What we still don’t know in Mueller’s report on Trump

The White House is seen through a security fence, before sunrise, in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Special counsel Robert Mueller has wrapped up his investigation, but whether the public will get answers to consequential questions about President Donald Trump and Russia remains to be seen.

Attorney General William Barr is combing through Mueller’s report and will release at least some of his findings publicly.

A look at what is still unknown:

DID THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN COLLUDE WITH RUSSIA DURING THE 2016 ELECTION?

Mueller’s team has assembled perhaps the most detailed account of Russia’s election interference and the actions of Trump campaign officials and associates in 2016, interviewing scores of witnesses and amassing millions of documents and other pieces of evidence.

Even before Mueller finished his report, court filings show he concluded that Russia launched a large-scale, multi-part influence operation that sought to help Trump’s campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton’s. Filings have also shown the Trump campaign sought to politically benefit from Russia’s efforts.

But the special counsel’s probe ended Friday with no Americans being charged with crimes related to the Kremlin’s attempts to sway the election. A Justice Department official also confirmed that Mueller is done bringing indictments.

What remains to be seen is what Mueller uncovered that may have fallen short of a crime and whether Barr will publicly address the collusion question head on.

DID TRUMP OBSTRUCT JUSTICE?

The special counsel has scrutinized several episodes, several of which involve the president and former FBI Director James Comey.

Prosecutors have interviewed White House officials about Trump’s May 2017 firing of Comey and his explanation in a television interview that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” at the time.

According to Comey, Trump also encouraged him to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn; harangued his hand-picked attorney general over his decision to step aside from the Russia investigation and tried to get him to reverse his recusal decision; and publicly attacked at least one cooperating witness, his former attorney Michael Cohen, as a “rat,” raising questions about whether he was attempting to intimidate associates to prevent them from testifying against him.

Also of interest to Mueller: The president dictated a misleading statement for the news media about a Trump Tower meeting at which his oldest son expected to receive damaging information about Clinton. The statement said the meeting was about adoptions but omitted the real reason why Donald Trump Jr. took the meeting in the first place.

Mueller has adhered to Justice Department legal opinions saying a sitting president cannot be indicted. But Mueller could have laid out his findings on the question of obstruction in his report, given that it was one of the original parts of his appointment order.

Whether the public will ever know is up to Barr.

WHAT ABOUT THE JUNE 2016 TRUMP TOWER MEETING?

It appears Mueller found no prosecutable crimes related to it.

The Russia probe concluded Friday without anyone involved in the gathering being charged because of it. That includes Trump Jr. and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, has been a source of endless public intrigue and a longstanding subject of the investigation.

Trump Jr., who invited Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort to the meeting, was promised dirt on Clinton as part of an ongoing Russian government effort to help his father. Trump Jr. responded enthusiastically to the overture, but after the meeting was disclosed, asserted that he had received nothing of note from Veselnitskaya and dismissed it as a veritable waste of time.

Prosecutors took grand jury testimony from multiple participants at the meeting, including a British music promoter who helped arrange it. But they never directly referenced it in court filings. It’s unclear whether Mueller will lay out what he learned about the meeting and how it factored into his larger probe.

Veselnitskaya faces unrelated charges in New York.

WHY HAVE SO MANY TRUMP ASSOCIATES LIED ABOUT RUSSIA?

George Papadopoulos. Michael Flynn. Paul Manafort. Roger Stone. Michael Cohen.

According to Mueller, all of these men lied in one way or another about something to do with Russia and Trump.

Papadopoulos lied about contacts he had with a Maltese professor who told him the Russians had dirt on Clinton in the form of emails. Flynn lied about his conversations during the presidential transition with Russia’s ambassador. Manafort lied about his interactions during the campaign with an associate the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence.

Stone is accused in an indictment of lying to Congress about his efforts to alert the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks’ plans to release damaging information on Clinton during the election. (Stone has pleaded not guilty.)

Cohen told Congress a false story about a business deal Trump was pursuing in Russia during the election. He says he lied out of loyalty to Trump and to be consistent with the president’s public denials about Russia.

For the rest, the motivation remains a mystery.

