No, Director Wray Did Not Exonerate Trump, Actually He May Have Implicated Him

It must have been music to President Trump’s ears to hear FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly state “I can say very confidently that I have not detected any whiff of interference with that investigation.”

Wray was referring to Robert Mueller’s investigation into any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

“I have enormous respect for former Director Mueller, who I got to work with almost daily in the early 2000s, as a consummate professional,” Wray added. “He’s really running that investigation.”

The good news is that Trump, despite all his bluster about possibly firing Mueller, which would be the equivalent of political seppuku, is keeping his tiny hands out of Mueller’s pie. This is a good thing for Trump and for the nation.

What it isn’t, is some kind of statement exonerating Trump in the Russia investigation. That’s the statement the president asked James Comey to make, three times, and ultimately was the reason Trump fired Comey. Wray did not say what Comey refused to say.

The pro-Trump press will, however, take it that way. “FBI director drops truth grenade on supposed WH ‘interference’ with Russia probe.” Nobody has supposed that Trump or the White House has interfered with the Russia probe. All communications between Trump and Mueller or his staff have been above-board and friendly.

What Wray was convinced of, however, is more troubling to members of Trump’s campaign team who may yet face the music. From POLITICO:

“Now, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot more fully, highly classified information….I have no reason to doubt the conclusions that the hardworking people who put that together came to,” the FBI director said, referring to an intelligence community assessment produced in both classified and unclassified versions in January.

The Russians did, according to all evidence, attempt to monkey with the 2016 election. And it’s clear that people in Trump’s orbit (Manafort, Trump Jr., Kushner) had connections with, or were open to meetings with, Russians interested in affecting the election.

As Agent Sandusky told Ben Gates in “National Treasure,” “someone’s got to go to prison.” If there was collusion or illegal activity, there will be a trial, either in state or Federal court. State court is beyond the reach of Trump’s pardon power. Should Trump start throwing out pardons like prophylactics, Wray’s statements may serve more to implicate the president than to exonerate him.

This Is a Federal Republic, Not a Banana Republic, The President Is Not Above The Law

The president certainly needed the reminder: this is a federal republic, not a banana republic. Nobody, including the president, is above the law.

There’s a reason Robert Mueller’s enente with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is in the news. It stands as a stark reminder to President Trump that the president is not above the law.

Certainly, Trump had the power and the prerogative to pardon Joe Arpaio. He might also pardon anyone he pleases if a federal grand jury returns an indictment in Mueller’s Russia probe. This removes a big lever prosecutors have to “roll up” witnesses by making immunity deals.

But what Trump cannot do is pardon individuals accused or convicted of state crimes. That’s a feature of our federal republic. We have more than one body of law, more than one body of lawmakers, and more than one constitution governing our nation.

We hear about high profile SCOTUS cases that overturn large swaths of state and federal law–Obergefell v. Hodges overturned many provisions in state constitutions recognizing only marriage between one man and one woman, for example. But in criminal prosecutions, there is no overriding federal jurisdiction.

In fact, federal prosecution has been used as a backstop in various cases for civil rights violations and hate crimes, when state law does not fulfill what’s perceived to be justice. Politics is upstream of most justice in these cases, but in Trump’s case, this move is a well-timed message to remind him that any pardons he grants give prosecutors at the state level an advantage.

If a federal case is never tried, then there’s no “double jeopardy”–being tried for the same crime twice–which is prohibited by the Bill of Rights (5th Amendment). Trump would have to allow a trial at the federal level to take place, including whatever discovery and evidence goes along with it, then issue a pardon after a conviction.

He may very well do that with Paul Manafort, who seems to be the calf ready for sacrifice for any potential scandal to make Trump’s Russia headaches disappear. He could be the Scooter Libby, prison-bound. Or Trump could pardon him.

Or–and this is the worry for Trump and his family–prosecutors could cut a deal with Manafort. Trump can’t pardon for state crimes. The deal may be with Schneiderman, not Meuller. Then state prosecutors can begin their “rollup” of witnesses. Since the entire Trump family lives (officially) in New York, this could spell trouble.

So far, there’s nothing concrete tying Trump himself or even his close family to any crimes, at least nothing public.

