Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is in the process of arranging interviews with current and former Trump administration officials as part of his ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the New York Times reported over the weekend.

Two people briefed on the negotiations told the Times that Mueller is particularly interested in learning more about key meetings, such as any discussions that led up to the abrupt May dismissal of former FBI director James Comey. Mueller reportedly assumed control of an FBI investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, who oversaw the Russia investigation at the time. Trump later bragged to top Russian diplomats that doing so took “great pressure” off of him.

Ty Cobb, one of the lawyers leading Trump’s outside counsel, told the Times that the White House would “continue to fully cooperate” with the investigation.

Recently ousted chief of staff Reince Priebus is at the top of the list of Trump associates Mueller wants to speak with, according to the Times’ report. As chairman of the Republican National Committee, Priebus began working closely with Trump’s campaign as soon as he emerged as the presumptive GOP nominee, and he was a fixture at most major meetings through the transition and during the first six months of the administration.

The Times report revealed that Priebus was also on the calendar of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on June 9, 2016—the day that Manafort and other officials met with Russians who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton to offer as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to help the Trump campaign. Whether the two actually met, and what they discussed if they did meet, will be important for Mueller to uncover.

That Mueller wants to interview former and current officials promises another headache for a White House inundated with them. Trump was heavily criticized last week for his seemingly off-the-cuff escalation of threats against North Korea, in which he promised the U.S. could take military action against Kim Jong-un’s government at any time. The President has also taken repeated aim at his own Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose cooperation he will desperately need as the fall legislative session begins and he hopes to finally make progress on his stalled agenda.

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Rhona Graff, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal secretary, is now on the long list of Trump associates congressional investigators want to speak with as they dig into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

ABC News reported Friday that investigators intend to question Graff, a 30-year veteran of the Trump Organization and gatekeeper to all those who’ve wanted to reach Trump over the years.

Of particular interest to them is any information she may have about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that had been billed as part of the Russian government’s efforts to help the Trump campaign, according to ABC.

In an email chain setting up the meeting, Trump family acquaintance Rob Goldstone,a British music publicist, suggested sending damaging information about Hillary Clinton to Graff directly, indicating just how crucial a conduit she was to Trump.

“I can also send this info to your father via Rhona,” Goldstone wrote to Donald Trump, Jr., “but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.”

Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were copied on the email chain; Graff was not. Congressional investigators are likely keen to find out what she knew about the meeting and what she saw happening that day around Trump Tower.

Alan Futerfas, an outside lawyer representing the Trump Organization and its staffers, told ABC that Graff has not yet been contacted or asked for records. He said the team would “continue to cooperate with any Committee seeking information.”

A number of lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee vice-chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), have said they intend to bring Graff in for questioning.

“We’re going to want to hear from everyone connected to this,” Schiff said on July 11. “We’re also going to want to see, as referenced in that email, whether the President’s assistant received any communications from the Russians as well. That was another channel alluded to in those emails.”

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As President Donald Trump himself said, the recently revealed predawn FBI raid of his former campaign chairman’s Alexandria, Virginia home sent a “very, very strong signal.”

That signal, former federal prosecutors told TPM, is that Paul Manafort is the linchpin in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference. Whether the investigation ends up centering on potential financial crimes or possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, those former prosecutors said nailing the goods on Manafort will be key to Mueller’s case.

From the millions of dollars Manafort reportedly owed to pro-Russian interests, to his bank accounts in the tax haven of Cyprus, to his attendance at a 2016 meeting billed as an opportunity for the Russian government to provide the Trump campaign with information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s chances in the presidential race, to his retroactive filing with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, the longtime GOP operative seems to have a toe in almost every part of the special counsel’s sprawling probe. And a slew of recent reports indicate Mueller’s team is tightening the vise on the former campaign chairman.

In a surprise move for someone in the thick of a federal investigation, Manafort announced through a spokesman Thursday that he was no longer working with his longtime counsel, WilmerHale, and was “in the process” of retaining a law firm with expertise in international tax cases, Miller & Chevalier.

Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, served as special counsel to Mueller when he was Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ’s Criminal Division.

He told TPM that if prosecutors saw no evidence of collusion, they could simply compile evidence of potential financial crimes, “put a ribbon” around that part of their investigation, and seek an indictment.

“Or, they’re going to put a ribbon on that and tell him, ‘We’ve found these charges that could send you to jail for a period of time, we would like to know about collusion, or deals,'” he added. “Essentially, ‘We need you to be truthful about this, we don’t think you’ve been truthful, we’re giving you a chance to be truthful now.’”

Though the raid, which Bloomberg reported had come as a surprise to Manafort, was the most striking sign yet that investigators are closing in on the former campaign chairman, they’re pursuing plenty of other paths.

Investigators have sent subpoenas through a Washington, D.C. grand jury to global banks, requesting account information and transaction records for Manafort, some of his companies and his former business partner on political work in Ukraine, Rick Gates, Bloomberg reported Thursday. Gates also worked on the Trump campaign, transition and for a pro-Trump group.

Others close to Manafort have been pulled into the investigation: Manafort’s son-in-law and occasional partner in real estate deals, Jeffrey Yohai, who’s currently being sued for fraud by a former investor, provided documents and information to investigators during a meeting in New York two months ago, CNN reported Thursday. Investigators were seeking his cooperation in the probe against Manafort, two sources told CNN. Yohai’s attorney, Aaron May, declined TPM’s request for comment.

These multiple pressure points against Manafort indicate to former federal prosecutors that Mueller did not simply conduct the raid to “scare him,” as assistant Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman put it.

“They wouldn’t put themselves in a position where they couldn’t totally justify it,” Akerman told TPM. “Not just to the judge, but to the public. They’re going to want to be able to say we had no choice but to do this and that the evidence for it was pretty compelling.”

“My sense is that Mueller is acquiring the evidence that he needs to acquire in order for him to proceed with his investigation and that is his primary motive,” Zeldin concurred. “If by acquiring that evidence in the manner that he did, it sends some sort of shockwave through the person who is the target of that evidence retrieval and has him rethink his position, so be it.”

The extent to which Manafort has been forthcoming with investigators is unclear. Confirming that the raid took place, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said that the former campaign chairman had “consistently cooperated with law enforcement.” In July, Maloni told Politico that it was “silly” for that cooperation to lead anyone to think Manafort was serving as a cooperating witness; he did not respond to a question from TPM about whether that comment still stands.

A Mueller spokesperson declined comment for this story.

The special counsel investigation had something of a head start in investigating Manafort, as Mueller assumed control of several pre-existing probes into the former campaign chairman’s business activities and record-keeping. He took over an investigation run out of the Southern District of New York into whether Manafort laundered money from eastern Europe, as well as a separate probe into his belated registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for his political work in Ukraine.

Josh Rosenstein, an attorney at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock who specializes in FARA, said that although prosecutions under the act are quite rare, it is a “distinct possibility” that Mueller’s team could pursue one against Manafort.

“When FARA becomes a high profile issue as certainly it has been here in and of itself, the risk of prosecution is certainly much higher,” Rosenstein said, noting that FARA charges would likely be brought as a secondary charge to any potential financial crimes.

Other Trump associates touched by the investigation are surely watching Manafort’s situation closely. One of the President’s personal attorneys, John Dowd, sent a furious email to the Wall Street Journal in the wee hours of Thursday morning, complaining that the raid on Manafort’s home represented an “extraordinary invasion of privacy” and “gross abuse of the judicial process” done only for “shock value” (Zeldin, Mueller’s former special counsel, noted that Dowd had “no standing to complain” because he doesn’t represent Manafort).

Asked about the raid while on vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, Trump distanced himself from his former campaign chairman, calling him a “decent man” but telling reporters “[I] haven’t spoken to him for a long time.” In the mildest show of support, the President questioned whether the FBI needed to wake Manafort so early in the morning to search his home.

“I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up, perhaps his family was there,” Trump mulled. “I think that’s pretty tough stuff.”

