ABC News (parts 1 and 2)
ABC News (Australia)
ABC News (parts 1 and 2)
ABC News (Australia)
President Trump’s reaction so far to Friday’s guilty plea by his former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, suggests that he is getting nervous about what is going to come of Mr Flynn’s cooperation deal with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. You could even say he was panicking as he realises the investigation isn’t going away and is now inside the White House with the conviction of Mr Flynn. Reports today are also suggesting that the Democrats in the Senate are investigating the possibility of charges against the President himself for obstruction of justice, claiming that he attempted to impede the FBI investigation – most notably when he asked the former head of the investigation James Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn. This is said to have happened just days after the President fired Mr Flynn for lying to the Vice President Mike Pence. The President later fired Mr Comey. Mr Comey’s firing directly led to Congress appointing Robert Mueller to lead a Special Investigation and it is this investigation, along with three investigations taking place in Congress, that are now closing in on the President, his family and his closest aides.
Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein (above), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee today said that they are looking into Mr Trump, saying they are “putting together of a case of obstruction of justice” against him. Speaking to NBC’s Meet The Press, she added: “I think we see this in the indictments, the four indictments and pleas that have just taken place and some of the comments that are being made.” She is referring to the cases of Michael Flynn, George Popadopolous, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort. The former two have both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and the latter two have been indicted for committing fraud against the United States. All four men have links to the Trump campaign and/or administration.
President Trump has taken to Twitter since Michael Flynn’s appearance in court on Friday to reinforce and reiterate his denials of collusion with Russia and to again deny that he attempted to get James Comey to pull back from investigating Michael Flynn. The White House has also repeatedly called for the Mueller investigation to be drawn to a close after the guilty plea by Mr Flynn. However, the investigation continues unabated and, indeed, is intensifying with the impetus that has been injected into it with Mr Flynn’s agreement to cooperate in return for just being charged on one relatively minor offence and with a promise that his son won’t be drawn into the affair.
Mr Flynn is now tied to his deal with the FBI and should he fail to cooperate he could once again find himself being investigated and charged with far more serious offences. His success in getting a deal, although originally he wanted immunity from prosecution, suggests that he has something very important to offer the investigations. Numerous reports suggest he has or will implicate the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as being directly involved in the illegal contacts with Russian officials. It is alleged that members of the Trump campaign team attempted to influence Russian government officials to effect United States foreign policy in direct contravention of the Logan Act. This Act states that no US civilian can undertake foreign policy without the consent of the standing government, which at that time was the administration of President Obama. These contacts were alleged to have taken place during the transition period after the election of Donald Trump but before he became President.
Although in law this is illegal, it is something that has never been tested. This in itself reflects how much Donald Trump has converged from traditional and established norms and expectations of previous Presidents. The fact that this is a vague area of law, so far we are seeing the investigation concentrating on bringing other charges, such as fraud and lying or making false statements to the FBI. As in the case of Mr Flynn, bringing lesser charges are also a means to gain cooperation which can then be used to build a stronger case against more senior figures. As for the Congress, a charge of obstruction of justice against the President would be grounds for impeachment, which grows more likely but for now still seems unlikely as Republicans control Congress. However, the mid-term elections come in 2018 and the Democrats will be hoping to gain control of Congress at which point impeachment could become much more likely.
The threat of charges against President Trump or his family are unlikely to ever see any of them going to jail. President Trump will almost certainly pardon any member of his family before that happens, which is his right to do without recourse to Congress or anyone else. He has also suggested that he could pardon himself, though this is more doubtful and the legality of this has yet to be challenged. Therefore, the only way to secure justice if President Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice or anything else is to impeach him and remove him from office. If he was removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would replace him. However, Mr Pence led the Trump election campaign and could yet be implicated in the FBI or Congressional investigations. This would certainly complicate the matter.
In light of the new focus on Mr Trump, the President has been fighting back and trying to reframe the debate over his alleged collusion with Russia. On Twitter he reiterated that he did not try to influence James Comey and attacked the credibility of the FBI, and of course had to bring in Hillary Clinton into his rant: “After years of [former FBI Director James] Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.”
Mr Trump has been boosted by the removal from his team by Robert Mueller of one of his investigators who had posted online anti-Trump comments. The investigator also worked on the investigation in Hillary Clinton’s email server allegations – something for which she was never charged with any offence. The President also focused on reports of an ABC journalist, Brian Ross, who was suspended for inaccurate reporting. He had reported that candidate Trump had ordered Mr Flynn to contact Russian officials, which would have been illegal under the Logan Act, but corrected himself later pointing out that in fact Trump had won the election and also it appears that it was a high-ranking official who gave the order, not Mr Trump. The President tweeted four tweets on the issue:
“Tainted (no, very dishonest?) FBI “agent’s role in Clinton probe under review.” Led Clinton Email probe. @foxandfriends Clinton money going to wife of another FBI agent in charge.”
