TRUMP AND BETSY DEVOS DELIVER A ONE-TWO PUNCH

Since 2007, the federal student loan forgiveness (PSLF) program has been an escape hatch for law graduates (and others) saddled with overwhelming educational debt. The idea was that the graduate would take a public service job at low pay and reduced monthly loan requirements. After ten years of service, any remaining loan debt was forgiven. The well-known backstory is that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. They can follow a person to the grave.

There were and still are problems with PSLF, such as the resulting tax on the imputed income from the forgiven loan. And 10 years is a long time to toil in low wage positions. But the country and many recent graduates have been the better for it.

New Problems

Serious administrative issues surfaced when the ABA sued the Department of Education for retroactive denials to lawyers who thought they were employed in qualifying PSLF programs. After original approval, the suit alleged, the department then reneged and said, in effect, “No soup for you.”

According to one report, “The ABA, which views the program as an essential part of its recruiting and retention efforts, was only informed that it was no longer an eligible employer for PSLF purposes earlier this year – nine years into a 10 year program. The association has lost employees who were in the program and has been told by possible hires that the loss of qualification was an important factor in not joining the ABA.”

Problems Solved, Trump-Style

For young lawyers hoping that public service loan forgiveness was the answer to a lifetime of student debt burdens, Trump has some bad news. Rather than remedy the problems with a program that can provide enormous help to many recent grads and the organizations for which they work, he wants to eliminate it altogether. It’s analogous to his approach to the Affordable Care Act. Fixing something is more difficult than eliminating it altogether. So Trump proposes to eliminate it.

Amid the attention surrounding Trump’s scandals involving Russia, obstruction of justice, and business conflicts of interest, many important stories got lost. What’s happening in the U.S Department of Education is one of them. On May 17, The Washington Post reported, “Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives.”

Why? Because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ lifelong mission has been to promote private and religious schools. According the Post story, she seeks to put $400 million into expanding “charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.”

Who’s Affected?

By the end of 2016, 550,00 people had been approved for the federal loan forgiveness program. The first beneficiaries of the program will receive their rewards this year. If Trump and DeVos have their way, they will become the vanguard of a dying breed. Trump and DeVos are not just throwing out the baby with the bathwater; they’re ripping out the tub and all of the plumbing, too.

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — UPDATES THROUGH JUNE 19, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries.

  • April to December 2016: Russia’s patent office grants 10-year extensions for six unused Trump trademarks that are set to expire in 2016. Trump had originally acquired the trademarks for hotel and branding deals that never materialized—including “Trump Tower” in 1996 and four more hotel-related trademarks in 2006, when Felix Sater and Bayrock Group were scouting potential deals. Russia officially registered four of the extension approvals on Nov. 8—Election Day in the US. [Added June 19, 2017]

*** 

  • June 11, 2017: The New York Times reports that in recent days, White House aides had asked Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, if it was also time for them to hire personal lawyers. Kasowitz, according to a Times source, said it was not yet necessary. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 12, 2017: After visiting the White House, Trump’s longtime friend and chief executive of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy, says on the PBS Newhour that Trump “is considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel,” Robert Mueller. When asked about the report, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders says, “While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 13, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

[Added June 19, 2017]

 

 

and

 

and

 

 

and

 

[Added June 19, 2017]

 

  • June 15, 2017: Vice President Pence hires an outside attorney to deal with issues arising from the Trump/Russia investigation. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 15, 2017: The Washington Post reports that, “according to US officials familiar with the matter,” special counsel Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 15, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein issues a press release cautioning Americans against reliance on stories based on “anonymous ‘officials’” and “anonymous allegations.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 16, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

and

 

 

and

[Added June 19, 2017]

  • Also on June 16, 2017: ABC News reports that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. Reportedly, he informed Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand—whom the Senate had confirmed on May 18—that she would then assume supervisory responsibility for special counsel Mueller’s investigation. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 16, 2017: House investigators reportedly want to interview Brad Parscale, digital director of Trump’s campaign. Investigators were digging into Jared Kushner’s role overseeing data operations for the campaign. [Added June 19, 2017]
  • June 18, 2017: Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, one of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, counters Trump’s tweet about “being investigated.” Sekulow says, “There is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period.” He asserts a similar position on Fox News Sunday and CNN’s State of the Union. Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sekulow says, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.” Later in the interview, he says, “There has been no notification from the special counsel’s office that the president is under investigation.” When asked if the special counsel had an obligation to notify Trump if he were under investigation, Sekulow responds, “I can’t imagine a scenario where the president would not be aware of it.” Referring to the president’s power to fire the FBI director, Sekulow adds, “The President cannot be investigated, or certainly cannot be found liable for engaging in an activity he clearly has power to do under the constitution.” [Added June 19, 2017]
  • Also on June 18, 2017: In response to reports that Jared Kushner is seeking to supplement his legal team with experienced criminal defense lawyers, his lead attorney, Jamie Gorelick, says, “After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel.” [Added June 19, 2017]

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE: Seeing the Forest and the Trees

This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on June 14, 2017

The legal principles are straightforward. Anyone who corruptly endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede a federal investigation or judicial process commits a felony. And no person is above the law—not even the president. The simplicity of those notions has become lost.

