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

Preet Bharara, a prominent former U.S. attorney who was let go by President Donald Trump in March, revealed in detail the events that led up to his firing in a podcast released Wednesday morning.

In the first episode of his new podcast from WNYC Studios and CAFE, “Stay Tuned with Preet,” Bharara outlined each of his interactions with Trump and the White House between the November election and his sudden dismissal in early March.

Bharara said that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) first informed him about a week after the election that Trump wanted him to stay on as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, an unusual move given that a President typically asks all U.S. attorneys to resign at the beginning of a first term.

Trump then confirmed in a Nov. 30 meeting at Trump Tower that he wanted the top prosecutor to stay on, Bharara said. He recalled that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his adviser Stephen Bannon were also at the meeting and in an “upbeat” mood. Trump “did not say anything inappropriate” and did not discuss individual cases during the meeting, the former U.S. attorney said; instead Trump asked Bharara for his contact info, and Bharara gave him his office and cell phone numbers.

“It was odd because as a general matter, presidents don’t speak directly to United States attorneys,” he said. “It’s unheard of in my experience.”

A couple weeks later, on Dec. 12, Bharara said he missed a phone call from Trump and discussed with his staff whether it would be appropriate to call the President-elect back. Bharara said he also called the head of the Justice Department transition team to convey that it’s “not the greatest thing in the world for there to be a direct and casual line of communication between a sitting United States attorney and the future president of the United States, particularly given the kind of jurisdiction I have in Manhattan.”

Bharara said he decided to return that call, and that there was nothing “untoward” in the subsequent conversation. He said it seemed that Trump just wanted to “cultivate a relationship” with him.

The former prosecutor then got another call from Trump just before the inauguration, he said. He decided it was appropriate to call Trump back, given that he was not yet President. Again, Bharara recalled that Trump just wanted to chit chat and the two did not discuss individual cases.

Things changed when the White House called Bharara on March 9 and asked that he call Trump. Bharara said he felt it was inappropriate to call a sitting President, and looked through Justice Department rules on the matter to back up his decision. The former U.S. attorney said he briefly considered recording the phone call with Trump or else having another person on the line, but quickly dismissed the ideas as “a bridge too far.”

He also said he called Jody Hunt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff and Trump’s nominee to be assistant attorney general of the department’s Civil Division, to discuss the matter. According to Bharara, Hunt agreed that it would not be appropriate for him to speak with Trump.

About 20 hours after he declined to return that fateful call, Bharara, along with all other holdover U.S. attorneys, was asked to resign.

“I don’t know if those two events are connected. We may never know. But the timing certainly is pretty odd,” Bharara said on the podcast.

The former prosecutor said he did not submit a letter of resignation when he initially heard from the Justice Department that he was being asked to resign, given his previous conversations with Trump. But Bharara said that once he confirmed what was happening, he obliged.

Perhaps he views the ordeal as all for the best: Bharara was emphatic on the podcast that he believes Trump would have asked him to do something inappropriate if he had stayed on in the Southern District of New York after all.

“I believe, based on the information that we have about the President talking to Jim Comey relating to Michael Flynn, the information about the President talking to Jeff Sessions about the case of Joe Arpaio, and how he wanted both of those cases to go away, that had I not been fired, and had Donald Trump continued to cultivate a direct, personal relationship with me,” he said. “It’s my strong belief, that at some point, given the history, the President of the United States would have asked me to do something inappropriate. And I would have resigned then.”

Listen to the podcast episode via WNYC:

Read More →

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who has been a focus of various Russia probes, responded Tuesday to a CNN report that he had been the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or “FISA”) surveillance order by calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General into the revelation.

“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” a statement from Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni said. Maloni then seemed to echo the claims by President Trump that the Obama administration was inappropriately surveilling Trump.

“The U.S Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” the statement continued. “Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ – there is nothing there.”