DID MUELLER ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS IN HIS REPORT?

He could have but it’s not required.

Justice Department regulations say only that Mueller must explain his “prosecution and declination decisions” in his report to Barr. A Justice Department official said Friday that the special counsel’s report was “comprehensive” and Barr’s letter to Congress is expected to summarize its “principle conclusions.”

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Sentencing report calls Manafort a ‘brazen’ criminal

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

In the memo, submitted Saturday in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.

“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”

Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”

The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.

Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.

The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.

Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.

Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.

In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.

Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.

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Read the sentencing memo: http://apne.ws/8MYWHdV
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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Court records reveal much of the Mueller report

Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump was in full deflection mode.

The Democrats had blamed Russia for the hacking and release of damaging material on his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn’t buying it. But on July 27, 2016, midway through a news conference in Florida, Trump decided to entertain the thought for a moment.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” said Trump, looking directly into a television camera, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” — messages Clinton was reported to have deleted from her private email server.

Actually, Russia was doing more than listening: It had been trying to help Republican Trump for months. That very day, hackers working with Russia’s military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton’s personal office.

It was just one small part of a sophisticated election interference operation carried out by the Kremlin — and meticulously chronicled by special counsel Robert Mueller.

We know this, though Mueller has made not a single public comment since his appointment in May 2017. We know this, though the full, final report on the investigation, believed to be in its final stages, may never be made public. It’s up to Attorney General William Barr.

We know this because Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin’s help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed.

Woven through thousands of court papers, the special counsel has made his public report. This is what it says.

RUSSIA, LOOKING TO INTERFERE

The plot began before Bernie Bros and “Lock Her Up,” before MAGA hats and “Lyin’ Ted,” before there was even a thought of Trump versus Clinton in 2016. It started in 2014, in a drab, concrete building in St. Petersburg, Russia.

There, a group of tech-savvy Russian nationals, working at an organization called the Internet Research Agency, prepared “information warfare against the United States of America.” The battleground would be the internet, and the target was the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Using a game plan honed on its own people, the troll farm prepared to pervert the social networks — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram — that Americans had come to depend on for news, entertainment, friendships and, most relevantly, political discourse.

It would use deception, disinformation and the expansive reach of the electronically connected world to spread “distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” Ultimately, it would carry a budget in the millions, bankrolled, according to an indictment, by Yevgeny Prighozin, a man so close to the Russian president that he is known as Putin’s chef. (Prighozin’s company has denied the charges).

It was a long game. Starting in mid-2014, employees began studying American political groups to see which messages fell flat and which spread like wildfire across the internet. The organization surreptitiously dispatched employees to the U.S. — traveling through states such as Nevada, California and Colorado— to collect on-the-ground intelligence about an America that had become deeply divided on gun control, race and politics.

As they gathered the research, the trolls began planning an elaborate deception.

They bought server space and other computer infrastructure in the U.S. to conceal the true origin of the disinformation they planned to pump into America’s social media blood stream. They began preparing networks of fake accounts they would use like sock puppets to masquerade as U.S. citizens.

The Russian trolls set up accounts that appeared to be associated with Black Lives Matter, the Tennessee GOP, Muslim and Christian groups and the American South. By late 2015, as Clinton sparred with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, and as American media still saw Trump as a longshot to emerge from a crowded Republican field, the Internet Research Agency began secretly buying online ads to promote its social media groups.

By February 2016, they were ready. A memo circulated internally. Post content about “politics in the USA,” they wrote, according to court papers, and “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump— we support them).”

As disinformation scrolled across American computer screens, an entirely different Russian operation readied its own volley.

In March 2016, as Clinton and Trump began to emerge as the leaders of their respective parties, Russian military intelligence officers began setting a trap.

Hackers in Russia’s military intelligence, known as the GRU, started sending dozens of malicious emails to people affiliated with Clinton’s campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

Like Watergate, it was a break-in. But this time, the burglary tools were emails disguised to fool people into sharing their passwords and in turn provide hackers unfettered access to their emails. The goal was to collect as many damaging documents as possible that could be released online and damage Clinton’s candidacy.

