They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

In testimony about the events leading up to a search of Paul Manafort’s storage unit, a FBI agent revealed Friday that federal prosecutors and the FBI may have been tipped off to the possibility that Manafort maintained storage lockers after an April meeting with four Associated Press reporters.

The revelation came in a hearing in front of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis on motions ahead of the trial in the case brought against Manafort in Virginia, which is set to being next month. Manafort, who is in jail while he awaits trial, was not present at the hearing.

The meeting between the AP reporters and investigators was previously known, and pointed to by Manafort in a court filing about media leaks related to the case.

However, FBI special agent Jeff Pfeiffer went into new detail about the actions he took after the meeting that culminated in the search of the storage unit in Virginia. Manafort has requested that the judge suppress the evidence from the search, because before getting a warrant, Pfeiffer entered the unit with the permission of a Manafort employee who had a key to it.

The meeting was set up on April 11, 2017, for prosecutors and FBI agents to receive information being offered by the AP reporters, Pfeiffer said during questioning by Uzo Asonye, an attorney representing special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. One of the AP reporters, who were in the midst of their own Manafort investigation, mentioned that Manafort had a storage unit. Pffiefer in his testimony said that it was either that meeting or other investigative efforts that led him to learn of the units.

Asonye asked Pfeiffer how the government officials responded to the information brought to them by the reporters. The agent said that the response from the officials was generally “no comment.”

In statement after the hearing, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said that “Associated Press journalists met with representatives from the Department of Justice in an effort to get information on stories they were reporting, as reporters do.”

“During the course of the meeting, they asked DOJ representatives about a storage locker belonging to Paul Manafort, without sharing its name or location,” she said in the statement.

A week later, having secured a subpoena for the leases on the Manafort storage unit, Pfeiffer traveled to the facility and met with its manager. There, he received a list of individuals associated with the leases that he used as a list of potential interviewees, the agent said. The first person he interviewed on the list was Alex Trusko, an Manafort employee whose name was on one of the leases and had a key to the unit, where he moved files for Manafort.

After interviewing Trusko at his home on May 26, the agent went back to the facility, where Trusko let him into the unit, the agent said. Pfeiffer made observations and took photos, according to his testimony, but did not remove any items. Prosecutors then obtained a warrant and executed the search the next day.

During Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle’s cross-examination of Pfeiffer, he asked the agent to name specifically who was at the meeting. He remembered DOJ prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who is now on the Mueller team, and two other federal prosecutors from the DOJ, and named two other agents, besides himself who were there for the FBI.

Pfeiffer said there were four AP reporters present, but did not remember their names.

Zehnle then directed the questioning to notes that were taken memorializing the meeting with the AP. The notes, according to Zehnle, said that at the end of the meeting the AP reporters asked the officials if they were “off base” with what they were pursuing, and that they were advised that they had a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings.

Pfeiffer said he did not remember such a remark being made.

In addition to the storage unit search, Ellis heard brief arguments Friday on Manafort’s request that the evidence from a July search of his residence be thrown out.

Ellis said he would take both search-related requests under advisement.

Manafort’s attorneys had additionally asked that the judge hold a hearing an alleged government leaks to the media. After a back-and-forth with Ellis, in which Ellis made clear he would not dismiss the case on the basis of the alleged leaks, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing indicated he would seek a change of venue for the case.

“You better marshall all your evidence,” Ellis told Downing, adding that he should “do it quickly.”

Ellis announced he was denying a Mueller motion for a written jury questionnaire, and he walked through the oral process he’d go through to question a juror’s potential biases, known as voir dire. He said he would accept proposed questions from both sides, and they could submit additional proposed questions during the process.

“We are not going to ask jurors who they voted for,” Ellis said, and he was not going to question them on what magazines they read.

“We are not going to go down that road,” Ellis said.

Manafort was indicted by a federal grand jury on bank fraud, tax fraud and other financial crimes, mostly involving his consulting work for Ukraine before he became Trump’s campaign manager. He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial is scheduled to being July 25.

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from an AP spokeswoman.

Read More →

An unusual scheduling request was made at a court appearance this week involving the New York attorney general’s lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Foundation lawyer Alan Futerfas asked that a hearing related to the complaint, which accuses Trump of using the charity’s funds as a personal piggy bank, be postponed until “after Nov. 6.”

That date, perhaps not coincidentally, is the day of the midterm elections.

