FBI Checks Whether Russian Banker Aided NRA for Trump

The FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency. FBI investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank.

kThe FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, McClatchy Newspapers reports. FBI investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

The Torshin investigation is a new dimension in the 18-month-old FBI probe of Russia’s interference. A multi-agency U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s intervention that began before the start of the 2016 election campaign  included a focus on whether the Kremlin secretly helped fund efforts to boost Trump. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump, triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors. During the campaign, Trump was an outspoken advocate of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He suggested that if Hillary Clinton were elected, gun rights advocates could stop her from winning confirmation of liberal Supreme Court justices who support gun control laws.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Bannon Subpoenaed by Mueller, Testifies in House

Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Trump’s associates and Russia, Bannon testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee.

Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Trump’s associates and Russia, the New York Times reports. It was the first time Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Trump’s inner circle. A second subpoena for Bannon to testify came from a House panel on Tuesday. The Mueller subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mueller is likely to allow Bannon to avoid the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices. It was not clear why Mueller treated Bannon differently from the dozen officials who have been interviewed and were never served with a subpoena.

The subpoena is a sign that Bannon is not personally the focus of the inquiry. On Tuesday, he was questioned for 10 hours behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting a Russian election meddling investigation. The meeting turned contentious as Bannon repeatedly said he could not answer questions, citing executive privilege. The committee eventually subpoenaed Bannon to compel him to provide answers. Mueller issued the subpoena after Bannon was quoted in a new book criticizing Trump, saying that Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with Russians was “treasonous” and predicting that the special counsel investigation would center on money laundering.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Mueller Adds Cybercrime Prosecutor To His Team

Ryan Dickey was assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation from the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual-property section. Meanwhile, President Trump seemed to waffle on whether he would agree to be interviewed by Mueller.

Special counsel Robert Mueller added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes, the Washington Post reports. Ryan Dickey was assigned to Mueller’s team from the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual-property section. He joined 16 other lawyers, some of whom have come under fire from Republicans wary of some of their political contributions to Democrats. Dickey’s addition is notable because he is the first publicly known member of the team specializing solely in cyber issues. The others’ expertise is mainly in other white-collar crimes, including fraud, money laundering and public corruption.

Mueller was appointed in May to investigate any possible links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election, and any matters that might arise out of that work. He has charged or negotiated plea deals with four former Trump campaign or administration officials. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos are cooperating with the Mueller team. Mueller has indicated to Trump’s legal team that his office is likely to seek an interview with the president, though Trump offered ambiguous comments Wednesday as to whether he would be willing to do that. He denied he had colluded with Russia and said, “It seems unlikely you’d even have an interview.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Biggest Questions for Mueller to Ask Trump

President Trump could sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators as soon as the next few weeks, though any cooperation from the president is being carefully negotiated. Trump is eager to sit down with Mueller’s team in an effort to clear his name, but his lawyers are understandably more cautious. They would like to set parameters for the discussion and respond to certain questions via written answers.

President Trump could sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators as soon as the next few weeks, though any cooperation from the president is being carefully negotiated, the Washington Post reports. Trump is eager to sit down with Mueller’s team in an effort to clear his name, but his lawyers are understandably more cautious. They would like to set parameters for the discussion and respond to certain questions via written answers, as President Ronald Reagan did in the Iran-Contra affair.

The Post lists a “few burning questions” for the president: Why did you craft Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading response on the meeting with the Russian lawyer? You told NBC News’s Lester Holt, “When I decided to [fire FBI Director James Comey], I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’” Did you mean that you fired Comey to affect the investigation? And if not, why did you mention Russia while talking about your decision to fire Comey? Have you done anything official to protect yourself from this investigation? Did you tell former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn what to say to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about President Obama’s sanctions? Did you know Flynn had lied to the FBI when you fired him? And did you ask Comey to take it easy on Flynn? Did you ever direct anybody in your campaign to reach out to Russia, or did you hear about anybody doing such a thing?

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Tried to Stop Sessions Recusal in Russia Probe

Episode involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Donald McGahn is part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, the New York Times reports.

President Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn in March to try stopping Attorney Genera Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Trump’s associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election, the New York Times reports. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Trump asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?,” referring to his former personal lawyer who had been Senator Joseph McCarthy’s top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s .

The lobbying of Sessions is one of several episodes that special counsel Robert Mueller  has learned about as he investigates whether Trump obstructed the FBI’s Russia inquiry. Trump described the Russia investigation as “fabricated and politically motivated” in a letter that he intended to send to then-FBI director James Comey, but that White House aides stopped him from sending. The Times reported that four days before Comey was fired, one of Sessions’s aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the FBI. director. Mueller also is examining a false statement that the president reportedly dictated on Air Force One in July.  new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, says that the president’s lawyers believed that the statement was “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears,” and that it led one of  Trump’s spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Manafort Lawsuit Challenges Mueller’s Appointment

Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is asking a federal judge to declare special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment illegal. Manafort’s lawsuit accuses the prosecutor of overreaching with criminal charges that include money laundering and tax evasion. He argues that the Russia special counsel exceeded authority DOJ gave him in May to investigate any links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is asking a federal judge to declare special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment illegal. Manafort’s lawsuit accuses the prosecutor of overreaching with criminal charges that include money laundering and tax evasion, Politico reports. He argues that the Russia special counsel exceeded authority the Justice Department gave him in May to investigate any links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and that DOJ granted Mueller too much power by giving him the green light to go after “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

