MUELLER, NADLER, McCONNELL, AND RATCLIFFE: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH JULY 29, 2019

On Friday, July 26, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) summarized key points from special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony two days earlier. He said that “in effect” the committee has been conducting an impeachment inquiry.

Then he issued a threat: The Judiciary Committee will seek to enforce the subpoena it served on former White House counsel Don McGahn in April. That’s a problem for Trump.

VIDEO LINK: https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/nadler-house-judiciary-cmte-to-file-application-for-grand-jury-material-underlying-mueller-report-64648261729

Obstructing the Investigation into Obstruction

McGahn was an eyewitnesses to Trump’s obstruction of justice. Mueller’s investigators interviewed him for 30 hours. Mueller’s report cited those interviews 157 times — more than any other witness. McGahn can tell the world what Trump said and did as it was happening.

That’s why Trump is trying to stop him. On May 20 — the day before McGahn’s scheduled congressional appearance — the Justice Department gave Trump an unusual legal opinion. It argued that McGahn was “absolutely immune” from being compelled to testify about his time in the White House. White House counsel Pat Cipollone directed McGahn not to appear, so he didn’t.

Prominent legal scholars and practitioners regard Trump’s “congressional immunity” claim as a loser. But his motive is clear: Delay and, if possible, avoid altogether the must-see TV that McGahn’s public congressional appearance would be.

Trump’s Congressional Defenders Persist

The prospect of McGahn’s congressional appearance wasn’t the only important Trump-Russia news. On July 24, Mueller urged everyone to take the Russian election interference threat seriously:

“[O]ver the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious….”

Senate Republicans don’t care. The next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led efforts to block two bills that would strengthen election security. One would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance. The other would allow the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

As the Timeline reveals, back in August 2016, then-CIA Director John Brennan warned McConnell and others in the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders that Russia was interfering in the election with the goal of helping Trump win. In September 2016, McConnell refused President Obama’s request that McConnell sign a bipartisan letter warning about Russian election interference.

And now McConnell is complaining that on social media the label #MoscowMitch is trending — and sticking.

Goodbye Coats, Hello Ratcliffe

And finally, Trump finally jettisoned Dan Coats as his director of national intelligence. Coats has publicly disagreed with Trump’s efforts to downplay Russian election interference. To replace him, Trump chose one of his most fervent loyalists, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX).

Who is he? Persistently, Ratcliffe has advocated an “investigation into the investigators” connected to the Trump-Russia probe. During Mueller’s July 24 hearings, Ratcliffe launched aggressive and misleading attacks on Mueller without giving him an opportunity to respond. Ratcliffe probably knew that his televised performance was a job interview, and he passed with flying colors.

The problem is that Ratcliffe is totally unqualified to hold the DNI position. Here’s the job description from the government’s website:

“The Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of the US Intelligence Community, overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. The Office of the DNI’s goal is to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad.”

From 2004 to 2012, Ratcliffe was mayor of Heath,Texas (pop. 8,000). In 2007, he became acting US Attorney for the eastern district of Texas, a position he held for about a year. Then Ratcliffe returned to his private law practice until 2014, when he ran for Congress and won.

Mere blind loyalty to Trump should not suffice for Senate confirmation of any position, much less the head of the key coordinating agency for all US intelligence activities. We’ll see if Senate Republicans agree.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

JULY 16, 2019: Judge Bars Stone From Social Media

JULY 17-18, 2019: Prosecutors End Investigation of ‘Hush Money Payoff’ Case; Newly Revealed Documents Show FBI Learned That Trump and Hicks Knew About Scheme

JULY 18, 2019: Nadler Asks Hicks to Explain Inconsistencies in Her Earlier Testimony

JULY 19, 2019: Nader Pleads Not Guilty to Child Transportation Sex Charges

JULY 19, 2019: Coats Announces New Election Security Position

JULY 22, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Highly Conflicted Robert Mueller, Witch Hunt, NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION’; Peter Strzok and ‘His Lover, Lisa Page’

JULY 22, 2019: DOJ Tells Mueller To Stick To His Report

JULY 23, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Only 11% In Favor Of Starting Ridiculous Impeachment Hearings’

JULY 23, 2019: Flynn Associate Convicted

JULY 23, 2019: Wray Testifies That Russian Determined to Interfere in US Elections

JULY 23-24, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller’s Anticipated Congressional Appearance