“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.”
“People who lost money when the Stock Market went down 350 points based on the False and Dishonest reporting of Brian Ross of @ABC News (he has been suspended), should consider hiring a lawyer and suing ABC for the damages this bad reporting has caused – many millions of dollars!”
“Report: “ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE” Now it all starts to make sense!”
On Saturday, the President tweeted in response to Michael Flynn’s guilty plea that he fired him in February “because he lied to the vice-president and the FBI.” We knew that he had fired him because of lies to the Vice President, but this is the first time he has included the FBI in his reasoning. This may simply be referring to the fact that Mr Flynn had pleaded guilty the day before the tweet, but some are suggesting it is evidence that he was aware of lies to the FBI, therefore he must have been aware of contacts with the Russians. This would be strong evidence of obstruction of justice as it was just days later that he tried to influence James Comey to back-off investigating Michael Flynn, again suggesting that Mr Flynn had damaging information and this shows that the President knew of contacts with Russians.
Richard Painter, a former ethics counsel in the George W Bush administration, said: “He could be tweeting himself into an obstruction of justice conviction,” while Laurence Tribe, a professor in constitutional law at Harvard University, said: “That’s a confession of deliberate, corrupt obstruction of justice.” One of Trump’s attorneys, John Dowd, suggested that it was just “sloppy” writing by the President.
It has also emerged, via a leaked White House manuscript, that the President contradicted his reasoning for firing Mr Comey. The manuscript claims that the President fired Mr Comey because of his Russia investigation, with the President saying – according to the manuscript – “I face great pressure because of Russia. Now, that’s taken off.”
James Comey has always maintained that the President asked him to back-off investigating Michael Flynn in a private Oval Office meeting. Mr Comey was so taken aback that he said immediately took notes of the meeting once it was over and of course refused to cave in to the pressure from the President. He shared his notes with senior FBI officials. Mr Trump continues to deny trying to impeded Mr Comey’s investigation, tweeting this weekend: “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!”
Sources & Further Reading:
He who doth protest too much comes to mind when thinking of President Trump’s latest Twitter rant, this time on the imminent charges to come in the inquiry into Russia’s interference in Trump’s election campaign in his favour. The charges, which as yet haven’t been laid out are due as early as tomorrow. We don’t know who is to be charged but Mr Trump is feeling the pressure as he took to Twitter this morning to rant about the “witch-hunt” against him and to blame the Democrats and, in particular, Hillary Clinton. The investigation is being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI under both George W Bush and Barack Obama.
The President tweeted four posts on the inquiry, which combined read:
“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”
About an hour later, no doubt after brooding for a while, he was back on Twitter to post:
“All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”
The US intelligence agencies have already established that Russia attempted to help Mr Trump win last year’s election, and Mr Mueller’s inquiry is looking for evidence of this and is attempting to find links between Russia and the Trump team. Their inquiries have included interview several White House officials. The investigation has also expanded to include whether the Trump administration attempted to interfere or influence the investigation, as well as whether they have committed money laundering or tax evasion. Mr Mueller (pictured) was appointed special counsel by the Justice Department after President Trump suspiciously fired the director of the FBI James Comey in May. The fact that someone is going to be charged in the inquiry suggests that the inquiry has found concrete evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Of course, Mr Trump has continued to deny everything, taking the chance to accuse Hillary Clinton of having dodgy links with Moscow herself. This includes a claim that Mrs Clinton secured donations for Bill Clinton’s charity in return for a uranium deal with a Russian company. A Congressional investigation has been convened into these allegations.
One of President Trump’s biggest defenders Chris Christie has spent today defending him and attack Robert Mueller and the investigation on various news programmes. He suggested that the investigation team were engaged in criminal leaks to the media, saying: “There are very strict criminal laws about disclosing grand jury information. Now, depending upon who disclosed this to CNN, it could be a crime.” The New Jersey Governor told ABC News: “We have to have the public have confidence in the fact that the grand jury process is secret and, as a result, is fair,” before saying that he hoped that the leaks were not traceable to Mueller’s team. He added:
“As a [former] prosecutor, I can tell you that was the thing that we emphasized the most with our prosecutors and our agents was, ‘Let me tell you something: we will prosecute you if we find that you leaked this stuff’.”