Legal commentators’ competing views on whether Trump has obstructed justice haven’t helped. Rather than ascribe nefarious motives to either side of the debate, attentive citizens might consider this possibility: The experts are looking at the same problem from two different legal perspectives.

One perspective emphasizes the forest, where effective jury trial lawyers dwell rhetorically. The best of the lot are great storytellers. They chronicle facts in a compelling narrative, starting with the opening statement: “The story of this case begins on…” That gives jurors a way to think about the evidence as they hear it throughout the trial. Closing arguments become a final opportunity to reinforce the story with evidence.

Another perspective focuses on trees. In criminal cases, for example, a judicial ruling that a confession is inadmissible can gut the prosecution’s entire effort. A suppression hearing before a judge requires dissecting a particular episode—how the police interrogated the accused. But the larger question—whether a defendant is guilty of the underlying crime—is irrelevant to that exercise.

The two perspectives revealed themselves in the now infamous Senate Intelligence Committee hearing at which former FBI Director James Comey testified.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA, JD, Harvard, ’80) opened with his view of the forest:

“We’re here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process—our presidential election.”

Warner then set forth his brief summary:

  • Trump and his staff denied that the Russians were ever involved in the attack, and then falsely claimed that no one from Trump’s team was ever in touch with any Russian: “We know that’s just not the truth,” he said.
  • Candidate Trump expressed “an odd and unexplained affection for the Russian dictator, while calling for the hacking of his opponent.”
  • The FBI was ultimately responsible for conducting the Russia investigation. But “the president himself appears to have been engaged in an effort to influence, or at least co-opt, the director of the FBI,” starting with a request for Comey’s personal loyalty on Jan. 27.
  • On Feb. 14, the day after Trump fired NSA Mike Flynn, the president asked the attorney general to leave the Oval Office so he could express privately his “hope” that Comey could see his way clear “to letting Flynn go.” On March 30 and April 11, Trump asked Comey to “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation.
  • After Comey’s refusals, Trump fired him for stated reasons that
    “didn’t pass any smell test.” The cover-up lasted about 24 hours—until Trump “made very clear that he was thinking about Russia when he decided to fire Director Comey.” Then reports surfaced that the day after firing Comey, Trump even told Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister that Comey—the nation’s top law enforcement officer—was a “nut job” whose departure relieved “great pressure” relating to Russia.

The Forest

“This isn’t happening in isolation,” Warner concluded. “At the same time the president was engaged in these efforts with Director Comey, he was also, at least allegedly, asking senior leaders of the intelligence community to downplay the Russia investigation or to intervene with the director.”

A Tree

Republicans on the committee went after trees, starting with a single word—“hope”—in a single conversation between Trump and Comey the day after Flynn’s termination: “I hope you can let this go.”

“I took it as a direction,” Comey said to the committee, believing that Trump wanted him to drop the FBI’s investigation of Flynn. “I mean, the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, ‘I hope this—’ I took it as this is what he wants me to do.”

Fastening Trump’s fate to that word, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) (JD, Idaho, ’68) tackled Comey as a criminal defense lawyer would. “You may have taken it as a direction,” Risch said, “but it’s not what he said.” Risch then volunteered that no one had ever been prosecuted based on saying, “I hope.” (Although Comey couldn’t think of an example at the time, when Collin McDonald robbed several banks in 2003, he received a longer sentence for obstructing justice because he told his girlfriend, “I hope and pray to God you didn’t say anything about that weapon.” There are plenty of other examples.)

Similarly, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX, JD, St. Mary’s Univ. ’77, LLM, UVA, ‘95), who was on the short list to replace Comey as FBI director, followed Risch’s line. “When you say ‘I hope you can see your way to letting this go,’ that’s not an order,” Cornyn told reporters.

Another Tree

Likewise, some commentators would exonerate Trump on a purely legal issue: The president’s power as head of the executive branch allows him to fire the FBI director for any reason. Generally speaking, that’s true, as Comey acknowledged. But applied too broadly in a constitutional republic that is a nation of laws—not individuals—it’s dubious.

Even President Richard Nixon’s most stalwart defenders conceded that a president was not above the law. In 1974, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected his assertion of unlimited power with respect to federal criminal investigations involving him or his associates and the Watergate scandal. Subsequent articles of impeachment described his obstruction of justice in ways that could echo for Trump—“interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by…the Federal Bureau Investigation” and “endeavoring to misuse” the CIA by asking it to block the FBI probe.

Former US Attorney Preet Bharara illustrated the perils of focusing on Trump’s “executive branch omnipotence” tree. “[If] Michael Flynn offered a million dollars to Donald Trump and said, ‘I’m going to give you this million dollars and I’m giving it to you because I want you to fire Jim Comey,’ and then Donald Trump fired Jim Comey, which everyone agrees he has the absolute authorization and authority to do, that would be an open and shut federal criminal case,” Bharara said. “It’s a quid pro quo and he could be charged—the president of the United States. So this argument that you keep hearing on the TV shows that the mere fact that the president can fire an official at will doesn’t solve the problem.”