JULY 24, 2019: Mueller Testifies

JULY 24, 2019: During and After Mueller’s Testimony, Trump Tweets And Retweets

JULY 25, 2019: Senate Republicans Block Election Security Bill

JULY 25, 2019: Trump Continues to Tweet About Mueller

JULY 25, 2019: Senate Intelligence Committee Releases Bipartisan Report on Russian Attacks on Election Infrastructure

JULY 26, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller. Steele Dossier, ‘Witch Hunt’

JULY 26, 2019: Nadler: Committee Has ‘In Effect’ Been Conducting An Impeachment Inquiry

JULY 27-28, 2019: Trump Continues Tweets About Mueller Investigation and Impeachment

JULY 28, 2019: Trump Announces Coats’ Departure

“MUELLER MOMENTS,” PUNDITS, AND TRUMP’S VERY BAD DAY

Anyone focusing on substance over style could see that Robert Mueller’s testimony gave Donald Trump a very bad day. Many in the media share the blame for any public perception to the contrary. Stephen Colbert called them out:

The numerous critics of Mueller’s appearance might consider how directors make a movie. For hundreds of hours over many weeks, they film individual scenes. The director then works with editors — slicing and splicing to create a coherent motion picture. Their goal is to create a finished product that will entertain an audience for a couple of hours. The final movie includes only the good stuff. If it contained all of the rough footage, no one would watch it.

For more than five hours on July 24, viewers saw rough footage as the House began the process of creating the most important documentary in American history. But buried in those hours of testimony was some important stuff — including riveting “Mueller moments” that refuted Trump’s favorite lies.

The Truth About Trump’s Key Talking Points

For example, at the outset, Mueller confirmed that Trump’s central rhetorical talking points — “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Total Exoneration” — are lies. Without hesitation, he refuted each of them:

He similarly dispatched “Witch Hunt” and “Hoax”:

But those moments didn’t gain as much media traction as Mueller’s demeanor. So Trump continues undaunted — repeating the lies. Three days after Mueller’s testimony, he strung them all together yet again in a July 27 tweet:

The Truth About Collusion

Likewise, when Trump claims that Mueller found “no collusion,” most Americans believe it means that Mueller cleared Trump and his campaign of accepting Russia’s help to win the 2016 election. But this exchange between Mueller and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) made clear that the Trump campaign did exactly that:

SCHIFF: Russia committed federal crimes in order to help Donald Trump?

MUELLER: When you’re talking about computer crimes in the charge…

SCHIFF: Yes.

MUELLER: … in our case, absolutely.

SCHIFF: The Trump campaign officials built their strategy – their messaging strategy around those stolen documents?

MUELLER: Generally that’s true.

SCHIFF: And then they lied to cover it up.

MUELLER: Generally, that’s true.

The sequence came at the end of Schiff’s first round of questioning. Take four minutes and watch all of it:

The Truth About Obstruction

Regarding obstruction of justice, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee focused on just a few of Trump’s obstructive efforts that Mueller’s report detailed:

— Trump’s direction to then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller,

— Trump’s subsequent efforts to get McGahn to deny that he had issued such an order,

— Trump’s efforts through former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had recused himself from the Mueller investigation) to curtail Mueller’s probe, and

— Trump’s repeated efforts to dangle pardons to Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen.

As Mueller confirmed stunning facts and findings that Trump tried to interfere with the investigation, no Republican on the committee disputed any of them. Rather than focus on Mueller’s alarming message, most media pundits critiqued the style of the messenger.

The Truth About Russian Interference

Mueller’s opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee emphasized the gravity of Russia’s election interference — and then he repeated those concerns verbatim to the House Intelligence Committee:

“[O]ver the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious….”

In response to Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-TX) questions, Mueller added: “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

Yet the next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led efforts to block two bills that would strengthen election security. One would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance. The other would allow the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

The Truth Should Matter

The testimony of eyewitnesses will help the many scenes in Mueller’s report coalesce into a digestible narrative. But it will take time. For example, in June 1973, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel John Dean first testified to the Senate Watergate Committee about a “cancer on the Presidency,” but it still took more than a year for the House to vote articles of impeachment.

What happens next depends on the House of Representatives issuing subpoenas and the courts enforcing them. It depends on the media focusing on depth rather than sound bites and valuing substance over style. And it depends on the public’s patience and attention span. In the end, truth can prevail if it is seen and heard.