Mr Christie was also asked if he thought that Donald Trump would pre-empt any charges by giving pardons, Mr Christie said:
“I’ve never seen the president talk about that. That’s a very important power to use and I haven’t heard the president say anything like that, and I think we shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves, Certainly, those people shouldn’t be sitting around saying, ‘Hey, no problem’.”
Governor Christie tried to emphasise that wherever the investigation leads, it is not the President who is being investigated: “The last public word we have on any of this is that the president himself is not under investigation.” This may be true, but Mr Trump cannot hope to avoid the consequences if the investigation into his administration and his campaign team finds collusion with Russia. Legally, the President may be above the fray but morally hand politically he is deep in the mire. His tweets today only help to emphasise his concern about the inquiry into his people.
Another Trump supporter who is emphasising rather unconvincingly that this all has nothing to do with the President is Corey Lewandowski, who was Mr Trump’s campaign manager before he was replaced by Paul Manafort. Mr Lewandowski told Fox News:
“Let’s take a deep breath and wait and see what happens on Monday. Let me be very clear – that this has nothing to do with the President.”
It is not inconceivable that President Trump will use his power of pardon to protect his friends. He has already set a precedent when he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was facing a civil suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for racial profiling when detaining Arizonians who looked to be Mexican or Latin American. A judge had found that his actions constituted racial profiling and he was found in civil contempt of court and was awaiting sentencing when Mr Trump pardoned him.
The Mueller inquiry seems to be focusing on some of the President’s closest advisers, such as his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his campaign manager Paul Manafort. They have also questioned former Press Secretary Sean Spicer and his former Chief of Staff Prince Priebus. It seems unlikely that Mr Trump will not try to protect these with pardons if necessary when he’s done the same for Sheriff Arpaio, who was a leading political supporter of Mr Trump during his campaign.
Others today weren’t so supportive of the President. Preet Bharara, who was fired by Mr Trump from his role as US Attorney for New York, said: “You want to be pursuing people and pressuring people who have information of an incriminating nature above you in the food chain.” He was speaking on CNN’s State Of The Union. Mr Bhara, who now works for CNN, said that the President’s tweets demonstrate that he feels threatened and said::
“[The public should] see if the president of the United States is sending a message of intimidation in some way, through himself and his cohorts. [Hints at pardons could be an attempt to send] a message of reassurance”.
Who is facing charges is not known, so as you can imagine speculation is rife as to who it might be. One possible candidate is President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort (pictured) who, as the head of his campaign, I’d imagine would have been most likely to have been aware or involved in any collusion with Russia. Mr Manafort, however, has said that he has not been informed of any charges against him. Mr Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016 when his dealings with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych emerged. In June 2016 he had been one of several members of Trump’s team to meet with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. She is also said to have offered the Trump team incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.
Whatever comes of charges tomorrow we can be certain that the inquiry is ongoing and isn’t going to end any time soon, much to the President’s dismay. This idea is supported by a former Justice Department official during the Obama administration who thought that the fact that charges area laid shows that the inquiry would be a “rolling investigation.” Speaking to Axios.com he continued:
“Rather than conduct his entire investigation and then wrap things up with indictments and possibly a report at the end, he is doing it in stages, the way the Justice Department might attack a drug cartel or a mafia family. This is a a watershed moment for the politics surrounding the investigation. In less than six months on the job, Mueller has already returned indictments. This isn’t a fishing expedition or a witch hunt – it’s an investigation that’s already born fruit with a grand jury of regular Americans finding probable cause that a crime was committed.”
Sources & Further Reading:
In an unsurprising backlash from Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, the Department of Justice has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the investigation into allegations that Trump’s 2016 election campaign had links to Russian operatives. Mr Comey, the director of the FBI at the time of his firing was heading the investigation. Trump said that he fired him because of his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, but later admitted that he had the FBI’s investigation into his 2016 campaign teams alleged links to Russian operatives in mind when he fired Mr Comey. Far from halting the investigation – or hindering it in some way – the firing of Mr Comey has simply increased the suspicions that the President has something to hide and has had the effect of reinvigorating the investigation.
Robert Mueller was appointed FBI director by George W Bush just a week before 9/11 and remained its head for most of the presidency of President Obama, serving 12 years in the position. He is well respected in Washington and seen as a substantial figure and appears to have cross-party support to lead the investigation. Speaking in a statement yesterday, Mr Mueller said: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.” Mr Mueller’s appointment was made by the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who said his reasoning for doing so was “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, [including] any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”. Ironically, it was a letter from Rod Rosentein to President Trump last week that gave Mr Trump the excuse to fire James Comey. A special counsel can be appointed by the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General to undertake an independent investigation. This has only been done once before when John Danforth was appointed to investigate the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas during the Bill Clinton administration.