If Trump committed what would be a felony by any other citizen, such acts would, at a minimum, become a powerful basis for impeachment. And once out of office, the specter of criminal prosecution would move from theoretical to real. That’s why Richard Nixon accepted a pardon from President Ford.

The issue isn’t whether a president has enormous discretion to run the executive branch. The question is where the lawful limit of that discretion lies. That’s why the Trump/Russia and Comey Firing Timelines provide important context within which to evaluate Trump’s actions. As the saga unfolds, don’t believe those asserting that the facts prove Trump is already in the clear. Don’t let anyone sell you the dangerous proposition that the president is above the law.

And don’t let shiny objects in the trees distract your view of the forest.

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — UPDATES THROUGH JUNE 12, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries.

  • Also on Jan. 6, 2017: FBI Director Comey meets Trump for the first time at a meeting with the intelligence community to brief him on the investigation into Russian interference with the election. At the end of the meeting, Comey remains alone to brief Trump on some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled, referred to as the “Steele dossier.” During that meeting, Comey says that the FBI does not have an open counter-intelligence case on him personally. Comey prepares a memo to document his conversation with Trump. [Added June 12, 2017]

***

  • Also on Jan. 27, 2017: At lunchtime, Trump calls FBI Director Comey and invites him to dinner that evening. In a one-on-one White House dinner in the Green Room, Trump asks Comey if he would like to stay on as director, which strikes Comey as odd because Trump had told him in two earlier conversations that he wanted Comey to remain. Comey says that he intends to serve out his full ten-year term. He also says that he’s not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but that Trump could always count on him to tell the truth. A few moments later, Trump says, “I need loyalty; I expect loyalty.” An awkward silence follows. The conversation moves to other subjects, including Comey’s explanation that the FBI must remain independent of the White House. At the end of the dinner, Trump repeats, “I need loyalty.” Comey responds, “You will get honesty from me.” Trump replies, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” To end the awkward conversation, Coney says, “You will get that from me.” Afterward, Comey writes a detailed memo about the dinner and describes it to the FBI’s senior leadership team on the condition that they not disclose it while he remains director. [Revised June 12, 2017]

***

  • Feb. 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborates the Russian deputy foreign minister’s admission on Nov. 10. Based on information from four current and former American officials, The Times reports, “Members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior intelligence officials in the year before the election.” (On June 8, 2017, former FBI Director James Comey characterizes the Times story as, “in the main, not true,” without specifying its inaccuracies.) Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterate his earlier position: Sessions sees no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into Trump/Russia connections. [Revised June 12, 2017]

 

  • Also on Feb. 14, 2017: At the conclusion of an Oval Office meeting that includes Vice President Pence, Attorney General Sessions, and FBI Director Comey, Trump asks everyone except Comey to leave. The last person to leave is Jared Kushner. When Comey and Trump are alone, Trump says, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” In a June 8 statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey recalls that Trump began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled Pence. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not specify.” After discussing the subject of classified information leaks, Trump returns to the topic of Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeats that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled Pence. He then says, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey replies only that “he is a good guy.” Comey understands the Trump to be requesting that the FBI drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. He writes up a memorandum of his conversation and discusses the matter with the FBI’s senior leadership. [Revised June 12, 2017]

***

  • Also on Feb. 15, 2017: FBI Director Comey asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prevent any further direct communication between Trump and him. He tells Sessions that what had just occurred—that he, the Attorney General had been asked to leave so that the President could be alone with the FBI director—was inappropriate and should never happen. Sessions doesn’t answer. [Added June 12, 2017]

 ***

  • Within days of March 20, 2017: Less than a week after FBI Director Comey’s testimony, Trump personally calls the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers, and asks them to deny publicly the existence of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the election. A senior intelligence official later tells The Washington Post that Trump’s goal is to “muddy the waters” about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats are ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel. A NSA official reportedly documents Rogers’ conversation with Trump in a contemporaneous memo. Coats and Rogers deem Trump’s request inappropriate and refuse. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 7, 2017, Rogers refuses in open session to answer questions about his conversations with Trump. But Rogers goes on to assert that he does not recall ever feeling “pressured” to interfere with any ongoing investigation. Coats adopts Rogers’ response, as do fellow testifying witnesses Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. [Revised June 12, 2017]

***

  • Also on March 22, 2017: As a briefing from several government agencies concludes in the Oval Office, Trump asks everyone to leave, except recently confirmed Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump then complains to them about FBI Director Comey’s Trump/Russia investigation and asks Coats to intervene and get Comey to back off. Coats discusses the matter with other officials and decides that Trump’s request is inappropriate. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 7, 2017, Coats refuses in open session to discuss his conversations with Trump. [Added June 12, 2017]

