About thebellyofthebeast

Adjunct professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and its Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, contributing editor to ABA "Litigation" and "The American Lawyer," and author of "The Lawyer Bubble - A Profession in Crisis (2013), "The Partnership - A Novel" (2010), "Crossing Hoffa - A Teamster's Story" (2007) (A "Chicago Tribune" Best Book of the Year), and "Straddling Worlds: The Jewish-American Journey of Professor Richard W. Leopold" (2008). Recently retired after 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Graduated from Harvard Law School (magna cum laude) and Northwestern University (combined B.A./M.A. in economics, with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa).

TRUMP AND THE MORGAN LEWIS MESS — CONTINUED

On March 7, 2016, Sheri Dillon and William Nelson put their firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bcckius, on a slippery slope with their letter purporting to justify Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. It’s been downhill ever since. Confirming that the IRS had closed its audits through 2008, they reinforced Trump’s “under audit” excuse for not releasing any returns at all. His returns for 2009 forward, they said, “are continuations of prior, closed examinations.” On January 22, Kellyanne Conway confirmed that Trump was never going to produce those returns. Period.

As I wrote on April 12, 2017, the descent continued with the Trump/Dillon press conference on January 11. “President-elect Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests,” Dillon explained amid a mountain of paper. Some of the documents appeared to be blank and some of the folders lacked labels. Why the esteemed Fred Fielding lent his name to the cause is a mystery. Substantively, attorneys knew immediately that the Dillon/Nelson/Fielding/Morgan Lewis plan was a joke.

Farce Turns to Tragedy

To recap the failures of the plan itself, Dillon said that Trump would put his business holdings in a revocable trust—meaningless window dressing. He would continue to own and benefit from every Trump asset in his portfolio. And he wasn’t selling any of the most valuable ones involving the family business. Still, she explained, no one should worry because his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., would run the company.

Six weeks later, Eric Trump told Forbes that he would continue to update his father on the family business: “’Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that’s about it.’ How often will those reports be, every quarter? ‘Depending, yeah, depending.’ Could be more, could be less? ‘Yeah, probably quarterly.’ One thing is clear: ‘My father and I are very close. I talk to him a lot. We’re pretty inseparable.’”

Meanwhile, Donald Jr. has been campaigning for Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte—who stands accused of assaulting a reporter.

Fallout

Shortly after Dillon’s press conference, H. Scott Wallace, co-chair of the Wallace Global Fund, sent a blistering termination letter to Morgan Lewis chair Jami Wintz McKeon. My previous post reviewed it in detail. Suffice it to say that Wallace was not pleased with Morgan Lewis’ willingness to help Trump sell democracy in return for billable hours.

“We believe that the legal advice given to [Trump] by your partner Sheri Dillon, in the January 11 press conference and background ‘white paper,’ is not just simplistic and ill-founded,” Wallace wrote, “but that it empowers and even encourages impeachable offenses and undetectable conflicts of interest by America’s highest official, and thus is an unprecedented invitation to corruption and an assault on our democracy.”

“It is painfully obvious that Trump is using his office for personal gain,” Wallace continued. “And Morgan Lewis is enabling and legitimizing this… Americans deserve a president of undivided loyalty. Your firm has denied them that.”

From Mar-a-Lago initiation fees to the travel ban to China trademarks, Wallace observed that “the ethical carnage is mounting.” It still is.

Meanwhile, the Kushner family was trading on Trump ties to woo Chinese investors “into wealthy luxury developments” with $500,000 “investor visas.” So it’s not just the presidency that’s for sale, it’s America itself.

Bottoming Out

On May 12, the White House released another Dillon/Nelson letter that was supposed to take the heat off Trump’s financial connections to Russia. But it became fodder for another round of jokes—just as Dillon’s January 11 press conference had.

Then on May 20, the Associated Press reported that Dillon “initially wanted [Trump] to submit an updated financial disclosure without certifying the information as true” because he was filing voluntarily this year. After discussions with the director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, Dillon evidently agreed that Trump would sign and file by mid-June. Let’s see if that happens.

On May 24, The New York Times reported on another January 11 promise that Dillon made and Trump isn’t keeping: to give the U.S. Treasury all profits from Trump hotels and similar businesses derived from foreign governments. In response to a House Oversight Committee request, the Trump Organization produced a slick brochure explaining why it was impractical to comply “fully and completely” with that promise.

