[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.



[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.


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).


[This post first appeared on July 2, 2019, at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

As Donald Trump departed for the G-20 summit, a reporter asked him if he planned to bring up 2020 election meddling with Vladimir Putin.

“What I say to him is none of your business,” Trump retorted.


Actually, it’s every American’s business. The next day, as the two leaders sat together in Osaka, a different reporter asked Trump if he would tell Putin not to meddle in the upcoming US election.

“Of course, I will,” he replied. Trump turned to Putin, smiled, and said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Playfully, he wagged a finger in the air and repeated the line, as if it were all a big joke. Putin chuckled.


Among those who weren’t amused: Director of National Security Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and special counsel Robert Mueller (who may have the last laugh when he testifies on July 17).

Putin’s Choice

The Trump-Russia Timeline demonstrates why no American voter should brush off Russia’s ongoing election interference — and why Trump did.

JAN. 6, 2017: The US intelligence community issues the unclassified version of its report: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

JUL. 13, 2018: Coats says that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks is akin to the warnings of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks: “The warning lights are blinking red again… Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor. No question… These actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy.”


AUG. 2, 2018: Coats and Wray appear together at the White House daily press briefing and discuss Russia’s ongoing cyberattacks. “Russia attempted to interfere with the last election,” Wray says, “and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.” Coats adds, “We acknowledge the threat. It is real. It is continuing… In addition to that, it goes beyond the elections. It goes to Russia’s intent to undermine our democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies, and do a number of other nefarious things.”

JAN. 29-30, 2019: The US intelligence community submits its annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” to Congress: “We assess that Russia poses a cyber espionage, influence, and attack threat to the United States and our allies. Moscow continues to be a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack, and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives.” [Emphasis in original] Russia then plays prominently in the section titled “ONLINE INFLUENCE OPERATIONS AND ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”

MARCH 2019: Mueller’s report is unequivocal: “[T]he investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts….” [Vol. I, pp. 1-2] It describes Russia’s attack as “sweeping and systematic.”

MAY 29, 2019: Speaking for the first time about his investigation, Mueller emphasizes his concern about Russia: “I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”


Jimmy Carter Weighs In

The same day that Trump joked with Putin, historian Jon Meacham moderated a discussion with former President Jimmy Carter at the annual Carter Center donor retreat. Since 1989, the Center has served as official observer to 107 elections in 39 countries. Meacham asked him about Russia.

“There is no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election,” Carter replied. “And I think the interference, though not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

Carter went on to call Trump an “illegitimate president.”


Mueller Comes Next

In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. But he eked out an Electoral College victory based on a combined total of 77,744 votes in three states. Recent polls show him trailing virtually all of his potential 2020 Democratic rivals.

On July 17, Robert Mueller has an opportunity to describe publicly how Putin helped orchestrate Trump’s first presidential win. At the G-20 summit, Trump solicited an encore from Putin. He also invited other foreign adversaries to join the effort.

No joke.

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

JUNE 24, 2019: Trump Equivocates on Wray

JUNE 24, 2019: House Reiterates Demand For Info on Notes of Trump/Putin Meetings

JUNE 25, 2019: Mueller To Testify on July 17; Trump Responds: ‘Presidential Harassment’

JUNE 26, 2019: Trump Lashes Out About Mueller’s Upcoming House Appearances

JUNE 26, 2019: Trump and Putin To Meet In Japan; Trump Blasts Democrats on Mueller

JUNE 27, 2019: Manafort Pleads Not Guilty To NY State Charges

JUNE 28, 2019: Trump Laughs As He Tells Putin Election: ‘Don’t Meddle in the Election’; Putin Invites Trump to 2020 Russian ‘Victory Parade’

JUNE 28, 2019: Carter Calls Trump ‘Illegitimate’

JUNE 28, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Phony Witch Hunt’


Hope Hicks testified, sort of. Trump’s White House lawyers wouldn’t let her answer any questions from the House Judiciary Committee relating to her time in the White House — not even the location of her office.

Strange look for the “most transparent president in US history.”

But she did say that the Republican National Committee is paying her legal fees. Hicks also said that since leaving the White House, she has spoken to Trump “somewhere between 5 and 10 times”– most recently in April.

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 7, 2016: Page Gives a Lecture in Russia (revision of previous entry)

NOV. 2, 2017: Page Testifies Before House Intelligence Committee (revision of previous entry)

MAY 21, 2019: House Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Hicks, Donaldson (revision of previous entry)

JUNE 17, 2019: Manafort Headed For NY State Prison System Until DOJ Intervenes

JUNE 17, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction!’

JUNE 19, 2019: Hicks Testifies; White House Limits Testimony

JUNE 19, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Dems Want Do-Over’, Clinton Email Destruction Is ‘Real Obstruction’, ‘DEMOCRAT CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS ARE #RIGGED’, ‘Phony Witch Hunt’

JUNE 19, 2019: Deutsche Bank Facing Criminal Investigation

JUNE 21, 2019: Trump Tweets ‘Russia Collusion Hoax’


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

On June 18, White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Congress that former presidential aide Hope Hicks was “absolutely immune” from testifying about her work for Trump at the White House.

