NEWSMAX|AIWA! NO!|Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly involved in a closed-door fight with a witness who’s refused to testify before a grand jury investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A confidential hearing on a secret battle first disclosed by Politico was held Friday at the federal courthouse in Washington, The New York Times reported. An entire floor of the courthouse was closed to the press to guard the identities of lawyers involved in the secret case.
But according to the Times, it appears the battle is over whether a witness can be forced to answer investigators’ questions — and it’s not President Donald Trump.
“We’re not involved in it — we’re not aware of the nature or scope of the litigation,” Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, told the Times Saturday.
According to the Times, Mueller’s investigators and lawyers for Trump are still wrangling over whether Trump will sit down for a face-to-face interview; Trump’s already answered written questions.
And if those talks break down, Mueller could seek to subpoena the president, giving Trump’s lawyers the chance to go public to bolster the president’s claim the probe is a witch hunt.
The Times noted in one aspect of the probe, Mueller is examining whether one of Trump’s longtime associates, Roger Stone, was a conduit between WikiLeaks and the campaign. Mueller is already in a legal fight with a Stone associate who’s refusing to testify before a grand jury and hand over documents, the Times reported.Related Stories:
U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously. The judge set March 6 for Cohen’s voluntary surrender.
Cohen pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charge in August and to making false statements in November.
Cohen, 52, had walked into court on Wednesday morning with his wife, son and daughter, amid a crowd of photographers and reporters.
Federal prosecutors in New York charged that Cohen, just before the November 2016 election, paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 and helped arrange a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet about their past relationships with Trump, who is married. Trump denies having the affairs.
Bonnie Fuller, HOLLYWOODLIFE|AIWA! NO!|Robert Mueller (portrayed once again by Robert De Niro) returned to SNL for this week’s cold open to literally hide in Eric Trump‘s closet.
At first, Eric gets comforted by Donald Trump Jr. that he won’t get indicted (although Eric thinks it means something to the effect that “there’s no sugar indict coke.”
After trying to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, Don Jr. and Eric hears a creak that Donald attributes to the “cheap steel dad uses to build these towers.” After Don Jr. leaves the room on what seems to be a very heated legal phone call, Robert Mueller (AKA Eric’s “dad’s friend from work”) appears next to Eric and eventually tells him that he’s not the worst thing to happen to Donald Trump.
No, Robert tells him “getting elected president was the worst thing that ever happened to your dad.” Watch the whole sketch go down here!
|AIWA! NO!|Former CIA officer Phil Mudd and former prosecutor Laura Coates discuss the significance of Robert Mueller’s filing detailing the cooperation of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So Phil, let’s go to you first, since frankly, you scare me on a good day and now I’ve offended you. When you see the redactions in this memo — and you worked for Robert Mueller; you know how he works — what do you see here?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I’m putting a bunch of pieces together that aren’t evident but look pretty clear to me. No. 1, you’ve got to combine what the document says with the information, for example, about the extent of interviews like Don McGahn with other people from the White House. You’ve got to look at the number of times that this individual, General Flynn, met with the special counsel.
Look at another thing. There’s specific reference, not to investigating lies by other individuals or money trails, which is what got Paul Manafort. The specific reference is to cooperation on Russia. So if you put the quantity of information together, the fact that there’s specific reference to Russia, three ongoing investigations mentioned in that document, I’m going to tell you one thing I take away.
There’s about a size 16 shoe going to drop here, and that shoe is not going to be related to lying, or to just financial irregularities, which we’ve seen in the past. I think they’re centering in on the core of the investigation, which is what Flynn and others are saying about cooperation with Russia. I think it’s going to happen.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Well, Phil, that gets to your point. He alluded to these three investigations. So one of them is the Mueller investigation. Is the other one the Southern District of New York? Or what — what are the other two investigations?
MUDD: I can only — I mean, I’m going to guess here, as Neil Katyal was talking about a few minutes ago on the show. There’s a couple of things that I was thinking about when I was reading the document.
You look at categories of investigation, categories related to Russia, related to money and related to lying. I could see more information coming out related to financial information, like what Paul Manafort did. That’s one element of the investigation.
Clearly, as I mentioned earlier, there’s still the question of whether there was cooperation with the Russians. That’s a Roger Stone kind of an investigation. That’s different than the money investigation.
In parallel to that, everybody here seems to lie like a rug, so there’s got to be investigations related to who else is lying and whether you want to indict him. I was one of the many who thought this was shut down.