In a few short weeks, the hackers had penetrated their targets and hit the motherlode: the private Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

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A RECEPTIVE CAMPAIGN

While the Russians were hacking, a young Trump campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos received some startling news in London.

It was April 26, 2016. While traveling through Europe, he had connected with a Maltese academic. The professor, a middle-aged man with thinning gray hair named Joseph Mifsud, had taken a keen interest in Papadopoulos upon learning that he had joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. To dazzle his young friend, Mifsud boasted of his high-level Russian connections and introduced him to a woman named Olga — a relative, he claimed, of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mifsud and Olga wanted Papadopoulos to arrange a meeting between Trump aides and Russian officials. Eager to ingratiate himself with the campaign, Papadopoulos brought up his newfound connections in a meeting with Trump and several high-ranking campaign officials, saying he could broker a Trump-Putin summit. When he raised the idea, his lawyers later said, Trump nodded with approval and deferred to another aide in the room, future Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said the campaign should look into it. Sessions would later say he remembered telling Papadopoulos that he wasn’t authorized to speak for the campaign.

When he walked into a London hotel for breakfast with Mifsud, Papadopoulos expected to discuss Russia’s “open invitation” to meet with Trump. But the conversation quickly turned to another subject. Mifsud confided in Papadopoulos that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton. What kind of dirt? “Thousands of emails.”

What happened next remains a mystery. Prosecutors haven’t revealed exactly where Mifsud got his information or what Papadopoulos might have done with it. The encounter, the first known instance of a Trump aide hearing of stolen emails, would later help kick-start the Russia investigation. But at the time, it was just one of many connections already established between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Unbeknownst to the public, Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen had been trying to broker a business deal in Russia for the Republican candidate. The proposal was for a Trump Tower Moscow. A letter of intent was signed. Cohen had discussed it with Trump and his children. Cohen had even gone so far as to reach out to the Kremlin directly for help, speaking with an official about ways to secure land and financing for the project.

While Cohen pursued the deal, another person with Russia ties joined the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington insider, had made millions as a political consultant for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Over that time, Manafort developed a close relationship with a man named Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI says has ties to Russian military intelligence. Manafort also had worked for a Russian billionaire named Oleg Deripaska who is close with Putin.

But in March 2016, Manafort was looking for a comeback. His business had dried up after Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia. The millions that Manafort had hidden from the IRS while enjoying a lavish lifestyle were largely gone. With the Trump campaign, Manafort saw an opportunity to get back on his feet. He and his protege, Rick Gates, quickly worked their way into the highest levels of the campaign, and they began trying to make sure old clients had heard about their new positions.

As Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Manafort and those around him began preparing for a general election battle against Clinton.

The Russians did, too. The Internet Research Agency boosted its support of Trump — and disparagement of Clinton. Using stolen identities and bank account information, the troll farm also began buying political ads on social media services, according to Mueller.

“Donald wants to defeat terrorism … Hillary wants to sponsor it,” read one. “Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” read another.

Meanwhile, hackers with the GRU secretly implanted malicious software — called X-Agent — on the computer networks of the DNC and the DCCC. It allowed them to surreptitiously search through the political operatives’ computers and steal what they wanted. As the hackers roamed the Democratic networks, a separate group of Russian intelligence officers established the means to release their ill-gotten gains, registering a website, DCLeaks.com.

By May, the Democratic groups realized they had been hacked. The DNC quickly hired a private cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike, to identify the extent of the breach and to try to clear their networks of malware. But they kept it quiet until they knew more.

On the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos continued to push for a Trump-Putin meeting, unsuccessfully.

At the same time, another Russian outreach found a willing audience in Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

In early June, Trump Jr. exchanged a series of emails with a British publicist representing Emin Agalarov, a pop singer in Russia, whose father had partnered with the Trumps on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Emin Agalarov and Trump Jr. had become friendly, and the publicist, Rob Goldstone, had become a common intermediary between the two wealthy sons.

Over email, Goldstone brokered a meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer. He said the lawyer had documents that could “incriminate” Clinton and they were being shared as part of the Russian government’s support of the Trump campaign. “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. wrote back.