 

FOR DEMOCRATS, WEDNESDAY IS BIG; WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM ROBERT MUELLER

[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 23, 2019:]

Here’s the key fact about special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearances before two congressional committees on Wednesday: Most Americans haven’t read his report. They will be hearing for the first time what he knows about the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian election interference with the 2016 presidential election. And they will be hearing for the first time about obstruction by Trump and others to prevent Mueller from knowing even more.

Until now, the heads of America’s body politic have been filled with Trump’s false sound bites: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Total Exoneration.” Mueller’s appearances are the Democrats’ chance — perhaps their final chance — to replace those lies with facts and truth.

Early Signs Of Winners And Losers: Keeping It Simple

For Democrats, success will take the form of a simple, coherent story. That requires a narrative outlining nothing more than what Mueller’s report already says. And no legal jargon.

After Mueller sought guidance from the Justice Department, the deputy attorney general’s office told him to “remain within the boundaries” of his public report and May 29 statement. That’s fine. Mueller need go no farther to produce the story that Democrats should be seeking to convey anyway.

For Republicans, success means muddying the waters and encouraging Mueller’s silence in response to Democrats’ questions. If Democrats grandstand with sound bites for use in their 2020 re-election campaign ads, they will be helping Trump and the GOP in that mission.

Look For Competing Narratives: Collusion

The House Judiciary Committee will spend three hours quizzing Mueller on obstruction. Then the House Intelligence Committee will tackle his conclusions on Russian interference. But look for the Judiciary Committee to set the stage briefly with some context before diving into Mueller’s findings on obstruction. That requires asking Mueller to read a few pertinent passages from his report:

  • Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” operation to help Trump win the 2016 election;
  • “[T]he Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”; and
  • “[T]he Campaign expected that it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” [Vol. I, pp. 1-2]

Democrats can then neutralize Trump’s “No Collusion” lie by juxtaposing it against Mueller’s report. He made no such a finding. In fact, he didn’t even consider “collusion” because, as a legal concept, the term relates only to antitrust law.

The format of alternating questioning periods between Democratic and Republican committee members provides Trump’s congressional allies with an opportunity to intersperse distractions. Look for them to pull out shiny objects relating to the origins of the Russia investigation, FISA warrants, text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and alleged political bias by members of Mueller’s team. None of that affects the evidence that Mueller, a lifelong Republican, found or the conclusions that he reported. But that’s all the GOP has, so they will go with it.

Look For Competing Narratives: Obstruction

The Judiciary Committee’s main narrative should include a series of questions that encourage Mueller to explain why obstruction matters to federal investigators, as he did in his May 29, 2019 press appearance:

“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Committee members should then ask Mueller these questions:

Must an attempt to obstruct justice succeed to be illegal? Mueller’s report already says no. He can read that passage aloud. [Vol. II, pp. 11-12]

Does obstruction require an underlying crime that the perpetrator is trying to obstruct? Again, Mueller’s report already says no. He can read that too. [Vol. II, p. 157]

Did Mueller find attempts to obstruct the government’s effort to find the truth in connection with Russian election interference? His report already provides the answer, and the Democrats apparently plan to focus on this sample:

  • Trump’s direction to the former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and then publicly lie about it;
  • Trump’s request that Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign chief, ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassert control of the investigation and limit its scope; and
  • Possible witness tampering to discourage two aides, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, from cooperating with investigators. For example, Trump dangled a pardon in front of former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Thereafter, Manafort changed his story and breached an agreement to cooperate with the government. [Vol. II, pp. 127-128]

For each episode, look for Democrats to develop a simple narrative by asking Mueller to quote from the various witness statements in his report. Democrats can then neutralize Trump’s “No Obstruction” lie by asking Mueller if, in fact, he had made such a finding. He didn’t. The natural follow-up similarly disposes of Trump’s “Total Exoneration” lie. For both, Mueller can conclude by reading aloud this passage:

“[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

And then this one:

“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” [Vol. 2, p. 2]

Then It’s On To The House Intelligence Committee

Look for the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to revisit the larger themes:

  • Russia interfered in the 2016 election and wanted Trump to win. Mueller should be asked to explain Russia’s “systematic and sweeping” operation. It will be difficult to get him talking, but on this subject he might be willing to do so and they should try.
  • The Trump campaign embraced Russia’s help. Mueller should describe his evidence that the campaign welcomed Russian assistance.
  • There were numerous links between the Trump campaign and Russia. That requires Mueller to name names and their positions in the campaign, all of which are in the report.

