TREATING SYMPTOMS; IGNORING THE DISEASE

On May 22, 2017, The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the legal profession’s enduring problem: psychological distress. For decades, attorneys have led most occupations in the incidence of serious psychological afflictions — depression, substance abuse, even suicide. Now some law firms are “tackling a taboo,” namely, the mental health problems of their lawyers.

Some observers theorize that a special “lawyer personality” is the culprit. In other words, we have only ourselves to blame, so no one should feel sorry for us. Then again, no one ever feels sorry for lawyers anyway. But attorney psychological distress has become a sufficient problem that, as the Journal reports, some big law firms are now “offering on-site psychologists, training staff to spot problems, and incorporating mental health support alongside other wellness initiatives.”

Stated differently, law firms are following the unfortunate path that has become a dominant approach in the medical profession: treating symptoms rather than the disease. Perhaps that’s because law firm leaders know that curing it would cut into their personal annual incomes.

The Facts

Other workers have serious psychological challenges, too. But attorneys seem to suffer in disproportionately high numbers. The Journal article cites a 2016 study of US lawyers finding that 20.6 percent of those surveyed were heavy drinkers (compared to 15.4 percent for members of the American College of Surgeons). Likewise, 28 percent experienced symptoms of depression (compared with eight percent or less for the general population). According to a 2012 CDC study cited in the Journal, attorneys have the 11th-highest suicide rate.

Now add one more data point. According to an ABA survey in 2007, lawyers in big firms are the least satisfied with their jobs. Anyone familiar with the prevailing big firm environment knows that it has deteriorated dramatically since 1985.

The New World

What has changed? For starters, just getting a job at a big law firm is more difficult. Corporate clients have found cost-effective alternatives to young attorneys billing $300 an hour to review documents. At many firms, demand remains soft.

But the real psychological problems begin after a new associate enters the door. For most of them, promotion to equity partner has become a pipe dream. In 1985, 36 percent of all lawyers in The American Lawyer’s first survey of the nation’s fifty largest firms were equity partners. In  2016, the comparable number was under 22 percent. More than 40 percent of all AmLaw 100 partners are now non-equity partners. The leverage ratio of equity partners to all attorneys has doubled. Stated another way, it’s twice as difficult to become an equity partner today as it was in 1985. That’s what’s been happening at the financial pinnacle of the profession.

The Business Model

There is nothing inevitable about the underlying business model that produces these outcomes. It’s a choice. In 1985, average profits per partner for the Am Law 50 was $300,000 — or about $700,000 in 2017 dollars. Today’s it’s $1.7 million. And the gap within most equity partnerships reflects their eat-what-you-kill culture. Instead of 3-to-1 in 1985, the ratio of highest-to-lowest partner compensation within equity partnerships often exceeds 10-to-1. As the rich have become richer, annual equity partner earnings of many millions of dollars has become commonplace.

At what cost? The future. As law firm leaders rely upon short-term metrics — billings, billable hours, and leverage ratios — they’re pulling up the ladder on the next generation. Too many associates; too few equity slots. Let the contest begin!

But rather than revisit the wisdom of the model, some big firm leaders have made what the Journal characterizes as a daring move: bring in a psychologist. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a far cry from dealing with the core problem that starts with the billable hour, moves through metrics that managers use to maximize short-run partner profits, and ends in predictable psychological distress — even for the so-called winners. The Journal notes that a psychologist at one firm was offering this sad advice to its attorneys: Take a cellphone reprieve by turning off all electronic devices between 2:00 am and 6:00 am.

But even such input from mental health professionals seems anathema to some firm leaders. According to the Journal, Dentons’ chairman Joseph Andrew says that his fear of offering an on-site psychologist was that “competitors will say we have crazy lawyers.”

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates recently told the New Yorker about her father, an attorney who suffered from depression and committed suicide. “Tragically,” Yates said, “the fear of stigma then associated with depression prevented him from getting the treatment he needed.”

For some firm leaders, “then” is still “now.” And that’s truly crazy.

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — SECOND UPDATE THROUGH MAY 30, 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.