***

  • Also on March 30, 2017: In the morning, according to Comey’s June 8 statement, Trump calls Comey at the FBI, asking what Comey can do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation overhanging the presidency. Trump asks Comey to “get out” the fact that Trump personally is not a subject of the FBI investigation. According to Comey, Trump says that “he had nothing to do with Russia” and “had not been involved with hookers in Russia,” referring to allegations in the “Steele dossier.” Trump “went on to say that if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out…” [Added June 12, 2017]

***

  • April 11, 2017: In the morning, according to Comey’s June 8 statement, Trump calls Comey to ask what he’d done to “get out” the fact that he wasn’t personally being investigated. Comey replies that he’d sent Trump’s request to the Acting Attorney General, but had not heard back. Trump says that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. Comey replies that White House counsel should contact the Department of Justice leadership to make the request. Trump says he would do that and adds, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” Comey does not reply or ask him what Trump means by “that thing.” Comey says only that the way to handle it was to have the White House counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. Trump says that was what he would do and the call ends. [Added June 12, 2017]

***

  • Also on April 25, 2017: The Senate confirms Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from matters relating to the 2016 presidential election, including the Trump/Russia investigation, Rosenstein becomes the top Justice Department official supervising FBI Director Comey on that investigation. FBI Director Comey later testifies (at the 1:18 mark) that he explains to Rosenstein “his serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI….” [Revised June 12, 2017]

***

  • Between May 13 and May 15, 2017: After seeing Trump’s “tapes” tweet, Comey remembers that he has contemporaneous memos of his conversations with Trump. He gives them to a friend at Columbia Law School and asks his friend to provide them to the press. [Added June 12, 2017]

***

  • June 8, 2017: FBI Director Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He expands on prepared remarks detailing his conversations with Trump on Jan. 27 (“loyalty dinner”), Feb. 14 (“let Flynn go”), March 30 (“lift the cloud”), and April 11 (“get out the word”). Asked why Trump fired him, Comey says, “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.” On the subject of whether Trump recorded their conversations, Comey says, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Later, he continues, “It never occurred to me before the president’s tweet. I’m not being facetious. I hope there are, and I’ll consent to the release of them … All I can do is hope. The president knows if he taped me, and if he did, my feelings aren’t hurt. Release all the tapes. I’m good with it.” [Added June 12, 2017]

 

  • Also on June 8, 2017: Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, issues a statement saying that Trump “feels completely vindicated” by Comey’s testimony. Shortly thereafter, reports circulate that Trump’s legal team is planning to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general against Comey for “leaking” memos of his conversations with Trump. [Added June 12, 2017]

 

  • June 9, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

[Added June 12, 2017]

  • June 9, 2017: Trump accuses Comey of lying under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee and agrees “100 percent” to provide his version of events under oath. He refuses to answer whether he has tapes of his conversations with Comey. [Added June 12, 2017]

 

  • June 11, 2017: Trump tweets:

[Added June 12, 2017]

ENABLING A DANGEROUS PRESIDENT: THE JARED KUSHNER TIMELINE

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on June 7, 2017.]

Jared Kushner (JD/MBA, NYU, ’07) has a law degree from one of the finest universities in the country. He understands the threat that Trump’s words and deeds pose to democracy and the rule of law, but he has been in close proximity to Trump scandals that threaten both. He is a man of few public words, but his policy portfolio for Trump is enormous. He is uniquely positioned to keep Trump from running amok, but he has joined the ranks of Trump’s enablers.

Kushner is also the administration’s Forrest Gump. When Trump met with business leaders on Jan. 23, Kushner attended. On Jan. 29, 2017 — three days after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had told White House counsel Don McGahn that national security adviser Mike Flynn could be subject to Russian blackmail — Kushner was sitting in the Oval Office with Trump and Flynn. When Trump conferred with government cyber-security experts on Jan. 31, Kushner was with him. And on May 8, 2017, when Trump confided to a small group of advisers that he was going to fire FBI Director James Comey, Kushner was among the trusted few.

Our Kushner timeline, below, taps entries from our overall Trump-Russia timeline and adds others that are unique to him. As the facts unfold, this timeline will be updated. Eventually, the public will learn the full story of Jared Kushner’s role in the controversies enveloping the Trump White House — and to what extent he shares responsibility for them. Like many of the lawyers surrounding and enabling Trump, Kushner has retained a personal attorney to help him navigate the troubled waters engulfing the White House.

While reviewing the Kushner timeline and considering the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, recall Yates’ meeting with McGahn in late January. Regardless of whether Flynn’s actions were illegal, he was “compromised” and subject to Russian blackmail because the Russians knew more about what he’d done with them than the American people did. Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair, is charged with finding criminal actions. But sometimes even lawful conduct beyond the purview of any special counsel can present a clear and present danger to the nation’s vital interests.