The narrative could also dovetail with obstruction. In addition to the major episodes that the Judiciary Committee is expected to cover, the following specific items could provide additional color:

  • Trump refused to let Mueller interview him and limited the scope of written questions to “certain Russia-related topics.” [Vol. II, p. C-1]
  • After receiving Trump’s written responses, Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that the answers were insufficient in several respects. On 30 occasions, Trump said he did not “recall or remember” or have an “independent recollection” of the information Mueller requested. [Vol. I, p. C-1]
  • When Mueller followed-up, seeking an “in-person interview, limited to certain topics,” Trump refused. [Vol. II, pp. C-1-2]
  • Donald Trump Jr. refused to let Mueller interview him on any subject, including the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. [Vol. I, p. 117]
  • Individuals associated with the Trump campaign “lied to investigators about Campaign contacts with Russia and have taken other actions to interfere with the investigation.” [Vol. I, p. 191]
  • As former national security adviser Mike Flynn faced criminal investigation, Trump’s attorneys conveyed to his attorneys Trump’s continuing support. [Vol. II, pp. 120-122]. Trump is still fueling speculationthat he’ll pardon Flynn, and Flynn’s formerly cooperative relationship with the government pursuant to his guilty plea deal has deteriorated.
  • Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Erik Prince exchanged dozens of text messages about a Jan. 11, 2017 meeting in the Seychelles involving Russians, but those messages mysteriously disappeared. (Vol. I, p. 156)

Above All: Listen To Mueller

Mueller is reportedly planning to give an opening statement. If he reiterates the themes of his report and May 29 statement, he will be sending this message to Congress and the American people: He found evidence of wrongdoing, but his conspiracy investigation crashed into Trump’s wall of obstruction. What Mueller refers to as the constitutional process for moving forward lies with the House of Representatives, not him or Attorney General William Barr.

Listen for that message, and ignore the distractions that Trump’s congressional defenders offer along the way.

BEHIND ACOSTA’S RESIGNATION: UNTANGLING JEFFREY EPSTEIN’S TANGLED WEB: HIGH-POWERED LAWYERS, TRUMP, AND A PERSONAL SAFE

[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 21, 2019]

In 2006, Jeffrey Epstein faced serious criminal charges related to sex abuse of minor girls. He tapped Jay Lefkowitz, a nationally prominent commercial litigator at one of the nation’s top law firms, to be a key point person in dealing with then-US Attorney Alex Acosta. Lefkowitz is not a criminal defense lawyer. But he and Acosta shared an earlier connection that may have made him a uniquely valuable member of Epstein’s team: the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.

From 1995 to 1997, Acosta had been an associate in Kirkland’s Washington DC office, where Lefkowitz was and still is a partner. The fact that Lefkowitz and Acosta were once colleagues at the same law firm doesn’t mean either of them did anything wrong when they were on opposite sides of the Epstein case.

Attorney General William Barr has a Kirkland connection too. He was of counsel to the firm in 2009, and then again from 2017 until 2019. He acknowledged that it could affect his role in the Epstein case:

Jan. 15, 2019: At Barr’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) asks him whether he will follow-up on the Miami Herald’s recent investigative reporting on Epstein’s “sweetheart” plea deal. Barr says he has been advised to recuse himself from matters involving his former firm, Kirkland & Ellis. “I need to sort out exactly what my role can be,” he adds.

February 2019: The Justice Department’s office of professional responsibility opens an investigation “into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.” Barr recuses himself from that investigation.

Later that month, a Florida federal court rules that Acosta’s office violated federal law by failing to inform Epstein’s victims about the negotiations not to prosecute him. The court concludes: “Epstein’s counsel was aware that the Office was deliberately keeping the NPA [non-prosecution agreement] secret from the victims and, indeed, had sought assurances to that effect.“ (The events leading to that conclusion are described in Part I of this series.)

July 2, 2019: A federal grand jury in New York indicts Epstein for sex trafficking that involves victims as young as 14. Three days later, the FBI executes a search warrant at his New York townhouse and discovers a cache of photos, some of which are in a locked safe that also contains CDs with labels such as “Girl pics nude.” The safe also contains $70,000 in cash, 48 loose diamonds, and an Austrian passport with his photo and a fake name.