Mr Rosenstein continued: “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
The President released a statement on Mr Mueller’s appointment, in which he said: “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.” Later, however, in his usual forum of Twitter, he said: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and “With all the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!” The President’s tweets follow a comment at a public appearance yesterday at which he said no politician in history had been treated “worse or more unfairly.” It seems the President has a persecution complex along with his many other character flaws.
Mr Rosenstein’s announcement of the appointment of a special counsel was withheld from the White House and the Capitol beforehand, coming as a surprise to both the President and the House Intelligence Committee. A special counsel has broad powers. He can subpoena documents and prosecute any crimes, without approval of Congress. Response to his appointment, beyond the President, has been positive – coming as it does after months of calls for just such an appointment.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said: “A special counsel is very much needed in this situation, [Mueller is] exactly the right kind of individual for this job”. Meanwhile, Senator Tim Kaine, a former vice-presidential candidate, said: “Good move. Now let’s get some answers.” The Senate minority leader, Nancy Pelosi called Mr Mueller: “a respected public servant of the highest integrity.” Mr Mueller has a record of standing up to Presidents. After 9/11, along with the Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Deputy Attorney General James Comey (who would succeed Mr Mueller as Director of the FBI), threatened to resign on masse after President Bush attempted to bring in a wiretap programme that would allow wiretapping without a court warrant. The Justice Department determined it was illegal and the three men only backed down when President Bush changed aspects of the programme. Mr Mueller also oversaw the investigation into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing when he was heading the justice department’s criminal division in the early 1990s, and the drug case against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. He also led the probe into the 1991 collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
Mr Mueller is a Vietnam veteran, having joined the Marines in 1968. After Vietnam he completed a law degree and began practicing law in San Francisco in 1973 before entering politics in 1976 as an assistant US attorney in the city. A colleague of Mr Mueller described him as “experienced, knowledgeable, credible and utterly incorruptible.” David Kris continued: “He cannot be intimidated. At this stage in his career, he has nothing to prove, no reputation to burnish, no axe to grind. He is ramrod straight in his integrity,” Mr Mueller therefore appears to be the ideal person to continue the investigation into Trump’s campaign and the comments about him explain why most are supporting of his appointment – and also explains why Mr Trump is not.
So less than four months into his presidency, Trump has descended so far that he now faces an investigation by a rarely-appointed special counsel, and many are speculating that this could be the beginning of the end for the President. However, Peter Barker – writing in the New York Times on Wednesday – said that “the notion that President Trump will actually be impeached seemed like liberal wishful thinking, but a new prosecutor represented a serious threat and Washington was abuzz on Wednesday with the surround sound of scandal.” One scandal after another has placed the president no doubt feeling under siege. As Mr Barker says, “now he faces perhaps the most daunting moment of his young administration after his decision to fire the F.B.I. director, his disclosure of sensitive information to the Russians and a report that he tried to shut down an investigation into a former aide.”
Mr Trump’s “clumsy and self-defeating” attempts to influence and stifle the investigation into Russian links has only helped to intensify the crisis besetting the President and his White House. But as Julian Epstein, former chief counsel for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee – and who made the “clumsy” comment – says, it is entirely his own fault. Mr Epstein reflected on how the White House was losing control: “With the appointment of Mueller, they have now totally lost control of this train and have very limited ability to manage the widening crisis around it, […] This will go down as one of the most inept and counterproductive efforts of damage control that we’ve ever seen in public life.”
Everyone’s pre-occupation with the scandals coming out of the White House on a daily basis is distracting everyone – especially Trump’s administration – from getting on with the day-to-day running of the country. The authort James Robenalt, who wrote “January 1973: Watergate, Roe vs. Wade, Vietnam and the Month That Changed America Forever,” said of the situation: “For President Trump, the drip, drip, drip of scandal has sidetracked, for example, health care and tax reform, […] If this continues, the paralysis, as with Nixon, will cause a loss of confidence overseas, our enemies will be emboldened, and at home the Republican agenda will stall.”
