Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s public statement that is only going to inflame the political tensions in Washington. President Trump and Don Jr. are both throwing cold water on another possible Roy Moore run for U.S. Senate. And Jim and Greg examine the Democratic Party’s tightening of the rules for presidential candidates to qualify for the primary debates.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America try to keep up as 21 Democrats are now either running for president or seriously thinking about it. They also break down Joe Biden’s apology for making several women feel uncomfortable over the years and discuss how both Republicans and Democrats are approaching this controversy with respect to 2020. And they get a kick out of anonymous sources breathlessly telling the New York Times and Washington Post that Attorney General Bill Barr badly distorted the findings of the Mueller report.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see the Mueller report conclude that neither Donald Trump not anyone else in his campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections. They also get a kick out of Trump critics frantically moving the goalposts to claim the new attorney general is doing Trump’s bidding or that the real action is in Congress or with the federal prosecutors in New York. And they shake their heads at the overall performance of the mainstream media in covering this story since the last presidential campaign.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome the news that the Mueller probe will likely end soon with no further indictments. They wonder why President Trump is so insistent upon inviting New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to the White House with his team and whether he would be smarter to keep a distance after Kraft’s arrest for solicitation. And they have fun with a recent column wondering why so many of the Democrats running for president seem really weird.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on eight federal counts on Tuesday and accused President Trump of conspiring with him to violate campaign finance laws to buy the silence of two former mistresses in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
According to Cohen, Trump authorized him to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known more commonly as Stormy Daniels, as part of non-disclosure agreements with them with the explicit intent to benefit the Trump campaign. Cohen says Trump later paid him back.
Mainstream and social media immediately exploded, with many liberals talking impeachment and many Trump defenders wondering how campaign finance law could be broken when none of the funds came from the campaign.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy says both sides need to come to grips with reality, starting with Trump defenders who think there can’t be a crime resulting from the payments. He says it depends upon why the money was spent.
“It’s the kind of thing you would expend campaign money on if somebody else didn’t pay it by other means. That’s why it’s an in-kind contribution.
“If you’re doing an expenditure, the purpose of which is designed in part to lighten the burden of the campaign, which would otherwise pay the same money, then it’s a campaign contribution. I really don’t get the argument that it’s not,” said McCarthy.
What does strike McCarthy as unusual is prosecutors lodging a felony charge over the payments. He says campaigns often make mistakes and usually the problems get resolved without litigation. He says the Obama campaign is a well-known example.
“The one we typically talk about is the 2008 Obama campaign, which had about two million dollars worth of illegal contributions, which obviously dwarf the amount of money that we’re talking about in connection with these hush money agreements. Yet, that was settled with a $375,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also has some bad news for liberals getting their pitchforks and impeachment campaigns ready/
“What we’re talking about here is not really the crime of the century, even if they could prove it against President Trump, which I think they probably couldn’t,” said McCarthy.
He says something like this might get thrown into the mix if far more serious issues arise, but is a non-starter for impeachment on its own.
“As a standalone matter, no one’s getting impeached over a campaign finance violation. At least they shouldn’t,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy offers that last caveat because the House of Representatives can impeach a president for whatever they believe is appropriate and the same goes for a Senate conviction.
McCarthy is also skeptical of suggestions from Cohen attorney Lanny Davis that Cohen has proof of Trump collaborating with Russia to hack Democratic National Committee emails.
“(Special Counsel Robert Mueller) transferred this case to the Southern District of New York. It’s very hard for me to believe that Mueller, who has a lot more information than anyone else does about what proof he has of collusion – if he thought that Cohen was helpful to that case, I don’t see him letting that case walk to the Southern District of New York,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says Trump’s biggest problem in the weeks ahead may be himself. He says Trump’s consistent haranguing of Mueller and his team on Twitter and in public statements is only making the special counsel more determined to hammer him.
“If I were the prosecutor and my honor was being attacked every single day, I would be motivated when my time finally came to file a report, to write the report to end all reports.
“I’m not saying that you make up information. But there’s a way of writing things when you want to soft sell them and there’s a way of writing things when you want to be very aggressive,” said McCarthy.