Barr does not recuse himself from the New York case.

Lurking in the Background: Trump

1992: At Trump’s request, a Florida-based businessman arranges an exclusive “calendar girl” competition at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. The participants are 28 women and only two men — Trump and Epstein. (NBC found a tape in its archives of the Trump and Epstein dancing with cheerleaders at Mar-a-Lago in November 1992.)

VIDEO CLIP: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tape-shows-donald-trump-jeffrey-epstein-discussing-women-1992-party-n1030686

2002: Donald Trump tells New York Magazine, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

July 9, 2019: Trump comments on the Epstein situation:

VIDEO CLIP: https://twitter.com/joshtpm/status/1148634240441098240

July 12, 2019: Acosta resigns as Secretary of Labor. Standing next to him, Trump says, “He doesn’t have to do this.” Trump adds that he “was not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein” and kicked him out of Mar-a-Lago: “It shows you one thing — that I have good taste.”

Acosta Lost His Battle Against the Facts

At his July 10, 2019 press conference, Acosta cast himself as a hero for not letting Epstein “walk.” He applauded New York prosecutors for pursuing the latest charges against Epstein. But in that case, Epstein’s lawyers are using unusual language in the NPA to argue that the government resolved all sex-related charges that any US attorney in every federal jurisdiction could ever file against him for offenses through September 2007, including the New York charges that Acosta is now championing publicly.

Acosta told reporters that the current controversy arose because “facts are being overlooked.” His real problem was the narrative resulting from close attention to some very bad ones. And now he’s out of a job.

A Curious Footnote

According to reporting by The Daily Beast, Trump’s transition team had asked Acosta if the Epstein case would cause any problems for his confirmation as labor secretary. He said that he had cut the deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he’d been told to “back off” — that Epstein was above his pay grade: “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone.”

At his July 10 press conference, a reporter asked him whether he was ever told that Epstein was an “intelligence asset of some sort.” Acosta dissembled:

VIDEO CLIP: https://twitter.com/joshtpm/status/1149037094653898752

Which takes us back to the photos, cash, diamonds, and the Austrian passport that the FBI found in Epstein’s safe. At his July 15 bail hearing, federal prosecutors cited the passport among many reasons that Epstein posed a serious flight risk and should not be released pending trial.

The following day, his attorneys wrote to the judge, “[I]t expired 32 years ago. And the government offers nothing to suggest — and certainly no evidence — that Epstein ever used it.”

Federal prosecutors responded, “In fact, the passport contains numerous ingress and egress stamps, including stamps that reflect use of the passport to enter France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.”

“The Government further notes that the defendant’s submission does not address how defendant obtained the foreign passport and, more concerning, the defendant still has not disclosed to the Court whether he is a citizen or legal resident of a country other than the United States.”

There’s much more to the Jeffrey Epstein story. It continues in the next installment of this series. Part I is available here.

 

ICE DEPORTATION RAIDS AND RACIST TWEETS AS DISTRACTIONS: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH JULY 15, 2019

Over time, Trump’s announced date for his ICE deportation raids to round up immigrants has changed in curious ways. Look at the timeline:

  • May-June: The media report that special counsel Robert Mueller is negotiating with House leaders about appearing before Congress.
  • June 17: Trump reveals that the raids would begin on June 23. Trump’s tweet announcing the raids surprises even ICE, which is charged with executing them.
  • June 22: Mueller’s agreement to testify still is not set. Trump delays the raids for what he says will be two weeksJuly 7. His nonsensical reason: to give Democrats in Congress a chance to come up with a solution to the mess he created at the southern border.
  • June 25: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announces that Mueller’s will appear and testify publicly on July 17.
  • July 6: As Trump’s initial two-week deadline of July 7 approaches, it morphs into an undefined “fairly soon.”
  • July 12: With Mueller set to testify on July 17, Trump announces that the raids will start on Sunday, July 14.

Whatever else may have motivated Trump, the raids were always a surefire way to dominate the news cycle and reduce whatever coverage Mueller might receive. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. But mastering the center ring of the media circus is Trump’s great strength.

Beware of What Comes Next

After Trump confirmed the raids on July 12, Nadler announced that Mueller’s congressional appearance would be delayed until July 24. As it turned out, the ICE raids were a bust. So on Monday, July 15, Trump launched racist tweets against four congresswomen. All of this is read meat for Trump’s base. But it also draws attention away from Mueller’s upcoming testimony on July 24.