Kushner, Conflicts, and China

June 16, 2015: Trump announces that he is running for president. His 34-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, runs a real estate empire that his father created and ran until New Jersey’s then-federal prosecutor Chris Christie put Charles Kushner in prison. The Kushner Companies’ flagship building is a Manhattan skyscraper (666 Fifth Avenue) that it bought at the height of the real estate market in 2007 and that promptly plummeted in value. To stave off default, the company sold off pieces, but it’s still in trouble. The building has a 70 percent occupancy rate, revenue covers only two-thirds of its debt obligations and a $1.2 billion mortgage comes due in 2019. Kushner Companies is reportedly trying to assemble a $7 billion financing package to convert the building into condos.

Around June 2016: As Trump secures the Republican nomination for president, a Chinese financial giant, Anbang Insurance Group, begins talks with Kushner Companies about investing in the redevelopment of 666 Fifth Avenue.

Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day.

Nov. 16, 2016: Jared Kushner and a group of executives dine at the Waldorf Astoria with the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group.

Nov. 28, 2016: As speculation grows that Kushner will become a top Trump White House adviser, reports surface that business conflicts of interest could pose problems for him. Among them is a Kushner project in New Jersey that attracted tens of millions of dollars from Chinese investors by marketing a controversial US immigration program (EB-5), which opens a speedy path to citizenship for investors who put more than $500,000 in projects located in economically disadvantaged “targeted employment areas.” The program has become controversial because gerrymandering of census tracts has allowed otherwise ineligible real estate developments to benefit from tenuous geographic connections to poor neighborhoods.

Dec. 2, 2016: Trump accepts a call from Taiwan’s president, thereby offending China’s president by violating America’s longstanding “one China” policy.

Jan. 31, 2017: A Kushner Companies spokesperson announces that Jared Kushner has sold his interest in 666 Fifth Avenue to a family trust of which he, Ivanka and their children are not beneficiaries.

Feb. 9, 2017: Jared Kushner reportedly orchestrates a fence-mending phone call between Trump and China’s president, during which Trump reaffirms the US “one China” policy that his earlier conduct had placed in doubt.

March 13, 2017: Bloomberg reports that the Kushner family may receive as much as $400 million from Chinese investor Anbang Insurance Group’s investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. On March 29, Anbang backs out of the deal.

May 5, 2017: Trump signs a bill extending the controversial EB-5 immigrant program. Concerns about “gerrymandering” that facilitates abuses of the program persist.

May 6, 2012: Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, touts Jared’s proximity to Trump, as well as the EB-5 citizenship program, as selling points to potential Chinese investors in Kushner Companies’ One Journal Square development in New Jersey. The project appears to benefit from the type of gerrymandering that generates criticism of the EB-5 program.

Kushner and Russia

April through November 2016: Mike Flynn and other advisers to the Trump campaign have at least 18 phone calls and emails with Russian officials, including six contacts involving Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. According to a later report by Reuters, Jared Kushner has at least two phone calls with Kislyak.

June 2016: Jared Kushner assumes control of all data-driven Trump campaign efforts, turning a nondescript building outside San Antonio, Texas into a 100-person data hub. Among the firms he retains is Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly has created “profiles” consisting of several thousand data points for 220 million Americans. Cambridge Analytica’s financial backers include hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer, who also has a $10 million investment in Breitbart News, which, at the time, is run by Steve Bannon.

December 2016: At Kislyak’s request, Kushner meets secretly with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russia’s state-owned bank VEB. US intelligence reportedly views Gorkov as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies. In 2010, VEB had been involved in a financial transaction that assisted the struggling Trump International Hotel and Tower project in Toronto. Since 2014, VEB has been subject to US sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine. In December 2016, Kushner is still looking for more than $1 billion from investors to refinance Kushner Companies’ debt on its troubled 666 Fifth Avenue building. The public remains unaware of the Kushner/Gorkov meeting until March 2017, when The New York Times breaks the story. The White House characterizes it as a routine diplomatic encounter that went nowhere, but VEB says it was part of the bank’s ongoing business strategy. For months thereafter, the White House refuses to disclose the date of the meeting. On June 1, 2017, The Washington Post reports the results of its independent investigation: On Dec. 13, 2016, a private plane associated with VEB (and on which its executives travel) flew from Moscow to Newark airport outside New York City. The following day, the plane then flew to Japan, where Putin met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 15.

Late December 2016: Steve Bannon joins Flynn and Kushner for a secret meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December.

Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day President Obama announces sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn places five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.

Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin makes a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweets:

On or around Jan. 11, 2017: Erik Prince — the founder of the Blackwater private security firm, $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign, and brother of Trump’s nomination for secretary of education Betsy DeVos — meets secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal is to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration. The meeting had been arranged by the United Arab Emirates, and came soon after a meeting between the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner in December.

Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President Pence says Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Host John Dickerson asks Pence, “Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence replies, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

Jan. 18, 2017: On his application for national security clearance, Jared Kushner omits his December meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the chief of the Russian bank VEB.

During the week following the Jan. 20, 2017 inauguration: Trump administration officials are considering an executive order to lift unilaterally the US sanctions against Russia. Removing the sanctions also would have expanded greatly the Russian bank VEB’s ability to do business in the US, and allowed Americans to borrow from and provide financing to the bank. Five months later, Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff breaks the rest of the story: “Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.” State Department officials are so alarmed that they urge congressional leaders to pass legislation that would lock the sanctions in place. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) become involved.

Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer says that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to The Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviews Flynn shortly thereafter.

Jan. 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denies to FBI agents that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.

Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House Counsel Don McGahn that, based on recent public statements of White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had lied to Pence and others about his late-December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to Sean Spicer, Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”

Jan. 27, 2017: McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House for another discussion about Flynn. He asks Yates, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another?” Yates explains that Flynn’s lies make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the Russians know that Flynn lied and could probably prove it.

Also on Jan. 27, 2017: In a one-on-one White House dinner that Trump had requested, he asks FBI Director Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey, who was uneasy about even accepting the dinner invitation, responds that he can’t do that, but he can pledge honesty. Afterward, Comey describes the dinner to several people on the condition that they not disclose it while he remains director of the FBI.

Jan. 29, 2017: TIME photographs Trump at his desk in the Oval Office. Sitting across from him are Kushner and Flynn, about whom Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House earlier that week. The caption indicates that Trump is speaking on the phone with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Feb. 7, 2017: Sens. Cardin and Graham introduce bipartisan legislation that would bar Trump from granting sanctions relief to Russia without congressional involvement.

Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells reporters at The Washington Post he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changes his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post breaks another story: Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigns.

Feb. 14, 2017: In a private Oval Office meeting, Trump asks FBI Director Comey to halt the investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn. According to Comey’s contemporaneous memorandum, Trump says, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” According to the memo, Trump tells Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey does not say anything to Trump about halting the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

March 2, 2017: The New York Times reports, and the White House confirms, a previously undisclosed meeting involving Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner and Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to The Times, “Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to ‘establish a line of communication’ between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.”

March 27, 2017: The New York Times reports the previously undisclosed December meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian bank VEB. On May 29, 2017, the White House says that Kushner met the banker “in his capacity as a transition official.” The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to question Kushner about both of Kushner’s December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov.

April 6, 2017: The New York Times reports that Jared Kushner’s application for national security clearance had failed to disclose his December meetings at Trump Tower with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the CEO of the Russian bank, VEB. In a statement, Kushner’s attorney says that after learning of the error, Mr. Kushner told the FBI: “During the presidential campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the president-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity. … I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts.”

May 15, 2017: Trump meets in the Oval Office with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who had arranged the January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Erik Prince and a Russian close to Putin.

May 18, 2017: TIME reports that congressional investigators are reviewing whether Cambridge Analytica or Breitbart News played any role in working with Russian efforts to help Trump win the election.

May 19, 2017: The Washington Post reports that federal investigators in the Trump/Russia matter have identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest. On May 25, news reports identify the official as Jared Kushner.

May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports on Kushner’s Dec. 1 or 2 meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at which, according to Kislyak, Kushner requested a secret and secure communication channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. In mid-December, an anonymous letter had tipped off The Post to what Kushner had supposedly said at the meeting. Former US intelligence officials described the idea of a back channel using a hostile foreign power’s facilities as “disturbing” and “dangerous.”

Also on May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Trump campaign produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records dating to June 2015, when the campaign was launched.

May 27, 2017: Reuters reports that Jared Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during and after the presidential campaign. Two were phone calls between April and November. His attorney says that Kushner “has no recollection of the calls as described” and asks Reuters for the dates that they allegedly occurred.

May 28, 2017: In three Sunday morning talk show appearances, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that if Kushner was trying to a create a back channel to communicate with the Russian government, it was a “good thing.” Veteran diplomatic and intelligence experts remain unconvinced.

May 31, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is moving toward returning two suspected espionage compounds to Russia. When President Obama issued new sanctions on Dec. 29, he said that the compounds — located in New York and Maryland — were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and had given Russia 24 hours to vacate them.

Also on May 31, 2017: Sergey Gorkov, head of Russian bank VEB, refuses to comment in response to reporters’ questions about his December 2016 meeting with Jared Kushner.

Kushner and the Comey Cover-up

May 8, 2017: Trump informs a small group of his closest advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner and White House counsel Don McGahn, that he plans to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to The New York Times, McGahn counsels Trump to delay dismissing Comey; Kushner urges him to proceed. 

Also on May 8, 2017: Trump follows Kushner’s advice and, according to ABC News, Kushner, White House counsel Don McGahn, Vice President Pence and chief of staff Reince Priebus begin to prepare talking points about Comey’s planned firing. Meanwhile, Trump summons Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to the White House, where he instructs them provide a written justification for removing Comey. Before Rosenstein prepares the requested memo, he knows Trump intends to fire Comey.

 

To be continued…

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — UPDATE THROUGH JUNE 5, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline and Comey Firing Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries.