That said, McCarthy says it seems clear that the collusion investigation is sputtering out and does not expect Paul Manafort to reinvigorate the probe even if he were to cooperate with Mueller.
McCarthy says anything of value from Manafort would already be known by prosecutors through Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who became the government’s chief witness against Trump’s one-time campaign manager.
“Think about what Mueller’s done in the six months since Mueller became a cooperator. He’s filed two indictments against groups of Russians, which don’t come close to hinting that there’s any complicity by the Trump campaign with Russia’s perfidy in connection with the election,” said McCarthy, who thinks Mueller went after Manafort solely over crimes committed long before there was ever an affiliation with Trump.
“I think he’s interested in Manafort for Manafort. I don’t think he’s interested in Manafort to try to make a case against Trump because I don’t think he thinks there is one on collusion. Obstruction’s a different story, but I just don’t see this collusion with Russia thing happening,” said McCarthy.
The House Freedom Caucus is increasingly frustrated with the Justice Department refusing to hand over documents critical to the investigation into the 2016 campaign and with its own Republican leadership on issues ranging from immigration to spending and more.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He says the Justice Department is dragging its feet on turning over documents related to many different aspects of the 2016 campaign and the ongoing Mueller probe.
“(It’s) everything to be quite honest with you because the investigations into Hillary Clinton as well as the presidential campaign have shown there is egregious overreach here. but one of the key points is what the scope of this (Mueller) investigation actually is.
“We see Mr. Mueller on a fishing expedition, trying to get anybody and everybody tagged into a crime that they create,” said Gosar.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C, is leading the charge for a second special counsel to be named so that person could impanel a grand jury and bring possible criminal charges on a range of issues.
However, Gosar says that is unlikely to happen since he believes the Justice Department is trying to “wait out the clock.” When asked whether that meant letting the Mueller investigation play out or see if Democrats win a majority in one or both chambers of Congress, Gosar suggested it was both.
“A Pelosi-borne House cancels all these processes,” said Gosar, noting that his goal is to make sure “the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C, aren’t being held to a different standard than people out in the real world.”
Gosar and other House Freedom Caucus members are also furious with how Republican leaders are handling the immigration issue as proponents of a DACA amnesty near the 218 signatures needed to force the issue on the House floor.
The congressman blasts leadership for repeatedly promising to put the far more conservative Goodlatte bill on the floor for a vote but never making good on the vow. That plan would only grant legal status to DACA enrollees, rather than a path to citizenship. It would also limit chain migration to the immediate family, cancel the visa lottery, mandate E-Verify for all hires in the U.S. and beef up border security.
He also says leaders have reneged on promises to bring a bill to the floor focused solely on scrapping the visa lottery.
“Trust is a series of promises kept. Leadership has drug its feet repeatedly on this aspect,” said Gosar.
GOP leaders are pleading with members not to sign the discharge petition, but Gosar says the alternative offered by leadership is equally unacceptable.
“We were presented with an idea. They would go forward with the Goodlatte bill but we had to agree to a rule vote that not only brought up the Goodlatte bill but brought up an immigration bill to be named later as well. No one in their right mind actually does that,” said Gosar.
Freedom Caucus members held up the latest farm bill in protest of the leadership’s performance on immigration but also to protest what they expect to be significant watering down of the farm bill in the Senate.
Gosar says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no intention of fighting to keep welfare work requirements in the legislation but does plan to push hard for legalizing industrial hemp.
Gosar says it’s another example of leaders unilaterally deciding what legislation will look like, just as House and Senate leaders hammered out an agreement for the $1.3 trillion omnibus earlier this year.
The congressman says new GOP leadership is desperately needed but there will be no leadership elections anytime soon because current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy cannot get 218 Republicans to support him.
A federal judge blasted the special counsel investigation of Robert Mueller Friday, accusing the former FBI director of assuming “unfettered” authority and maintaining control of the Paul Manafort prosecution solely to squeeze out incriminating information about President Trump.
And a former federal prosecutor says this was an “unprecedented rebuke” of Mueller and his team, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe.