The meeting was held at Trump Tower in Manhattan on June 9. Trump Jr. attended along with Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. Participants in the room would later say the meeting was a bust, consumed by a lengthy discussion of Russian adoption and U.S. sanctions. To Trump Jr., the information wasn’t useful ammunition against Clinton. He was less concerned that it came from Russia.

Days later, on June 14, the DNC publicly announced it had been hacked, and pointed the finger at Russia.

By then, the Russian hackers had launched DCLeaks.com. According to Mueller , the DNC announcement accelerated their plans.

They created a fake online persona called Guccifer 2.0, which quickly took credit for the hack. Through Guccifer, the hackers masqueraded as a “lone Romanian hacker” and released caches of stolen material.

The efforts attracted the attention of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group led by Julian Assange from his exile within Ecuador’s embassy in London.

On June 22, 2016, the group sent a private message to Guccifer: “Send any new material here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”

Over the next several weeks, WikiLeaks requested any documents related to Clinton, saying they wanted to release them before the Democratic National Convention when they worried she would successfully recruit Sanders supporters.

We “think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting,” WikiLeaks wrote.

Using Guccifer, the Russian intelligence officers transferred the files to WikiLeaks, hoping for a big online splash.

They wouldn’t have to wait long.

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LEAKS AND CIGARS

July 22 was supposed to be a big Friday for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The former secretary of state was planning to announce Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. The party’s convention was just days away.

But at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, WikiLeaks stole the limelight, releasing more than 20,000 stolen DNC emails.

The cascade of stolen material was almost immediately picked up by American news outlets, conservative pundits and Trump supporters, who in the wake of Clinton’s FBI investigation for using a private email server, were happy to blast out anything with “Clinton” and “emails” in the same sentence.

So was Trump. After publicly questioning that Russia was behind the hack of Democratic groups, he took to the stage in Florida to make his famous call to Russia, “if you’re listening.” He would later begin praising WikiLeaks.

Smelling a possible political advantage, the Trump campaign reached out to Roger Stone, a close confidant of Trump’s who is known for his bare-knuckles brand of political mischief. Stone had been claiming to have connections to WikiLeaks, and campaign officials were looking to find out when Wikileaks would drop its next batch of documents.

According to an indictment against Stone, after the first release of DNC documents, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information” WikiLeaks had regarding Clinton’s campaign.

In August, Stone began claiming he had inside information into Assange’s plans. At the same time, he was privately sending messages to a radio host and a conservative conspiracy theorist — both of whom had claimed to have connections to WikiLeaks — seeking anything they knew. (No evidence has emerged that these messages made it to Assange).

That same month there was a meeting that went to the “heart” of the Russia investigation, according to a Mueller prosecutor. It involved Manafort, and it remains an enigma, at least to the public.

Court papers indicate Manafort had previously shared polling information related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik, his old Russian pal. According to emails and court papers, Manafort — looking to make money from his Trump access — had also been in touch with Kilimnik about providing private briefings for the billionaire Deripaska. (There’s no evidence such briefings ever occurred).

Meeting with Manafort and Gates at New York’s Grand Havana Room cigar bar on Aug. 2, 2016, Kilimnik brought up a possible peace plan for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. What happened at that meeting is in dispute and much of it remains redacted in court papers.

But the Mueller prosecutor would note: The men left separately to avoid unwanted attention.

As the campaign entered the final stretch and Trump’s advisers waited for the next WikiLeaks dump, Russian trolls— who had gained hundreds of thousands of social media followers — were barraging Americans with pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rhetoric, using Twitter hashtags such as ”#MAGA” and ”#Hillary4Prison.”

By early October, Stone was looking for more. On Oct. 3, 2016, ahead of an expected news conference by Assange, Stone exchanged messages with Matthew Boyle, a writer at Breitbart who was close to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon.

“Assange — what’s he got? Hope it’s good,” Boyle wrote to Stone.

“It is,” Stone wrote back. “I’d tell Bannon but he doesn’t call me back.”

Hours later, Assange held a news conference in which he appeared to waffle on whether he would release additional documents about Clinton.

Bannon reached out to Stone: “What was that this morning???” Stone chalked it up to a “security concern” and said WikiLeaks would be releasing “a load every week going forward.”