According to CNN, the FISA order began in 2014, well before Trump declared his presidential run, out of interest in Manafort’s work lobbying for a Ukrainian political party. The surveillance paused for some time in 2016, CNN reported, due to lack of evidence, but then picked up again by the end of 2016 and into 2017.

Read More →

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced late Tuesday that it has “invited” President Trump’s former lawyer and confidante Michael Cohen for a public hearing Oct. 25.

The announcement comes after the committee abruptly canceled the closed door interview it had planned with Cohen earlier in the day. The committee was unhappy that Cohen had released his opening statement to the press, in apparent violation of the committee’s agreement to let him testify behind closed doors.

Asked if the committee was considering subpoenaing Cohen, its Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) told reporters, “I don’t think we’ll need to.”

Earlier Tuesday — after Cohen left Capitol Hill having been informed by the committee that his interview Tuesday had been canceled — Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a strongly worded statement that they were “disappointed” he released the statement “in spite of the Committee’s requests that he refrain from public comment.”

Coming out of a seperate closed door briefing Tuesday afternoon, they elaborated that it is now the committee’s policy that those appearing behind closed doors for interviews regarding the Russia investigation must keep their statements to the committee private.

“We’ve changed the agreement that we’ve had with people since Jared Kushner was in,” Burr told said, referring to the President’s son-in-law, who released a statement with his closed door appearance in front of the committee this summer.

“And this is the model we’ll follow. We don’t expect individuals who come behind closed doors to publicly go out and tell…” Burr continued, before being interrupted by Warner

“…their side of the story only,” Warner interjected.

Read More →

Two bombshell reports that dropped Monday dispelled any lingering doubts about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s serious legal exposure. First CNN reported that the FBI was monitoring Manafort’s communications prior to and after the election, and, within the hour, the New York Times reported that federal prosecutors warned him that they planned to indict him.

Legal experts told TPM that these reports also have significant implications for Trump campaign and administration officials, including President Donald Trump himself, as any communications between Manafort and the President, or Manafort and other campaign aides, about sensitive matters would have been recorded and stored while the order was in effect.

“You can always use that information,” Robert Deitz, former senior councillor to the director of the CIA and general counsel at the National Security Administration, told TPM. “Manafort could easily have been picked up in any of these communications citing the President for something: ‘The President told me X or I told the President Y.’ That doesn’t make it admissible evidence per se, but that’s the kind of thing that I think would scare the hell out of a principal in the investigation.”

Deitz noted that all communications obtained under an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court—like the one that CNN reported was in operation for Manafort through the start of the Trump administration—are maintained in what the intelligence community refers to as “the primordial soup.”

“Stuff you either didn’t get around to reviewing, or stuff you kind of took a first cut at and didn’t think was significant, you don’t erase it,” he said.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni adamantly denied that there was anything untoward in the former campaign chairman’s private communications, and noted that it was a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA order.

“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” Maloni said in a statement late Tuesday. “The U.S Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent. Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ – there is nothing there.”

To obtain an order from the FISA court, the government must establish probable cause that an individual is the “agent of a foreign power,” and federal agents are then required to minimize any communications that don’t pertain to the basis for that order.

The CNN report also explicitly referred to “communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign”—intelligence that would directly pertain to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump associates collaborated in those efforts, which originated with the FBI.

Though Manafort left the campaign in August 2016, he continued to be in touch with Trump and his team through early 2017. The content of those conversations would be of overwhelming interest to Mueller’s team, former federal prosecutors told TPM, particularly if investigators are trying to convince Manafort to cough up whatever dirt he may possess on other Trump associates.

“The $64,000 question is whether there is anything to this,” said Michael Zeldin, who served as special counsel to Mueller when he was the assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Criminal Division. “That is, did Manafort willfully provide intelligence information to a foreign power? And, if so, who else has knowledge of or participated in the activity?”

“If he did,” Zeldin continued, “the question for prosecutors is whether Manafort has a story to tell that will lead them to offer a plea bargain type of arrangement in exchange for his complete and truthful testimony.”

Both Zeldin and Nick Akerman, a former prosecutor on the Watergate investigation, pointed to reports of the strong evidence Mueller is building against Manafort to bolster theories that prosecutors are trying to flip him. Though the Times report on Mueller’s team’s warning to Manafort doesn’t indicate the alleged crimes for which he could be indicted, the former campaign chair is reportedly under investigation for failing to register as a foreign agent, tax evasion and colluding with a foreign power against the interests of the U.S.

“The bottom line is that the people who really should be worried now are the President, Donald Trump, Jr., [Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared] Kushner,” Akerman said. “People who were at that June 9 meeting, and people that Manafort could finger because ultimately what I think they’re trying to do is come at him with all the firepower they have and get him to turn and testify.”

Manafort was present at that June 9 meeting in Trump Tower, where Trump Jr. was told he would receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin-directed effort to help his father’s campaign.

Trump, Kushner, Manafort and Trump Jr. have all previously denied working with Russia to influence the election.

According to CNN, a previous FISA order against Manafort tied to his consulting work for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political order began in 2014 and expired sometime before he was promoted to campaign chairman in May 2016. CNN’s report noted that the order that covered Manafort’s communications through “early this year” was not in effect at the time of the Trump Tower meeting, suggesting it wasn’t issued until after early June 2016.

Zeldin, Mueller’s former special counsel, said that FISA orders generally require renewal every 90-120 days, and CNN’s story implied that Manafort’s order is no longer operative.

Legal experts said that cutoff could have several interpretations: It could suggest either that Mueller’s team already had obtained all the information they needed, or that, after lawyers for Manafort and the Trump administration cut off contact between the two parties, the wiretap was no longer a valuable avenue.

“If he stops talking to people, then there’s nothing to intercept,” Zeldin said.

Read More →

The leaders of Senate Intelligence Committee announced that they canceled a closed-door interview with Michael Cohen, an attorney and a confidante of President Trump’s, due to his decision to release a public statement ahead of the planned meeting Tuesday morning.

“We were disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today’s interview by releasing a public statement prior to his engagement with Committee staff, in spite of the Committee’s requests that he refrain from public comment,” Intel Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a statement.

Read More →

It’s not surprising that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is interested in the role Facebook played in Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 election. Yet, the news that broke over the weekend that his team had obtained a search warrant to access information about Facebook’s recently disclosed Russia-linked ad spending is the clearest sign yet of the breadth of his probe, the pace at which its moving along and what kind of case he might be trying to build, regardless of whether he ultimately brings criminal charges.

“This is not a wild goose chase, it’s not just a fishing expedition.  [It shows] that there is good reason to be believe that someone committed criminal behavior, we just don’t know who that was and exactly what the behavior was,” Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, told TPM.

Read More →

It was almost like Ty Cobb, the White House’s top lawyer for the Russia probes, was asking to be overheard.

Usually, when one needs to unload to a colleague about a coworker’s paranoia and shady professional decisions, one goes somewhere where those secrets can be kept to oneself. Discreetly.

But not Cobb, who took John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, to a popular steakhouse not far from the White House — and conveniently for the New York Times, right next to its D.C. bureau — to dish about a dispute with White House Counsel Don McGahn over how much to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Read More →

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), an eccentric lawmaker known for his pro-Russia stances, proposed to the White House a pardon deal for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a Wednesday phone call Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Rohrabacher suggested to President Trump’s chief-of-staff, John Kelly, that the administration end Assange’s various legal problems in the U.S. In exchange, Assange would turn over a digital storage device that Rohrabacher said would clear Russia of allegations of interference in the 2016 election, according to the report.

The congressman told Kelly that if what Assange turned over was not the proof promised, “he would get nothing, obviously,” according to the report. Over the course of summer 2016, WikiLeaks published thousands of emails from Democratic officials believed to have been the target of a hacking campaign backed by the Russians.

Rohrabacher traveled to London last month to meet with Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder is avoiding extradition to the U.S. Once the meeting was reported, Rohrabacher indicated his plans to tell Trump what he heard from Assange. On Thursday, he told the Los Angeles Times he had “spoken to senior people at the White House about arranging a meeting” with the President.

A Trump administration official told the Wall Street Journal that Kelly did not deliver Rohrabacher’s message to Trump, and that the chief-of-staff instead told Rohrabacher his idea “was best directed to the intelligence community.”

Rohrabacher told the newspaper in a brief interview that he could not “confirm or deny anything about a private conversation at that level.”

Read More →

The Justice Department aide who the White House announced Friday would be President Trump’s pick for a top DOJ position appears to have also been present at a key meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-FBI Director James Comey.

Jody Hunt, Sessions’ chief-of-staff at the Justice Department and Trump’s pick to be assistant attorney general of the department’s Civil Division, will have to go through a Senate confirmation process that will include a grilling by the Judiciary Committee. Among the things the committee members may want to ask him about was a meeting that occurred between Sessions and Comey in February.

Read More →

In a whopping 400-plus page complaint filed Thursday, onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page sued several news organizations for publishing what he deemed were “highly-damaging, life-threatening articles” about his contacts with Russian officials.

Page’s defamation suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, identifies a Sept. 23, 2016 Yahoo article as the wellspring for a flood of stories calling into question his past work in Moscow and his contacts with Kremlin-linked Russian businessmen. Page, who is representing himself, is seeking $75,000 in damages.

The article, written by Yahoo’s chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, reported that U.S. officials were investigating whether Page met with Russian officials, including Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister, and Igor Diveykin, the Kremlin’s deputy chief for internal policy, during the campaign to discuss lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia. The alleged meeting occurred during a June 2016 trip to Moscow that Page took while serving as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign; Page denies that he he met with those officials.

Page’s suit describes the story’s publication, which prompted his departure from the Trump campaign, as one of “the most dangerous, reckless, irresponsible and historically-instrumental moments in modern-day sensational crime story journalism.” It also targets HuffPost and Radio Free Europe for publishing subsequent articles that cited Isikoff’s reporting.

Oath Inc., the parent company of Yahoo and HuffPost which is named as a defendant in the suit, did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Page’s complaint, in which he refers to himself as “Dr. Page,” chronicles the Yahoo article’s dissemination in exhaustive, theatrical detail. It’s sprinkled throughout with tweets, photos of himself and even online reader comments. The oil and gas consultant, who runs his own small firm from a Manhattan co-working space, charged that the Yahoo article’s allegations led to “the destruction” of his reputation and “led to many associated threats to his life.”

He quoted one such threat he said he received via voicemail at length. “If it was up to me, after we fucking tried you for treason, we’d take you out in the street and beat the fucking piss out of you with baseball bats, you cock sucking mother fucker,” part of it read.

Though Page adamantly denies collaborating on Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 election, the FBI was sufficiently concerned by his foreign contacts to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant to monitor his communications last year. Page also has confirmed that he sat through over ten hours of interviews with FBI agents this spring.

Despite this wealth of what he insists in the complaint is unwanted public attention, Page has spoken frequently with the press. He agreed to a 30-minute interview with TPM this summer in a Starbucks in Penn Station, and also claimed to be shopping around a book deal on his experience navigating the Russia investigation.

Asked Friday for comment on the suit and why he chose to represent himself, Page sent TPM a lengthy statement quoting George Washington and citing the Constitution. He said he has “done a tremendous amount of legal work” during his career, including as legal officer on his Navy ship and as general counsel for his energy consulting firm.

“Although I may have been dissed amidst the dystopia seen last year,” Page said in an email, “I have full faith that the true administration of justice will indeed be restored in due course.”

Read the first part of his 400-plus page complaint below:

Read More →

LiveWire