  • December 2016: At Kislyak’s request, Kushner meets secretly with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russia’s state-owned bank VEB. US intelligence reportedly views Gorkov as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies. In 2010, VEB had been involved in a financial transaction that assisted the struggling Trump International Hotel and Tower project in Toronto. Since 2014, VEB has been subject to US sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine. In December 2016, Kushner is still looking for more than $1 billion from investors to refinance Kushner Companies’ debt on its troubled 666 Fifth Avenue building. The public remains unaware of the Kushner/Gorkov meeting until March 2017, when The New York Times breaks the story. The White House characterizes it as a routine diplomatic encounter that went nowhere, but VEB says it was part of the bank’s ongoing business strategy. For months thereafter, the White House refuses to disclose the date of the meeting. On June 1, 2017, The Washington Post reports the results of its independent investigation: On Dec. 13, 2016, a private plane associated with VEB (and on which its executives travel) flew from Moscow to Newark airport outside New York City. The following day, the plane then flew to Japan, where Putin met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 15. [Revised June 5, 2017] 

***

  • During the week following the Jan. 20, 2017 inauguration: Trump administration officials are considering an executive order to lift unilaterally the US sanctions against Russia. Removing the sanctions also would have expanded greatly the Russian bank VEB’s ability to do business in the US, and allowed Americans to borrow from and provide financing to the bank. Five months later, Michael Isikoff breaks the story: “Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.” State Department officials are so alarmed that they urge congressional leaders to pass legislation that would lock the sanctions in place. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) become involved. [Added June 5, 2017]

***

***

  • March 27, 2017: The New York Times reports on the previously undisclosed December meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian bank VEB. On May 29, 2917, the White House says that Kushner met the banker “in his capacity as a transition official.” The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to question Kushner about both of Kushner’s December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov. [Added June 5, 2017]

***

  • May 31, 2017: The House Intelligence Committee approves the issuance of subpoenas to Mike Flynn, Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, and the businesses that each of them runs. Separately, several news outlets report that House Committee Chairman Nunes, who had recused himself from the committee’s Trump/Russia investigation, issued subpoenas to former Obama administration officials on the issue of “unmasking” – revealing the names of persons referenced in intelligence reports. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • Also on May 31, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is moving toward returning two suspected espionage compounds to Russia. When President Obama had issued new sanctions on Dec. 29, he had said that the compounds—located in New York and Maryland—were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and had given Russia 24 hours to vacate them. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • Also on May 31, 2017: Sergey Gorkov, head of Russian bank VEB, refuses to comment in response to reporters’ questions about his December 2016 meeting with Jared Kushner. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • June 1, 2017: Putin tells reporters that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers might have been involved in cyberattacks that interfered with the US election. “We’re not doing this on the state level,” Putin says. [Added June 5, 2017]
  • June 2, 2017: Special counsel Robert Mueller assumes control over a federal grand jury criminal investigation of Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey, as well as the criminal investigation involving Paul Manafort. [Added June 5, 2017]

ENABLING A DANGEROUS PRESIDENT: ROSENSTEIN’S REGRETTABLE ROLE

[This post first appeared at Bill Moyers & Company on May 31, 2017.]

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (JD, Harvard, ’89) could have said no to a dangerous president, but he didn’t. Instead, he penned a two-and-a-half-page memo that the White House used to cover up Trump’s real reasons for firing FBI Director James Comey. As the cover-up imploded, Rosenstein became enveloped in the resulting firestorm. Since then, he has worsened his predicament.

By Rosenstein’s own account, the process of preparing his memo for the president involved none of the careful analysis that a lawyer typically would perform when advising a client about such a sensitive situation. Only once in history has a president fired an FBI director. And that was after the Justice Department produced a 161-page report documenting Director William Sessions’ improper use of government funds. The termination process was systematic, thorough, and took months.

At the outset, an attorney tries to learn relevant facts. But Rosenstein admits, “My memorandum is not a survey of FBI morale or performance.” Even the most minimal due diligence would have undermined one of his principal conclusions. If Rosenstein had asked, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe would have told him that Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day…. The majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.”

An attorney then relies on the facts and the law to build a case. But Rosenstein acknowledges, “My memorandum is not a legal brief;… My memorandum is not a finding of official misconduct;… My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.” He understates the deficiencies. His memo reads like a college term paper reciting personal views and reporting results from a quick online search. It relies on previously published statements by former government officials criticizing Comey’s pre-election statements about the FBI’s Hillary Clinton investigation. And even they didn’t say Comey should be fired. Except as a public relations device, Rosenstein’s memo was meaningless.

So why did he write it?

The Interview

Rosenstein is a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department. In 2007, President George W. Bush nominated him for a federal appellate judgeship that he didn’t get. Shortly after the 2016 election, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions (R-AL) interviewed him for the second-highest position in Trump’s Justice Department. For a seasoned prosecutor, Rosenstein’s admission about that encounter is remarkable.

“In one of my first meetings with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions last winter,” Rosenstein told Congress a week after the cover-up collapsed, “we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI.”

His offhand remark glossed over an obvious question: As between Sessions (JD, Alabama, ’73) and Rosenstein, who raised that subject? The answer would have led to another question: Why? At the time, some dots were ripe for Rosenstein to connect, if he’d wanted to see them. Trump was deriding the conclusion of US intelligence that had Russia had interfered in the election to help him win. As dark investigative clouds hovered on the horizon, he regarded any ongoing investigation as the perpetuation of a “hoax.” He wanted it all to end.