  • September 2008: Donald Trump Jr. tells a real estate conference: “And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.” [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • April through November 2016: Mike Flynn and other advisers to the Trump campaign have at least 18 phone calls and emails with Russian officials, including six contacts involving Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. According to a later report by Reuters, Jared Kushner has at least two phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • Aug. 12, 2016: Florida GOP consultant Aaron Nevins reaches out to hacker Guccifer 2.0, who had invited journalists to send questions via Twitter direct messages relating to information that Guccifer 2.0 had hacked from the DNC and the DCCC. Under his pseudonymous blog, Nevins begins posting links to Guuccifer 2.0, along with highlights of the material. Nevins tells Guccifer 2.0 that releasing fresher data would have more impact and that the hacker should “feel free to send any Florida-based information.” [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Winter 2016: According to US Attorney Rod Rosenstein, during one of his first interviews with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to become deputy attorney general in the Trump administration, they discuss “the need for new leadership at the FBI.” [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Dec. 1 or 2, 2016: Unbeknownst to the press covering Trump Tower, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak visits Trump Tower visit to meet with Kushner and Trump’s NSA-designate Mike Flynn. According to a later report in The Washington Post, Kislyak reports to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner makes a surprising suggestion: use Russia’s diplomatic facilities in the US for a secret and secure communications channel between Trump and the Kremlin prior to the inauguration. According to the Post, Kushner wanted to use the Russian embassy so that American officials could not monitor the discussions. Later that month, an anonymous letter tipped off The Washington Post to what Kushner had supposedly said at the meeting. [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • On or around Jan. 11, 2017: Erik Prince — the founder of the Blackwater private security firm, $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign, and brother of Trump’s nomination for secretary of education Betsy DeVos — meets secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal is to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration. The meeting had been arranged by the United Arab Emirates, and came soon after a meeting between the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner in December. [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • Jan. 18, 2017: On his application for national security clearance, Jared Kushner omits his December meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the chief of the Russian bank, VEB. [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Jan. 29, 2017: Time photographs Trump at his desk in the Oval Office. Sitting across from him are Flynn and Kushner, about whom Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House about earlier that week. The caption indicates that Trump is speaking on the phone with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Also on March 2, 2017: The New York Times reports, and the White House confirms, a previously undisclosed Dec. 1 or 2 meeting involving Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to the Times, “Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to ‘establish a line of communication’ between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.” [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Also on April 6, 2017: The New York Times reports that Jared Kushner’s application for national security clearance had failed to disclose his December meetings at Trump Tower with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the CEO of the Russian bank, VEB. In a statement, Kushner’s attorney says that after learning of the error, Mr. Kushner told the FBI: “During the presidential campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the president-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity. … I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts.” [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • Also on May 18, 2017: Time reports that congressional investigators are reviewing whether Cambridge Analytica or Brietbart News played any role in working with Russian efforts to help Trump win the election. [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • Also on May 19, 2017: The Washington Post reports that federal investigators in the Trump/Russia matter have identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest. On May 25, news reports identify the official as Jared Kushner. [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • May 24, 2017: In response to media reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ application for national security clearance had failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials, Sessions says he was “instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.” [Added May 30, 2017]

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  • May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports on Kushner’s Dec. 1 or 2 meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at which, according to Kislyak, Kushner requested a secret and secure communication channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. On Dec. 12, 2016, an anonymous letter had tipped the Post to what Kushner had supposedly said at the meeting. Former US intelligence officials described the idea of a back channel using a hostile foreign power’s facilities is disturbing and dangerous. [Added May 30, 2017]

 

  • Also on May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee had demanded that the Trump campaign produce all Russia-related documents dating to June 2015. [Added May 30, 2017]

 

  • Also on May 26, 2017: Reuters reports that Jared Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during and after the presidential campaign. Two were phone calls between April and November. His attorney says that Kushner “has no recollection of the calls as described” and asks Reuters for the dates that they allegedly occurred. [Added May 30, 2017]

 

 

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — FIRST UPDATE THROUGH MAY 30, 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. 

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  • March 14, 2016: Investigators issue a report on Flynn’s security clearance application. According to the summary in Rep. Cummings’ May 22 letter, Flynn told investigators that he was paid by “U.S. companies” when he traveled to Moscow in December 2015. The report also says that Flynn told investigators he had not received any benefit from a foreign country. [Added to Pence Timeline May 25, 2017]

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  • July 15, 2016: Trump tweets:

[Added May 25, 2017]

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  • Also on Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President Pence says Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Host John Dickerson asks Pence, “Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence replies, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.” [Revised May 30, 2017]

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  • Also on Jan. 15, 2017: On Fox News Sunday, Pence denies contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. Responding to Chris Wallace, Pence says, “All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people.” On a third try, Wallace asks if Pence had ever asked Donald Trump if there were any contacts in the campaign between Trump or his associates and Russians. Pence answers, “Of course not.” [Added May 25, 2017]