Laurence Tribe, pre-eminent constitutional scholar and Harvard law professor, found the claim “laughable”:

Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, likewise ridiculed it:

View video:

On June 19, White House lawyers showed up at Hicks’ closed interview and asserted Cipollone’s objection. She followed their instruction and refused to answer — 155 times. Afterward, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said, “We’re watching obstruction of justice in action.”

Here’s an example of what Lieu was talking about:

“Q: In the White House, where is your office located?”

“White House Lawyer: We’ll object to that.” (Tr. p. 86)

Transparency and television coverage are not Trump’s friends — or Cipollone’s — or Hicks’s. Mueller’s report and the Trump-Russia Timeline reveal why Trump is blocking testimony and resisting public hearings.

Trump-Russia Campaign Contacts

On Nov. 10, 2016 — two days after the election — Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the Kremlin maintained contact with Trump’s “immediate entourage” throughout the campaign. The same day, Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russian experts were in contact with some members of Trump’s staff during the campaign.

Immediately, Hicks contradicted them:

“We are not aware of any campaign representatives that were in touch with any foreign entities before yesterday, when Mr. Trump spoke with many world leaders.” She then denied any contacts between the campaign and Russia: “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” [Mueller Report, Vol. II, p. 21]

That wasn’t true. More than 75 pages of Mueller’s report outline “Russian Government Links To And Contacts With The Trump Campaign.” The more than 120 contacts included Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Cohen, Jeff Sessions, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page. (Vol. I, pp. 66-144; Tr. p. 153)


Hicks’ name appeared in Mueller’s report more than 180 times. At key moments in Trump’s effort to obstruct justice, she was there. Hicks has already told Mueller about them, but televised hearings would shine a public spotlight on the episodes.

  • Trump fury over Sessions’ recusal and Mueller’s appointment

MARCH 5, 2017: After Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Hicks witnessed Trump’s anger (although she’s not clear on the dates). (Vol. II, p. 51, fn. 304) When Trump learned about Mueller’s appointment on May 17, she saw his ire again — only worse. (Vol. II, p. 79)

  • Trump fired James Comey

MAY 6-7, 2017: Trump tried to cover-up his motives for firing FBI Director James Comey, but then told Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador his real reason: to remove the pressure of the Russia investigation. Hicks witnessed key moments in the episode.(Vol. II, p. 71, fn. 470)

  • Trump lied about the Trump Tower Meeting

JULY 8-9, 2017: The New York Times was breaking an explosive story: Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. had met on June 9, 2016, with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.” Trump personally formulated his son’s false statement to the press. Hicks was at the center of the action. (Vol. II, pp. 100-104)

  • Trump tried to limit Mueller’s investigation

JULY 19, 2017: Trump dictated a message that he wanted Corey Lewandowski to give then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He proposed a public statement limiting Mueller’s investigation to future elections only. Hicks typed it up for Lewandowski. (Vol. II, pp. 91-94, fn. 625)

  • Trump pressured McGahn to lie for him

JAN. 26, 2018: Trump wanted then-White House counsel Don McGahn to lie about The New York Times’ breaking story that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn refused. Hicks was in the loop. (Vol. II, p. 114)

When House Judiciary committee members directed Hicks to pages in Mueller’s report relating to those episodes, White House lawyers objected, and she refused to answer questions about them. (Tr. pp. 202-207)

End Game

The Republican National Committee is paying Hicks’ legal fees. (Tr. pp. 225-226) Since leaving the White House, she has spoken to Trump “somewhere between 5 and 10 times,” most recently in April. (Tr. p. 126)

The White House’s objection does not prevent Hicks from answering Congress’ questions. That’s her decision, but it’s now become her problem. Because if the courts reject the “congressional immunity” objection, her continued silence will lead to contempt penalties that she alone will bear — not Trump, Cipollone, or the RNC. At that point, she’ll face another decision.

This is the latest in a series of posts by Steven J. Harper on the Mueller report.


Call it multitasking. While Trump continues to stonewall Congress on everything relating to the Russia investigation, he appears on national television and confesses: Would he accept help from a foreign government to win an election? You bet.

It’s not really a surprise. In 2016, he did. Just ask Robert Mueller: “ABC’s Trump Interview Shows The Power Of Television.”