Here is my next prediction: In corporate boardrooms and law school campuses, the damage to the Morgan Lewis brand will continue. Business leaders will act on the belief that preserving critical norms of democracy should outweigh a firm’s desire to do almost anything for a client’s billable hour. But the most discerning of general counsels will leave Morgan Lewis for an entirely different reason that has nothing to do with Trump, politics, the appropriate limits of a lawyer’s role as client advocate, or every attorney’s sworn duty to protect the U.S. Constitution. Substantively, the Trump conflicts plan and the related disasters that have followed constitute embarrassingly bad lawyering.

One more note of interest to leaders of big law firms obsessed with growth for the sake of growth: Sheri Dillon and William Nelson are recent lateral hires. Both were at Bingham McCutchen until a few months before it collapsed in 2014.

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — UPDATE THROUGH MAY 22, 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.

***

  • Late 2015: Britain’s spy agency GCHQ became aware of suspicious activity between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence operatives. Over the next six months, a number of western agencies from Germany, Estonia, and Poland share more information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians. [Added May 22. 2017]

***

  • 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 calls involving Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • August 2016: The consulting firm headed by Trump’s national security adviser Mike Flynn begins to perform lobbying work for a company owned by a close adviser to Turkey’s President Erdogan. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Late August 2016: CIA Director John Brennan briefs the top eight members of Congress—the “Gang of Eight”—on intelligence that Russian cyberattacks were aimed at getting Trump elected. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Mid-October 2016: The FISA court approves a secret surveillance order authorizing the Department of Justice to investigate two banks suspected of participating in Russia’s undercover influence operation relating to the U.S. election. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Nov. 14, 2016: Reporters ask Mike Flynn’s business associate Robert Kelley if Turkish interests had retained their consulting firm from August through Election Day because of Flynn’s close relationship with Trump. “I hope so,” Kelley says. The subject of Flynn’s lobbying activities for Turkey comes up again periodically in news reports throughout November and December. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

***

  • Also on Jan. 10, 2017: President Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice informs Trump of the military plan to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa with the help of Syrian Kurdish forces. Obama’s team informed Trump because execution of the plan would not occur until after the inauguration. Turkey has long opposed US forces partnering with Kurdish forces in the region. Trump’s NSA-designate Flynn tells Rice to old off on approving the mission. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • 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 crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who had met with Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner in December. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Jan. 14, 2017: A member of Trump’s transition team says that Maryland US Attorney Rod Rosenstein will replace Sally Yates as deputy attorney general. In a statement to Congress on May 19, Rosenstein said that prior to his nomination, in one of his first meetings with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions after the election, he and Sessions had discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Jan. 22, 2017: FBI Director James Comey is reluctant to attend a White House ceremony honoring law enforcement because, according to his friend Benjamin Wittes, he doesn’t want the director of the bureau to have a close relationship with any president. But Comey ultimately decides to go. Wittes later tells The New York Times and writes at Lawfare that Comey, noticing that the drapes were a similar shade of blue to his blazer, tried to blend in with them at the far end of the room — as far from Trump as he could get. As the ceremony concludes, Trump calls him over, saying, “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.” According to Wittes’ account, as Comey takes the long walk across the room, he is determined that he will not hug Trump. To protect the bureau’s integrity, Comey wants to avoid showing warmth toward him. As Comey preemptively reaches out to shake hands, Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. Comey is “disgusted” and, according to Wittes, regards the move as a “physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.” [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Jan. 31, 2017: The White House announces its intention to nominate Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Also on March 1, 2017: As Director Comey prepares to board a helicopter, he receives a message from the White House: Trump wants to speak with him urgently. Comey delays his flight and soon realizes that Trump wants only to “chitchat.” [Added May 22, 2017]

**

  • Also on March 7, 2017: Former NSA Mike Flynn files registration documents confirming that between August 2016 and Election Day, he’d earned $530,000 for lobbying work on behalf of a company owned by a Turkish businessman. Flynn acknowledges that his work as a foreign agent could have benefitted the Turkish government. [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • Also on March 9, 2017: Responding to questions about Mike Flynn’s lobbying activities for Turkish interests during the campaign and thereafter, Vice President Mike Pence tells Fox News’ Bret Baier twice that he’d just learned of it: “Well, let me say, hearing that story today was the first I’d heard of it. And I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.” BAIER: “You’re disappointed by the story?” PENCE: “The first I heard of it, and I think it is, uh, it is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.” Asked whether Trump knew about Flynn’s activities on behalf of Turkish interests, Sean Spicer says, “I don’t believe that that was known.” [Added May 22, 2017]

***

  • March 20, 2017: On the morning of FBI Director Comey’s testimony before Congress on his agency’s investigation into Russian election interference, Trump tweets: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Hours later, Comey testifies that the FBI was investigating Russian interference with 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.” With respect to Trump’s wiretapping claims, Comey says, “I have no information that supports those tweets.” [Revised March 20, 2017]