Correction: The original story misidentified the location of the home raided by FBI agents. It was in Alexandria, Virginia, not Arlington.

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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s “pit bull” personal attorney, owes New York state more than $40,000 in unpaid taxes through some of the lucrative taxi medallions he owns.

The New York Daily News first reported Tuesday that Cohen owed nearly $40,000 in unpaid taxes earmarked to help finance the Metropolitan Transit Authority system. A TPM review of state records confirmed that New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance this year filed seven warrants totaling $43,673.96 against four of Cohen’s medallion corporations.

Cohen told TPM in an email that the taxes are collected from drivers by the management company that handles the medallions. Cohen said his medallions are managed by Gene “The Taxi King” Freidman, a New York City taxi kingpin who was recently hit with a slew of lawsuits alleging professional misconduct.

Freidman pleaded not guilty in June to tax fraud and first-degree grand larceny charges for allegedly cheating the Empire State out of $5 million in unpaid taxes. Taxi passengers pay an extra 50 cents on each ride that managers are then supposed to pay toward funding the city’s overstretched transit system; Freidman is accused of collecting that tax but failing to fork it over to the state. Shortly before Friedman’s arrest on those charges, the Taxi & Limousine Commission confiscated 800 of the highly valuable medallions he manages.

Cohen pointed to a New York Post story about Freidman’s arrest by way of explaining why his own taxes had gone unpaid. Freidman did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The website for New York state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, however, explains that medallion owners—like Cohen—with agents—like Friedman—are “jointly liable for the filing of your taxicab trip tax return.” It also states that failure to ensure that an agent is filing and paying the taxes will trigger a civil enforcement process. Penalties may include having the unpaid debts collected through levies, garnishment of wages or the seizure and sale of violators’ property.

Friedman described Cohen to TPM in a February interview as a close friend and business partner, noting that he’s managed medallions for Cohen and his wife, Laura, for more than 16 years. He also said that he often had dinner with the couple.

The Ukrainian-born taxi baron is just one of Cohen’s many business connections to the former Soviet Union who boasts a long rap sheet; Cohen also joined up with his old pal Felix Sater, a convicted felon and former business partner of the President’s, to deliver a Ukraine “peace plan” to the Trump administration earlier this year.

Cohen is reportedly a person of interest in federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference, after a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleged that Cohen had met with a Russian representative during the campaign in Prague to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic operatives. Cohen denies the allegations in the dossier, which was compiled by former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele and remains largely unverified, and insists he’s never been to Prague.

The notoriously combative attorney retained Stephen Ryan, a Washington, D.C. lawyer with experience on lobbying and criminal cases linked to organized crime networks, to handle inquiries related to the federal investigation.

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Reports this week that the front office of the Civil Rights Division under Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be running a project to investigate universities whose affirmative action policies purportedly discriminate against white students brought a chill that was all too familiar for some former Justice Department officials.

These former officials warned that a direct line could be drawn from the politicized hirings that got the division in trouble during the George W. Bush administration to a reported internal job posting that requested division attorneys interested in working on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions” submit their resumes by Aug. 9.

John Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights under George H.W. Bush, told TPM that the situation was a “duplicate of what happened in the Bush II administration, when the front office, which was totally politically motivated, disregarded professionals’ opinion on issues when it came to initiating litigation.”

Former officials sounded the alarm that the Trump administration appeared to be taking the reins away from career civil servants who typically handle such investigations and refer cases. Political appointees often reside in what colloquially is known as the “front office” and come and go with administrations; the New York Times and Washington Post reported that the front office was handling the project on affirmative action programs.

So far, the DOJ has confirmed only that it is reviewing a 2015 complaint alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American students.

“If there is sufficient evidence that there is discrimination against Asians or other groups, the section should look into it,” Dunne said. “What I’m concerned about is that this investigation is really being initiated more by the Attorney General and the White House and political decisions, rather than something [else] that should have more attention.”

At least four other former officials in the civil rights division interviewed by TPM agreed that any discrimination against students based on race should be investigated, but that the decision to do should be based on strong evidence found by the career attorneys in the Education Opportunities Section who specialize in that work. They cautioned that admissions discrimination against white or Asian students by race is exceedingly rare, and that only career staffers should also be assigned to work on any relevant investigations that may crop up.