By Oct. 7, the Trump campaign was embroiled in its own scandal. The Washington Post released audio of Trump bragging about sexually harassing and groping women. But within hours, WikiLeaks gave Trump’s team a break.

The first set of emails stolen from Podesta’s accounts popped onto WikiLeaks’ website. Stone’s phone lit up. It was a text message from a Bannon associate.

“well done,” it read.

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A SERIES OF LIES

The first documented lie in the Russia investigation happened on Jan. 24, 2017, in the White House office of freshly appointed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

It was the Tuesday after Trump’s inauguration, and Flynn was settling in after a whirlwind presidential transition.

Since Trump’s victory in November, Flynn had become part of Trump’s inner circle — and the preferred contact between the Trump team and Russia. In late December, Flynn had asked Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., to reject or delay a U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Days later, as the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia for election-meddling, Flynn implored Kislyak not to escalate a “tit-for-tat” fight over punishment imposed on Moscow for election interference.

But on that Tuesday, when FBI agents asked Flynn about those conversations, he lied. No, he said, he hadn’t made those requests of Kislyak.

Days later in Chicago, other FBI agents confronted Papadopoulos as he had just stepped out of the shower at his mother’s home. Though his mother would later say she knew it was a terrible idea, he agreed to go to their office for questioning, where he misled them about his conversations with Mifsud, the Maltese professor.

Months later — after Mueller’s May 2017 appointment — Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project, saying it ended much sooner than June 2016. Cohen would later say he was trying to be loyal to Trump and match the public messaging of a president who had adamantly denied any business dealings with Russia.

Even when Trump aides tried to come clean and cooperate with Mueller’s team, they couldn’t keep their stories straight.

As he was working out a plea agreement with Mueller, Gates lied to investigators about his and Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying work. Manafort pleaded guilty and agree to cooperate but a judge later determined he had also misled Mueller’s team about several matters, including about his interactions with Kilimnik. Those lies voided the plea deal.

The deceptions played out as Mueller methodically brought criminal cases. He indicted the Russian hackers. He did the same to the troll farm. He exposed Manafort’s tax cheating and his illicit foreign lobbying, winning at trial and putting the 69-year-old political operative at risk of spending the rest of his life in prison. And one by one, his team got guilty pleas from Flynn, Papadopoulos and others .

Most recently, he indicted Stone, accusing him of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his efforts to glean information about the WikiLeaks disclosures. Despite emails showing him repeatedly discussing WikiLeaks with Trump advisers and others, Stone told lawmakers he had no records of that sort. (Stone has pleaded not guilty.)

In the backdrop of all this is Trump and his family.

Mueller’s grand jury heard testimony from several participants of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting arranged by Trump Jr., but no charges have been filed.

The mercurial president himself has made no secret of his disdain for the Mueller investigation and his efforts to undermine it. Mueller has investigated whether any of Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice, but the special counsel hasn’t gone public with what he found.

And it’s unclear if he ever will.
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Stone pleads ‘not guilty’ to witness tampering, obstruction

Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone arrives at Federal Court, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Roger Stone, a longtime adviser and confidant of President Donald Trump, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony charges in the Russia investigation after a publicity-filled few days spent slamming the probe as politically motivated.

The political operative and self-described dirty trickster faces charges that he lied to lawmakers, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

He was uncharacteristically quiet during Tuesday’s brief court appearance, rising to his feet to say, “Yes, Your Honor,” as U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson asked if he would agree to the conditions of his release, including restricted travel.

Stone attorney Robert Buschel entered the plea on his client’s behalf.

The voluble Stone, 66, held no press conference as he arrived and departed the courthouse amid dueling chants of “Lock Him Up” and “We Love Roger.” He waved and smiled to the small crowd, some holding up glowing photos of him, and he largely ignored a group of protesters carrying signs reading “Dirty traitor.” The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” blared from speakers outside the courthouse.

Although large crowds surrounded him as he was driven away in a black SUV, Stone was more subdued than during the circus-like atmosphere of his Friday court appearance, when he emerged in a blue polo shirt, flashed a Richard Nixon victory sign, predicted his vindication and vowed that he would not “bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself.”

Stone, who was arrested last week at his Florida home, is the sixth Trump aide charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The indictment does not accuse Stone of coordinating with Russia or with WikiLeaks on the release of hacked Democratic emails. But it does allege that he misled lawmakers about his pursuit of those communications and interest in them. The anti-secrecy website published emails in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election that the U.S. says were stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday that the investigation is “close to being completed,” although an exact timetable is unclear.

Mueller continues to be interested in hearing from Stone aide Andrew Miller, who is fighting a grand jury subpoena, indicating the special counsel could be pursuing additional criminal charges against Stone or others related to the release of hacked material during the 2016 election by WikiLeaks, its founder, Julian Assange, and the online persona Guccifer 2.0.

Paul Kamenar, Miller’s attorney, said Mueller’s team notified him of their continued interest late Monday. Miller defied the grand jury subpoena last summer and took his challenge of Mueller’s authority to a federal appeals court. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has yet to rule in the case.

Mueller’s team and lawyers with the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia are jointly prosecuting the case against Stone. They did not push for Stone to be jailed or for Robinson to impose a gag order in the case.

He remains free on $250,000 bond.

Stone, who has alleged without evidence that the FBI used “Gestapo tactics” in arresting him, has said he did nothing more than exercise his First Amendment rights to drum up interest with voters about the WikiLeaks disclosures. He has also denied discussing the issue with Trump.

“That’s what I engaged in. It’s called politics and they haven’t criminalized it, at least not yet,” Stone said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“All I did was take publicly available information and try to hype it to get it as much attention as possible, because I had a tip, the information was politically significant and that it would come in October,” he added.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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Roger Stone arrested for witness tampering, other crimes

Roger Stone speaks at the American Priority Conference in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump, was arrested Friday morning on several criminal charges stemming from the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

Stone is charged in a seven-count indictment with witness tampering, obstruction and false statements about his interactions related to the release by WikiLeaks of hacked emails during the 2016 presidential election. Some of those false statements were made to the House intelligence committee, according to the indictment.

The indictment brought by special counsel Robert Mueller does not accuse Stone of coordinating with the Russian government’s election interference in 2016, the key matter under investigation in the probe. But the indictment lays out in detail Stone’s conversations about stolen Democratic emails posted by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the Republican beat Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Mueller’s office has said those emails, belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, were hacked by Russian intelligence officers.

Stone is scheduled to appear in court in Florida later Friday. The indictment had been expected. Stone has said for months he was prepared to be charged, though he has denied any wrongdoing. A grand jury for months had heard from witnesses connected to Stone. And the intelligence committee last year voted to release a transcript of Stone’s testimony to Mueller as a precursor to an indictment.

Stone has publicly denigrated the Mueller investigation and echoed the president’s descriptions of it as a witch hunt. But he has long attracted investigators’ attention, especially in light of a 2016 tweet that appeared to presage knowledge that emails stolen from Podesta would soon be released. Stone has said he had no inside information about the contents of the emails in WikiLeaks’ possession or the timing of when they’d be released.

He has said he learned from Randy Credico, a New York radio host, that WikiLeaks had the emails and planned to disclose them. Stone has released emails that he says support that assertion.

Prosecutors had offered a plea agreement to Stone friend Jerome Corsi that would have required the conspiracy theorist and conservative author to admit that he intentionally lied to investigators about a discussion with Stone about WikiLeaks. But he rejected the offer.

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Mueller’s report could be be short on detail

Apecial counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has to end with a report. But anyone looking for a grand narrative on President Donald Trump, Russian election interference and all the juicy details uncovered over the last 20 months could end up disappointed.

Attorney General nominee William Barr, who will oversee the investigation after an almost certain Senate confirmation, says he wants to release as much information as he can about the probe into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election. But during his confirmation hearing Tuesday, he also made clear that he will ultimately decide what the public sees — and that any report will be in his words, not Mueller’s.

Some key questions about the Russia probe endgame:

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE INVESTIGATION ENDS?

Mueller will have to turn in a report of some kind when he’s done, but it could be pretty bare bones.