***

***

***

  • Also on May 9, 2017: Over Turkey’s objections, the Pentagon announces that the US will partner with Kurds to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. On January 10, the Obama administration had presented President-elect Trump with a plan to partner with the Kurds against ISIS, but his then- NSA-designate Mike Flynn had killed it. [Revised May 22, 2017]

***

  • Also on May 10, 2017: At an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and their aides, Trump reveals highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State and American counterterrorism plans. The meeting occurs because Putin had previously asked Trump to meet with Lavrov, and Trump didn’t feel he could say no. Kislyak’s presence was unexpected. The intelligence that Trump reveals is so sensitive that it has not been shared with American allies and has been tightly restricted within the US government. Minutes after the meeting ends, Kislyak’s presence becomes known when the Russian news agency TASS publishes photographs that a Russian photographer had taken of the session. The White House had not permitted any US news organization to attend any part of the meeting, even for photographs. During the meeting, Trump also discusses the Comey firing. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump says. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Then he adds, “I’m not under investigation.” [Revised May 22, 2017]

***

  • Also on May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the election. In a White House statement, Trump says, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.[Revised May 22, 2017]

***

  • Also on May 18, 2017: In a joint news conference with the president of Colombia, a reporter asks Trump whether he ever asked former Director Comey to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn. “No. No,” Trump answers. “Next question.” He goes on to characterize the ongoing Trump/Russia investigation as “totally ridiculous” and a “witch hunt.” Then he adds, “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people, I actually thought when I made that decision. And I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.” [Added May 22, 2017]

 

  • 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. [Added May 22, 2017]

 

  • Also on May 19, 2017: Vice President Pence faces added scrutiny on what he knew about Flynn’s connections to Turkey and Russia—and when he knew it. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee post a November 18, 2016 letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Pence, who at the time was vice president-elect and chair of the presidential transition team. The letter expressed concerns about NSA-designate Flynn’s ties to those countries. In response to the posting, Pence’s spokesperson states, “The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the President’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.” A White House aide adds, “I’m not sure we saw the letter.” Democrats on the House Oversight Committee then post the formal November 28, 2016 transition team message acknowledging receipt of Cummings’ letter. [Added May 22, 2017]

 

 

  • Also on May 19, 2017: Reuters reports on the efforts of White House lawyers to undermine Robert Mueller’s credibility. Specifically, they’re looking at a rule that restricts newly hired government lawyers from participating in matters involving their former employers or former clients for at least one year. By executive order on January 28, 2017, Trump had extended that period to two years; however, the Justice Department can waive the rule. Mueller’s law firm Wilmer Hale represents Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, and the firm says that Mueller personally has not worked with any Trump-related clients. Meanwhile, CNN reports that White House lawyers are also researching impeachment procedures. [Added May 22, 2017]

THE COMEY FIRING TIMELINE — UPDATED THROUGH MAY 22

[This post appeared at Bill Moyers & Company on May 22, 2017]

The ongoing revelations in the Trump/Russia saga have been stunning. But the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the resulting cover-up have generated independent scandals of their own.

As we continue to update our Trump/Russia timeline, this new timeline collects separately (and will be updated with) events bearing most directly on the Trump/Comey chapter.

We will continue to update both timelines.

  • Jan. 14, 2017: A member of Trump’s transition team says that Maryland US Attorney Rod Rosenstein will replace Sally Yates as deputy attorney general. In a statement to Congress on May 19, Rosenstein said that, prior to his nomination, in one of his first meetings with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions after the election, he and Sessions had discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI.

 

  • Jan. 22, 2017: FBI Director James Comey is reluctant to attend a White House ceremony honoring law enforcement because, according to his friend Benjamin Wittes, he doesn’t want the director of the Bureau to have a close relationship with any president. But Comey ultimately decides to go. Wittes later tells The New York Times and writes at Lawfare that Comey, noticing that the drapes were a similar shade of blue to his blazer, tried to blend in with them at the far end of the room — as far from Trump as he could get. As the ceremony concludes, Trump calls him over, saying, “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.” According to Wittes’ account, as Comey takes the long walk across the room, he is determined that he will not hug Trump. To protect the bureau’s integrity, Comey wants to avoid showing warmth toward him. As Comey pre-emptively reaches out to shake hands, Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. Comey is “disgusted” and, according to Wittes, regards the move as a “physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.”

 

 

  • 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.