“This was a smashmouth takedown,” said Joe diGenova, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “To question the integrity, in essence, of Mr. Mueller, because of the nature of the case that he has in front of him in federal court, is truly unprecedented.”
On Friday, District Judge T.S. Ellis strongly challenged the authority Mueller and his team have to veer off into prosecuting financial crimes, such as the ones lodged against one-time Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
Ellis specifically wanted to know why Mueller’s team had no trouble referring the Michael Cohen case to the Southern District of New York but continues to handle the prosecution of Manafort on financial allegations unrelated to Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said Friday.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment,” he added.
Ellis also took aim at Mueller’s approach to the investigation.
“What we don’t want in this country, we don’t want anyone with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited powers to do anything her or she wants,” said Ellis.
Ellis has been on the federal bench since 1987. diGenova says Ellis has a reputation for being a conservative but calm judge, which makes his comments on Friday all the more striking.
“I was absolutely stunned in a positive way that a judge, who was so fundamentally conservative in both his approach and his demeanor in court, was so appalled by what was happening in front of him. This is a very bad sign for Mueller,” said diGenova.
“This was a remarkable dressing down for Mr. Mueller,” he added.
“What it shows is that seeping out into the federal court system and judges is a sense that not only is the Mueller investigation out of control, but the supervision of it by Rod Rosenstein is either non-existent or out of control. That is a very bad sign for Mr. Mueller and Mr. Rosenstein,” said diGenova.
In addition to the specifics of the investigation, diGenova says the comments from Ellis mark an important moment.
“What we are watching here is the slow education of the American people through a civics lesson, which is being conducted through the media. People are discussing the law and the Constitution and the threat to our constitutional order that the Mueller investigation represents, because it started with no crime being investigated,” said diGenova.
“People are beginning to see that the original sin in the Mueller investigation was the outrageous memorandum signed by Rod Rosenstein appointing him, which mentioned no crime to be investigated,” said diGenova.
diGenova suspects the rebuke from Judge Ellis will likely quash any possibility of Mueller to subpoena President Trump.
“I don’t think he’s going to issue a subpoena because I think Bob Mueller knows he’s going to do something then which will take him down. That will be an act of suicide. But if he is arrogant enough to do it, it will destroy his investigation. It will take him down.
“This will be the kind of stupid overreach that frequently undoes constitutional officers,” said diGenova.
On Friday, Mueller’s attorney, Michael Dreeben, argued that prosecuting Manafort is within the scope of the investigation based on a letter signed by Rosenstein after the investigation began. Ellis demanded to see the letter within two weeks.
diGenova says Ellis will likely dismiss the case against Manafort if Mueller refuses to share the Rosenstein letter. Even if Ellis gets to see it, Manafort could soon get good news, given the timing of the letter.
“Remember, that letter came to Mueller from Rosenstein after the raid on Paul Manfort’s home in Virginia. That could be a very serious legal problem for Mr. Mueller,” said diGenova.
A former federal prosecutor says Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s threat to subpoena President Trump shows a Justice Department in need of “adult supervision” and says the Mueller questions leaked to the media show that Mueller still hasn’t found a crime to prosecute.
Mueller’s prosecutors and Trump lawyers have been negotiating the terms of a voluntary interview, but Mueller is now threatening a subpoena if Trump does not commit to the session.
Andrew C. McCarthy served as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and led the case against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and others for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plots against other New York City landmarks.
McCarthy says the subpoena threat shows this process is off the rails.
“We’re not having adult supervision in the Justice Department,” said McCarthy, who asserts that proper oversight would not allow the subpoena of lesser figures without clear evidence of a crime.
“You’d have to go through hoops at the Justice Department for permission to serve (a subpoena to), say, a journalist.
“With a president, the prosecutor should not be permitted to even ask for an interview, much less coerce the appearance of the president with a subpoena unless he can show there is a serious crime that Trump is implicated in and that can’t be accessed through any other source, like Nixon with the tapes,” said McCarthy.
“If you don’t have that kind of a scenario, then you as a prosecutor don’t have any business asking the president to answer some questions because you think it would be interesting. The Justice Department is supposed to be the body that steps in and makes sure that kind of stuff doesn’t happen,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein established Mueller as special counsel “in a panic” after the Trump administration “completely botched” the firing of FBI Director James Comey by offering conflicting reasons for his termination.