Justice Department regulations require only that Mueller give the attorney general a confidential report that explains the decisions to pursue or to decline prosecutions. That could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages.

Mueller has given no guidance on which of those it will be. Asked repeatedly over the past year, Mueller spokesman Peter Carr has pointed back to the regulations but otherwise declined to elaborate.

WHAT DOES BARR SAY HE’LL DO?

He said he envisions two reports — and only one for congressional and public consumption.

Barr said Tuesday he takes seriously the “shall be confidential” part of the regulations governing Mueller’s report, noting that Justice Department protocol says internal memos explaining charging decisions shouldn’t be released.

Barr said that after Mueller turns in his report, he will draft a second one for the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. But here again, the regulations provide little guidance for what such a report would say.

The attorney general is required only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times when he or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed “was so inappropriate or unwarranted” that it shouldn’t be pursued.

Barr indicated that he expects to use his report to share the results of Mueller’s investigation with the public, which the regulations allow him to do. But he hedged on specifics and said his plans could change after speaking with Mueller and Rosenstein.

“I don’t know what at the end of the day what will be releasable. I don’t know what Bob Mueller is writing,” he said.

WHAT WILL TRUMP DO?

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said the legal team wants to review any report before it’s released. He’s also raised the prospect that defense lawyers could try to invoke executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of any confidential conversation the president has had with his aides.

But it’s not clear the president’s lawyers will get an advance look at Mueller’s conclusions. Mueller, after all, reports to the Justice Department — not the White House.

Barr himself seemed to dismiss that idea. When Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, asked Barr if Trump and his lawyers would be able to correct the report before its release and put their own spin on it, the nominee replied flatly: “That will not happen.”

WILL THERE BE A FINAL PRESS CONFERENCE?

It’s hard to say, but it seems unlikely — especially if prosecutors plan to discuss people they never charged.

Former FBI Director James Comey broke from Justice Department protocol in extraordinary fashion with his July 2016 news conference announcing the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. Barr has made clear his disapproval.

“If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he said.

That said, there have been occasions where the department has elaborated on decisions not to pursue criminal charges. There’s also some precedent for special counsels appointed by the Justice Department to hold news conferences.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel who investigated the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame and who was granted even broader authority than Mueller, held a 2005 press conference when he charged I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. But even then, Fitzgerald drew a clear line that appears to line up with Mueller’s attitude so far.

“One of the obligations of the prosecutors and the grand juries is to keep the information obtained in the investigation secret, not to share it with the public,” Fitzgerald said at the time. “And as frustrating as that may be for the public, that is important because, the way our system of justice works, if information is gathered about people and they’re not charged with a crime, we don’t hold up that information for the public to look at. We either charge them with a crime or we don’t.”

CAN’T DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS JUST SUBPOENA MUELLER AND HIS REPORT?

Sure. And New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said as much.

“We could subpoena the final report. We could subpoena Mueller and ask him in front of the committee what was in your final report. Those are things we could do,” Nadler said in October on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

But Trump, as the leader of the executive branch, could direct the Justice Department to defy the subpoena, prompting a court fight that would almost certainly go to the Supreme Court.

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Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

‘Disgusted’ judge rebukes Flynn, delays sentencing

President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn leaves federal court. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A federal judge who described himself as disgusted by Michael Flynn’s behavior upended a straightforward sentencing hearing, postponing punishment for President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser and telling him in a stinging rebuke, “Arguably you sold your country out.”

Lawyers for Flynn requested the delay Tuesday after a tongue-lashing from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan raised the prospect that Flynn could spend time behind bars for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.

Prosecutors hadn’t recommended prison, but the hearing that began with the defendant upbeat and smiling took an unexpected turn when the judge said his sentence would take into account not just Flynn’s extensive cooperation with investigators but also the lies the Trump administration official told from the grounds of the White House.

“I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” Sullivan said.

The postponement gave Flynn a chance to continue cooperating with the government in hopes of staving off prison and proving his value as a witness, including in a foreign-lobbying prosecution brought this week. The possibility of prison had seemed remote for Flynn since prosecutors had praised his cooperation, including 19 meetings with investigators.