 

 

 

  • 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 1, 2017: As Director Comey prepares to board a helicopter, he receives a message from the White House: Trump wants to speak with him urgently. Comey delays his flight but, according to Wittes, soon realizes that Trump wants only to “chitchat.”

 

 

  • March 20, 2017: On the morning of FBI Director Comey’s testimony before Congress on his agency’s investigation into Russian election interference, Trump tweets: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Hours later, Comey testifies that the FBI was investigating Russian interference with 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.” With respect to Trump’s wiretapping claims, Comey says, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

 

 

  • 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.

 

  • May 6-7, 2017: Trump spends the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Since March, he’s been fuming over Comey’s congressional appearance, in which the FBI director had acknowledged the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia and had refuted Trump’s false claim that President Obama had wiretapped him. In the weeks that followed, Trump grew angrier and talked about firing Comey. At Bedminister, Trump grouses over Comey’s May 3 congressional testimony — especially his comment about being “mildly nauseous” at the thought that his actions relating to the Clinton investigation might have affected the outcome of the election.

 

 

  • Also on May 8, 2017: With former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates scheduled to testify later in the day, Trump tweets:

 

  • May 9, 2017: Citing the May 9 recommendations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Trump fires FBI Director Comey, ostensibly because of his inappropriate statements about the Clinton email investigation prior to the 2016 election. Trump, Sessions, and Rosenstein write that terminating Comey is necessary to restore trust, confidence and integrity in the FBI. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also says he “greatly appreciates you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

 

  • Also on May 9, 2017: CNN reports that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia had recently issued subpoenas to associates of former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

 

  • Also on May 9, 2017: Late in the evening and amid bushes on the White House grounds, press secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters to “turn the lights off” before answering questions about Comey’s firing. He says that the impetus came from the deputy attorney general. “No one from the White House,” Spicer says. “That was a DOJ decision.” Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway echoes that position on CNN, reading excerpts from Rosenstein’s memo to Anderson Cooper.

 

  • May 10, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence says repeatedly that Comey’s firing occurred because Sessions and Rosenstein recommended it: The deputy attorney general “came to work, sat down and made the recommendation 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.”

 

  • Also on May 10, 2017: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump had been thinking about firing Comey “since the day he was elected,” but reiterates Pence’s position that Sessions and Rosenstein were “absolutely” the impetus for the firing.

 

 

  • Also on May 10, 2017: Rod Rosenstein speaks by phone with White House counsel Don McGahn. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein insists that the White House correct the misimpression that Rosenstein initiated the process leading to Comey’s firing. He suggests that he can’t work in an environment where facts aren’t reported accurately.

 

  • Also on May 10, 2017: The White House releases a new timeline of the events relating to Comey’s firing. It recites that the impetus for removing Comey had come from Trump, not the deputy attorney general. But the White House acknowledges that Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein on May 8 to discuss “reasons for removing the director” and that the attorney general and his deputy sent their written recommendations to Trump on May 9.

 

 

  • Also on May 10, 2017: At an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and their aides, Trump reveals highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State and American counterterrorism plans. The meeting occurs because Putin previously had asked Trump to meet with Lavrov, and, Trump later says, he didn’t feel he could say no. Kislyak’s presence was unexpected. The intelligence that Trump reveals is so sensitive that it has not been shared with American allies and has been tightly restricted within the US government. Minutes after the meeting ends, Kislyak’s presence becomes known when the Russian news agency TASS publishes photographs that a Russian photographer had taken of the session. The White House had not permitted any US news organization to attend any part of the meeting, even for photographs. During the meeting, Trump also discusses the Comey firing. “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump says. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Then he adds, “I’m not under investigation.”

 

 

  • Also on May 11, 2017: Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he had already decided to fire Comey before his meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. 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….” Trump also says that on three different occasions — once in person and twice over the phone — he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t. And Trump tells Holt that he had sent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) a “certified letter” from “from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country” confirming that he has “nothing to do with Russia.”

 

  • Also on May 11, 2017: The New York Times reports on Trump’s one-on-one dinner with Comey on Jan. 27, when Trump asked Comey for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide.

 

 

  • May 12, 2017: Trump tweets:
  • Also on May 12, 2017: In response to questions about Trump’s early morning tweet about Comey and “tapes,” press secretary Sean Spicer refuses to answer whether Trump was taping Oval Office conversations. “The president has nothing further to add on that,” Spicer says repeatedly.