The Post reported that a number of career staffers specializing in education issues refused to work on the project, prompting the front office to take control of it themselves.

“The fact that the front office would be staffing this and doing it by looking at resumes is a big red flag,” Justin Levitt, deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division under Obama, told TPM. “When I was in the Justice Department, I staffed precisely zero cases by asking for resumes and I saw precisely zero cases staffed by looking at resumes.”

Explaining that case assignments typically come down to interest, time, experience, and the recommendations of section managers, Levitt said “you don’t need resumes for any of that.”

“You need resumes if what you really want is to check out where they might have worked before, or what clubs they were part of when they were in law school, all sorts of things that are not proper considerations for making case assignments,” he continued.

The DOJ did not address specific questions from TPM as to which staffers would oversee the review of the Harvard case, which was filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in 2015 and left unresolved by the Obama administration.

“The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed” by those associations, DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

“This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general,” the statement continued. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

During the George W. Bush years, political appointees assumed an expanded role in hiring staff and brought on conservative attorneys who often had little experience working in civil rights law; they were ultimately reprimanded in a report by the DOJ inspector general. Earlier this year, civil rights groups raised similar concerns after conservative legal activists sent Sessions a letter urging him not to leave hiring to “career bureaucrats who are reliably opposed to President Trump’s agenda.”

Affirmative action critics, several of whom signed that letter, said that they were unbothered by comparisons to the Bush era.

“It’s no surprise that this change in policy has to be done by the front office since these rather radical lawyers in the civil rights division would not move forward as the President and the Attorney General want to do,” said William Perry Pendley, president and CEO of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has advocated against affirmative action policies since the 1980s.

“The DOJ, particularly the Civil Rights Division, has become intensely partisan,” said John Eastman, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan administration. “I see this as a very salutary development, one designed to yield enforcement priorities in line with the results of the last election—as it should be.”

Former division staffers disputed that characterization, telling TPM that back-office employees span various administrations and tend to be law enforcement types who do the work they are assigned to carry out even if they disagree with it personally.

For now, Trump’s civil rights division seems to be looking at the Harvard case alone. But advocates on both sides of the aisle believe that’s just a first step.

Roger Clegg, a former top official in the civil rights division during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, expressed “hope” that this “long overdue” look at affirmative action policies “will not be limited to just one case, but will be undertaken in a more systematic matter.”

Given the views that Sessions, Trump, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have voiced on the subject, that seems to be a solid prediction.

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The House Oversight Committee wants to review any information that ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s former business partner may have about the retired lieutenant general’s foreign contacts.

In a Thursday letter, the top Democrat on the committee requested that Bijan Kian turn over “all documents and communications” related to Flynn’s work-related “foreign person contacts,” “professional work relationships with foreign businesses” and foreign travel.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wants all of that information by Aug. 16 as part of the committee’s probe into the lobbying work that Kian and Flynn’s intelligence consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, did for foreign clients. One major project carried out during the campaign was later determined to principally benefit the government of Turkey.

Both Flynn and Kian retroactively registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for that project, which Kian reportedly spearheaded.

As Cummings notes in his letter, Kian, who served as a personal reference for Flynn when he filed for a security clearance reinvestigation in early 2016, told FBI investigators at the time that Flynn “did not have foreign government connections.”

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), did not co-sign Cummings’ letter.

Federal investigators are also interested in the role Kian played in the lobbying work, Reuters reported in June. The Iranian-American businessman was responsible for securing and managing the day-to-day details of this project on behalf of Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman. Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 for this contract, which brought Flynn under the scrutiny of Justice Department officials concerned that he did not properly file under FARA.

Flynn was ultimately asked to resign from the Trump administration for his failure to properly disclose his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, as well as payments he received from Russian companies and Alptekin.

Kian has not spoken out since the investigation into Flynn became public.

Read Cummings’ letter below:

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A former Justice Department official specializing in fraud and illegal foreign bribery cases has become the sixteenth lawyer on the special counsel team investigating into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Josh Stueve, a spokesperson for special counsel Robert Mueller, confirmed the hiring of attorney Greg Andres to Reuters.

During his two-year tenure at the DOJ, Andres served as deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, overseeing the fraud unit and program that targeted illegal foreign bribery. Prior to joining to DOJ in 2010, he was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, where he prosecuted several members of the Bonanno organized crime family.

Andres will add his expertise to a team with years of experience in national security, money laundering, cybercrime, and public corruption cases.

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There has been plenty of criticism of President Donald Trump’s remarks encouraging rank-and-file officers to rough up suspects from big-city police departmentspolice reform groups and the Democratic National Committee.

But another harsh condemnation came from a particularly notable source: the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg.

In a memo to agency employees written the day after Trump’s speech and circulated widely on Tuesday, Rosenberg wrote that the President “condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement.”

Rosenberg’s matter-of-fact rebuke to Trump’s self-styled claim to be as the “law-and-order” President comes from a veteran of Republican and Democratic administrations who has worked on counterterrorism, drug enforcement and espionage cases during his decades-long tenure at the FBI and Justice Department.

The White House and its defenders have brushed off criticism of the remarks, insisting Trump was just making a “joke” that liberal detractors were taking too seriously. One of the country’s top law enforcement officials apparently did not interpret it that way.

“I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong,” Rosenberg wrote in the memo, referring to Trump’s remarks. “That’s what law enforcement officers do.  That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.”

Former FBI Director James Comey has praised Rosenberg, who worked under him as chief of staff, as “one of the finest people and public servants I have ever known,” while former Attorney General Loretta Lynch called him “an exceptional leader, a skilled problem solver and a consummate public servant of unshakeable integrity.”

Rosenberg’s criticism also is notable given his past advocacy on issues important to the current administration. Appointed in 2015 as interim DEA director, Rosenberg drew criticism from the Obama administration for echoing concerns that the so-called “Ferguson effect” was having a chilling effect on police officers unable to properly carry out their jobs because they feared intensified public scrutiny. He also broke with the Obama DOJ in his vigorous enforcement of marijuana crimes, and was widely criticized by legalization advocates for calling medical marijuana a “joke.”

Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a priority of rolling out pro-policing policies, and Sessions has pushed for the strict prosecution of drug crimes. The Trump administration has not nominated to replace Rosenberg and CNN reported that the transition team explicitly made clear that he would be asked to stay in his position under the new president.

Rosenberg is a federal government lifer who first joined the DOJ as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia’s Eastern District in 1994. He rose through the ranks, working as U.S. attorney both for the Southern District of Texas and Eastern District of Virginia and in senior DOJ posts, including as chief of staff to Comey, counselor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and counselor to Robert Mueller, who is now leading the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference.

Another close ally of Comey, LawFare editor Benjamin Wittes, wrote in a post Tuesday that Rosenberg and his former boss share a similar view of the paramount importance of “apolitical, ethical law enforcement.” According to Wittes, it was not a surprise that a high-ranking law enforcement officer with Rosenberg’s background would denounce Trump’s comments.

What was surprising, he said, is that “it is the acting head of the DEA, not either the attorney general or the deputy attorney general, who has had the guts to say semi-publicly what everyone knows to be true: that President’s Trump’s approach to law enforcement is dangerous.”

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Confirming reports that President Donald Trump fumes about the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference to any White House staffer or journalist on hand, his deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka told the BBC on Monday that they’ve chatted about the probe behind closed doors.

These private discussions, which Gorka also claimed to have had with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, make him a potential fact witness for special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation is reportedly looking into whether Trump has attempted to obstruct justice ; Trump and his associates’ business and real estate dealings; and whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives to secure his electoral victory.

In the testy interview, BBC’s Stephen Sackur asked how Gorka could have the “arrogance” to insist that the Russia investigation is a so-called “nothing burger,” since he has “no idea what [special counsel] Robert Mueller is collecting.”