If scandals aren’t to overwhelm and destroy President Trump he is going to have to rely on the support, or “firewall” as Peter Barker puts it in his New York Times article, of a Republican-controlled Congress. That is a distinct advantage that neither Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton enjoyed when they were being investigated. President Clinton survived impeachment when he was acquitted in the Senate in 1999, but President Nixon – of course – became the first and only President to-date to resign in 1974 in order to escape impeachment. He was later pardoned of all crimes relating to the Watergate break-in and cover-up by his successor President Gerald Ford. Republicans may be showing signs of concern and nervousness over the growing scandals but that is a long way from them abandoning their President. To do that they would also be abandoning for the foreseeable future the Republican’s agenda for the nation.
The writer John A Farrell, who has recently published a book on Nixon called “Richard Nixon: The Life”, thinks that the Trump administration will face weeks or months more of crisis and that the White House can look forward to: “Anger. Distraction. Fear. Friends are now viewed with suspicion, as potential accusers. Rumours fly that so-and-so has lawyered up, or is talking to the prosecutors.” Robert Mueller’s investigation is set to be a long one and it’s outcome is far from certain, but if Mr Mueller is the man that many are saying he is then his investigation will be America’s and the world’s best hope at finding out the truth about Mr Trump, his campaign to become President, and what – if any – ties they had or have with Russia. Here’s wishing Mr Mueller success in his investigation.
Sources & Further Reading:
As much as the President might wish the allegations of links between his election campaign’s links to Russia and Russia’s possible interference in the election last year just will not go away. And that is just how it should be. A new report in the New York Times suggests that the President, in February, asked the then FBI director James Comey “shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser” Michael Flynn, who had resigned just a day before. The paper says that the request came at a meeting at the Oval Office and that the President said to Mr Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go […] He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr Comey says he did not reply to the request except to say: “I agree he is a good guy.”
Mr Comey had written a memo the day after the meeting which, according to the New York Times, was part of a “paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.” Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it was revealed he misled the Vice-President about hi conversations with Russia’s ambassador before Mr Trump took office, and this latest twist comes only a week after the President fired James Comey. He claimed that he did so because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers to store government emails while Secretary of State but many felt it was because Mr Comey was investigating the President’s aides links to Russia. The President later admitted that Russia was part of the reasoning for firing Mr Comey. Mr Comey was replaced by Andrew McCabe as FBI Director. Mr McCabe upon taking office testified that there had been “no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr McCabe, however, was referring to the broad Russian investigation. The Michael Flynn investigation is separate and Mr McCabe may not have been aware of Mr Comey’s own memo.
Photos: Former National Security Adviser Lt-Gen Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey
The White House has denied the latest report, saying: “While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.” Yet again the White House denies a report about the President, but only yesterday we saw them do the same over reports that the President had shared classified material with Russia only for the President to contradict the denial in tweets hours later. Can anyone seriously believe statements coming out of the Trump White House anymore?
The Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, wrote to the acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe demanding that all documents related to all communications between the President and Mr Comey were presented to the House Committee by 24 May. Mr Chaffetz has come under criticism in recent months for not pursuing the investigation into the President’s associates as much as he did for the investigation into Hillary Clinton. However, according to the New York Times, he is showing much more interest in the Russian investigation now that he has announced that he will not be standing for re-election to Congress in 2018.
The latest controversy is possibly the strongest evidence that the President has been attempting to influence or stop investigations into his associates, aides, campaign and all their possible links to Russia and Russia’s alleged interference in the US election last year. The word “impeachment” continues to be bandied around Washington but as long as the Republicans control both the House and Senate it seems unlikely that any attempt to impeach President Trump would succeed. For it to do so enough Republicans would have to sacrifice not only their own President but any hope of progressing a Republican mandate for the foreseeable future. Anthony Zurcher, writing for the BBC from Washington, suggests that some Republicans are wavering at the suggestion of another Watergate-scale scandal brewing but “for the rank-and-file to turn on the president will require them to admit their complicity in a failed presidency.”
Sources & Further Reading:
Photo: Donald Trump with Russian Foreign Miniter Sergei Lavrov (left) and the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak at the White House last week
In an astonishing report that has stunned Washington political circles, the President has been accused of “sharing highly classified information with Russian officials.” The report in the Washington Post claims that Mr Trump shared classified intelligence material on the Islamic State with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak at a meeting at the Oval Office last week – the day after Mr Trump fired his FBI director James Comey. President Trump claimed that he fired Mr Comey because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers last year but later admitted that the FBI’s investigation into his election campaigns’ links with Russia played a part. When Mr Trump met with Mr Lavrov and Mr Kislyak the following day they joked about the firing. It now seems possible that the President was also sharing code-word classified information with them.
