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Monday
Apr222019

Democrats subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Democrats have subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn for his testimony before the committee and for documents related to their investigation into obstruction of Justice by President Donald Trump.

"Following the scheduled testimony of Attorney General William Barr on May 2, 2019 and the expected testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which we have requested, the Committee has now asked for documents from Mr. McGahn by May 7, and to hear from him in public on May 21," House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement. "Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report. His testimony will help shed further light on the President's attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same."

An attorney for McGahn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The White House didn't return ABC News' request for comment.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Monday
Apr222019

Pelosi pushes Democrats to investigate, not impeach Trump after Mueller report

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders on Monday pushed back against some Democrats' calls to impeach President Donald Trump following the release of the Mueller report, while the president told reporters he wasn't concerned about the potential challenge.

In an hour-plus conference call with the caucus Monday evening, Pelosi made clear that Democrats will continue to investigate the president's actions, without impeachment, for now, according to sources on the call.

“Duty and democracy. That’s what this is about," Pelosi said, according to one source on the call. Another, who described Pelosi's tone as "firm," said she urged Democrats to follow the facts of the ongoing congressional investigations, rather than make a decision on impeachment based on political concerns.

Trump, questioned by a reporter at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll Monday morning, said he's "not even a little" concerned about the prospect of impeachment, though he sent a series of tweets in recent days blasting the idea.

Pelosi, however, cautioned her caucus about moving against the president.

"While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth," Pelosi wrote in an open letter to colleagues ahead of the call.

"Whether currently indictable or not, it is clear that the President has, at a minimum, engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds," she wrote, adding that Republicans "should be ashamed of what the Mueller report has revealed, instead of giving the President their blessings."

With the House out for two weeks of recess and members scattered across the country, Monday's call was the first opportunity for Democrats to digest Mueller's findings as a group.

Six committee chairs briefed Democrats on their ongoing investigations, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, who referenced Barr's upcoming appearance before the committee on May 2, and subpoenas for the full Mueller report and testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.

"A lot of people think that Trump has committed impeachable offenses, that wasn't really the issue," one source on the call said. "There was nobody defending Donald Trump."

Several progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Barbara Lee and House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, repeated their support for impeachment. Waters, a progressive icon and the most high-profile Democrat to endorse impeachment, said she wouldn't be organizing and lobbying colleagues on the issue, according to a source on the call.

“As a 27-year law enforcement officer, and while I understand we need to see the full report and all supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now," Rep. Val Demings, D-FL, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and former Orlando police chief, said on the call, according to a source.

Ahead of his public comments Monday, Trump struck a different tone on Twitter regarding impeachment.

The president's comments come after he spent a long holiday weekend at his Florida estate, where he golfed, spent time with family and -- at times -- fumed on Twitter about the Mueller probe and the fallout since the report's release.

As the president returned to Washington on Sunday afternoon, he made no secret that he was thinking about the potential for impeachment proceedings.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr222019

'War': Trump fighting congressional subpoena for his financial records

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization on Monday filed suit against the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, seeking relief from his subpoena request for the president’s financial records in the latest clash between the White House and congressional Democrats.

"The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump. Subpoenas are their weapon of choice," read a complaint filed Monday morning. "House Democrats are singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically."

Earlier this month, Cummings served a subpoena to Mazars USA, an accounting firm employed by Trump, seeking ten years of the president's financial records in an effort to corroborate elements of Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen's testimony before the committee.

In court documents filed Monday, attorneys for Trump and the Trump Organization called Cohen’s testimony a "political stunt" and "one of the worst examples of the House Democrats’ zeal to attack President Trump under the guise of investigations."

The plaintiffs, in court documents, sought a "permanent injunction quashing Chairman Cummings’ subpoena."

In response, Cummings accused the president of "unprecedented stonewalling" and said he has yet to produce "a single document of witness" to his committee.

"The President has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress," Cummings said in a statement Monday. "This complaint reads more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief, and it contains a litany of inaccurate information."

A spokesperson for Mazars USA, which was named as a defendant in the case, confirmed receipt of the lawsuit and said that the firm "will respect this process and will comply with all legal obligations."

Since taking power in the 2018 midterm elections, congressional Democrats have moved to probe several aspects of Trump’s personal, business and political life. Various House committees have issued subpoenas for information ranging from the president’s business and personal financial records to the process by which White House officials obtain security clearances.

Trump and the Trump Organization, in court documents, lamented the "more than 100 subpoenas and requests" House Democrats have issued "to anyone with even the most tangential connection to the President."