This investigation is a chess match right now. Trump made his move, and Mueller has made a better one, putting Trump and his lawyers in check.

The president certainly needed the reminder: this is a federal republic, not a banana republic. Nobody, including the president, is above the law.

This post also appears in The New Americana.

Loyalty SHOULD Be a Two-Way Street, Mr. President





Loyalty should be a two-way street.

It’s what most people expect, as a general rule, and if they doubt they have it from their employer, they begin to look somewhere else. At the very least, the quality of their work suffers. In some cases, they may even take steps to cover themselves, since they know their employer does not have their back.

If President Trump is having a problem with loyalty within the ranks of his Cabinet, he need look no further for the root of the issue than the mirror.

As Erick pointed out earlier this morning, Trump’s treatment of one of his most loyal allies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has pretty much alerted everyone else that they are all walking on thin ice.

Nobody wants to work like that.

While speaking on Fox News Monday night, another of Trump’s most faithful mouthpieces came to the defense of Jeff Sessions.

While pointing out what a mistake it would be to fire Sessions, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich noted the most obvious:

“Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump,” Gingrich said. “Sessions stayed with Trump when he was 10 points behind during the whole taping of the conversation about sex and all that stuff. Jeff Sessions has been loyal all the way through.”

Indeed.

Sessions was the first one on board with a Trump candidacy (and I still wonder why), even writing the immigration policy paper for him early on.

Some would even say that policy paper was key to getting Trump noticed, rather than shuttled off onto the ash heap of other “novelty” political candidates, meant more for shock value than to ever be legitimately competitive.

Gingrich also pointed out the continued good work Sessions is doing as attorney general, striking hard at sanctuary cities, and working with Homeland Security to tamp down the problem with dangerous gangs, such as MS-13.

Gingrich went on:

“I would just point out loyalty is a two-way street,” Gingrich said. “There’s a point here where people have to say the guy was with you from the very beginning and he makes one big mistake? You really dump him? And if you do, what signal do you send to everybody else on the team?”

Except Sessions didn’t make “one big mistake.” He did the right thing in recusing himself from all investigations Russia-related.

Having fallen under scrutiny himself for undisclosed conversations with the Russian ambassador, it would have been the height of unprofessional behavior for him to continue on as the head over those matters, and he left those decisions in the very capable hands of his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Sessions is now being punished for not preemptively protecting the president from shooting himself in the foot.

Let’s not forget the timeline of the investigation being carried out by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller was not assigned until after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, then went on national TV to cut the legs out from under his own spokespeople, and said openly that Comey was fired because of the Russia probe.

Trump is his own worst enemy, but just like the emperor with no clothes, who in his close circle is going to tell him?

He is on a destructive trajectory. Continuing to attack his most loyal and capable allies will eventually leave him in a position with no one to back him up.

And almost as if to put an exclamation point to the end of this article, Trump’s very public attacks on Sessions began afresh this morning.

No true leader acts like this.

Who Actually Believed Trump Had Tapes Of His Comey Conversations?

Did anyone believe there were actually recordings of the private conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey?

After the reports of the uncomfortable, private conversations between Trump and former FBI Director James Comey were made public, Trump was not a happy camper.

Comey had written in personal memos about those meetings that Trump, at one point, had asked for “loyalty,” and in an Oval Office meeting, after having dismissed his aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (both who seemed to pause, as if unsure leaving was the right thing to do, in that moment), Trump stated that he hoped Comey could see his way to dropping the investigation surrounding ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Comey later testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump did not ask him, directly, to stop the investigation. He simply said he “hoped” Comey could let Flynn go.

Flynn was fired from his position as national security adviser only three weeks into the job, after it was discovered he failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. He also misled Vice President Pence about those contacts.

After news of Comey’s memos was revealed, President Trump took to his favorite venue – Twitter – and said that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their conversations, before he started leaking to the press.

He has a way of stepping on his own feet.

Many took that to mean that there were. In fact, during Comey’s June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was asked if he had knowledge of any such tapes.

Comey’s response was: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!”