Acknowledging that “people are busy,” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla denied the request, saying she had cleared her calendar to handle the Trump Foundation case. Scarpulla set the next conference in the case for Oct. 11, ensuring fresh headlines about the alleged violation of state and federal law by the President and his three eldest children in the weeks before voters go to the polls.

This is only one of several serious legal matters hanging over Trump. There are also defamation suits from two women whom the President denied having sexual contact with: former “Apprentice” star Summer Zervos, who says Trump groped her without consent, and former adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims they carried on a months-long affair. Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen is under federal criminal investigation for his business dealings. Then there’s the biggie: special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to win the White House.

Legal experts tell TPM there’s no practical reason for any of those matters to be resolved before the midterms.

“It would be an extreme reach to suggest that an otherwise proper legal case, civil or criminal, should be delayed simply because a political party associated with one of the named parties has an election coming up,” Pat Cotter, a former federal prosecutor and white-collar defense attorney, said.

[ The Mueller probe’s echoes in history (Prime access) » ]

Major developments in the Mueller probe are expected over the next few months. Criminal trials for Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort will begin in Virginia in July and in Washington, D.C. in September. Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos will be sentenced for lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts that same month.

A source familiar with the probe told Bloomberg this week that Mueller is also “accelerating” his probe into collusion and obstruction of justice in the hopes of issuing reports on those topics by the fall.

Longstanding Justice Department policy prohibits investigative steps that might influence an upcoming election, as Mueller is well aware. But Trump himself is not up for reelection this year, making the application of that rule murkier in this case. In the civil matters, judges are unlikely to give much credence to arguments that the President will be too busy campaigning for GOP candidates to sit for depositions or produce documents.

“As far as I can tell, [the Mueller probe] is not an investigation of all Republicans or even the Republican Party,” Cotter continued. “It’s an investigation of the president and people around him. Whatever Mr. Mueller wants to do, even under the old DOJ policy, shouldn’t be impacted one way or another.”

Trump has made the opposite case.

“The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in the Polls,” Trump tweeted in late May. “There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!

Trump’s attorney in the Russia probe, Rudy Giuliani, also suggested Mueller would be “clearly doing a Comey” and disrupting the midterm race if he fails to complete and file all reports on his investigation by “Sept. 1 or mid-September.” (A source familiar with the probe called Giuliani’s deadline “entirely made-up.”)

Former FBI Director James Comey radically departed from DOJ precedent during the 2016 race by publicly commenting, in both July and October, on developments in the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. But experts emphasized that while both Clinton and Trump were under federal investigation in that election year, the sprawling Russia probe has little to do with congressional campaigns.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that has legitimate authority—nor would want to exercise such claimed authority—to defer the issuance of the report or affect the issuance of the report for purposes of politics,” Douglas Kmiec, a former senior DOJ lawyer during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, told TPM.

Cotter said Giuliani’s comments reminded him of remarks he used to hear while working mob prosecution cases in New York City.

“Periodically one of their mouthpieces would go on TV or in the newspapers, and they’d have all sorts of helpful suggestions on how to conduct our investigation,” he said. “The phrase ‘witch hunt’ came up more than once. I can honestly say that I don’t believe that any—any—prosecutor ever spent a second worrying about what those people were saying or their helpful suggestions or their self-created deadlines.”

But the intense criticism Comey and the FBI for influencing the 2016 race is still raw. With that in mind, former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa told TPM, he’s unlikely to broadcast major investigative steps in the immediate lead-up to the midterms.

“It kind of highlights the predicament that the Department of Justice is in,” Rangappa added, noting that Mueller would face criticism for taking major public action either before Nov. 6 or in the weeks after.

“It’s one of those things where I think it has the potential to look political one way or another,” she said. “Given the choice, he’d probably prefer to do it after the election rather than before, if it [involves anyone] close to the President. I think you could still see indictments of people who are a little bit more removed.”

Despite the gravity of the issues Mueller is investigating, legal experts say Trump faces more immediate exposure in the civil cases, where he may be deposed under oath.

The precedent allowing these cases to proceed is Clinton v. Jones, the landmark Supreme Court ruling determining that a current president has no immunity from civil cases related to acts done before taking office.

In the New York suit, Trump is accused of “persistent illegal conduct” for using his charity to support his presidential campaign and using the foundation’s funds as a personal “checkbook.” Though Judge Scarpulla reportedly urged a lawyer for the Trump’s three eldest children, who are also defendants in the suit, to settle out of court at this week’s proceeding, the President has insisted via tweet that he “won’t settle this case!”