Nonetheless, DOJ guidelines are clear on this matter.
“The appointment was not in compliance with Justice Department regulations for appointing a special counsel because you’re supposed to have a basis for a criminal investigation, which they didn’t. They assigned Mueller a counterintelligence investigation
“But [Rosenstein] also, according to published reports, committed to congressional Democrats that Mueller would have carte blanche to take the investigation wherever Mueller decided the facts went,” said McCarthy.
So what is Trump to do if Mueller does subpoena his testimony? McCarthy says there are strong grounds for executive privilege.
“This is a prosecutor. He doesn’t work for Congress. He’s an inferior executive official who has a very narrow license to ask questions and conduct investigations in furtherance of probing a crime. And if you don’t have a crime, he doesn’t get to ask superior executive officials a bunch of questions,” said McCarthy, likening a Mueller subpoena to a subordinate military officer making demands of a superior officer.
McCarthy says it’s also clear to him that Mueller still hasn’t found a crime based on the questions Mueller reportedly passed along to Trump. Instead, he sees Mueller hunting for a motivation to obstruct justice in Trump’s actions to fire Comey, etc.
McCarthy says a sitting president can be targeted if he commits an illegal act but cannot be probed for why he committed a legal act.
However, the strongest defense for Trump against any allegations of obstruction is that no investigations have been obstructed.
“If you look at what happened here, whether you’re thinking about him weighing in on the (Michael) Flynn case or him firing Comey, there was no obstruction whatsoever. The Russia investigation has never been sidetracked. It continued apace.
“After Trump weighed in with Comey on the merits of prosecuting Flynn, Comey has testified that the FBI ignored what the president said. We now know that Mueller picked up the investigation, ran with it and ultimately prosecuted and convicted Flynn. So there was no obstruction here,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says there is damage to the presidency from Mueller hunting down sinister motives by Trump.
“It’s a frivolous basis to conduct an investigation under circumstances where it really hurts the country to have the president under the cloud of suspicion,” said McCarthy.
While the news cycle continues at a breakneck pace, a prominent Washington attorney President Trump’s recent pardon of former George W. Bush administration official Lewis “Scooter” Libby ends a shameful chapter in American jurisprudence and is a clear example of why the special counsel belongs on the ash heap of U.S. history.
On April 13, Trump pardoned Libby, who was feeling the effects of painkillers when the president called. The president also called Libby’s attorneys, Victoria Toensing and joe diGenova.
“He said, ‘I just signed it. The ink’s not dry,'” recalled Toensing. “He said, ‘I don’t know the guy, but I know he was screwed.’ When they put the press release out, they cleaned that up a little bit.”
Toensing says Trump was troubled by what he perceived as a major injustice.
“This is part of Donald Trump’s personality. He did not like that somebody got the raw end of a deal. He just didn’t like it, and he decided to do what he could do,” said Toensing, who submitted the pardon request last year.
Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements, in 2007, four years after the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame was allegedly leaked illegally to political columnist Robert Novak.
Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as the special counsel in the Plame case. Fitzgerald came highly recommended by Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey.
State Department official Richard Armitage actually passed the name to Novak. Armitage was never charged for giving the name and neither was anyone else.
President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence but refused to issue a full pardon.
“Shame on George Bush for not having done it. Scooter Libby had nothing to do with leaking anything as we now know,” said Toensing. “George Bush would not give him a pardon to Dick Cheney’s eternal chagrin.”
“It was just so unfair and unjust in our system that his prosecution even occurred,” said Toensing, who says the facts of the case were clear long before Fitzgerald was ever appointed.
“They knew from the get-go, from day one, that Dick Armitage had leaked the information. If that had been a crime, why didn’t they just prosecute Dick Armitage?
“This was a whole case about going after Dick Cheney and the Iraq War. This was a whole political prosecution about the Iraq War,” said Toensing.
Toensing says the only reason Libby was prosecuted is because Libby would not turn on Cheney, whom Libby served as chief of staff.
“Before indictment, Scooter’s lawyer was told that if (Libby) just provided criminal information about Dick Cheney, this whole thing would go away,” said Toensing.
And what was Libby convicted of?
“Scooter was indicted on just a ‘he said-he said.’ It’s as if you said something happened on Tuesday and I said Wednesday and then and they decided to indict Scooter just because he differed. He differed with three witnesses,” said Toensing.
Libby’s conviction was ripe for pardon after the testimony of journalist Matt Cooper did not match his own notes and reporter Judith Miller recanted her testimony after she discovered her testimony was incorrect as a result of Fitzgerald refusing to share evidence with her. The third witness, Tim Russert, died in 2008.
Toensing says it’s clear between the Fitzgerald and Mueller probes that the special counsel should be abolished.
“I don’t think any is good. I didn’t think Ken Starr was good. It’s just out of hand and there’s no control,” said Toensing.
She says the Justice Department is doing the public no favors either. She says the mandate Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave to Robert Mueller is stunningly broad and allows him to investigate “any link between the Russian government and anyone involved with the Trump campaign.”
“That means a farmer in Iowa who sells rice to Russia and was co-chairman of the Trump campaign could be investigated because he had a link with the Russian government and the Trump campaign. That’s it. It’s despicable,” said Toensing.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney suspects any response to apparent chemical attacks in Syria may be on hold while the Trump administration tries to build a coalition for any action and he says solving the problem in Syria is much more difficult because partisan sniping over Russia is hampering our ability to find common diplomatic ground with Moscow.
Earlier in the week, reports suggested a military response could come by the end of the week. On Thursday, President Trump made it clear a more deliberate approach may be in the works.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” tweeted Trump.
McInerney says there is likely a very good reason for a delayed response.
“I think his national security advisers have advised him to get a coalition involved with this, to include the UK, French, perhaps the Jordanians, the Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis and Emirates – a coalition of the willing that can represent a very broad front,” said McInerney.
“When you have a coalition like this, it means they’re all in agreement and they’re willing to use their forces. And you have Arab forces. I believe it’s important to use Arab forces,” he said. “It makes us define the problem more.”
McInerney says another critical element is to confirm the chemical attack actually came from the Syrian government.
“We’ve got to confirm with the most precise accuracy that it was the Assad regime that did this. The reason I say that is because Al-Nusra was looking for chlorine stocks a number of months ago and it would be in their interest to want to keep the U.S. involved and for the U.S. to attack the Assad forces,” said McInerney.
He says there may be an easy way to determine blame in this case.
“Was it an airplane with barrel bombs or was it an IED? Because we know the Al-Nusra forces do not have aircraft,” said McInerney, who adds that U.S.-led surveillance ought to provide critical evidence on whether the attack came from the air, although it may take time to comb through the intelligence.
If Assad is responsible, McInerney favors a big response?
“I think we need to eliminate his air force. Is that difficult to do? Yes, it is, because he has moved his forces on Russian bases with Iranians. I’m not worried about killing Iranians. I think they need to be pushed back and of course the Israelis are very concerned about this Shia Crescent that is sweeping across,” said McInerney.
In addition to the Syrians, Russians, and Iranians, U.S. policy must also consider how any action impacts the Kurds, ISIS, the Free Syrian Army and other groups in the area.
McInerney says the complexity of the issue is immense, and he says it’s now far more complicated because of the ongoing Russia probes here in the U.S.
“Because the Democratic Party laid out this false narrative, this fake news about Russian collusion, it has soured the diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Russia. It’s difficult to communicate with them in a reasonable way.
“That’s why the Mueller investigation must be terminated as quickly as possible. Clearly Russia is a great power. Still, it’s got lots of nuclear weapons which concern us. They are modernizing their nuclear forces, and we do not want to let this get out of control,” said McInerney.
McInerney says the region is also more complex as a result of the Obama administration pulling the U.S. out of Iraq entirely and failing to honor the red line it set for chemical weapon use in Syria.
“Unfortunately, because of Obama’s ineptness, he helped create the vacuum that the Russians were able to move in on,” said McInerney.