 

  • Also on May 12, 2017: The White House releases a one-page May 8, 2017 letter from Trump’s outside lawyers — Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The carefully worded letter states that “with a few exceptions” totaling about $100 million, Trump’s tax returns from 2005 “do not reflect” any “income from Russian sources,” “debt owed by you or [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders,” “equity investments by Russian persons or entities,” or “equity or debt investments by you or [The Trump Organization] in Russian entities.” The letter does not define “Russian” or purport to determine whether or to what extent individuals from Russia, Ukraine or other former Soviet-bloc countries may have used shell corporations through which they may have conducted transactions with Trump businesses. Months earlier, Dillon had developed and presented Trump’s business conflicts of interest plan whereby Trump retained all ownership in his businesses.

 

  • Also on May 12, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) — a unit that specializes in combating money-laundering — will share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia.

 

  • May 15, 2017: At his daily press conference, Sean Spicer refuses — seven times — to answer whether Trump is secretly recording his conversations.

 

  • Also May 15, 2017: National security adviser H.R. McMaster issues a 40-second “non-denial denial” of the Washington Post story that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov. McMaster says, “The story that came out tonight as reported is false… At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” The Post story had said nothing about disclosure of “intelligence sources and methods.” “I was in the room,” McMaster concludes. “It didn’t happen.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who also attended the Oval Office meeting with the Russians, issues a statement saying the group “did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

 

  • May 16, 2017: In response to press reports that former FBI Director James Comey had written a contemporaneous memorandum documenting Trump’s Feb. 14 request to halt the Flynn investigation, the White House issues an unattributed statement that concludes: “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

 

  • Also on May 16, 2017: Trump tweets:






[Added May 18, 2017]

  • Also on May 16, 2017: National security adviser McMaster tells reporters repeatedly that Trump’s disclosure of intelligence with the Russians was “wholly appropriate.” As his press conference ends, McMaster says that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.”

 

 

  • Also on May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the election. In a White House statement, Trump says, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”

 

  • Also on May 18, 2017: At a joint news conference with the president of Colombia, a reporter asks Trump whether he ever asked former Director Comey to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn. “No. No,” Trump answers. “Next question.” He goes on to characterize the ongoing Trump/Russia investigation as “totally ridiculous” and a “witch hunt.” Then he adds, “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people, I actually thought when I made that decision. And I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.”

 

 

  • Also on May 19, 2017: Reuters reports on efforts by White House lawyers to undermine Robert Mueller’s credibility. They’re particularly interested in a rule that restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating clients of their former employer for at least one year. By executive order on Jan. 28, 2017, Trump had extended that period to two years; however, the Justice Department can waive the rule. Mueller’s law firm WilmerHale represents Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, but the firm says that Mueller has not personally worked with any Trump-related clients. Meanwhile, CNN reports that White House lawyers are also researching impeachment procedures.

 

ENABLING A DANGEROUS PRESIDENT: PENCE WAS THERE

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on May 17, 2017.]

In Part 3 of our series on President Trump and his lawyers, Harper examines the vice president’s role in affirming and defending Trump.

Trump’s disclosure of highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians and reported efforts to shut down the FBI’s investigation into former NSA Mike Flynn now shine a spotlight on the next person in line for the presidency. It should be withering because Vice President Mike Pence (JD, Indiana-Robert H. McKinney School of Law, ’86) is not a solution to Trump. His consistent dishonesty is a central part of the problem America faces. But compared to the boss whose dangerous tendencies he has enabled, Pence seems like a Boy Scout. That merely proves the depths to which the bar of acceptable behavior has fallen, if it even exists anymore.

Lies on the Campaign Trail

As an attorney, Mike Pence has a special awareness that a public servant’s lies can undermine democracy. But such knowledge seems secondary to his political ambitions. When Trump was looking for a running mate, Pence faced the serious prospect of losing re-election as governor because of his extreme positions on social issues. For example, in 2015, he signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act allowing businesses owners to act on their religious beliefs in refusing service to gay patrons. With Pence’s eroding popular support, the VP spot on the Republican ticket became his political lifeline, and he has repaid Trump handsomely.

Pence began to earn his Trump disinformation stripes during the first vice-presidential debate. Feigning shock at Tim Kaine’s suggestion (at the 36-minute mark) that Trump was waging an insult-driven campaign, Pence looked into the camera and said incredulously, “He says ours is an insult-driven campaign? Did you all just hear that? Ours is an insult-driven campaign?”

Trump’s actions as president make Pence’s lies during the debate even more striking, including these:

Defending Oval Office Lies

Winning the nation’s second highest office didn’t make Pence more honest with the American people he professes to serve. In December, Pence defended Trump’s false claim that millions of illegal Clinton voters deprived him of a popular vote victory. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pressed Pence repeatedly:

STEPHANOPOULUS: “[Trump] said he would have won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally. That statement is false. Why is it responsible to make it?”