But the judge’s upbraiding suggested otherwise and made clear that even defendants like Flynn who have cooperated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may nonetheless be shadowed by the crimes that brought them into court in the first place. The hearing upset what had been a carefully crafted agreement and pushed months into the future a resolution of one of Mueller’s signature prosecutions.

“This is a very serious offense. A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House,” Sullivan said.

He later softened his tone, apologizing for suggesting that Flynn had worked as a foreign agent while in the White House when that other work had actually already ended. He also backpedaled on an earlier question on whether Flynn’s transgressions amounted to treason, saying he didn’t mean to suggest they did.

Flynn was to have been the first White House official sentenced in Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

The hearing, though incomplete, marked a remarkable fall after a three-decade military career that included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and oversight of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration. Though Flynn served only briefly in Trump’s White House, he campaigned for him and attracted attention for leading a Republican National Convention crowd in a “Lock Her Up” chant about Hillary Clinton.

The hearing came amid escalating legal peril for Trump, who was implicated by federal prosecutors in New York this month in hush-money payments involving his former lawyer to cover up extramarital affairs. Nearly a half-dozen former aides and advisers have pleaded guilty, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. Some, like Flynn, were tripped up by concealing Russian contacts.

Flynn’s help in the probes was especially notable. Yet he’s nonetheless enjoyed Trump’s continued sympathy, thanks in part to a sentencing memo last week that tapped into the president’s suspicion of law enforcement and took aim at the FBI’s conduct during the investigation.

Trump tweeted “good luck” to Flynn hours before the sentencing and said that, “despite tremendous pressure being put on him,” there was “no Collusion!”

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Flynn’s actions had nothing to do with Trump. “It’s perfectly acceptable for the president to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what the court’s determination is,” she said.

Sanders repeated her allegation that the FBI “ambushed” Flynn in an interview in which he lied. Of Trump’s earlier FBI criticism, she said, “We don’t have any reason to want to walk that back.”

Flynn’s legal woes stem from transition-period calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that raised intelligence community alarms even before Trump took office.

During those conversations, Flynn urged against a strong Russian response to Obama administration sanctions for Russian election interference and encouraged Russia’s opposition to a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. But when FBI agents approached him in the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, Flynn lied about those conversations, prosecutors said.

Flynn has never said why he lied, but Sullivan nonetheless castigated him for a deception that was then parroted by other senior administration officials.

The tone of Tuesday’s hearing startled Flynn supporters who hoped his lawyers’ arguments about the FBI’s conduct — they suggested he was discouraged from having a lawyer present during the interview and wasn’t informed it was a crime to lie — to resonate more than it did with Sullivan, who a decade ago tossed out the prosecution of a U.S. senator over government misconduct.

But while Sullivan tested those arguments, he was ultimately unmoved and Flynn mostly walked them back. He acknowledged that he indeed knew that lying to the FBI was a crime. Neither he nor his lawyers disputed that he’d lied to agents.

Flynn attorney Robert Kelner asked Sullivan not to penalize Flynn for the sentencing memo arguments, saying they were mostly intended to differentiate Flynn from other defendants in Mueller’s investigation who’d received prison sentences for lying. Though Sullivan said none of the other defendants was a White House official, Kelner suggested none had been as cooperative.

“He made the decision publicly and clearly and completely and utterly to cooperate with this investigation, knowing that because of his high rank, that was going to send a signal to every other potential cooperator and witness in this investigation,” he added.

After a prosecutor raised the prospect of Flynn’s continued cooperation with other investigations in the future, Sullivan warned Flynn that he might not get full credit for his assistance to the government if he were sentenced as scheduled.

Sullivan gave a visibly shaken Flynn a chance to discuss delaying the hearing with his lawyers. The court briefly recessed.

When they returned, Kelner requested a postponement so that Flynn could keep cooperating. Kelner said he expected Flynn would have to testify in a related trial in Virginia involving Flynn’s former business associates, and the defense wanted to “eke out the last modicum of cooperation” so he could get credit.

Flynn’s lawyers were instructed to submit a status report by March 13. ___

Read the Flynn FBI interview notes: http://apne.ws/xfm8IsO

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Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith in Providence contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved