against the law or not? If not, then what about conspiracy, obstruction of justice?

I will continue to have faith that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will be able to figure all this out in due course.

If he’s allowed to do the job he has been appointed to do.

Proceed, Mr. Mueller.

WH provides phony cover for Trump

White House senior aides are swilling the Kool-Aid that makes them lie for the president of the United States.

They keep saying that Donald J. Trump is just dying to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team that is examining whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russians who attacked our democratic system in 2016.

Does anyone really believe Trump wants to talk to Mueller? Does anyone believe that he can skate through an interview with a meticulous lawyer who has been working for more than a year in search of the truth behind this matter?

I do not believe it for a minute. Indeed, Trump has been getting plenty of armchair legal advice from Republicans to stay as far away from Mueller as possible.

That is far closer to the truth than the fiction being tossed out there by the White House staff and by Trump’s legal team.

Mueller appears to be closing in … on something or someone! I have no clue where he is going with this probe.

If the president were to ask me for my advice, I likely should say: Don’t do it, Mr. President. Then again, given that I detest the president, maybe I would succumb to the mischievous angels on my shoulder and tell him: Sure thing, go for it!

However, I am nowhere near the center of this tumult. I do believe that the Trump/White House legal team is lying about the president’s so-called “desire” to talk to Mueller.

Collusion: still a wide open question

Donald J. Trump keeps insisting that “there was no collusion.”

He does so repeatedly. With vigor. With passion. With emphasis.

My gut tells me the president is protesting far too much. He calls special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation a “rigged witch hunt.” He says the allegations against his 2016 presidential campaign are “phony,” that they’re a “hoax” concocted by Democratic Party pols who are still sore at losing the election two years ago.

Let’s take a breather, shall we?

Mueller’s investigation is going to conclude eventually. I hope it’s soon. To that extent, I agree with the president that I want the probe to wind down sooner rather than later.

But … and this is critical: The investigation must be allowed to reach its conclusion under its own power.

Mueller is not the partisan hack that Trump and his allies accuse him of being. He is a dedicated public servant. He served as FBI director under two administrations, Republican and Democrat. He took office right after 9/11 and stayed on for a couple of years after George W. Bush left office; he served well under the Obama administration.

The president’s constant bitching about “witch hunts” and “phony” allegations ring hollow. It’s instructive that Mueller has imposed air-tight discipline on his legal team while Donald Trump’s team keeps yapping about “corrupt investigation” and threats of impeaching the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller to the special counsel job.

I am aware that there’s nothing illegal about colluding with a foreign government. This investigation, though, won’t concern itself with whether anyone broke the law if they worked in tandem with Russian goons who attacked this country’s political system.

The public needs to focus also on whether it was right, presuming that Mueller’s team reaches that conclusion.

If the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, then we’re going to witness the unraveling of an administration. The Mueller team will deliver its findings in due course.

If it determines there was no collusion, as the president insists, then I fear the tumult won’t subside. I am inclined to accept whatever conclusion Mueller reaches.

If only Americans could rely on Donald J. Trump to accept such findings and then move on. He won’t.

This much I know already: Robert Mueller is still hard at work seeking answers to questions that have lingered since the 2016 election. Let the man and his legal team finish their task.

One more time: stop blaming Barack Obama

Donald J. Trump is trying to deflect attention from the glaring light of accountability.

He’s been firing off messages via Twitter that say that the Russian meddling in the 2016 election is President Barack H. Obama’s fault. Such as this:

These Russian individuals did their work during the Obama years. Why didn’t Obama do something about it? Because he thought Crooked Hillary Clinton would win, that’s why. Had nothing to do with the Trump Administration, but Fake News doesn’t want to report the truth, as usual!

He is right that it had “nothing to do with the Trump Administration.” It had everything to do with the Trump campaign.

That’s the point, Mr. President. Robert Mueller has obtained the indictments of 12 Russian military goons who conspired to influence the 2016 election outcome. Whether the previous administration did enough, if anything, to stop it is totally beside the point.

If the goons did what the indictments allege, then it’s on them.

The next big answer will determine whether the Trump campaign helped them in any way.

Right there is the total relevance of these indictments. None of this has a damn thing to do with the Obama administration.

Yes, POTUS can ‘obstruct justice’

I am not a lawyer, but you know that already.

However, I know enough about history to understand this basic truth: Presidents of the United States can “obstruct justice.” Indeed, two of them — Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon — were accused of obstructing justice. One of them got impeached partly on that accusation; the other came within a whisker of being impeached before he resigned the presidency.

Thus, I am baffled in the extreme by lawyers serving the current president who says he cannot obstruct justice because, well, he’s the president. They are saying in effect that Donald J. Trump is above the law.

I beg to differ. I offer a strenuous objection to the notion that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, cannot determine that Trump obstructed justice in the hunt for the truth behind “the Russia thing.”

I don’t quite understand the logic being offered by Trump’s legal team that suggests Mueller cannot accuse the president of obstructing justice. Trump himself has acknowledged on network television that he fired FBI Director James Comey because of “the Russia thing”; then he told Russian visitors to the Oval Office that his dismissal of Comey had relieved him of pressure from the Russia probe and whether the Russian government meddled in our 2016 presidential election.

To my way of thinking, that constitutes at the very least circumstantial evidence of obstruction, but I know that Mueller’s team doesn’t operate on circumstance; it needs hard evidence. Whether it comes up with anything actionable remains to be seen.

As the nation watches this investigation lurch toward some conclusion, many of us are conflicted about the argument being offered that the president can do anything he wants — because he is the president.

Richard Nixon famously told David Frost that very thing, that the president cannot break the law simply by virtue of his office. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee eventually saw it quite differently when it approved articles of impeachment against the president.

I am pretty sure the law hasn’t changed since the 1970s. The current president took the same oath to follow the law that all of his predecessors took. The law in my view allows for presidents to be accused of obstructing justice.

AG might seek a new job

If I were U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — and I am so glad I am not — I would be looking for a new job.

As in right now. Immediately if not sooner. But I am not altogether certain a new attorney general would serve the public interest as it regards an ongoing investigation into the president’s 2016 campaign.

The president of the United States, Donald John Trump, has tweeted once again that he regrets picking the former Republican senator from Alabama to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Why is that? Oh, it’s just Sessions decided to do the right thing by recusing himself from any Justice Department investigation into the Russia matter and the Russians’ meddling in our 2016 presidential election.

I am no fan of the AG, but on this matter he made precisely the correct decision. He had served on Trump’s political team; he was central to the president-elect’s transition to the presidency. Had he remained involved in the Russia matter, he would have been in charge of investigating himself. How does the attorney general do such a thing without compromising  a sensitive and complex investigation? He cannot. That’s why he bailed on the Russia probe and turned it over to his deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein.

Donald Trump, though, keeps yapping that he should have picked someone else to lead the DOJ, had he known Sessions was going to recuse himself.

Sessions might be inclined to want out. But there’s this thing involving the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Would a new AG be as faithful to the appearance of conflict of interest that Sessions was when he recused himself?

Hey, maybe Jeff Sessions ought to wait for Trump to fire him.

Then he can watch along with the rest of us as the crap hits the fan.