PENCE: “Well, I think the president-elect wants to call to attention the fact that there has been evidence over many years of…”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “That’s not what he said.”

PENCE: “…voter fraud. And expressing that reality Pew Research Center found evidence of that four years ago.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “That’s not the evidence…”

PENCE: “…that’s certainly his right. But, you know…”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “It’s his right to make false statements?”

PENCE: “Well, it’s his right to express his opinion as president-elect of the United States. I think one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect and one of the reasons why I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country is because he tells you what’s on his mind.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “But why is it refreshing to make false statements?”

PENCE: “Look, I don’t know that that is a false statement, George, and neither do you. The simple fact is that…”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “I know there’s no evidence for it.”

PENCE: “There is evidence, historic evidence from the Pew Research Center of voter fraud that’s taken place. We’re in the process of investigating irregularities in the state of Indiana that were leading up to this election. The fact that voter fraud exists is…”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “But can you provide any evidence—can you provide any evidence to back up that statement?”

PENCE: “Well, look, I think he’s expressed his opinion on that. And he’s entitled to express his opinion on that. And I think the American people—I think the American people find it very refreshing that they have a president who will tell them what’s on his mind. And I think the connection that he made in the course…”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “Whether it’s true or not?”

PENCE: “Well, they’re going to tell them—he’s going to say what he believes to be true and I know that he’s always going to speak in that way as president.”

Two months later, Pence said he would be proud to head a new Trump commission to investigate the bogus voter fraud claim. It was a solution in search of a non-existent problem, and it would almost certainly morph into a justification for future voter suppression efforts. On May 11, Trump signed an executive order creating that commission and naming Pence, who stood nearby, its chairman.

The Comey Cover-up

Pence’s willingness to lie for Trump knows no bounds. That became even clearer with reports about his central role in the cover-up relating to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

On May 3, Comey told a Senate committee that the thought of his actions during the 2016 presidential campaign affecting the election outcome made him “mildly nauseous.” When Trump heard that, he reportedly burned with anger. According to The New York Times, Pence was there as Trump vented to a handful of confidants and talked about firing Comey.

According to The Washington Post, Mike Pence was there five days later when Trump reportedly told a few close aides that he’d made up his mind: Comey had to go. According to ABC News, Pence was part of a small group that prepared media talking points on the anticipated Comey firing.

On Tuesday, May 9 the White House released Trump’s letter firing Comey and put out a false story: Trump had simply acted decisively on recommendations that Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had brought to him that day. In the ensuing uproar on Capitol Hill, Trump needed someone to quell the exploding crisis.

Mike Pence was there Wednesday morning May 10, visiting uneasy Congressional Republicans. During a seven-minute on-camera appearance, reporters asked him whether Trump had provided the impetus for Comey’s firing. As is his wont, Pence responded with a folksy story:

“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.”

Did the firing have anything to do with the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia? “That’s not what this is about,” Pence answered. It was about providing someone who could “lead that agency and all the outstanding men and women at the FBI” to greater heights.

We now know none of that was true.

The Unraveling

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein heard the Trump administration’s narrative and didn’t like it. He pressed White House counsel Don McGahn (JD, Widener ’94) to correct the inaccurate depiction of events leading up to Comey’s dismissal. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein suggested that he couldn’t work in an environment where facts weren’t reported accurately. Less than 36 hours later, Trump gave an interview to NBC’s Lester Holt that apparently satisfied Rosenstein:

“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. ”

And in his next sentence, Trump described how he had linked Comey’s firing to the FBI’s ongoing investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign:

“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….”

Meanwhile, Trump’s false suggestion that he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job”—and Pence’s similar argument that the bureau needed new leadership—fell apart, too. As Holt was interviewing Trump, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was testifying on that subject before the Senate Intelligence Committee:

“I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard,” McCabe said. “I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity, and it has been the greatest privilege and honor in my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does until this day.”

The End Game

Conversations about impeaching Trump—or using the 25th amendment to remove him—are now moving from idle chatter to a more serious phase. Mike Pence wasn’t in the Oval Office with Trump and the Russians on May 10. Nor was Pence present on February 14—the day after Flynn’s firing—when Trump reportedly asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation. But as the discussions about shortening Trump’s tenure evolve, two points are worth remembering about what Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) calls Trump’s downward spiral:

  • Pence was on the ticket that Putin helped to elect in 2016, and
  • Pence’s legal training vests him with a heightened accountability for his dishonesty.