The report claims that Mr Trump shared information regarding a plot by Islamic State to use laptops as bombs on planes. He is also said to have revealed the city in which this intelligence information was detected. The information had been given to the United States by an unnamed American ally, who presumably neither gave permission or had an expectation that it would be shared with the Russians. President Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. He often called for co-operation with Russia over the fight against Islamic State and would defend the Russians tactics against Islamic State despite Western powers opposition to it. The report suggests that although it is illegal for anyone in the United States to share classified information, the President has the power to declassify material and therefore it would be unlikely he could be prosecuted. That said, it brings into question again his judgement and his credibility as President.
Reaction, concern and condemnation have been swift. One Washington official said: “This is code-word information. [Trump] revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Code-word information refers to one of the highest categories of classified information. Democrat Senator Chris Murphy was disturbed by the allegations: “Another in a very disturbing trend of careless behaviour by this administration. If this story is true, it’s another brick in the wall of a really, really troubling connection between Trump and the Russian government.”
The Washington Post quoted a former US counter-intelligence officer, who said: “Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” while Republican Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain said: “We certainly don’t want any president to leak classified information but the president does have the right to do that.” Mr McCain’s Republican colleague Lindsey Graham added: “I have no idea if it’s true. If it is, it would be very troubling. I’m not going to comment any further.”
The White House has been trying to control the fallout from the Washington Post report. The National Security Advisor, H. R. McMaster, told the Washington Post: “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organisations to include threats to aviation. [… At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” Mr McMaster also later told reporters that “at no time” were intelligence sources or methods discussed at the meeting – which was off limits to all news media (with the exception it seems of a Russian photographer who took some pictures, including the one above). Mr McMaster emphasised the point by saying: “I was in the room. It didn’t happen.” The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed, among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism.” He added: “During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”
These statements, however, can be seen as misleading as the Washington Post report never suggested that Mr Trump had discussed methods or sources, but that by mentioning the city from which the source intelligence came could put that source in danger. The White House refused to give any more information on the meeting with the Russians last week but some US officials were confirming the report even as the White House issued denials and condemnation continued.
The Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement: “Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country. […] The President owes the intelligence community, the American people, and Congress a full explanation.” The Democrat leader in the House of Representatives told a Congress briefing: “On the extent of the damage President Trump has done in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians. Even if President Trump unwittingly blew a highly classified code-word source to the Russians, that would be dangerous enough, […] If the president outed a highly classified code-word source intentionally, that would be even more dangerous.”
The senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, remarked: “If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources and methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians,” while the Democratic National Committee said in a statement: “Russia no longer has to spy on us to get information – they just ask President Trump and he spills the beans with highly classified information that jeopardizes our national security and hurts our relationships with allies […] If Trump weren’t president, his dangerous disclosure to Russia could end with him in handcuffs.”
These are extremely disturbing allegations against the President. A former Harvard professor – who taught at the university for 50 years – said of the allegation: “This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president. Let’s not minimize it. Comey affair now in the wastebasket of history.” Although Trump is unlikely to be prosecuted, even if it could be proven that he had given classified information to the Russians, it is another sign of his ever-decreasing credibility as President of the United States and that he is perhaps in a “downward spiral” and is losing control of his White House. Republican Senator Bob Corker, on this idea, said: “The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order, […] Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”
Later today President Trump responded to the report personally, saying that he had shared information and had the “absolute right to do so,” which as President he does. He can declassify information of his choosing and any time he chooses. He explained further: “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled White House meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety, […] Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against Isis and terrorism.” Of course, he shared his thoughts on Twitter. His tweets, however, completely contradict his own officials who flatly denied the Washington Post report. Trump’s National Security Advisor, H R McMaster had to revise his earlier comments: “What I’m saying is that the premise of the article was false – that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security,” then argued that the real threat came from the leaks to the press.
Mr McMaster wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the material shared was actually classified but in a roundabout way admitted that President Trump had named the Syrian city where the intelligence on Islamic State originated from, but claimed that was “nothing you wouldn’t know from open source.” He also suggested that the information revealed was “appropriate to the conversation” and “in the context of the conversation.”
The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, echoed on Facebook H R McMaster’s blaming the media when she said that the reports were “yet another fake,” and recommended that people should not read American papers.
You have to feel some sympathy for H R McMaster (above right with Sean Spicer), a Lieutenant General and a “widely admired National Security adviser” – as the New York Times described him. He took part in a hastily convened press conference to deny that Trump had released any classified information to the Russians only for the President to seemingly contradict him the following morning in off-the-cuff remarks on Twitter. Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times today offered some free advice to him and other Trump aides – quit while you can. Republican strategist John Weaver tweeted in response to Trump’s tweets that “General McMaster spent decades defending this nation, earning his integrity and honour. Trump squandered it in less than 12 hours,” while David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W Bush commented: “How does McMaster not resign today? That thing he said ‘did not happen’ the president has just defended doing.”