Here’s my prediction: even more sensational distractions lie ahead. Do not underestimate the lengths to which Trump will go in avoiding public attention to — and a more complete understanding of — his Trump-Russia problems. He is using every tool that he and Attorney General William Barr can find to protect him.

And as Trump now likes to say, under Article 2 of the Constitution, those tools are formidable. He’s referring to Sections 1, 2 and 3. Section 4 provides for impeachment. The House controls that tool.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

BETWEEN JUNE 2015 AND NOVEMBER 2016: Russian Twitter Accounts Back Trump, Trump’s Poll Numbers Improve (revision of previous entry)

MAY 13, 2019: Barr Orders Another Review of Trump-Russia Investigation’s Origins (revision of previous entry)

JULY 2, 2019: Trump Tweets: Mueller Must Stick to His Report, As He Said He Would

JULY 4, 2019: Amash Leaves GOP; Trump Tweets ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction’ 

JULY 5, 2019: Donaldson Confirms Accuracy of Her Notes; White House Blocks Donaldson’s Efforts to Answering 212 Questions 

JULY 5, 2019: Trump Retweets Attacks on Mueller Investigation’s Origins, Impeachment

JULY 8, 2019: Trump Tweets: Mueller Appointment ‘Fundamentally Illegal’, ‘Witch Hunt’

JULY 8, 2019: Barr Says Mueller Appearance Will Be a ‘Public Spectacle’, Will Block Efforts to Subpoena Mueller’s Team Members

JULY 9, 2019: Sater Testifies Before House Intelligence Committee; Committee Slams Him for Being Uncooperative

JULY 9, 2019: Trump Retweets About Mueller Testimony as ‘Public Spectacle’

JULY 9, 2019: Flynn Won’t Testify in Suit Against His Former Business Partner

JULY 9, 2019: Trump Tweets Hannity Clips on Flynn, ‘Plot’ to ‘Frame Trump’; ‘Steele (FAKE) Story’

JULY 10, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets: ‘Dems Witch Hunt Continues’

JULY 11, 2019: House Judiciary Committee Subpoenas 12 People; Trump Lashes Out

JULY 12, 2019: Mueller Testimony Delayed

JULY 12-13, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Mueller, Clinton, ‘Witch Hunt’

BEHIND ACOSTA’S RESIGNATION: UNTANGLING JEFFREY EPSTEIN’S TANGLED WEB – PART I

[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 15, 2019]

Alex Acosta is no longer Secretary of Labor, but Jeffrey Epstein’s cloud will never leave him.

From 1999 to 2007, Epstein lured dozens of girls — some as young as 14 — to his Palm Beach residence where he and friends sexually abused them. After a Palm Beach County grand jury indicted him on charges relating to one of his minor victims, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with the US attorney’s office for the southern district of Florida. The agreement immunized him from federal charges relating to all of Epstein’s other victims. At the time, Acosta was in charge of that office.

By the time the NPA was finalized, Acosta already knew that the Epstein case involved dozens more young girls. He was nevertheless personally involved in negotiations with Epstein’s attorneys that resolved all charges with these key points:

  • In return for pleading guilty to one state count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of soliciting minors to engage in prostitution, Epstein got a light sentence and complete immunity from federal prosecution. He also had to register as a sex offender.
  • Any “potential co-conspirators” also got immunity.
  • The agreement would remain confidential.

Only the dogged reporting of The Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, kept Epstein’s deal from becoming just another untold story about America’s special system of criminal justice for the rich. Instead, Epstein faces a new round of sex trafficking charges brought by the US attorney for Manhattan.

The legal trigger for new scrutiny of the 2007 NPA is the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (2004), which became law when Acosta was assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division for President George W. Bush. The law requires that a prosecutor who decides not to prosecute a sex offender must notify all known victims. The purpose of the law is to protect victims’ rights and ensure their involvement in the criminal justice process. In Epstein’s case, that didn’t happen in time to stop the deal.

At a July 10, 2019 press conference, Acosta defended the NPA. “Facts are being overlooked,” he complained. So let’s look at them.

The Crime Scandal

1999-2007: Epstein sexually abuses more than 30 minor girls at his Palm Beach mansion and other residences, according to a federal court’s later findings.

2005-2006: After a complaint from the parents of a 14-year-old girl that Epstein had sexually abused her, Palm Beach County police identify approximately 20 minor girl victims and ask the FBI to investigate. As a potential federal case, it comes under the jurisdiction of US attorney for the southern district of Florida, Alex Acosta.

2006: A Florida state grand jury indicts Epstein on a state charge of soliciting prostitution. It involves only one girl and does not disclose that she is a minor. Epstein hires a legal defense team that eventually includes Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, as well as Kirkland & Ellis partners Ken Starr and Jay Lefkowitz.

May 2007: Prosecutors in Acosta’s office draft a 53-page indictment identifying 12 of Epstein’s victims.

The Plea Agreement Scandal

Sept. 24, 2007: After prosecutors in Acosta’s office exchange multiple drafts with Epstein’s attorneys, Epstein signs the NPA. But he doesn’t appear before the state court to enter a plea pursuant to that agreement until June 30, 2008. In the interim, Acosta and prosecutors in his office negotiate with Epstein’s attorneys — including Starr and Lefkowitz — over the substance and timing of a victim notification letter. Epstein’s attorneys also seek review of the case at a “higher level” within the Justice Department to determine whether federal prosecution is appropriate at all.

Oct. 12, 2007: Lefkowitz and Acosta meet for breakfast. Lefkowitz follows up with a letter to Acosta stating, “I also want to thank you for the commitment you made to me during our October 12 meeting in which you … assured me that your Office would not … contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses, or potential civil claimants and their respective counsel in this matter.”

Nov. 29, 2007: After a prosecutor in Acosta’s office informs Lefkowitz that the office has a statutory obligation to notify Epstein’s victims about the plea deal, Lefkowitz sends Acosta a letter objecting to a proposed victim notification letter. He states that no letter should be sent to the victims before Epstein enters his plea or has been sentenced. Lefkowitz also says that the victims should not be invited to the state sentencing or encouraged to contact law enforcement officials.

Jan. 10, 2008: The FBI sends letters to Epstein’s victims stating, “This case is currently under investigation. This can be a lengthy process and we request your continued patience while we conduct a thorough investigation.” The letters don’t mention that the NPA will bar Acosta’s office from prosecuting Epstein federally.

 June 30, 2008: Federal prosecutors had identified 31 individuals “whom it was prepared to name in an indictment” as Epstein’s victims and the deputy attorney general had determined that federal prosecution of Epstein was appropriate. Pursuant to the NPA, he pleads guilty to two state charges: one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18.

Epstein then serves a 13-month sentence in a private wing of a Palm Beach jail and is allowed to leave 12 hours a day, six days a week, to work out of a nearby office.

Why did Acosta let this happen?

That’s the subject of Part II.

 

TRUMP’S CENSUS FIGHT CONTINUES: A ‘CONTRIVED’ PRETEXT AND A CREDIBILITY CRISIS FOR HIS LAWYERS

[The following post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 6, 2019]

Trump’s handpicked Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, has a problem. After a New York federal court barred inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census survey, he told the US Supreme Court repeatedly that June 30, 2019, was a firm deadline for printing the survey.

The Court believed him. For the first time in 15 years, it took the extraordinary step of bypassing an intermediate appellate court to expedite consideration of Trump’s case.

On July 3, Trump made Francisco look like a liar. By July 5, he looked even worse.

Why It Matters

The US Constitution requires a census of the entire US population (not just citizens) every 10 years as the basis for allocating the number of seats that each state receives in the US House of Representatives (and electoral votes in presidential elections). Those allocations remain in place for the subsequent decade. The census also determines how the federal government distributes billions in federal funds to states and local communities. The survey goes to 100% of the nation’s households.

Asking survey respondents about their citizenship would discourage some from responding to it at all. For example, including the question in the 2020 census would result in an estimated undercount of 6 million Hispanics — or about 12 percent of the US Hispanic population. According to a recent analysis from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and The Washington Post, the House impact would benefit Alabama, Minnesota, Ohio, and Montana at the expense of California, Arizona, and Texas. “Similar changes would hit state and local districts across the country when they are redrawn using the same data,” the Post reports.

On March 28, 2017, the Census Bureau (part of the Commerce Department) told Congress that — as in prior years — the 2020 census survey would not include a citizenship question.