At the Oct. 11 status conference, Scarpulla will announce whether she’ll decide the case based on the filings submitted by each party, or order a hearing—which could be held as early as mid- to late October.

Trump may also be called to testify in the ongoing Zervos or Daniels defamation suits about his relationships with the two women—a potentially embarrassing and perilous situation for a sitting president. Lying under oath about his sexual conduct was one of the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton.

Looking to November, Trump and his legal woes are not on the ballot. But new details in all of these cases will be spilling out in the coming months, providing fodder for Democrats eager to paint the entire GOP as hopelessly in thrall to a corrupt leader with no regard for the rule of law.

Read More →

One chapter of special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling Russia probe appears to be coming to an end.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Thursday approved a Sept. 7 sentencing hearing for former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Prosecutors and Papadopoulos’ lawyers will each submit memos on his sentencing by Aug. 17 and Aug. 31, respectively, the judge’s order said.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with Mueller’s probe since late July, when agents met him coming off a plane at a D.C.-area airport and took him into custody. His guilty plea to lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts during the campaign was kept under seal and secret for months — revealed only in late October, on the same day Mueller unveiled charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Read More →

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the remarkable level of access granted to a handful of Russian billionaires during President Trump’s glitzy January 2017 inauguration events, ABC News reported Thursday.

The Russian businessmen attended invitation-only festivities usually reserved for top political donors, where they hobnobbed with members of the incoming president’s inner circle, according to the report.

Inauguration guests are typically closely vetted and scrutinized for any foreign ties, Stephen Kerrigan, the organizer of Obama’s 2009 and 2013 inauguration events, told ABC.

Attendees at one formal dinner included billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who was seated next to Trump fixer Michael Cohen and his family, according to ABC. A U.S. investment firm run by Vekselberg’s cousin Andrew Intrater shelled out $500,000 in payments to Cohen a leaked report from Cohen’s bank revealed earlier this year.

Both Vekselberg and Intrater were reportedly stopped at a New York airport and interviewed by members of Mueller’s team in late 2017.

Another unnamed Russian oligarch was invited to the U.S. Capitol for an inaugural luncheon hosted by senior members of Congress, according to ABC.

The FBI’s concern about the attendance of these Russian elites at Trump’s inauguration was previously reported by the Washington Post.

Read More →

The unsealing of an application FBI agents used to secure a search warrant for Paul Manafort’s residence reveals new information about the former Trump campaign chairman’s business relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire whom Manafort sought to offer “private briefings” while he was leading the Trump campaign.

According to the warrant, Deripaska helped fund Manafort’s years-long lobbying effort for Ukraine’s Party of Regions, which predated his work on the Trump campaign. Manafort also received a $10 million loan from Deripaska, the warrant said.

The warrant additionally reveals that by July 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had on his radar loans Manafort took in 2016 and early 2017 from a bank whose CEO served as the Trump campaign adviser and reportedly wanted to be Trump’s Army secretary.

FBI agents sought the warrant from a magistrate judge in late July 2017, to search a Manafort apartment in Virginia. A more redacted version of the warrant had been included in previous court filings in Manafort’s cases in Virginia and Washington.

Reuters was the first to report that this less-redaction version of the warrant had been unsealed.

According to the warrant affidavit, an individual whose identity remains redacted told the FBI that “Deripaska helped fund Manafort’s Ukrainian work when it began in 2005-06.”

“And the 2010 tax returns for a company jointly owned by Manafort and his wife — John Hannah, LLC — reveals a $10,000,000 loan to the company from a ‘Russian lender,'” the affidavit continues. “A court-authorized search in May 2017 of a storage locker in Virginia used by Manafort revealed documents that show that the identity of the Russian lender was Deripaska.”

It had been previously reported that Manafort’s longtime business relationship with Deripaska had gone south over a 2008 Ukrainian investment that went awry.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort told his deputy in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik — whom Mueller has accused of having ties to Russian spying agencies — to offer Deripaska  “private briefings.”

Citing a 2014 interview that Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates gave the FBI, the warrant details Manafort business dealings with another oligarch, whose identity remains redacted. (Gates has pleaded guilty in Mueller’s probe and is cooperating).

This appears to be a reference to Dmytro Firtash, who worked on a proposal with Manafort to buy Manhattan’s Drake hotel. The deal fell through, and Firtash was later indicted by a grand jury in Chicago for bribery and other charges, but remains out of the country.

The newly-unsealed version of the warrant removes extended redactions for a portion of the affidavit devoted to sketchy loans Manafort took on his real estate and other ventures.

One of those loans was $3.5 million from a unit of Spruce Capital, whose co-founder Joshua Crane partnered with Trump on real estate deals in Hawaii. The warrant details the financial trouble Manafort appeared to be in when he received the loan.

(Crane has denied having any relationship with Manafort and said the loan was through a broker.)

The warrant also references $16 millions in loans, previously reported, from a bank in Chicago, whose CEO served as a Trump campaign economic adviser. Manafort sought the loans in 2016, after he had left the Trump campaign.

The banker, Steve Calk, reportedly was interested in becoming Trump’s Army secretary, and NBC reported earlier this year the Mueller is probing whether Manafort promised Calk a position in the administration in exchange for the loans.

The section that mentions the loans from Calk’s bank, Federal Savings Bank, is followed by an extended redacted section.

Read the newly-unsealed warrant here:

Read More →

The man accused of ramming his car into a group of counter-protesters at last year’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring dozens of others was indicted Wednesday on federal hate crime charges

The indictment, filed in Virginia, accuses James Alex Fields, Jr. of 30 hate-crime-related counts in the incident that resulted in the death of young paralegal Heather Heyer. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed to TPM that Fields now faces penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty.

“The Department has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty,” the spokesman said.

Fields faces 28 counts of “bias-motivated” attempt to willfully cause bodily injury by plowing through the crowd with his Dodge Challenger, and one count of “bias-motivated interference with a federally protected activity” for injuring victims who were peacefully protesting the white nationalists’ message of hate.

“Last summer’s violence in Charlottesville cut short a promising young life and shocked the nation,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Today’s indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation.”

As the indictment lays out, Fields was open about his violent, white nationalist views, allegedly using his social media account to promote “his belief that white people are superior to other races” and his support for Adolf Hitler.

On August 11, 2017, according to the indictment, he shared a photograph of Hitler with an family member before setting out from his home in Maumee, Ohio en route to Charlottesville, where hundreds of racist activists planned to convene to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

At the rally the following day, Fields was photographed marching and chanting white supremacist slogans alongside members of white nationalist group Vanguard America, the indictment documents. That afternoon, alone in his car, he accelerated his car into a group of counter-protesters marching along a one-way street in downtown Charlottesville. He struck and injured dozens of people before reversing and driving away.

Fields’ indictment represents the first action taken by the federal government against the white nationalists who carried out a well-coordinated campaign of brutality at the “Unite the Right” rally. Fields and several other participants face state charges stemming from their actions at that event.

Read More →

Nearly six months after President Trump, citing growing litigation, dissolved his sketchy voter fraud commission, a federal judge in Washington said Wednesday that certain commission documents should be turned over to one of its commissioners, who sued last year over the panel’s lack of transparency.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had previously ordered in late December that the commissioner, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D), receive the documents, including internal communications, that he was requesting. About two weeks after her order, the commission folded, but the legal fight over his case has continued.

The judge said Wednesday that the commission must turn over the documents that were covered in her Dec. 22 order by July 18. The judge said that she had not “considered line-by-line the documents requested by Plaintiff.” But she pointed to the documents referenced in an index of commission-related communications, which was provided in a separate lawsuit, as an example of what she was expecting to be turned over.

Her order Wednesday gave other examples as well:

“Plaintiff ultimately should receive relevant documents that any of the former commissioners generated or received. This includes material that commissioners solicited and subsequently received from third parties,” the judge said, adding that her order included relevant records generated after the December order.

She said, however, that the commission need not turn over documents “exclusively” concerning management of the commission’s records.

Her order Wednesday denied Dunlap’s request to subpoena the commission’s de facto leader, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), to ensure he had preserved the relevant documents

“The Court is aware that Mr. Kobach’s reputation for candor to the tribunal and compliance with its orders is less than sterling,” Kollar-Kotelly said, pointing to the sanctions and the contempt-of-court finding that arose in the litigation over his proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement in Kansas.

“But the Court is not prepared to assume that Mr. Kobach would disregard the White House’s requests when other Defendants—and he too, if the Court finds that he remains a Defendant—are at risk of contempt if they irresponsibly lose documents to which the Court finds that Plaintiff was entitled under the December 22, 2017, Order,” she said. “Should it come to light that Mr. Kobach has Commission documents that he has not provided to other Defendants, and that other Defendants do not have their own copies of such documents, then Plaintiff may seek further relief from this Court as appropriate.”

Read her opinion below:

Read More →

For now, at least, one of the country’s best known white nationalists is withdrawing from politics.

Matthew Heimbach, former head of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), recently completed a 38-day prison term for violating his probation after harassing a black protester at a 2016 Trump campaign rally.

The violation that landed him in jail was a messy four-way domestic abuse situation involving the former chief spokesman of the TWP and their two wives.

When TPM reached Heimbach by phone on Tuesday, a little over a week after his release, a subdued-sounding Heimbach said he was busy catching up on season two of the “Handmaid’s Tale.” (He told the Southern Poverty Law Center the same thing, by text, last week.)

TWP was essentially defunct, he said, and he had no appetite to resuscitate it. “I’m not involved in any politics right now,” Heimbach said.

“I’m just focusing on my responsibilities and duties. To my family — and God,” he added, chuckling.

This is a pretty low-energy downfall for an activist who has been referred to as “the next David Duke” and the “affable, youthful face of hate in America.” Just last year, Heimbach was a guest speaker at Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally and a brawling fixture at other white nationalist events.

Despite their tendency towards violence, TWP’s leaders sought to frame themselves merely as the champions of the white working class — the voice of frustrated white rural Americans devastated by the opioid crisis, deindustrialization and big-money politics. A number of in-depth journalistic investigations poked holes in the legitimacy of this purported political campaign.

But TWP’s disarray truly broke into public view in March, when Heimbach was arrested at his home in the Paoli, Indiana trailer park that doubled as TWP’s headquarters. The embarrassing details were laid out in the police report for all to see.

The white nationalist leader is married to Brooke Heimbach, step-daughter of TWP’s chief spokesman Matthew Parrott. But he was carrying out an affair with Parrott’s wife, Jessica Parrott, and was caught out when his wife and then-spokesman watched them canoodling through the Parrott’s trailer window.

The scene devolved into chaos, with Matt Parrott and Matthew Heimbach brawling. After police arrived, Heimbach went after his wife, kicking the wall, grabbing her face, and throwing her violently onto a bed — all in full view of their two young sons, as Brooke Heimbach told the arresting officer.

Matthew Heimbach was taken into custody and charged with felony domestic battery in the presence of a child under 16 and one misdemeanor count of battery.

On the police report, all four listed their professions as “white nationalists.”

These sordid details prompted plenty of mockery in both the white nationalist community and press. Parrott denounced the movement, saying the “SPLC has won” and TWP was no longer.

More pressingly for Heimbach, the incident violated the terms of his probation for a 2016 incident where he shoved a young black college student at a Trump campaign rally in Kentucky. In May, he pleaded guilty to the violation of his suspended sentence, and was taken to jail.

According to Heimbach, his retreat from politics was not prompted by any great revelation he had while incarcerated, nor a desire to keep out of trouble ahead of his September trial in Indiana on the assault charges. He is just focused on his “responsibilities,” he said.

“Jail was terribly boring,” he told TPM. “Was basically just reading and praying and sitting there.”

Heimbach declined to offer any specifics on the current situation with his wife and sons, nor on the “work” he claimed to be doing.

Parrott told TPM in a separate phone interview that his new full-time job involved being “a single dad.”

“I decisively failed at my original mission which was to be a voice for working class white folks, and ended up in the middle of the most humiliating white trash spectacle of the year,” he said.

“I could not have possibly done a worse job with my original plan and I give up,” he added.

While Heimbach would only speak about the present, Parrott told TPM that he, personally, was “not just done for now, I’m done with politics forever.”

As for the TWP, it “exists so far as its been named in lawsuits and there are still legal matters to contend with, but that’s the extent of it,” Parrott said.

The TWP is among the white nationalist groups named in a federal civil lawsuit filed by a group of individuals hurt or attacked during the 2017 Charlottesville rally.

That is where most of the white nationalist movement stands almost a year after that fateful event: bogged down by lawsuits, unable to raise funds, facing jail time, fractured, de-platformed. In some ways, they still have political traction: the Trump administration is promoting policies they champion, like forced separation of immigrant families, and elected officials like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) continue to regularly tweet out racist posts condemning diversity.

“Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler has confirmed he is holding an anniversary rally this August, this time in Washington, D.C., just outside the White House.

But this year, Heimbach said, he won’t be attending.

Read More →

Special counsel Robert Mueller got a major court victory Tuesday when a federal judge in Virginia on Tuesday declined to dismiss the charges Mueller had brought against Paul Manafort — but not without the judge taking multiple swipes at Mueller, the regulations concerning his appointment, and the very notion of a special counsel.

In a series of asides, commentaries, extended footnotes, and musings, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis opined at length on the appropriateness of having special counsels, expressed his distaste for Mueller’s prosecutorial tactics, and warned darkly of “partisan prosecutions.”

“The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into investigation of matters of public importance,” Ellis wrote, going on to suggest that a bipartisan commission with subpoena power would be better suited to investigate election interference.

“Although this case will continue,” Ellis said, in closing his opinion, “those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.”

Ellis’ opinion started with an extended discussion about the legal landscape surrounding the appointment of special prosecutors.

He noted that a law concerning the appointment of independent counsels was allowed to lapse in 1999, with lawmakers believing it “had become more often a political weapon to be unleashed in the ongoing, indeed escalating culture wars, than a tool for ferreting out and prosecuting crimes ostensibly committed by high-ranking government officials.”

The judge argued that some of “criticisms leveled” at the expired independent counsel law “seem equally applicable to the current Special Counsel scheme.”

He said that the Justice Department failure to impose a time or budget limit on its special counsel regulations– while telling “him or her to find crimes” –  “allows a Special Counsel to pursue his or her targets without the usual time and budget constraints facing ordinary prosecutors, encouraging substantial elements of the public to conclude that the Special Counsel is being deployed as a political weapon.”

A footnote noted the financial costs Mueller’s office reported in its first few months of existence:

Citing Ken Starr’s investigation into President Clinton, Ellis said that “the Special Counsel regulations’ failure to require identification of specific crimes creates strong incentives for Special Counsel to allege that those individuals have committed criminal acts, even if the criminal acts the Special Counsel ultimately prosecutes are unrelated to the original reasons for appointing the Special Counsel.”

Ellis did not stop with the issues he had with special counsel regulations in general. Moving on to the details of the current matter of him, the judge speculated in a footnote that Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort is part of “larger plan” to put pressure on President Trump. Such tactics are “neither uncommon nor illegal,” but “they are distasteful,” Ellis said.

Ellis then zeroed in on Manafort’s specific arguments for why the charges should be dismissed. Though Ellis concluded that the indictment does fall within a provision of the appointment order that sanctions investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” the judge in another footnote said that the “wisdom” of including such a provision in Mueller’s appointment order was “seriously in doubt.”

The judge addressed other arguments that Manafort made during the proceedings that another line in the Mueller appointment order — which puts in the special counsel’s purview “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation — is too broad. Ellis said that this question was “close” and one where Manafort’s arguments had “merit,” but ultimately decided that it was not an issue he needed to resolve.

Even still, he found room to levy a few more criticism of the current special counsel system.

He called for in a footnote “limitations, divisions, and requirements for frequent consultation” that “would ensure that the Special Counsel’s work is carefully reviewed by democratically accountable leaders within the DOJ.”

Ellis wrapped up his 31-page opinion with more tough words for the concept of a special counsel, cautioning that his decision Tuesday “should not be read as approval of the practice of appointing Special Counsel to prosecute cases of alleged high-level misconduct.”

Ellis said that “this case” was “a reminder that ultimately, our system of checks and balances and limitations on each branch’s powers, although exquisitely designed, ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the law.”

“Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people,” he said. (“Assistant Attorney General” appears in this context to be a reference to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller’s probe.)

Read the full opinion below:

Read More →

Special counsel Robert Mueller in court filings Tuesday raised concerns that a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef”  could get access — via the discovery process in the criminal case against his firm — to sensitive materials, including “information that could thwart the ongoing efforts of the United States to “prevent his continuing criminal activity in Russia and elsewhere outside the United States.”

The filing came in the case that Mueller has brought against Russian individuals and entities accused of facilitating Russia’s election meddling on social media, and in particular, in a back-and-forth between Mueller and the only co-defendant in the indictment who has shown up in court to face the charges.

Read More →

LiveWire