Whatever test Sessions applied in that early meeting about new FBI leadership, Rosenstein passed with flying colors. On Jan. 31, the White House announced its intent to nominate him as deputy attorney general.

The Survivor

After admitting to lies about contact with Russia during the campaign, Sessions recused himself from the Trump/Russia investigation on March 2. As soon as the Senate confirmed Rosenstein — a prospect that seemed certain — the Trump/Russia investigation would land in his lap. Maybe Rosenstein didn’t realize it, but with Sessions’ recusal, Rosenstein became Trump’s new safety net, up to and including terminating Comey as FBI director.

Before long, it looked like Trump might need it. On March 20, Comey testified that since July 2016, the FBI had an ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the election, including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

A week later, according to Comey’s friend Benjamin Wittes, Comey expressed his reservations about Rosenstein becoming his new boss. While lunching with Wittes on March 27, Comey reportedly said, “Rod is a survivor. So I have concerns.”

The Survivor in Peril

Two weeks after Sessions had presided at Rosenstein’s April 26 swearing-in ceremony, both men were in the Oval Office with Trump. Rosenstein later described the meeting: “On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader. I wrote a brief memorandum to the attorney general summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey’s public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation.”

Stated simply, Trump was firing Comey and he wanted a supporting memo from Rosenstein. Twenty-four hours later, he had it. It takes a failure of judgment, imagination or both not to have anticipated what would come next.

  • May 9, 2017: Relying on Rosenstein’s memo and Sessions’ concurrence, Trump fired Comey. Later that evening amid bushes on the White House grounds, press secretary Sean Spicer said the impetus had come from Rosenstein. “No one from the White House,” Spicer said. “That was a DOJ decision.” On CNN, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway echoed that position, embellishing it with excerpts from the Rosenstein memo that she read aloud.

 

  • May 10, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence said repeatedly that Comey’s firing occurred because Rosenstein had recommended it. The deputy attorney general “came to work, sat down and made the recommendation that for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership. He brought that recommendation to the president. The attorney general concurred with that recommendation.”

 

  • Later on May 10, 2017: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had been thinking about firing Comey “since the day he was elected,” but reiterated the position that Rosenstein was “absolutely” the impetus for the firing. Trump had merely asked him to put his concerns in writing.

Before the day ended, Rosenstein had spoken by phone with White House counsel Don McGahn. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein insisted the White House correct the public misimpression that he had initiated Comey’s firing. The White House complied, releasing a new timeline of the events and reciting that the impetus for removing Comey came from Trump, not Rosenstein.

Survivor in Distress

The White House’s pivot didn’t get Rosenstein off the hook. The day after firing Comey, Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov met with Trump, who boasted, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The next day, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.” But then Trump added this: “And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story….”

As the cover-up disintegrated, Rosenstein’s job interview with then-Sen. Sessions began to look like an earlier bookend to its troubling counterpart. When Rosenstein confirmed the “need for new leadership at the FBI,” he had boarded Trump’s train bound for Comey’s dismissal. The only question was when it would arrive.

Perhaps Rosenstein felt a chill when he read The New York Times on May 11, reporting on their private dinner on Jan. 27 when Trump sought Comey’s personal loyalty. Likewise, the days following May 18 couldn’t have been pleasant for Rosenstein after Benjamin Wittes’ views hit the national airwaves. After Trump’s loyalty request of Comey, Wittes thought that Comey was wondering what Trump had asked of Rosenstein — and what Rosenstein might have agreed to give him.

So far, Rod Rosenstein seems unfazed by the destruction of his reputation and his unfortunate place in history. Based on his fervent defense to Congress of the May 9 memo, he strapped himself to the mast of Trump’s battered ship and he plans to stay there. Any other course would require him to acknowledge the magnitude of his original Trump sin last winter.

Survivor’s Delusions

Those who think Rosenstein redeemed himself by appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel should think again. Mueller is an excellent choice, but a special counsel investigates possible crimes. As David Frum explains, it’s not a mechanism for identifying all potential threats to American democracy that may arise from Trump’s various relationships with Russia. If such threats fail to reach the threshold of criminal wrongdoing, a special counsel is supposed to look away and the public may never know. And remember, Mueller reports to Rosenstein, so Trump’s Justice Department safety net may still be intact. That’s why only an independent bipartisan commission can unearth and disclose the whole truth about the Trump/Russia controversy.

Rosenstein now faces limited options: resign, remain in office as a diminished leader with questionable judgment and uncertain integrity, or wait for Trump to fire him. The second and third options are not mutually exclusive.

The New York Times wonders whether Rosenstein “allowed himself to be drawn into a highly politicized firing, either as a willing participant or an unwitting accomplice.” There’s another possibility: The survivor overestimated his ability to withstand assaults from people like Trump and Sessions. Now, like many attorneys who refused to stand up to Trump when they should have, Rosenstein may soon need a lawyer, too.