But when I look at the extent of investigation, which is bigger than I thought — the number of people involved, the number of them who are lying — and the amount of documentation of financial records, et cetera, this one could go on for a while.
|JON ALLSOP, CJR|AIWA! NO!|Even by the dramatic standards of the Mueller investigation, it was a bombshell moment when, on Tuesday, The Guardian’s Luke Harding and Dan Collyns reported that Paul Manafort met repeatedly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy, including around the time Manafort became chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
With the special counsel’s recent focus around the Trump campaign’s ties to WikiLeaks—looking, specifically, at the latter’s dump of internal Democratic Party emails procured from Russian hackers—The Guardian’s story introduced a huge new lead (and one that other reporters believe was not previously on Mueller’s radar).
Both Manafort and WikiLeaks strongly denied that the meetings took place. Manafort calledThe Guardian’s story “deliberately libelous” and said he was weighing his legal options. WikiLeaks, meanwhile, tweeted that it was willing to bet The Guardian a million dollars and “its editors head” that the paper was wrong, then started to crowdfund a lawsuit (as of this morning, it posted$33,000 in donations). No other news outlet has yet been able to confirm The Guardian’s reporting.
It’s not unusual for aggrieved subjects to push back—and while the denials had a noteworthy vehemence, that sentiment was arguably proportionate to the severity of The Guardian’s charges. Credible observers with no skin in the game—for example, the national security blogger Marcy Wheeler—however, also expressed skepticism. In a statement yesterday, The Guardian sought to shore up its story, stressing that it relied on a number of sources and that neither Manafort nor Assange had issued denials prior to publication. The statement could have been stronger, however: “Noticeably missing [was] a line stating that The Guardian is confident in the accuracy of its story,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted on Twitter.
The controversy took another weird turn yesterday as Politico published an article by “Alex Finley,” who was identified, at the bottom of the post, as a former CIA officer writing under a pseudonym. “Finley” suggests, without citing any real evidence, that malicious actors—Russia, perhaps—may have fabricated the Manafort–Assange story, then planted it to discredit The Guardian in general and Harding, who has written widely on potential Russian collusion in the 2016 election, in particular.
“Finley’s” article should be taken with a mountain of salt (if taken at all). Nonetheless, in a roundabout way it gets to the heart of a knotty problem for reporters. The Mueller beat has always been characterized by uncertainty: even excellent reporting has relied on a very incomplete picture. And what we do know sits within a vipers’ nest of double-crossing and deception. Just before The Guardian story broke this week, Mueller’s team alleged that Manafort lied to them after striking a deal to help them; then it emerged that Manafort’s lawyer had repeatedly contacted Trump’s legal team during that period of cooperation. Manafort is angling for a presidential pardon, some speculated. Yesterday, in an interview with the New York Post, Trump refused to rule that out.
Only time will tell if The Guardian successfully navigated this thicket of lies. For the time being, its story should at least be taken seriously, despite legitimate doubt. Just because other outlets can’t verify it does not make it untrue, as New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt noted eloquently on his paper’s podcast, The Daily, yesterday. “We’re at a stage in the Mueller–Trump story where we’re sort of looking to see whether there is another shoe to drop,” Schmidt says. “Whether there is another big story here that moves the narrative forward, or if we simply know as much as we’re going to know.”
Below, more on Mueller’s deepening probe:
“The biggest get this year”? On Tuesday, Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo had a useful write-through of The Guardian’s scoop and the mixed reaction it provoked.
Receipts, part I: The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald emerged as a leading skeptic of the story, writing on Tuesday that evidence of the alleged Manafort–Assange meetings should be easy to come by—if they actually happened. “London itself is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities,” Greenwald writes. “And the Ecuadorian Embassy in that city—for obvious reasons—is one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.” Yesterday, meanwhile, Greenwald ripped Politico’s piece on Twitter, calling it a “fraud.”
Receipts, part II: CNN’s Dana Bash, Kara Scannell, and Evan Perez scooped yesterday that Trump told Mueller, in written responses, that he did not have prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’s email dump, nor of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving his son, Donald Trump Jr.; campaign officials; and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
A complicated case: Earlier this month, prosecutors in the US accidentally revealed that they had prepared to indict Assange. Although details remained hazy, press freedom advocates expressed concern. For CJR, Mathew Ingram explored the threat an indictment might pose to journalism.