In defending Trump, Mike Pence has sacrificed core principles of democracy. In the process, he has dishonored his profession and disserved the country. In the final analysis, he hasn’t served his president very well, either.

The next installment in this series will consider counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway (assuming she keeps her job until then).

 

 

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: MAY 18, 2017 UPDATE

Here are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company Trump/Russia Timeline. But for context and a small taste of the job Robert Mueller now has, read the whole Timeline.

  • June 15, 2016: After the Ukrainian prime minister visits Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other Republican leaders meet privately. During the session, McCarthy says, “I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research they had on Trump.” Moments later he says, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who is known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia. Some of the lawmakers laugh, but McCarthy continues, “Swear to God.” According to a transcript prepared from a tape of the discussion, Ryan immediately interrupts the conversation, saying, “This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…alright? This is how we know we are a real family here… What’s said in the family, stays in the family.” When The Washington Post obtains the transcript in May 2017, it seeks comment from Ryan and McCarthy. Ryan’s spokesperson says, “That never happened. The idea that McCarthy would assert this is false and absurd.” As detailed in the Post video accompanying its eventual story, the Post reporter then says that he has a transcript of the discussion. Ryan and McCarthy respond that the transcript is false, maybe even made up, and certainly inaccurate. When the reporter says he has listened to an audio recording of the conversation, Ryan’s spokesperson says it was a failed attempt at humor.

***

  • May 10, 2017: At an Oval Office meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their aides, Trump reveals highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State and American counterterrorism plans. The meeting occurs because Putin had previously asked Trump to meet with Lavrov, and Trump didn’t feel he could say no. Kislyak’s attendance was unexpected. The intelligence that Trump reveals is so sensitive that it has not been shared with American allies and has been tightly restricted within the U.S. government. Minutes after the meeting ends, Kislyak’s presence becomes known when the Russian news agency TASS publishes photographs that a Russian photographer had taken of the three men. The White House had not permitted any U.S. news organization to attend any part of the meeting, even for photographs.

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  • May 15, 2017: At his daily press conference, Sean Spicer refuses—seven times—to answer whether Trump is secretly recording his conversations.
  • Also May 15, 2017: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster issues a 40-second “non-denial denial” of the Washington Post story that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov. McMaster says, “The story that came out tonight as reported is false… At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” The Post story had said nothing about disclosure of intelligence sources and methods. “I was in the room,” McMaster concludes, “It didn’t happen.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who also attended the Oval Office meeting with the Russians, issues a statement saying the group “did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.
  • May 16, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

  • Also on May 16, 2017: NSA McMaster tells reporters repeatedly that Trump’s disclosure of intelligence with the Russians was “wholly appropriate.” He doesn’t answer questions about whether the information was classified, including the location of the city from which the intelligence had been obtained. As his press conference ends, McMaster says that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source and method of the information, either.”
  • May 17, 2017: Putin offers to provide the U.S. Congress with transcripts of the May 10 Oval Office conversations among Trump, the Russian ambassador, and Russia’s foreign minister.
  • Also on May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the election. In a White House statement, Trump says, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
  • May 18, 2017: Trump tweets:
  • and:

 

SPECIAL UPDATE TO THE COMEY FIRING AND TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINES

On May 17, 2017, I added two more items to the Bill Moyers & Company Timelines on firing of James Comey and Trump/Russia:

  • Feb. 14, 2017: In a private Oval Office meeting, Trump asks FBI Director Comey to halt the investigation of former NSA 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 curtailing the investigation, replying: “I agree he is a good guy.” [Added May 17, 2017]

***

  • May 16, 2017: In response to press reports that former FBI Director James Comey had written a contemporaneous memorandum documenting Trump’s February 14 request to “let Flynn go,” the White House issues an unattributed statement that concludes: “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.” [Added May 17, 2017]

A TIMELINE OF THE COMEY FIRING (THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: MAY 15, 2017 UPDATE)

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on May 15, 2017]

Editor’s Note

Last week’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was yet another shocking plot twist in our national reality show — Sweeps Week-worthy programming. As many of you know, every Monday we’re updating our multimedia timeline with new facts and revelations in the evolving Trump-Russia affair. This week, we thought we would lay out the new developments in a separate post because so much happened in one week. Here’s Harper’s update. You can view the whole timeline here.

–Bill Moyers

The speed and magnitude of last week’s developments relating to the Trump/Russia Timeline has been historic and stunning.