The New York Times article suggests that the President’s aides must be doing “moral and intellectual contortions” in order to serve President Trump and that this is extracting, or will extract, a heavy cost to their dignity and reputation. As Ms. Goldberg says: “To serve this president is to be diminished.” She also suggests this is not limited to the high-profile names such as Lt. Gen. McMaster, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, but that: “Lesser-known figures will also probably find that their time in the administration has hindered, rather than helped, their career prospects.” Ms. Goldberg quotes Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean who he told her: “You don’t find people who mentioned they worked at the Nixon White House unless they were high enough and conspicuous and had to admit it.”
The irony of all today’s revelations is that Mr Trump has often been highly critical of those who release classified information, saying earlier this year: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American.” He also was scathing during the election campaign and since on Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers while Secretary of State which, he suggested, could lead to potential leaking of classified information. I guess the irony will be lost on the President.
Sources & Further Reading:
In a surprise move President Trump fired the Director of the FBI last night, and didn’t give him any notice. The President defended his decision which, as President, he the absolute right to do, by saying he fired Comey because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last year! Does anyone believe that? James Comey’s announcement in the run-up to the election in November that the FBI were investigating Mrs Clinton over her use of private email servers to store and send State-related emails was a huge bonus for the Trump campaign. Donald Trump has praised Mr Comey since for investigating Mrs Clinton, saying that it had “taken guts” and that the investigation “brought back his reputation.” . Some suggest that the announcement by Comey swung the election towards Trump, so no wonder Trump was happy with him. Whether Comey was instrumental in the Trump victory will never be known for sure but it did harm the Clinton campaign and benefited the Trump campaign. So why would Donald Trump, nearly four months after his inauguration, suddenly decide to sack him for the Clinton investigation? Logic would suggest that Trump has taken out the man who has moved on from investigating Hillary Clinton to investigating the Trump administration and the campaign last year and the extent of their connections with Russia. Some believe that Trump has acted now because the FBI’s investigations into his campaign’s links to Moscow are getting close to the President himself. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating, although no conclusions have yet been announced. The Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t believe this is a coincidence:
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?
“This does not seem to be a coincidence.”
If President Trump wished to dismiss Comey over the Clinton investigation the time would have been during his transition period when it is normal for President-elects to announce such changes. The President, commenting today on Comey’s dismissal, said:
“James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI,
“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”
Shortly after making these comments the President met the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – who joked about Coney’s dismissal. Mr Comey’s sacking is only the second time a FBI Director has been fired in the history of the organisation. The President sent a note to Mr Comey firing him, although he only received the note after seeing news of his own firing on television. In his note, the President wrote:
“I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I never nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
“I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.”
Mr Comey, who is 56, has been Director of the FBI for three-and-a-half years. When he saw the news of his sacking on television he was addressing FBI agents in Los Angeles and thought it was a prank, laughing at it. However, it was all too real and soon he got the note from the President. In the note Mr Trump said that he agreed with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who had told the President that Mr Comey was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Mr Rosenstein in his memo also said that the Department of Justice was “committed to a high level of discipline, integrity, and the rule of law” and that a “fresh start was needed.”
The Deputy Attorney said he “cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.” Mr Rosenstein seems to think that Comey’s mistake was not to prosecute Mrs Clinton, and then blamed him for“gratuitously” releasing “derogatory information” about Mrs Clinton – something the Trump campaign and Republicans jumped on and exploited at the time. Click HERE to read Mr Rosenstein’s full memo.
The Democrats are outraged by the sacking and simply don’t believe the reasoning Mr Trump has given for it. They are calling for action and even a Special Prosecutor. However, the Republicans are insisting it has nothing to do with Russia and that the Democrats are being hypocritical as many of them were condemning Mr Comey when he was investigating Mrs Clinton and, in particular, when he announced that Mrs Clinton was being investigated. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said: “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination.” A BBC World Service reporter suggested it was suspicious timing and convenient reasoning. Justin Amash, a Michigan congressman said: “My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia,” while Nebraska Senator, and Trump critic, Ben Sasse remarked that: “the timing of the firing is troubling.” Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, said: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.”