Immediately following Comey’s testimony, the House Intelligence Committee gave the White House a deadline of June 23, 2017 to turn over any recordings Trump may have had.

Trump responded to the demands by saying during a Rose Garden press conference that he would reveal whether there were tapes or not in the very near future.

With the deadline fast approaching and nowhere to turn, Trump was back on Twitter to come clean.

So, in other words, more bluster? To be fair, Trump never said there were tapes, but only hinted, solely for the sake of riling Comey and the media.

President Trump is doing himself no favors by continuously goading the press, and those who are legitimately trying to work through an issue of a hostile foreign government threatening the integrity of our voting system.

Does he want this all to go away?

Many of us are fatigued by the constant scandal, but maintaining our republic was never going to be a trouble-free process.

To quote Patrick Henry: The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.

How soon we forget.

Could Big Changes Be Ahead for the Trump Administration?

Well, this is something that probably should have started right after the inauguration.

As a response to continued leaks from within the White House, as well as the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Trump administration is looking to make changes.

Of those changes, they’re considering having Trump’s social media posts screened by legal counsel.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the administration is considering having a legal team vet Trump’s social media posts to avoid unnecessary political and legal troubles now that a special counsel has taken over the Russia investigation.

Some of the most lasting political damage Trump has incurred in his first months in office has stemmed from his tweets. Trump threatened former FBI director James Comey over Twitter, suggesting he may have secretly recorded conversations with the fired official, and he has accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, without evidence.

So many of us have been suggesting that either they confiscate his phone or break his thumbs.

Having lawyers vet his tweets is another way to go, I suppose. It has the potential to be just as effective and only slightly less painful.

There may also be a staff shakeup and other changes, as the administration hunkers down for what could be a long fight in the ongoing Russia probe.

Chief strategist Steve Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus are said to be setting up a “war room” to handle breaking news about the investigation.

As Steve Berman pointed out on Friday night, that investigation took a troubling turn when it was revealed that senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner sought to set up a private line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, back in December.

The move was in an apparent effort to conceal communications from U.S. officials.

The administration is also looking at adding to its roster of outside legal counsel for the Russia matter, which is led by longtime Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, and is considering bolstering the in-house legal team led by White House counsel Don McGahn, the Journal reported.

It appears obvious that the tone of the Russia investigation has taken a serious turn for the White House, and they no longer feel just insulting the investigators through presidential tweets is an appropriate or wise strategy.

There are rumors among Trump’s allies that the president could be looking at bringing former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie back into the fold. Those two and others could operate outside the White House as the administration looks to widen its net of surrogates.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Lewandowski, Bossie and veteran GOP operative David Urban are being considered for as-of-yet unannounced positions.

And will there be any cuts to staff?

The ousting of White House press secretary Sean Spicer has been rumored for weeks now, with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to be his replacement.

Communications director Mike Dubke is also on thin ice, if rumors are to be believed.

The purpose given seems to be that the communications team have done a poor job of promoting the administration’s message on issues.

I’d say a far more likely scenario is that President Trump’s insistence on having his people put out a coherent message is often immediately torpedoed by Trump, himself, and often by the very next morning, as he fever tweets his unfiltered thoughts.

The next few weeks of White House watching, as we see who comes and who goes will tell us a lot about how the administration plans to defend against the ongoing Russia investigation.

And our Twitter feeds may become a lot less entertaining.

More Troubling News About Trump’s Campaign and Russia

President Trump’s first trip abroad is giving the press something else to focus on, but the embers of the Russian probe are still burning.

Possibly the biggest news from last week are the reports of memos kept by ousted FBI Director James Comey.

More specifically, the news that within those memos, Comey may have documented a conversation with Trump, in which the newly inaugurated president asked him to drop the investigation surrounding his national security adviser pick, Michael Flynn, lit up the internet with armchair prosecutors crying, “Obstruction!”

So are they right?

That part isn’t so clear.

The latest on that front, however, adds another troubling piece.

According to a report out Monday, back in March Trump spoke to two intelligence officials and asked them to publicly announce that there was no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Trump reportedly asked Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to make public statements that there were no ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Both officials refused to do so because they thought the requests were inappropriate, according to the report.

I’m going to say “inappropriate” is a delicate way to put it.