To summarize:

  • Trump fires FBI Director James Comey because he doesn’t like the way Comey is running the bureau’s ongoing investigation into connections between his campaign and Russia.
  • The ensuing White House cover-up tries to pin the blame on a newly confirmed deputy attorney general whose hastily prepared memo criticizes Comey’s 2016 statements about the closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mail server—statements that helped Trump win the presidency.
  • Within 48 hours, the cover-up implodes.

But an even more important story receiving far less attention might be percolating. The Treasury Department’s money-laundering investigators have agreed to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump and Russia.

Here are my newest additions that have now been incorporated into the complete Bill Moyers & Company Timeline.

 

  • Late summer 2015: A member of Trump’s campaign staff calls Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to ask if he’s willing to meet with Trump. Flynn agrees. Later, Flynn says that four other Republican presidential candidates also reached out to him: Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.

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***

***

***

  • 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.

***

and:

  • Days before May 9, 2017: According to The New York Times, FBI Director Comey asks Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for additional resources to expand the bureau’s Trump/Russia investigation. Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Flores denies the story, calling it “100 percent false.”
  • May 9, 2017: Citing the May 9 recommendations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Trump fires Director Comey, ostensibly because of his inappropriate statements about the Clinton email investigation prior to the 2016 election. Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein write that terminating Comey is necessary to restore trust, confidence and integrity in the FBI. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also says that he “greatly appreciates you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
  • Also on May 9, 2017: CNN reports that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, VA had recently issued subpoenas to associates of former NSA Mike Flynn.
  • Also on May 9, 2017: Late in the evening and amid bushes on the White House grounds, press secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters to “turn the lights off” before answering questions about Comey’s firing. He says that the impetus came from the deputy attorney general. “No one from the White House,” Spicer says. “That was a DOJ decision.” Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway echoes that position on CNN, reading excerpts from Rosenstein’s memo to Anderson Cooper.
  • May 10, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence says repeatedly that Comey’s firing occurred because Sessions and Rosenstein 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.”
  • Also on May 10, 2017: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump had been thinking about firing Comey “since the day he was elected,” but reiterates Pence’s position that Sessions and Rosenstein were “absolutely” the impetus for the firing.
  • Also on May 10, 2017: The Washington Post and The New York Times report that Trump had been the impetus for Coney’s firing, not Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein
  • Also on May 10, 2017: Rod Rosenstein speaks by phone with White House counsel Don McGahn. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein insists that the White House correct the misimpression that Rosenstein initiated the process leading to Comey’s firing. He suggests that he can’t work in an environment where facts aren’t reported accurately.
  • Also on May 10, 2017: The White House releases a new timeline of the events relating to Comey’s firing. It recites that the impetus for removing Comey had come from Trump, not the deputy attorney general. But the White House acknowledges that Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein on May 8 to discuss “reasons for removing the Director” and that the attorney general and his deputy sent their written recommendations to Trump on May 9.
  • Also on May 10, 2017: House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asks the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Comey’s firing.
  • May 11, 2017: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies that James 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.”
  • Also on May 11, 2017: Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he had already decided to fire Comey before his meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. 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….” Trump also says that on three different occasions—once in person and twice over the phone—he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t. And Trump tells Holt that he had sent Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a “certified letter” from “from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country” confirming that he has “nothing to do with Russia.”
  • Also on May 11, 2017: The New York Times reports on Trump’s one-on-one dinner with Comey on January 27, when Trump asked Comey for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide
  • Also on May 11, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sent Mike Flynn a subpoena for documents that he’d refused to produce voluntarily in response to the committee’s April 28 letter request.
  • May 12, 2017: Trump tweets:

  • Also on May 12, 2017: In response to questions about Trump’s early morning tweet about Comey and “tapes,” press secretary Sean Spicer refuses to answer whether Trump was taping Oval Office conversations. “I have nothing further to add on that,” Spicer says repeatedly.
  • Also on May 12, 2017: The White House releases a one-page March 8, 2017 letter from Trump’s outside lawyers—Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The carefully worded letter states that “with a few exceptions” totaling about $100 million, Trump’s tax returns from 2005 “do not reflect” any “income from Russian sources,” “debt owed by you or [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders,” “equity investments by Russian persons or entities,” or “equity or debt investments by you or [The Trump Organization] in Russian entities.” The letter does not define “Russian” or purport to determine whether or to what extent individuals from Russia, Ukraine, or other former Soviet-bloc countries may have used shell corporations through which they may have conducted transactions with Trump businesses. Months earlier, Dillon had developed and presented Trump’s business conflicts of interest plan whereby Trump retained all ownership in his businesses.
  • Also on May 12, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—a unit that specializes in combating money-laundering—will share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia.