Russia Monitor: A Bumper Year For Lawyers As The Noose Around The White House Tightens


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (1/24/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

Trump-Russia corruption is a very good thing for one group of people – lawyers.

This cycle has been a torrent of legal news; first up – Mueller to question Trump in Trump-Russia corruption investigation. The Washington Post reported: Mueller Seeks To Question Trump About Flynn And Comey Departures.

While there is much discussion about how Mueller’s questioning of Trump might happen, let’s start with the discussion of the intent.

“Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seeking to question President Trump in the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with his plans.”

The same Washington Post story links to updates on two other persons of interest to Mueller: Sessions Interviewed By Special Counsel Probing Possible Trump Campaign Ties With Russia.

Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III was interviewed by Mueller’s team last week; Trump may not have known in advance.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed last week by investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into possible election campaign coordination between Russia and Trump associates, according to Justice Department officials.

“Sessions was questioned for several hours, the officials said. In addition to the Russian coordination probe, Mueller is also investigating whether President Trump or any White House officials sought to obstruct justice in the probe.”

Being interviewed by Mueller’s team about his role in Trump-Russia corruption was not the only bad news for Sessions: Tensions Swell Between Sessions And FBI Over Senior Personnel From Comey Era.

Trump views the role of the Department of Justice, the Attorney General and the FBI as ‘having his back’. Trump’s confrontations over loyalty from persons sworn to protect the United States and the rule of law are troubling. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III has been in Trump’s doghouse since recusing himself from issues related to Russia. While Trump has explained his rationale for firing Comey as “this Russia thing”, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and now his (Trump’s) own upcoming interview with Mueller regarding obstruction of justice.

Sessions strives to regain Trump’s good favor with one result of his misguided efforts being:

“FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has been resisting pressure from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to replace the bureau’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of criticism from President Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

“The tension over McCabe and other high-level FBI officials who served during James B. Comey’s tenure has reached the White House, where counsel Donald McGahn has sought to mediate the issue, these people said.”

Credit to Axios for the initial reporting on this: Scoop: FBI Director Threatened To Resign Amid Trump, Sessions Pressure.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.”

The original Washington Post article (above) also reports that Comey has also met with Mueller’s team.

“Months ago, the special counsel’s office also briefly interviewed Comey, who at the time vouched for the contents of memos he wrote about private conversations he had with the president, according to people familiar with the matter. The Sessions and Comey interviews were first reported by the New York Times.”


Sessions and Comey have met with Mueller and Mueller is arranging to question Trump. The focus with this line of investigation is obstruction of justice related to Trump-Russia corruption? Is this good for Trump?

Vox predicted: Mueller’s Obstruction Of Justice Case Against Trump Looks Damning: This should worry Trump even more than allegations of collusion.

Long time Trump associate Roger Stone’s opines on whether this is good for Trump. Stone was interviewed by Joe Piscopo on AM 970 ‘The Answer’:

“There’s no way the president should sit down with this guy, this is the [biggest] perjury trap of all time. It’s a death wish to sit down with this guy for his investigation… We’re back to what happened when he fired Comey. We know they subpoenaed Steve Bannon — also known as ‘sloppy Steve’ — we know that they now are desperate to do an interview with the president, he’d be crazy to sit down with these guys. It’s a trap.”

Vox’s Zach Beauchamp wonders: A Trump Death Wish, A perjury trap?”

“And here’s the thing: the case against Trump on obstruction grounds is very strong — stronger even than the evidence that the Trump campaign broke the law by colluding with Russian’s campaign to influence the election.

“If Trump exercises his power — even his lawful power — with a corrupt motive of interfering with an investigation, that’s obstruction,” says Lisa Kern Griffin, an expert on criminal law at Duke University. “The attempt is sufficient, and it seems to be a matter of public record already. 

“The irony, according to many experts, is that this kind of effort to block the Russia investigation has likely created a bigger legal problem for Trump than anything he may have done with Russians.”

There is a collective opinion that the ever impulsive Trump faces risk of digging himself a deeper legal hole with questioning from Mueller.


Trump’s exposure

Sessions is a significant step by Mueller into the Trump inner circle, a (first) cabinet member of the administration. This feels like a good time to catch our breath and consider the list of who has met with Mueller to date.

Newsweek reviewed the tally so far: Who Has Mueller Interviewed For Russia Probe? Sessions Latest and First Cabinet Member In Trump Investigation.

“White House senior adviser, and Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner was questioned by the special counsel’s team in November, specifically about former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The ex-general was one of four people previously affiliated with the Trump campaign to face charges from the special counsel. Flynn is also cooperating with the investigation, along with former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

“Former campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign official Rick Gates were also indicted by the special counsel for money laundering and other charges.”

Kushner, Flynn, Papadopoulos, Manafort and Gates. We’ll revisit Flynn, Papadopoulos and Gates in a bit.

Also: ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus, head of National Security Council Keith Kellogg, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, former FBI Director Comey, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, White House counsel Don McGahn, Bannon associate George Nader and an upcoming interview with former Trump senior political adviser Steve Bannon.

There is at least one name missing, from the Newsweek scorecard — NBC reports: CIA Director Interviewed In Special Counsel’s Russia Probe.

“CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been questioned by the special counsel’s office investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign, NBC News reported on Wednesday.” 


Mueller interviews include Kushner, Manafort, Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, Priebus, Kellogg, Spicer, Comey, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, Hicks, Miller, McGahn, Nader, Pompeo and soon Bannon. With negotiations to question Trump directly.

There are also indictments – Flynn, Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos, with some new news.

Esquire magazine reports: Mueller Seems To Be Flipping More And More Former Trump Allies.

The story sub-head offers this juicy tidbit: More details on Michael Flynn’s non-truths.

Maybe as a prequel to a Mueller-Trump meeting, Flynn may have trapped himself leading to his own indictment:

“So it appears that, through a combination of amateurism and deception, Flynn found himself in a meeting alone with two FBI agents. By now, we know he tried to lie his way out of it. From this account, McCabe could have made the nature of the meeting clearer. Flynn might have gotten sandbagged. But he was also national security adviser to the President of the United States—not exactly a teenager who gets pulled over and doesn’t know his rights. He had been sloshing around in backchannels with a foreign adversary and he had taken money from a different foreign government while serving in a U.S. presidential campaign. A little more savvy is required.”

Flynn’s botched attempt at deception meant Trump did not know about his meeting with the FBI for another two days.

More significant is the link from this article to a CNN report on possible cooperation between Gates and Mueller: Exclusive: New Signs Gates May Be Negotiating With Mueller’s Team.

“Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, signaling that Gates’ approach to his not-guilty plea could be changing behind the scenes.

“Green, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office twice last week. CNN is told by a source familiar with the matter that Green has joined Gates’ team.” 

“For months, court-watchers — including Gates’ own attorneys — have anticipated additional charges against the defendants. Superseding indictments, which would add or replace charges against both Gates and Manafort, have been prepared, according to a source close to the investigation. No additional charges have been filed so far. When there is a delay in filing charges after they’ve been prepared, it can indicate that negotiations of some nature are ongoing.”

Not to be outdone, George Papadopoulos has his own Trump-Russia corruption aspirations: George Papadopoulos Is The ‘John Dean’ Of The Russia Investigation, His Fiancee Says.

“He has been mocked by President Trump as a “low level volunteer” and “proven to be a liar.”

“But the fiancee of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts and is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, says he is being miscast.

““I believe history will remember him like John Dean,” said Italian-born Simona Mangiante, referring to the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to his role in the Watergate coverup and then became a key witness against other aides to President Richard Nixon.”

“But she indicated in an interview that she believes he ultimately will emerge as more than a bit player in the Russia probe…”

There is speculation of a short timeline for Mueller to wrap up an investigation. It’s more likely that Trump obstruction of justice could be a “perjury trap”, how Flynn flipped after lying to the FBI.


Loose ends

There are a few notes to add by way of wrap up. One story from what seems to be many years ago is about the Obama administration’s attempt to sound a warning of Russian interference in the 2016 election to benefit Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden reminds us that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY; Senate leader) blocked attempts to offer a clearer warning: Biden Confirms Reports McConnell Blocked Obama From Warning Americans About Russian Election Interference.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the Obama administration’s efforts to warn the public about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, former vice president Joe Biden said Tuesday.”


One final item. In the last week we’ve reported on the flow of embezzlement of Kazakh money — at least $4 billion — with some of this benefitting Trump projects, especially the Trump Soho Hotel. Trump’s business associate, Felix Sater, has been subpoenaed by the Southern District of New York federal attorney’s office. He will sit for a deposition in a case brought by Kazakh BTA Bank and the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. The defendants were mentioned here previously, “BTA Bank Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov, former Mayor of Almaty Viktor Khrapunov, and his son-in-law Ilyas Khrapunov among the defendants.

Felix Sater Subpoenaed; Newly Cooperative In New York money Laundering Case Against Trump’s Kazakh Business Associates.


Mueller moves ahead with his investigation of Trump-Russia corruption. Biden reminds us of McConnell’s blocking a message of Russian involvement in our election – we understand, there are competing agendas.

House Intelligence Co-chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweets this view by way of conclusion for today’s column.

Adam SchiffVerified account @RepAdamSchiff 5h5 hours ago

More Mueller subpoenas Bannon, Nunes produces spin memo;

Mueller interviews Sessions, Johnson claims secret society in FBI;

Mueller calls in the President, then what does GOP do…

 Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has taken to the airways to tut his convoluted theories on a secret FBI society working against the president.

Mueller investigates – Johnson and the rest of the GOP block, fabricate, deflect, attack and do all they can to work against Mueller – party over country. Shame!