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  • Feb. 19, 2017: NBC’s Chuck Todd questions Reince Priebus about Flynn’s firing. The White House line was that Trump had fired Flynn because he’d lied to Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians about U.S. sanctions. But that left an awkward gap of more than two weeks during which Trump apparently knew about Flynn’s deception before firing him. “Why did more than a week go by before the VP was informed of this issue?” Todd asks. “Well, I think he was always aware of the issue as to whether or not he talked about sanctions,” Priebus answers. Later, Todd asks about the more than two-week delay between Yates’ disclosure of Flynn’s deception and Trump’s decision to fire him. “Waiting that long, do you regret that it looks like that the vice president is essentially not in the loop?” Todd asks. “No,” Priebus replies, “the vice president’s in the loop on everything, Chuck.” [Added May 25, 2017]

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  • Within days of March 20, 2017: Less than a week after FBI Director Comey’s testimony, Trump personally calls the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers, and asks them to deny publicly the existence of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the election. A senior intelligence official says Trump’s goal is to “muddy the waters” about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats are ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel. Coats and Rogers deem Trump’s request inappropriate and refuse. [Added May 25, 2017]

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  • Also on April 25, 2017: Flynn reportedly receives a message from Trump to “stay strong.” When the story appears on May 18, the White House declines to comment. [Added May 25, 2017]

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  • May 23, 2017: Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee that during the summer of 2016, he noticed suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and associates of Trump’s campaign. Brennan says that he knew the US election was under Russian attack and feared that the Trump campaign might be aiding the effort. [Added May 25, 2017]

PENCE’S ROLE IN THE WHITE HOUSE’S RUSSIA-RELATED MESS

[This post first appeared at Bill Moyers & Company on May 26, 2017.]

The Trump White House has produced what appear to be at least three cover-ups. They relate to:

1) former-national security adviser Mike Flynn’s questionable activities relating to Turkey;

2) Flynn’s role in the Trump/Russia controversy; and

3) the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Each is a piece of the larger picture depicted in our overall Trump-Russia timeline. But the complexity of the entire situation can render even the summary timeline overwhelming.

So as we continue to update our overall Trump-Russia timeline, we’re also putting together timelines that track key players and events. Our timeline of the Comey firing is the first example. By isolating the pertinent portions of relevant entries that share a common thread, important players have fewer places to hide. Facts, truth, and clarity are Trump’s adversaries.

This Pence edition of the timeline focuses on the vice president: What did he know, when did he know it, and at what points did his public statements diverge from what he knew or reasonably should have known? (The final phrase creates legal responsibility for presumed knowledge, even if the speaker in question denies it.)

Ultimately, the facts will produce answers, and we’ll be updating the Pence timeline, too.

Pre-Pence Primer on Flynn

Cover-up #1: Pence, Flynn, and Turkey

  • July 15, 2016: Trump tweets:

  • 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.
  • Nov. 8, 2016: Trump and Pence win the election.
  • Nov. 10, 2016: During their first meeting after the election, President Obama warns Trump about appointing Mike Flynn to a top national security post. In 2014, Obama had removed Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • Nov. 11, 2016: Vice President-elect Pence replaces Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) as chair of Trump’s transition team.
  • 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.
  • Nov. 18, 2016: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sends Trump transition team chair (and Vice President-elect) Mike Pence a letter expressing concerns about national security adviser-designate Mike Flynn’s conflicts of interest. Specifically, Cummings worries about Flynn’s work for an entity affiliated with the government of Turkey, as well as a paid trip to Moscow in December 2015 during which Flynn was “highly critical of the United States.”
  • Nov. 28, 2016: Trump’s transition team acknowledges receipt of Cummings’ Nov. 18 letter regarding Mike Flynn.
  • Jan. 4, 2017: National security adviser-designate Mike Flynn tells the transition team’s chief counsel Donald F. McGahn II that he is under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. Flynn’s lawyer followed up, but did not get a call back until Jan. 6.
  • 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 national security adviser-designate Flynn tells Rice to hold off on approving the mission.
  • March 7, 2017: Former national security adviser 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.
  • 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 Gen. 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 Gen. 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.”
  • March 22, 2017: In a joint letter to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee request information and documents relating to payments that former national security adviser Mike Flynn received from entities affiliated with foreign governments, including Russia and Turkey.
  • 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 Jan. 10, the Obama administration had presented President-elect Trump with a plan to partner with the Kurds against ISIS, but his then-national security adviser-designate Mike Flynn had killed it.