The House Ways and Means Committee, which has sought six years’ worth of the president’s tax information, gave the Treasury Department until Tuesday to comply with their request.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr222019

Supreme Court takes on LGBT employment discrimination

Phillip Nelson/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear three high-profile cases involving employment discrimination against LGBT Americans. Together, the court will determine whether federal civil rights protections extend to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The cases center on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of "sex." The justices will consider whether the term covers sexual orientation and gender identity -- a question over which lower courts have divided.

In one case from New York, a sky-diving instructor sued his employer -- Altitude Express Inc. -- after he was allegedly fired for being gay. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the instructor.

A Georgia man, who alleges he was fired as a child welfare services coordinator because he is gay, lost his legal challenge against Clayton County, Georgia, in the Eleventh Circuit, which said sexual orientation is not a protected class.

In a third case out of Michigan, a transgender woman who was fired by the funeral home where she worked alleges employers penalized her on the basis of gender identity. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor.

The cases will be heard during the court's fall term, which starts in October.

"No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or who they love, including LGBTQ people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

"The Supreme Court has an opportunity to clarify this area of law to ensure protections for LGBTQ people in many important areas of life. The impact of this decision will have very real consequences for millions of LGBTQ people across the country," she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr222019

Democrat Rep. Seth Moulton to run for president in 2020

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts announced he's mounting a bid for president in 2020, expanding the Democratic field to 19 candidates.

"I'm here to tell you and to tell America that I'm running for president of the United States," Moulton told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Monday.

During his campaign, Moulton said he plans to "talk about patriotism, about security, about service. These are issues Democrats too long have ceded to Republicans."

Moulton, a former Marine and an outspoken critic of his own party, was elected to the House in 2013 and has served three terms.

At 40, he's the second-youngest candidate, three years older than Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, whom Moulton has described as a friend and fellow veteran. He's also the third candidate who represents Massachusetts, joining fellow Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Gov. Bill Weld, the first Republican to challenge President Donald Trump ahead of the primaries.

Moulton enters the race with a moderate voting record, currently representing the heavily blue district north of Boston, and was most recently ranked as the 65th-most-bipartisan member of the U.S. House of Representatives by The Lugar Center and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

The former Marine routinely expresses support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage. During his time in Congress, he's also been a loud advocate for banning semi-automatic assault weapons.

"There's simply no reason for a civilian to own a military-style assault weapon," Moulton wrote in an editorial for the New York Daily News in 2016. "It's no different than why we outlaw civilian ownership of rockets and landmines."

Moulton is one of many Democrats from Capitol Hill to join the race, including potential front-runners like Warren, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California -- not to mention other Democrats who don't currently hold office in Washington but are making a splash, like Buttigieg and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

Though he joins an ever-growing pack of Democratic candidates, many of whom have more Washington experience and star power, Moulton has set himself apart from his party before. In 2018, he was part of the small minority of Democrats who voted against Nancy Pelosi returning to the speaker's chair.

At the time, he explained his decision with an echo of his original campaign pitch from when he first ran for Congress in 2013: Washington needs new leadership.

"The American people sent a very clear message in the election last week, that they want new approaches to politics and new leaders in Washington," Moulton said in an interview MSNBC just after the midterms. "If we answer that call for new leadership by reinstalling the same status quo, establishment leadership that we've had in this party since 2006, then we're letting down the American people."

Pelosi eventually secured his vote after she pledged to limit her speakership to two terms, but some saw his objection as a sign of ageism or sexism.

Moulton is no stranger to bucking party leadership. It's how he started his career.

When Moulton first entered the race to represent his Massachusetts district, he challenged an 18-year incumbent Democrat. Immediately, Moulton said, he received sharp criticism from the Democratic Party, which warned him about running against a longstanding elected official.

He continued to run, a bold move he said he owes to the training he received as a Marine.

"They said you're going to lose, and by the way, you'll never run for anything again because you don't challenge the establishment," Moulton said in an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2018.

"Fundamentally, what they were saying to me as a veteran is, 'Do not participate in the democracy you risked your life to defend.' And that's wrong," Moulton said.

Through his Super PAC, Moulton endorsed veteran candidates in 28 states ahead of the midterm election that saw 21 seats flipped.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr222019

Ten best footnotes of the Mueller report

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Attorney General William Barr released special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, he released 448 pages of written research and analysis. He also attached 2,375 footnotes.

A close read of the fine print reveals fresh details about the investigation -- who provided input, what documents proved revealing and what considerations were made by the special counsel as he unearthed new material.

While many are mundane, here are 10 citations ABC News found enlightening:

1. Those tapes: Footnote 112 (Volume II pg 27-28) describes conversations between Trump associates about rumored video recordings of the candidate in a Russian hotel room with prostitutes:

In 2016, a dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele brought to light the possible existence of a Russian-recorded video of Donald Trump during a 2013 visit to Moscow showing Trump cavorting with prostitutes in his suite at the Moscow Ritz hotel.