“The principle that government must be both limited in power and accountable to the people lies at the core of our constitutional traditions. That principle must be zealously guarded against creeping incursions,” said the lawsuit filed by Manafort attorneys Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which is overseeing Mueller’s case against Manafort and former Trump 2016 campaign aide Rick Gates. A Justice Department spokeswoman said, “The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants.” Manafort’s lawsuit takes issue with the fact that Mueller went after alleged crimes that long pre-date Trump’s announcement in June 2015 that he was running for president. The charges against Manafort and Gates center not on campaign-related activity but around the finances of their lobbying business and accusations that they shirked requirements that lobbyists for foreign governments must register with the Justice Department.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Papadopoulos Helped Start Russia Investigation

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, told Alexander Downer, Australia’s top diplomat in Britain, last May that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, made a startling revelation to Alexander Downer, Australia’s top diplomat in Britain, at a London bar last May: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Three weeks earlier, Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Clinton, stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign, the New York Times reports. Two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Papadopoulos to their American counterparts.

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now a cooperating witness, proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation. The Times says the information that Papadopoulos gave to the Australians helps explain what so alarmed American officials to provoke the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election. It was not, as Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Papadopoulos played a critical role in the drama.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Attacks on Mueller Seen as Prelude to Pardons

Criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller by President Trump and his allies is aimed at sowing public doubt about the probe in advance of criminal trials and to give the president political cover if he wants to start issuing pardons to any current or former aides swept up in the Russia scandal.

President Trump insists he’s not going to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, but that’s not stopping Republicans and others close to the president from orchestrating a relentless stream of attacks on the credibility and integrity of Mueller and his team of Russia investigators. In the last week, Mueller’s investigators have been accused of bias against Trump and of violating criminal procedure to get documents related to his transition. The purpose of the onslaught, say people close to the White House, is to sow public doubt about Mueller and his prosecutors in advance of criminal trials and to give the president political cover if he wants to start issuing pardons to any current or former aides swept up in the Russia scandal, Politico reports.

“It is definitely a smarter strategy than outright firing of Mueller, because that is likely to create a firestorm,” said Elizabeth de la Vega, a federal prosecutor in San Francisco. “It is also entirely consistent with Trump’s modus operandi because he is surprisingly non-confrontational, preferring to be manipulative and, frankly, sneaky.” The latest complaints against Mueller are a sharp escalation from earlier this year, when Trump and his allies questioned Mueller’s hiring of prosecutors who had predominantly donated to Democratics, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton. While Trump told reporters Sunday that he wasn’t considering firing Mueller, he said about the special counsel’s methods for obtaining his transition team’s emails, “It’s not looking good. It’s quite sad to see that. My people are very upset about it. I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because as we said, there’s no collusion.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Says He Isn’t Considering a Mueller Firing

The president speaks as one of his lawyers charges that special counsel Robert Mueller improperly obtained emails from the presidential transition team. Mueller issues a rare statement in his defense.

President Trump’s lawyers and supporters have significantly increased their attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, but the president says he is not considering dismissing the prosecutor. Over the weekend, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Mueller should examine his team’s political leanings, and a lawyer for Trump charged that the special counsel had improperly gotten emails from the presidential transition team, the New York Times reports. Legal experts said there was no indication that Mueller, who has wide power to obtain documents through written requests, subpoenas and search warrants, improperly obtained the transition emails. Amid the barrage of criticism,  Mueller’s office issued a rare statement on Sunday defending how the information had been obtained during the inquiry into Russian election meddling.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said spokesman Peter Carr. A lawyer for Trump said in a letter to Congress that the General Services Administration, the government agency that had the transition team’s emails, had handed them over to Mueller’s investigators in August without allowing transition team lawyers to review them. The documents, the lawyer argued, should have been shielded by various privileges, like attorney-client privilege.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is DOJ Actually Supporting Mueller’s Critics?

Amid rising Republican criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, critics say the Justice Department has amped up the pressure by putting out information bolstering claims that the investigation is unfairly biased against President Trump.

Amid rising Republican criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, members of Congress and former prosecutors say the Justice Department has amped up the pressure by putting out information bolstering claims that the investigation is unfairly biased against President Trump. Through what Politico callsa series of small and sometimes subtle moves,” DOJ’s actions run counter to the goal of keeping Mueller’s probe free of political meddling. Now that Mueller’s investigation has reached into the White House after former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, some say the department is playing both sides of the high-stakes investigation. “I think that it appears to me that DOJ leadership is doing what it can to please their boss, which is ultimately the president of the United States,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. “They’re doing whatever they can to please him without violating the law.”

This week, Justice officials convened a small media briefing to show reporters private text messages sent between two investigators who formerly served on Mueller’s team. That briefing in the midst of an inspector general investigation was described as ”very odd and unprofessional” by Samuel Buell, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Duke University law school professor. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are people in the political appointee realm at DOJ who are rooting for Mueller to fail,” said Buell. “That doesn’t mean they are going to be prepared to actually try to derail him. It all merits vigilance.” This month, DOJ said it was taking the unusual step of making Mueller tack on an additional $3.5 million in costs in his first budget report,  almost doubling the probe’s total spending to $6.7 million, so it could reflect wider department costs that are going toward the Russia investigation.

from https://thecrimereport.org