Distorting the Process

Then Trump politicized what has always been a non-political exercise. The timeline tells the tale.

Spring 2017: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross discusses with Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions the addition of a citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 census survey. At the time, Jody Hunt is Sessions’ chief of staff. (Special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report cites Hunt and his notes frequently, including Trump’s reaction to Mueller’s appointment in May 2017: “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”)

May 2: Ross sends an email to Commerce Department officials, stating, “I am mystified why nothing have [sic] been done in response to my months old request that we include the citizenship question. Why not?”

Ross can’t just add the citizenship question himself. He needs a rationale.

Dec. 12: After trying unsuccessfully to get the Justice Department and other federal agencies to seek citizenship information through the 2020 survey, a Justice Department official finally sends such a request to the Census Bureau. The stated justification is to assist in Voting Rights Act enforcement.

Jan. 20, 2018: The Census Bureau’s chief scientist recommends against including the requested citizenship question because it “is very costly” and “harms the quality of the census count.” He notes that the five-year American Community Survey already gathers better citizenship information more efficiently.

Mar. 19: The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee tell supporters that Trump wants a citizenship question on the census survey.

Mar. 20: Ross appears before a House subcommittee where Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) asks, “Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding the citizenship question?” Ross answers, “I am not aware of any such.” Two days later, he tells another House committee that the Justice Department “initiated the request” for a citizenship question, omitting the extensive email trail proving otherwise.

Apr. 3, 2018: New York state sues to remove the citizenship question from the survey. Additional lawsuits follow.

Jan. 15, 2019: Trump loses the New York case, and the court bars the citizenship question from the survey.

Final Resolution Required “by the End of June 2019”

Jan. 22, 2019: Solicitor General Francisco asks the Supreme Court to bypass the appeals court and hear the case. Francisco argues that the government must finalize the census questionnaire for printing by the end of June 2019. In subsequent filings, Francisco invokes the June 30 deadline repeatedly.

Feb. 15: The Supreme Court agrees— for the first time since 2004 — to bypass the appeals court and hear the New York case directly.

“Contrived”

June 27: The Supreme Court rules on the appeal. Saying that it expedited the case based on Francisco’s claims that “the census questionnaire needed to be finalized for printing by the end of June 2019,” the Court then doubts Ross’s veracity:

“The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation that the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency)… [T]he sole stated reason seems to have been contrived.”

July 2: Ross issues this statement: “The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question.”

The same day, Justice Department attorneys tell a Maryland federal judge in a separate case the same thing: printing the form without a citizenship question is underway.

The “June 30 Deadline” Evaporates

July 3: Trump tweets that press reports about the citizenship question not appearing on the census form are “FAKE”:

The Maryland judge sees Trump’s tweet and convenes an emergency conference call to find out what’s going on. On the call, Justice Department attorneys scramble: “[T]his is a very fluid situation which we are trying to get our arms around,” the lead DOJ attorney tells the judge. He knew nothing about the government’s new position until Trump’s tweet.

Then his boss, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division (and Sessions’ former chief of staff) Jody Hunt, chimes in: “We at the Justice Department have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census.”

Sensitive to the urgency of the situation, the court orders the government to report back to him by 2:00 pm on Friday, July 5, on how it intends to proceed. The lead Justice Department attorney asks for a delay: “[G]iven that tomorrow is the Fourth of July and the difficulty of assembling people from all over the place, is it possible that we could do this on Monday?”

Judge: “No… If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing, and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don’t think you speak for your client anymore. “

July 4: Trump proves the judge’s point. Only Trump speaks for Trump:

July 5: The Justice Department tells the Maryland judge that DOJ and the Commerce Department are still evaluating whether there’s a way to include the citizenship question on the 2020 survey. Among the options under consideration: having Ross articulate yet another rationale for its inclusion. That would start a brand new round of litigation on the issue. Meanwhile, “the Department of Commerce and Census Bureau currently are enjoined from printing a census questionnaire that includes a citizenship question.”

What about the June 30 printing deadline? The government’s July 5 submission conspicuously omits any mention of it.

Trump is punting. Noel Francisco is the ball —and so, perhaps, is the very integrity of the census itself.

Steven J. Harper is a regular contributor to News & Guts and the creator/curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline. He’s an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of four books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”) and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis.He blogs at The Belly of the Beast. Follow him on Twitter (@StevenJHarper1).