A footnote in the Mueller report discusses the unverified allegation, which President Trump has maintained is false.

Two weeks before the election, the report says Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen received a text from a Georgian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, "Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else. Just so you know ..."

According to the Mueller report, the businessman said the "tapes" referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.

The report and footnote do not give information on Trump's response to Cohen's alleged briefing on the matter, nor does it explain why Rtskhiladze wouldn't have told Cohen the tapes were fake.

"112 Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Corney 11/15/17 302, at 3. Comey's briefing included the Steele reporting's unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, 'Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else. Just so you know . . .. ' 10/30/ 16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said 'tapes' referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/ 18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7."

2. Dossier diss: Footnote 117 (Volume II pg 28) describes Former FBI Director James Comey and Former Director of National Security James Clapper exchanging emails in 2017 about Trump's request that they discredit the Steele Dossier:

On Jan. 10, 2017, Buzzfeed News published portions of the Steele Dossier online, and Comey briefed the then-president-elect on the report.

According to the Mueller report, Trump asked members of his national intelligence team to publicly refute allegations made in the dossier.

Trump's FBI director and director of national security exchanged emails about Trump's request, according to the footnotes. Clapper emailed Comey, stating Trump wanted him to say the dossier was "bogus, which, of course, I can't do."

"See 1/11/17 Email, Clapper to See I /11 /17 Email, Clapper to Comey ('He asked if I could put out a statement. He would prefer of course that I say the documents are bogus, which, of course, I can't do.'); 1/12/17 Email, Corney to Clapper ('He called me at 5 yesterday and we had a very similar conversation.'); Comey 11/15/17 302, at 4-5."


3. Congressional choices: Footnote 1091 (Volume II pg 178) suggests Congress can either craft new rules to stop a president from trying to thwart an investigation, or pursue impeachment as a drastic measure:


The second volume of the Mueller report assesses whether the president obstructed justice. Mueller's team declined to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment on the matter, but in the footnotes Mueller notes that Congress could still take up the matter by crafting new laws to prevent a future president from conducting behavior described in the report.

The Mueller report states that "Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice."

One way that Congress could exercise this authority, according to the footnote, is to clarify an already existing opinion established by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, which found that a president could be held accountable for his or her actions after they leave office.

Another option available to Congress, according to the footnote, is to pursue impeachment "as a drastic and rarely invoked remedy."

"A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an official's conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment. See U.S. CONST. ART. I, § 3, cl. 7. Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment, rather than making criminal law applicable to a former President, as OLC has recognized. A Sitting President's Amenability to Indictment and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C. at 255 ('Recognizing an immunity from prosecution for a sitting President would not preclude such prosecution once the President's term is over or he is otherwise removed from office by resignation or impeachment.')."

4. Considering charges: Footnote 1278 (Volume I pg 176) describes how the office of the special counsel considered whether to bring charges on the grounds that the dissemination of stolen Democratic National Conventions emails could constitute trafficking in or the receipt of stolen property.

As part of the Russia Investigation, members of the special counsel considered whether or not to pursue charges on the grounds that releasing stolen emails was a form of trafficking in the release of stolen property. Ultimately, the special counsel decided not to pursue this option.

"The Office also considered, but ruled out, charges on the theory that the post-hacking sharing and dissemination of emails could constitute trafficking in or receipt of stolen property under the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2315. The statutes comprising the NSPA cover 'goods, wares, or merchandise,' and lower comts have largely understood that phrase to be limited to tangible items since the Supreme Court's decision in Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985). See United States v. Yijia Zhang, 995 F. Supp. 2d 340, 344-48 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (collecting cases). One of those post-Dowling decisions-United States v. Brown, 925 F.2d 1301 (10th Cir. 1991}-specifically held that the NSPA does not reach 'a computer program in source code form,' even though that code was stored in tangible items (i.e., a hard disk and in a three-ring notebook). Id. at 1302-03. Congress, in turn, cited the Brown opinion in explaining the need for amendments to 18 U.S.C. § I030(a)(2) that 'would ensure that the theft of intangible information by the unauthorized use of a computer is prohibited in the same way theft of physical items [is] protected.' S. Rep. 104-357, at 7 (1996). That sequence of events would make it difficult to argue that hacked emails in electronic form, which are the relevant stolen items here, constitute 'goods, wares, or merchandise' within the meaning of the NSPA."

5. Early warning: Footnote 155 (Volume II pg 32) suggests Former National Security Adviser Flynn was on "thin ice" even before he began to take criticism for his calls to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. This is largely because of a guidance that then President-Elect Trump got from President Obama:

According to the report, on Jan. 26, 2017, Former White House Counsel Don McGhan notified Trump that he had been told Flynn may have lied about what he discussed in a meeting he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The report states that Trump allegedly responded "not again, this guy, this stuff."

According to the footnotes, Trump responded this way because he was already unhappy with Flynn for other reasons. One such reason is because Obama "had warned him about Flynn" shortly after the election.

"Priebus I 0/13/17 302, at 8. Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn's standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/ 12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/ 17 302, at 7 (President Obama's comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/ 18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as 'being on thin ice' by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/ 17 302, at 7, 10."

6. Paragons of loyalty: Footnote 297 (Volume II pg 51) shows Trump pointed to Eric Holder and Robert Kennedy for how he felt an AG should act:

The president regularly made public statements criticizing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe.

Part of the reason for this criticism, according to the footnotes, stems from the role Trump believed an attorney general should play to protect the president.

The footnote states that Trump, according to former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, pointed to Kennedy and Holder as attorney generals who protected their presidents.

Trump pointed to Holder's willingness to take a contempt of Congress charge for President Barack Obama during the fast and furious controversy.

"McGahn 12/12/17 302, at 3. Bannon said the President saw Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder as Attorneys General who protected the presidents they served. The President thought Holder always stood up for President Obama and even took a contempt charge for him, and Robert Kennedy always had his brother's back. Bannon 2/ 14/18 302, at 5. Priebus recalled that the President said he had been told his entire life he needed to have a great lawyer, a "bulldog," and added that Holder had been willing to take a contempt-of-Congress charge for President Obama. Priebus 4/3/18 302, at 5."

7. An alternative theory: In Footnote 500 (Volume II pg 77) the special counsel explores whether Trump might have fired Comey to protect other conduct that could come to light because of the probe, including Michael Cohen's campaign finance violations:


The report states that "the evidence does not establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and Russia," but the footnotes show that the special counsel looked into other reasons why the president might have had an interest in terminating Comey.

One such reason the special counsel explored was that the Russia investigation might reveal other incriminating matters, such as Cohen's campaign finance violations that he later pled guilty to in the Southern District of New York, but did not establish that this was a motive.

"In addition to whether the President had a motive related to Russia-related matters that an FBI investigation could uncover, we considered whether the President's intent in firing Corney was connected to other conduct that could come to light as a result of the FBT's Russian-interference investigation. In particular, Michael Cohen was a potential subject of investigation because of his pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project and involvement in other activities. And facts uncovered in the Russia investigation, which our Office referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, ultimately led to the conviction of Cohen in the Southern District of New York for campaign-finance offenses related to payments he said he made at the direction of the President. See Volume II, Section II.K.5, infra. The investigation, however, did not establish that when the President fired Comey, he was considering the possibility that the FBT's investigation would uncover these payments or that the President's intent in firing Comey was otherwise connected to a concern about these matters coming to light."

8. Russian visas: Footnote 363 (Volume I pg 76) describes Cohen texts discussing plans to send Trump's passport information to a Russian associate. The information was never sent, but the texts show Cohen's travel plans forming:


Ongoing discussions between Cohen and Russian associates about a possible Trump Tower Moscow deal were the focus of a great deal of the Mueller report, largely due to lies Cohen told about when conversations related to the potential business deal concluded.

Cohen had been in conversations with Russian businessman Felix Sater about taking a potential trip to Russia, both independently and potentially with Trump, to discuss the business dealings further.

The footnotes give new details about conversations between Sater and Cohen related to the trip. In one such text exchange, Sater asks Cohen for Trump's passport information. Cohen doesn't appear to give it and instead tells Sater he'll wait until he visits Moscow first.

"On December 21, 2015, Sater sent Cohen a text message that read, "They need a copy of DJT passport," to which Cohen responded, "After I return from Moscow with you with a date for him." FS00004 (12/21/15 Text Messages, Cohen & Sater)"

9. The Trigger: Footnote 465 (Volume I pg 89) lays out how the Russia investigation began, when an unpaid policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, told a representative from a foreign government that the Russian government had damaging information on Hillary Clinton:

George Papadopoulos, a former unpaid policy adviser to Trump, told a member of a foreign government about meetings he had had in 2016 where he learned that Russia might have incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.

According to the footnotes, that foreign government conveyed what Papadopoulos had said to the U.S. government on July 26, 2016, just after WikiLeaks released incriminating information on Clinton. Just after that, the FBI opened its investigation into the Trump campaign.

"The information is contained in the FBI case-opening document and related materials. The information is law enforcement sensitive (LES) and must be treated accordingly in any external dissemination. The foreign government conveyed this information to the U.S. government on July 26, 2016, a few days after WikiLeaks's release of Clinton-related emails. The FBI opened its investigation of potential coordination between Russia and the Trump Campaign a few days later based on the information."

10. Stubborn witness: Footnote 489 (Volume I pg 92) reveals that former Trump policy adviser George Papadopoulos wouldn't help decipher his own handwriting:

Even the special counsel has a tough time reading bad handwriting. During the special counsel's interviews with Papadopoulos, prosecutors asked for Papadopoulos' help deciphering his handwriting on a note.

Papadopoulos declined to assist. Turns out he couldn't read his own handwriting either. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in October 2017.

"Papadopoulos declined to assist in deciphering his notes, telling investigators that he could not read his own handwriting from the journal. Papadopoulos 9/19/17 302, at 21. The notes, however, appear to read as listed in the column to the left of the image above."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr212019

Russia-linked figures in Mueller's probe come in from the cold after report's release

Man at Work/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A cast of Russia-linked figures caught up in special counsel's probe have begun emerging out from under a veil of suspicion now that Robert Mueller has delivered his verdict that there was no incontrovertible proof of collusion.

For the first time in more than a year, for instance, a Maltese academic who told then-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton has reportedly been spotted in public.

Mueller's prosecutors described in the report released on Thursday how Joseph Mifsud tried to broker meetings between Papadopoulos and Russians. It also reported that Mifsud had interactions with a former Russian troll factory employee and contacts linked to the Russian military unit accused of hacking into Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party's emails.

On Thursday evening, Papadopoulos' wife Simona Papadopoulos tweeted out an Italian news article that reported that the formerly London-based professor, who apparently disappeared from public view early last year, had been "hiding in Rome" for a seven-month stretch in an apartment paid for by a university where Mifsud had taught a course in political science.

Mifsud's profile on the school's website was taken down in January 2018 and Mifsud hasn't been seen at the university in some time, according to a BuzzFeed News report.

There was even an unconfirmed report this past year – which surfaced in a Democratic Party lawsuit -- that Mifsud had may have died. At the time, a man identifying himself as the professor’s lawyer told ABC News and others that the report was “nonsense.”

 Another mystery man who has resurfaced with the conclusion of the Mueller probe is Belarusan-American businessman Sergei Millian. He has been identified by news reports, and later corroborated by sources interviewed by ABC News, as an unwitting source of the some information contained in infamous dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele for Washington-based research firm Fusion GPS.

Millian has long denied this claim.

A naturalized U.S. citizen, Millian became active in supporting the Trump campaign while still promoting his nonprofit group, called the Russian American Chamber of Commerce. But as figures central to the investigation, including Papadopoulos and Trump's former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, began describing interactions with him, he largely disappeared from public sight.

Congressional investigators last year tried for months to serve him a subpoena to testify, but their process servers could not find him. Several people who knew Millian told ABC News he had vanished.

A July 2016 interview with ABC News is his only appearance on U.S. television.

 The Mueller report indicated that Millian in August 2016 sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos offering to share with him "a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign."

Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of the matter, according to the report.

Mueller's prosecutors went on to say that their team was "not fully able to explore the contact" Millian had with various figures in Trump’s orbit because he remained out of their grasp.

Nonetheless, Millian on Thursday tweeted that he is "feeling totally exonerated by the recent report," and urged public officials to "find the truth" about Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.

Millian has tweeted several Mueller probe-related comments over the weekend, celebrating "truth coming to light" and calling his experience over the last three years an "unprecedented smear campaign."

Not all of the figures described in the Mueller report have maintained quite such a low profile.

Washington-based Russian expert Dimitri Simes, who appears to have had influence on Jared Kushner's foreign policy platform, based on the Mueller report, has made occasional appearances during the past two years – though more frequently in Russian media outlets.

The Mueller report says that during the 2016 campaign, Simes, who heads a think tank called the Center for the National Interest, prepared a "Russia Policy Memo" for Kushner.

In it, Simes described "a well-documented story of highly-questionable connections between Bill Clinton" and the Russian government. The memo was forwarded to senior Trump campaign officials, including then-Trump campaign Paul Manafort and deputy chairman Rick Gates.

 Mueller's prosecutors described Simes in the report as personally having "many contacts with current and former Russian government officials," and cited his think tank's own description of itself as having "unparalleled access to Russian officials and politicians among Washington think tanks." According to the report, the center grew out of an organization founded by former President Richard Nixon.

According to the report, however, Simes had also previously advised Kushner that it was "bad optics" for the campaign to develop "hidden Russian contacts," and told Kushner to not "highlight Russia as an issue" and to handle any Russian contacts with care, according to the report.

The report also revealed that after the 2016 election, Simes was contacted by an associate working for Petr Aven, the head of Russia's biggest bank -- Alfa Bank -- to establish direct communication between the Trump administration and the Russian government. The report said he declined, saying he did not want to be seen as an intermediary between Trump world and Kremlin.

Rinat Akhmetshin, a well-known Russian-focused lobbyist in Washington, D.C., attended the infamous June 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower. He said recently he was "happy and relieved" the investigation was winding down after nearly two years.

"It hit me hard financially and led to baseless personal attacks," Rinat Akhmetshin told ABC News in a statement, saying that the process took a "heavy toll on me and my family."

"As a result," Akhmetshin added, "my ability to earn a living has been impaired, my professional standing has been undermined and my personal relationships have suffered."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr212019

Kellyanne Conway says 'president is not going to jail,' predicts another Trump term

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just days after the release of the highly anticipated Mueller report, one of President Donald Trump's top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, reiterated Sunday the administration's take on its conclusions -- that the investigation found Trump committed no crime or obstruction of justice.

"The job of a prosecutor is to gather evidence and decide whether to indict or to decline to indict. They declined to indict," the White House counselor said on “This Week." "The president is not going to jail."

Conway even predicted another term for the president.

"He's staying in the White House for five and a half more years. Why? Because ... they found no crime, no conspiracy. That was the central premise," she added.

"So you think this [report] totally exonerates him … from obstruction of justice?" co-anchor Martha Raddatz asked Conway.

“Yes, and the word exoneration was unnecessary in the Mueller report and I would say inappropriate,” she responded. "You either prosecute or you don't. You either bring an indictment or your don't.”

On Thursday, members of Congress and the public were finally able to read the report from special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report, parts of which were redacted, laid out the "sweeping and systematic fashion" with which the Russian government meddled in the election with the goal of electing Trump.

While the report detailed multiple points of contact between members of the Trump campaign and members of the Russian government -- or those claiming to be -- Mueller concluded these instances didn't amount to a criminal conspiracy or coordination with the Russians.

"Which means Donald Trump has been legitimately elected, fairly and squarely. And number two, the Russian interference – the alleged Russian interference in the election was done – was unaided by anybody in the Trump campaign," Conway said on "This Week."

"For two years people denied the electability of Donald Trump and then for two years people denied the election of Donald Trump," she added. "They wanted to be able to say I never saw his election coming because they cheated and they stole the election and they were colluding with Russia."

"But at the heart of this investigation was Russia’s role in the 2016 election," Raddatz said. "You were campaign chair, do you accept that Russia worked to help elect Donald Trump?"

"I think they tried to sow disinformation, discord in our democracy, and we should never allow that from any foreign government – foreign actor. They were also unsuccessful," Conway said, adding the WikiLeaks contacted her, but she didn't respond. "Donald Trump won. We didn’t need WikiLeaks. We had Wisconsin. He won because he was a better candidate with the better message."

Also in the report, the special counsel outlined 11 possible instances of obstruction of justice, but ultimately did not make a determination on the issue.

"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 report reads. "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

In a March 24 letter, Attorney General William Barr said he, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, determined that "the evidence developed during the [investigation was] not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."

"Not only was obstruction of justice not found, that there was complete compliance [with the special counsel]," Conway said.

However, the report does outline issues the Mueller's team faced during the investigation. His team stated that some interviewees invoked the Fifth Amendment, some Justice Department guidelines prevented the special counsel from contacting certain witness, witnesses "sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete," and they were unable to interview "numerous witnesses and subjects" who did not live in the United States.

Most significantly, the report notes that Trump's written responses to the series of questions Mueller's team provided were "inadequate." Mueller's team wrote that Trump "stated on more than 30 occasions that he “does not ‘recall’ or ‘remember’ or have an “independent recollection’” of information called for by the questions."

One instance of possible obstruction of justice that's been a focus of coverage in the days following the report's release is the allegation that Trump tried to have Mueller dismissed.

According to the report, Trump called former White House counsel Don McGahn at his home twice on June 17, 2017, both times directing McGahn to call Rosenstein, who was overseeing the special counsel investigation because former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, to tell him that Mueller "had conflicts that precluded him from" overseeing the investigation.

McGahn told the special counsel that Trump said to him, "Mueller has to go," and "Call me back when you do it."

McGahn did not follow the order.

When Trump was asked in August if he had considered dismissing Mueller, he told reporters he hadn't "given it any thought."

"I'm not dismissing anybody," he added.

The report also notes that seven other members of his administration, including former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and one outside adviser -- former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski -- didn't carry out presidential orders related to influencing the Russia investigation.

"The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful," the Mueller report says. "But that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

"Do you believe Don McGahn when he says the president tried to get him to fire Bob Mueller?" Raddatz repeatedly asked Conway on "This Week."

Conway said Trump "was frustrated" about the probe and added that the president never discussed firing Mueller with her.

Raddatz pressed, "But do you believe Don McGahn?"

"I believe that Don McGahn is an honorable attorney who stayed on the job 18 months after this alleged incident took place and that, if he were being asked to obstruct justice or violate the Constitution or commit a crime – help to commit a crime by the president of the United States, he wouldn’t have stayed. I certainly wouldn’t stay," she answered.

In the days following the report's release, the president has railed against the probe, Democrats and the media, all while asserting it concluded there was "No Collusion, No Obstruction!"

 On "This Week," Conway said Trump "deserves an apology from millions of people in this country," including members of the media and Democrats.

"Day after day, graphic after graphic, chyron after chyron, panel after panel, story after story, [they] were leading the public to believe that there was collusion, there was criminal conspiracy."

"People will look back at this week as another reason he got re-elected, mark my words," she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr212019

Congressional Dems may 'take up impeachment' in wake of Mueller report: Adam Schiff

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Adam Schiff said Sunday congressional Democrats may take up impeachment in the wake of the release of the special counsel report, but will consider the political environment when determining any action.

Schiff told "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz the decision whether to begin proceedings to impeach President Donald Trump will be made based on the "best interests of the country."

Raddatz asked the congressman, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, about calls by 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for the House to open impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Warren tweeted that the "severity of [the president's] misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States."

Asked at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Saturday if she believed the president should not only face impeachment proceedings but be impeached, Warren said "yes" in response.

 Schiff, D-California, said Warren "makes an important point," but added that Democrats will have to take the "political environment" into consideration when deciding whether to undertake impeachment.

He blamed Republicans for being "willing to carry the president's water no matter how corrupt, or unethical or dishonest the president's conduct may be" as the reason theoretical impeachment proceedings may ultimately be unsuccessful in the Senate.

But, he added, that "it may be that we undertake an impeachment, nonetheless."

"I think what we are going to have to decide as a caucus is, what is the best thing for the country?" Schiff said. "Is it the best thing for the country to take up an impeachment proceeding because to do otherwise sends a message that this conduct is somehow compatible with office? Or is it in the best interest of the country not to take up impeachment that we know will not be successful because the Republican leadership will not do its duty?"

 Schiff also claimed Kellyanne Conway, who appeared before him on "This Week," "could not even acknowledge that the Russians tried to help the Trump campaign and did provide substantial help to the campaign."

Conway, the White House counselor to the president, had said earlier on the program that "the Mueller report does say that Russia tried to interfere with this election... The alleged Russian interference in the election was done, was unaided by anybody in the Trump campaign."

"The campaign that I managed in those last few months did not welcome help from Russia," Conway added.

The Mueller report did note that members of the Trump campaign unwittingly shared social media content created by Russian actors. And at multiple rallies, then-candidate Trump repeatedly cheered on the release of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign, which were released by WikiLeaks in the final weeks of the election.

Raddatz, meanwhile, pressed Schiff on what he told her on "This Week" on May 27, 2018, when he said that the Russia investigation examined a coverup "of a size and scope probably beyond Watergate."

Schiff said Sunday that he maintains that the inquiry has uncovered obstruction of justice that is "more significant than Watergate."

"The obstruction of justice in particular in this case is far worse than anything that Richard Nixon did," Schiff responded, referring to the former president. "The break-in by the Russians of Democratic institutions, a foreign adversary far more significant than the plumbers breaking into the Democratic headquarters. So yes, I would say in every way this is more significant than Watergate."

On Thursday, members of Congress and the public were finally able to read the highly-anticipated nearly 450-page report from special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report, parts of which were redacted, laid out the "sweeping and systematic fashion" with which the Kremlin meddled in the election with the goal of electing Donald Trump.

 While the report detailed several interactions between members of Trump campaign and people claiming to be members of the Russian government, Mueller concluded these instances did not amount to a criminal conspiracy or coordination with the Russians. The special counsel outlined 11 possible instances of obstruction of justice, but ultimately did not make a determination on the issue.

"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 report reads. "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

In a March 24 letter, Attorney General William Barr said he, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, determined that "the evidence developed during the [investigation was] not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."

Amid calls by some Democrats, including presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., for Barr to resign over his handling of the Mueller report, Schiff said that he's "not ready to speculate about whether he should resign or not."

He did, however, criticize Barr's summary of the report prior to its release.

"Bill Barr views himself as the president's lawyer, not the attorney general of the United States of America," he said. "I think that history will reflect that Bill Barr let the country down when it needed an attorney general of substance."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr202019

Maria Butina’s lawyers ask for leniency ahead of sentencing

iStock/daboost(WASHINGTON) --  Federal prosecutors claim Maria Butina conspired to act as a foreign agent who sought to create a backchannel between American power players and Russia. But letters from her family and friends paint her in a far different light -- as an empathetic and hard-working honors student whose only crime was her curiosity.

“I am confident that the manner in which she was raised by our family and myself would not have permitted Maria to commit any unlawful acts,” Butina’s grandmother wrote in one letter, attributing any missteps to ignorance or “youthful naivety.”

The letters were submitted by Butina’s defense team as part of a sentencing memorandum. Prosecutors have recommended that she be sentenced to 18 additional months behind bars, but her attorneys say that a sentence of time served is adequate.

Butina’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 26th. Judge Tanya Chutkan invited Butina to speak to her before then, but Driscoll did not confirm whether or not his client would do so. Butina will likely be deported back to Russia when she is released from prison.

“Although Maria has committed a serious offense, just punishment does not require additional incarceration,” Butina’s lawyers wrote in the sentencing memo, describing her as a “devoted daughter, genuine idealist, and compassionate civil activist.”

Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist, was arrested last July in Washington, DC on charges of conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent. Although she originally maintained that she was innocent, she signed onto a plea agreement in December of 2018, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official.

In their own sentencing memo, prosecutors contend that the defense is downplaying the severity of Butina’s actions, writing that “while Butina was in the United States claiming merely to be a student, she was spending much of her time devoted to another purpose -- advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The filing claims that while Butina was not a trained spy, she was working to build a “rolodex” of information “about powerful people who had, or were likely to get, access to and influence over the next presidential administration.”

“The types of services the defendant provided to the Russian Federation are specifically of the type that Russia would seek to use against the United States,” prosecutors wrote. “Such operations can cause great damage to our national security by giving covert agents access to our country and powerful individuals who can influence its direction.”

In their accounts submitted to the court, Butina’s family members in Russia said her detention in the U.S. has caused them extreme distress. Her grandmother wrote that she knew something happened to her granddaughter last summer when the iPad they used to communicate on an almost daily basis “un-customarily fell silent.” Butina's younger sister wrote that she has been experiencing anxiety attacks, and said she has to work a minimum of 12 hours a day in order to afford to communicate by phone with her incarcerated sister.

Butina admitted in a statement of offense to undertaking a diplomacy project meant to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Although Butina said that her plans were supported in concept by a Russian official, she said she did not receive any financial backing from Russia. However, prosecutors said Butina was aware that the official was reporting some information about her work in the U.S. wider within Russian government.

Throughout the case, Butina’s links to the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been the subject of scrutiny. She has denied infiltrating or funneling money from Russia to the organization, but prosecutors said she purposefully targeted the group in an attempt to further her goal of establishing a back channel of communication to the Kremlin.

Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist, was arrested last July in Washington, DC on charges of conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent. Although she originally maintained that she was innocent, she signed onto a plea agreement in December of 2018, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official.

In their own sentencing memo, prosecutors contend that the defense is downplaying the severity of Butina’s actions, writing that “while Butina was in the United States claiming merely to be a student, she was spending much of her time devoted to another purpose -- advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The filing claims that while Butina was not a trained spy, she was working to build a “rolodex” of information “about powerful people who had, or were likely to get, access to and influence over the next presidential administration.”

“The types of services the defendant provided to the Russian Federation are specifically of the type that Russia would seek to use against the United States,” prosecutors wrote. “Such operations can cause great damage to our national security by giving covert agents access to our country and powerful individuals who can influence its direction.”

In their accounts submitted to the court, Butina’s family members in Russia said her detention in the U.S. has caused them extreme distress. Her grandmother wrote that she knew something happened to her granddaughter last summer when the iPad they used to communicate on an almost daily basis “un-customarily fell silent.” Butina's younger sister wrote that she has been experiencing anxiety attacks, and said she has to work a minimum of 12 hours a day in order to afford to communicate by phone with her incarcerated sister.

Butina admitted in a statement of offense to undertaking a diplomacy project meant to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Although Butina said that her plans were supported in concept by a Russian official, she said she did not receive any financial backing from Russia. However, prosecutors said Butina was aware that the official was reporting some information about her work in the U.S. wider within Russian government.

Throughout the case, Butina’s links to the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been the subject of scrutiny. She has denied infiltrating or funneling money from Russia to the organization, but prosecutors said she purposefully targeted the group in an attempt to further her goal of establishing a back channel of communication to the Kremlin.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.







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