If true, it gives weight to the earlier report of Trump attempting to persuade Comey to “let Flynn go.”

With the heat of the Russia investigation swirling around the Trump administration, it’s not so much the one, big bombshell, but the outbreak of so many small, nagging accounts flaring up at once, and all seemingly flowing in the same direction.

Senior White House officials also reportedly asked how they could directly intervene with former FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?” one official reportedly asked.

So many questions, but so few answers, at this point.

Trump’s requests were allegedly made in March, just after Comey’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, where he confirmed that the FBI was investigating Russia and possible collusion.

Russia Probe Widens to Include Current Senior White House Adviser

Things are getting “uncomfortable” in the Trump White House, to say the least.

The federal probe of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia seems to be tightening focus, and a new report points to a “close adviser” currently serving with the administration.

From the report:
People familiar with the matter confirmed the official is under scrutiny to The Post, but would not further identify them.

The investigation’s intensity is accelerating in coming weeks, but that does not mean criminal charges are near, the report said.

Investigators reportedly are keenly interested in people who previously had power in Trump’s campaign and administration but are now absent.

We do know that former Trump associates, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone, who all served in various capacities throughout Trump’s campaign, are on the list of those who will be called to testify in the ongoing probe.

The current focus, however, could include one or all of several people.

Current administration officials who have acknowledged past contacts with Russian officials include Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, has also admitted previous interactions with Russian officials.

Kushner, like several other Trump associates, failed to disclose contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a separate meeting with a Russian state-owned banking executive on his paperwork for his security clearance. It was uncovered in April.

The FBI are in charge of clearing the paperwork and assigning security clearance.

There seems to be a theme with those close to Trump.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday told senators that the FBI’s Russia probe is both a criminal and counterintelligence investigation.

The president has suggested that the ongoing investigation, as well as bringing in special counsel (Robert Mueller) is detrimental to the morale of the nation.
He could be right, but the disillusion and damage didn’t begin with the investigation.

New Poll Suggests Americans Aren’t Thrilled With Trump’s Overshare Moment With Russian Officials

The revelation that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials last week, followed up by the news that his reveal possibly put an Israeli spy’s life at risk has not been met with a lot of positive spin.

The information about an ISIS plot involving laptop computers and airlines was uncovered by an intelligence partner working undercover with the group.

Yes, some have pointed out that, as president, he can declassify information as he sees fit, therefore, it wasn’t illegal.

That’s not the point.

The point is, was it a prudent move? Was there thought put into how it jeopardizes the work of our allies in shutting down ISIS? How could that information be used to the negative?
And one point that we have the answer to: Did he have the permission of our partners in this operation to share the critical details with Russia?

The answer is, he didn’t.

This incident, at a time when the president is already embroiled in controversy about possible entanglements with the Russian government (NOT our friends) puts a blinding spotlight on the risks voters take when they grudge vote – that is, vote out of anger and frustration, determined to punish the government, rather than careful consideration of who they’re allowing to take control of the nation.

With that in mind, a new poll suggests that this incident has not gone unnoticed, nor has it been excused by the majority of respondents.

According to the POLITICO/Morning Consult survey, 58 percent felt the president did the wrong thing by sharing the information with the Russian officials.

Only 22 percent felt it was a good move, while another 20 percent weren’t sure or had no opinion.

Pollsters found respondents have low confidence in Trump’s ability to handle highly classified national security information.
Forty-one percent said they were “not confident at all,” 14 percent were “not too confident” 17 percent were “somewhat confident,” 22 percent were “very confident” and 6 percent were uncertain or had no opinion.

And this isn’t the fault of the media or anyone else.

Trump sent out his national security adviser H.R. McMaster to dispute the story, only to undermine McMaster’s account the very next day, by admitting that he did it in a tweet.

The opinions on those who leaked the news to the media is somewhat more evenly split.

Forty-four percent additionally said that government officials were right to leak that Trump shared sensitive information with Russian officials to the media, while 39 percent said they should have kept quiet.

The poll was conducted from May 16 to May 18, with 1,970 registered voters responding. It has a 2 percent margin of error, and was collected from an online survey.