“You can insult me on television,” Gorka replied, “but I actually work for the President of the United States. And when he tells me there’s nothing there, privately, and when Jared [Kushner] tells me there’s nothing there, you know what? I’m going to actually trust my employer.”

Sackur reiterated that Gorka could have no idea what Mueller and his team of high-powered attorneys were digging up.

“I know what the President of the United States told me and that’s enough for me,” Gorka insisted. “Because I trust that man. I have no connection to Robert Mueller.”

Those comments add Gorka to a long list of known and potential fact witnesses that Mueller’s team may want to question regarding the President’s deliberations about the Russia probe.

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When federal investigators are determining whether an individual attempted to obstruct justice, they look for patterns of behavior and evidence of intent.

The Washington Post on Monday night added another piece to the obstruction puzzle that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is trying to put together, reporting that President Donald Trump had personally dictated a deeply misleading statement that went out to the press under his eldest son’s name and obscured the true purpose of Donald Trump, Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

As the Post noted, it’s unclear how much the President knew at the time of the statement’s release about the meeting Trump Jr. attended in order to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin-directed effort to help his father’s campaign. But the President reportedly overruled the advice of his family members, senior aides and private legal team to personally craft a brief statement claiming that the meeting was focused only on a defunct program allowing U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children.

One of his attorneys, Jay Sekulow, has insisted that Trump “wasn’t involved” in any way in putting the statement together as the President and his aides flew back to the U.S. on Air Force One from the July G-20 summit in Germany.

Their initial inaccurate response proved to be incredibly damaging as the full, accurate details about the meeting and its participants trickled out.

It’s not a crime for the administration to provide false or misleading information to the press. But the statement Trump reportedly dictated marks his latest effort to obfuscate a subject of interest in the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, which he has consistently dismissed as a partisan “witch hunt.”

Mueller’s team reportedly demonstrated great interest in both the meeting and the White House’s role in covering it up. Mueller’s office asked the White House to preserve all documents related to “subjects discussed” in the meeting and “any decisions made regarding the recent disclosures about” it to the media, CNN reported.

Questions about whether Trump’s actions amounted to intervening to alter the course of federal investigations into his campaign and associates date back as far as February, when he reportedly asked then-FBI director James Comey to drop a probe into the foreign lobbying work of his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn. That alleged request, as well as separate requests that Comey swear personal loyalty and help lift the “cloud” of the Russia investigation, came to light shortly after Trump abruptly dismissed his FBI chief in May.

It was Comey’s firing itself that reportedly prompted federal agents to open an inquiry into whether the President had attempted to obstruct justice. Trump made it explicitly clear that he got rid of Comey because of his oversight of the Russia investigation, both in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt and in an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials in which Trump bragged about the “great pressure” taken off him by the departure of that “real nut job” Comey.

As Cornell Law School professor Jens Ohlin previously told TPM, those statements provided the “proof” of Trump’s desire to have the Russia investigation go away.

“Trump just flat-out said it on national television,” Ohlin said. “So what would normally be the most difficult part of the investigation is not difficult at all. The whole world has the evidence.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s team of personal lawyers is taking all manner of steps to discredit Mueller’s office and the work they are carrying out. They’ve pointed to Mueller’s acquaintance with Comey at the FBI and donations that lawyers working on the special counsel’s probe have made to Democrats to claim that the office cannot carry out a credible investigation.

Trump continues to tweet about the “phony” investigation, and his legal team also is reportedly digging through the backgrounds of Mueller’s staff and top reporters who have worked on the Russia story to procure damaging information about them. He spent almost two weeks smearing and toying with firing his longtime ally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation—a move Trump blames for the appointment of Mueller to oversee the probe.

The President is even preemptively weighing pardons for himself and his family members, as his recently fired communications director Anthony Scaramucci acknowledged last week.

It may be, as the President’s allies told the Post, that Trump simply doesn’t grasp the legal implications of his actions and sees the Russia probe as a family public relations problem that he alone can set right.

But his denials, obfuscations and personal interventions in matters of interest to the special counsel’s office aren’t helping him make his case.

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