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

JUNE 3, 2019: House Schedules Vote to Hold Barr and McGahn in Contempt While Pursuing Alternatives; Judiciary Committee Schedules Hearings on Mueller’s Findings (revision of previous entry)

JUNE 10, 2019: Trump Tweets About John Dean’s House Appearance, ‘Phony Witch Hunt’

JUNE 10, 2019: Dean Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee

JUNE 11, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on House Judiciary Committee Hearings on Mueller Report: ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘No Collusion’, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT’

JUNE 11, 2019: House Authorizes Judiciary Committee to Enforce Barr and McGahn Subpoenas

JUNE 12, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets: ‘Phony And Never Ending Witch Hunt’ 

JUNE 12, 2019: Schiff Reiterates That FBI Has Not Briefed Congress on Counterintelligence Investigations Since Comey’s Firing

JUNE 12, 2019: Don Jr. Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee

JUNE 12, 2019: Justice Department Will Investigate CIA

JUNE 12-14, 2019: Trump Says Wray is Wrong: Trump Would Accept Foreign Help to Win Election; FEC Chair Responds: ‘It’s Illegal’; Trump Tries Clean-Up

JUNE 13, 2019: Trump Tweets About Flynn’s New Lawyer, Mueller Report, Barr, Impeachment, Stephanopoulos Interview

JUNE 13, 2019: House Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Flynn and Gates

JUNE 13, 2019: Trump Announces Sarah Sanders’ Departure

JUNE 13-14: Blackburn Blocks Legislation on Foreign Election Interference; Trump Tweets Praise

JUNE 14, 2019: Trump Says McGahn is Lying or Confused

JUNE 14, 2019: Trump Tweets “Witch Hunt Hoax’

JUNE 14-15, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Russia Investigation: ‘Coup Update’, Mueller Report ‘A Lying Hit Job on Trump’, Blames Obama, ‘May Be The Biggest Political Crime In The History Of The US’, John Dean Is ‘A Prop’, ‘Greatest Presidential Harassment Of All Time’

JUNE 15, 2019: NY Times Reports on US Digital Incursions Into Russia’s Power Grid; Trump Calls Report ‘Virtual Act Of Treason’

JUNE 16, 2019: Trump Tweets About Steele Dossier, Impeachment


[This post first appeared on June 16, 2019, at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump if he would accept a foreign government’s help to win an election, Trump answered, “I think I’d take it.” Of course he would. The Mueller report demonstrates that his 2016 campaign actually did:

“[T]he investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts….” (Vol. I, p. 5)

But Trump’s words became headlines because a 90-second television clip is more powerful than the accumulated evidence in a 448-page report that few people will read:


Like every US intelligence agency, Mueller concluded that the facts pointed in one direction: Putin wanted Trump to win and the Trump campaign embraced Russia’s assistance. And Mueller’s facts are stubborn things:

APR. 18, 2016: Russia has hacked Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s computer, gained access to Democratic (DNC and DCCC) networks, and is stealing DNC and DCCC documents. (Vol. I, pp. 4, 37-38)

APR. 19: A Russian internet troll farm purchases its first social media ads explicitly endorsing Trump for president — support that continues beyond Election Day. (Vol. I, pp. 25-26)

APR. 26:  In London, a Russian intermediary tells Trump adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia has “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos’ Russia-related communications with top campaign officials continue throughout the spring and summer. (Vol. I, pp. 5-6, 86-92)

JUNE 3: Donald Trump Jr. receives Russia’s offer “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary…[as] part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump….” Within minutes, Don Jr. responds: “[I]f it’s what you say, I love it especially later in the summer.” (Vol. I, pp. 112-117)

JUNE 9: At Trump Tower in New York, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort meet secretly with three Russians, including a lawyer with Kremlin ties. (Vol. I, pp. 112, 117)

JULY 22: Three days before the Democratic National Convention begins, WikiLeaks disseminates the first batch of stolen Democratic emails that it received from Russian intelligence officers. (Vol. I, pp. 44-46)

JULY 27: At a press conference, Trump says, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” (Vol. I, p. 49)


Less than five hours later, Russian intelligence officers target for the first time Clinton’s personal office. (Vol. I, p. 49)

SUMMER/FALL: The Trump campaign is “planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks.” (Vol. I, p. 54)

Several pages in Mueller’s report detailing “The Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Emails” are heavily redacted. (Vol. I., pp. 51-59)

Call the FBI?

Stephanopoulos reminded Trump that FBI Director Christopher Wray warned candidates to report offers of foreign assistance to the FBI. The Trump campaign never did.

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump said. “[I]f you go talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

Actually, it’s called a felony. In a rebuke to Trump, Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, tweeted, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.” Then her attached official statement began, “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.”

The next morning, Trump called into Fox & Friends and tried to walk back his admissions: “Of course you have to look at [“dirt” from a foreign government] because if you don’t look at it you’re not going to know if it’s bad. If I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated I’d report to the FBI or law enforcement, absolutely.” Using Weintraub’s words, Trump’s nonsensical approach would still leave him “on the wrong end of a federal investigation.”

About That Counterintelligence Probe

As Trump invites foreign interference, he stonewalls Congress’ demands for a briefing on the FBI’s counterintelligence probe, which Mueller’s report does not address. Taken together, Trump’s actions heighten a key counterintelligence concern: Whether Putin’s help with Trump’s 2016 campaign or Trump’s business ties to Russia have already compromised him.

In 1788, Alexander Hamilton understood that the “most deadly adversaries of republican government” come “chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?” (Federalist No. 68)

Hamilton posed a rhetorical question. In 2016, Trump made it real. As the 2020 election approaches, he has made it urgent.

This is the tenth in a series of posts by Steven J. Harper on the Mueller report. The first nine installments are available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.