The President’s decision to fire Mr Comey is being compared to Richard Nixon’s dismissal in 1973 of a special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up. President Nixon later admitted that he was aware of the cover-up when he fired the special prosecutor and tried to halt the FBI investigation into it. The rest is history and the subsequent resignation of President Nixon rocked the nation. It seems unlikely that Donald Trump will follow suit. Nixon’s special prosecutor was an independent appointee, whereas Comey is appointed by the President and the President has the absolute right to fire him whenever he chooses. Whether Mr Trump is aware of alleged links with Russia is for the FBI and Senate Intelligence Committee to determine. The investigations will of course continue. Some are even suggesting that the firing of Comey could backfire on Trump as it may make him enemies in the FBI and also raises further suspicion that he he trying to cover up the investigation as it was getting close to the truth. Should an investigation show that the President directly has links with Russia then the consequences of that may be something completely different. Mr Trump’s timing for firing James Comey is certainly deeply suspicious, but not enough to impeach him. People’s ability to trust the President, however, has been deeply damaged not only by today’s events but by his words and actions since becoming President.
Some more reaction
A statement from the White House said of the firing: “Today, President Donald J Trump informed FBI director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and attorney general Jeff Sessions.” Here are some reactions to the decision:
Republican Senator Bob Portman wants a “fuller explanation regarding the President’s timing,” and added:
“I want to thank Director Comey for his service to our country. Regardless of his handling of the Clinton email matter during the presidential election last year — for which both parties had questions and concerns — he has always done what he believed was in the best interest of the country. Given the timing and circumstances of the decision, I believe the White House should provide a fuller explanation regarding the president’s rationale. The American people must have faith in a strong, independent FBI. I’m concerned about eroding trust in this premier law enforcement agency. It is important that whoever is nominated to succeed Director Comey is a highly-qualified and respected leader who will provide a fresh start for the bureau.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the floor of the Senate, said he opposes the idea of a special prosecutor and criticised the Democrats for their response:
“So what we have now, Mr. President, is our Democratic colleagues complaining about the removal of an FBI Director whom they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticized, by a man, Rod Rosenstein, whom they repeatedly and effusively praised — when Mr. Rosenstein recommended Mr. Comey’s removal for many of the very reasons they have complained about.
“Two investigations are currently ongoing: the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of Russian active measures and intelligence activities, and the FBI investigation disclosed by Director Comey. Today we will no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community to develop the countermeasures and warfighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again. Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner — too much is at stake.
“Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was just confirmed on a bipartisan basis — 94 to 6 — and that sort of fair consideration should continue when the Senate receives an FBI Director nominee. As I said yesterday, once the Senate receives a nomination to fill this position, we will all look forward to a full, fair, and timely confirmation process. This is a critical role that is particularly important as our country continues to face serious threats at home and abroad.”
Senator Ted Cruz believes Mr Comey had to go, echoing Mr Rosenstein’s memo:
“The Director of the FBI needs to be above reproach, with an unquestioned reputation for fairness and impartiality. Unfortunately, Mr. Comey had lost the confidence of both Republicans and Democrats, and, frankly, the American people. The next Director needs to be someone of the utmost integrity who can successfully restore the public’s confidence and lead the men and women of the FBI who selflessly serve and defend our great nation.”
Republican Senator, and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, remarked:
“When you fire probably arguably the most respected person in America, you better have a very good explanation, and so far I haven’t seen that.”
“On the explanation that Comey mishandled the Clinton emails inquiry: I don’t believe that that is sufficient rationale for removing the director of the FBI”:
Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, of Virginia, also called for an independent investigation:
“Both Democrats and Republican attacked the FBI Director at various times for various reasons and called for his ousting. However, I can’t defend or explain tonight’s actions or timing of the firing of the FBI Director James Comey. The FBI investigation into the Russian impact on the 2016 election must continue. There must be an independent investigation that the American people can trust.”
Adam Schiff, the Democrat ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said:
“The same president who has called the investigation into the Russian hacking of our democracy and the potential complicity of his campaign a ‘fake’ cannot pretend to have made such a decision uninfluenced by his concerns over Comey’s continued involvement in the investigation. It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed.”
Bob Casey, a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, said:
“This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation … this investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.”
Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, said:
“The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign’s ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway – returning to the spotlight after a noticeable absence from the Washington scene – predictably defended Trump, saying that his decision “had nothing to do with Russia.” Again, does anyone believe Ms Conway? Speaking to Anderson Cooper on CNN:
“This has nothing to do with Russia.
“Somebody must be getting $50 every time [Russia] is said on TV… [This] has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the President’s confidence and can faithfully execute his duties.”
Sources & Further Reading: