Russia-Related Weekend News: Leading Voices Weigh In

14 Trump Associates Interacted with Russians During and After the Campaign

Despite the numerous denials by President Trump and his associates – prior to the election and during his transition – that there were no contacts with foreign officials, the Washington Post  this weekend highlighted 14 members of Trump’s inner circle who interacted with Russians between fall of 2015 and now.

Those in Trump’s circle include Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Ivanka  Trump, Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, JD Gordon, Roger Stone, Michael Caputo, and Rick Gates.

Leading Republicans Break with Trump and Support the Mueller Investigation

Post Manafort-memo and the appointment of William Barr to the post of Attorney General, Leading Republicans weighed in to challenge the President and defend the rule of law.

  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL): “I think it would be a terrible mistake if [Trump pardoned Manafort]. I do…. Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances… Frankly, not only does it not pass the smell test, I just – I think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place.” [ABC News, 12/9/2018]

“If someone has violated the law, the application of the law should be applied to them, like it would to any other citizen in this country. And, obviously, if you’re in a position of great authority, like the presidency, that would be the case.”  [CNN, 12/9/2018]

  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “One of the first questions that will be asked of [Barr], will you support Mr. Mueller’s ability to complete the probe? And I’m sure he will say yes.” [Fox News, 12/9/2018]

The Department of Justice Issues Guidance on Matt Whitaker

In the face of mounting pressure over the appointment of Matthew Whitaker to the role of acting attorney general, the Department of Justice’s ethics office issued guidance about Whitaker’s involvement in the Mueller investigation.

Whitaker is not only the handpicked ally of President Trump; he has a series of conflicts that many fear preclude him providing fair oversight to the probe. Whitaker once was a campaign chairman for Sam Clovis, who is now a witness in the investigation, he was paid more than $1.2 million dollars over three years by a conservative watchdog group to target political enemies, he has threatened to curtail the probe’s budget and stymie its resources, and has pushed for investigations into Trump’s political enemies.

Though it is unclear what opinion the office issued, it is the first time that the Department of Justice appears to be discussing Whitaker’s role in the investigation.

Legal Experts Weigh In on Alleged Trump Crimes

After last week’s revelations that Michael Cohen committed federal crimes at the direction of, and in coordination with, President Trump, legal experts weighed in on the president’s exposure.

  • Former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy: “This is why Cohen was pushed at his guilty plea proceeding to state that he acted ‘in coordination with and at the direction of’ Trump. It is an assertion the prosecutors emphasize in the sentencing memo. The thrust of their allegation is that Cohen and Trump are confederates in an illegal contribution that Cohen made only because Trump directed him to do so… The point for this day is that the Cohen case in New York City is not about Cohen. The president is in peril of being charged.” [Fox News, 12/9/18]

  • Former Solicitor General Neal Katyal: “This is Southern District prosecutors, his own Justice Department, Trump’s own appointees saying that you, Mr. President, are directly implicated in federal felonies. Here, you directed your own personal fixer, Michael Cohen, to do his stuff and he was doing it at your direction. And then it goes on further to say this is a huge violation of law. This is not some minor technical thing. This is the core of what our democracy is about.” [CNN,12/7/2010]

  • Former US Attorney Barbara McQuade: “One of the things that a prosecutor is required to do in a sentencing memorandum is describe to the judge the nature and seriousness of the offense. And here they describe this as a very serious offense. The whole purpose of campaign finance laws is to provide transparency and who is paying for things and how they are being run. And, in fact, they use the word cloud, that Michael Cohen and individual one went out of their way and took deliberate steps to cloud that transparency by making these payments to hide the truth from the public so that they could cast an informed vote. When we have a democracy, it’s based on the ability of voters to cast an informed vote. And when you are hiding the truth from the American people, that then that democracy breaks down. That`s a serious crime.” [MSNBC, 12/7/2018]

  • Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law Expert“Well, it seems to me that this is directly implicating the President in the campaign finance violation. You can’t possibly read this and conclude that this idea sort of sprang out of the head of Zeus for Michael Cohen. He was doing at the — certainly to benefit Donald Trump. But they suggested he did this in coordination with Donald Trump.” [Fox News,12/7/2018]

  • Former General Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee Nelson Cunningham: “I’ve read a lot of sentencing memos. These sentencing memos today were pretty deadly stuff. Terrible days for Manafort, terrible day Cohen. And I must say not a terribly good day for the president. The president was clearly named as having been intimately involved with Cohen in August, September, October of 2016 on the two payoffs. And these aren’t just campaign finance violations, a prosecutor will look at those and say, well, that looks like money laundering. Well, that looks like — that looks like fraud.” [Fox News, 12/7/2018]

President Trump Appoints William Barr as Attorney General

Amidst the barrage if Russia-related revelations in the last week, President Trump elected to nominate William P. Barr to the post of Attorney General. Barr, an establishment pick for the post of Attorney General, has made several concerning comments about the Mueller investigation:

  • Barr played down the evidence that President Trump obstructed justice.

  • Barr criticized Special Counsel Mueller’s choice of prosecutors.

  • Barr advocated instead for investigating President Trump’s campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, and said the Justice Department was “abdicating its responsibility” for not investigating.

  • Barr has argued ways in which the president should limit rightful Congressional oversight.