Cover-up #2: Pence, Flynn and Russia

  • April through November 2016: Mike Flynn and other advisers to the Trump campaign have at least 18 phone calls and emails with Russian officials, including six contacts involving Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
  • Late November 2016: In a meeting that includes senior Trump transition national security team members, national security adviser-designate Mike Flynn reveals he has scheduled a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In attendance is Marshall Billingslea, a member of the team who had been a senior Pentagon official for President George W. Bush. He warns Flynn that any such communications carry risks because US intelligence agencies are almost certainly monitoring Kislyak’s conversations. After the meeting, Billingsea asks national security officials in the Obama White House for a copy of the classified CIA profile of Kislyak.
  • Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day President Obama announces sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Flynn places five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.
  • Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin makes a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweets:

  • Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President Pence says Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Dickerson also asks Pence, “Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence replies, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
  • Also on Jan. 15, 2017: On Fox News Sunday, Pence denies contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. Responding to Chris Wallace, Pence says, “All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people.” On a third try, Wallace asks if Pence had ever asked Donald Trump if there were any contacts in the campaign between Trump or his associates and Russians, Pence answers, “Of course not.”
  • Jan. 20, 2017: Trump and Pence are inaugurated.
  • Jan. 22, 2017: Flynn is sworn in as national security adviser, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
  • Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer says none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to The Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviews Flynn shortly thereafter.
  • Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House Counsel Don McGahn that, based on recent public statements of White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had lied to Pence and others about his late-December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to Sean Spicer, Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”
  • Jan. 27, 2017: McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House for another discussion about Flynn. He asks Yates, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another?” Yates explains that Flynn’s lies make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the Russians know that Flynn lied and could probably prove it.
  • Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells reporters at The Washington Post he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.
  • Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changes his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
  • Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.
  • Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post breaks another story: Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigns.
  • Feb. 19, 2017: NBC’s Chuck Todd questions Reince Priebus about Flynn’s firing. The White House line was that Trump had fired Flynn because he’d lied to Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians about US sanctions. But that left an awkward gap of more than two weeks during which Trump apparently knew about Flynn’s deception before firing him. “Why did more than a week go by before the vice president was informed of this issue?” Todd asks. “Well, I think he was always aware of the issue as to whether or not he talked about sanctions,” Priebus answers. Later, Todd asks about the more than two-week delay between Yates’ disclosure of Flynn’s deception and Trump’s decision to fire him. “Waiting that long, do you regret that it looks like that the vice president is essentially not in the loop?” Todd asks. “No,” Priebus replies, “the vice president’s in the loop on everything, Chuck.”
  • March 30, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that Mike Flynn is seeking immunity from prosecution in return for testifying before congressional intelligence committees. The next day, his lawyer confirms, “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.”
  • March 31, 2017: Trump tweets:

  • April 19, 2017: The White House refuses the March 22 bipartisan request from the House Oversight Committee for more information and documents relating to payments that former national security adviser Mike Flynn received from entities affiliated with the Russian and Turkish governments.
  • April 25, 2017: Flynn reportedly receives a message from Trump to “stay strong.” When the story appears on May 18, the White House does not respond to a request for comment.
  • April 28, 2017: The chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee send letters to several former Trump campaign advisers, including Carter Page, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Among other requests, the letters ask for a “list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015 and Jan. 20, 2017.” The letters also request information about any such meetings of which they are aware, as well as all documents relating to Trump campaign communications with Russian officials or business representatives. The committee also seeks information about any financial and real estate transactions related to Russia from June 15, 2015 through Trump’s inauguration.
  • May 11, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sends Mike Flynn a subpoena for documents that he’d refused to produce voluntarily in response to the committee’s April 28 letter request.
  • 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 Nov. 18, 2017 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 national security adviser-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 Gen. 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 Nov. 28, 2016 transition team message acknowledging receipt of Cummings’ letter.
  • May 22, 2017: Rather than produce documents in response to a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mike Flynn invokes his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Cover-up #3: The Comey Firing

  • May 8, 2017: Trump tells a few close aides, including Vice President Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn, that Comey has to go. According to ABC News, Pence, McGahn, chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Jared Kushner are members of a small group that begins to prepare talking points about Comey’s firing. Trump summons Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to the White House, where he instructs them provide a written justification for removing Comey. Before Rosenstein prepares the requested memo, he knows that Trump intends to fire Comey.
  • 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.”
  • May 10, 2017: 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: The Washington Post and The New York Times report that Trump had been the impetus for Comey’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.
  • Also on May 10, 2017: During an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and their aides, Trump 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.”
  • 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.

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.