Mueller is everywhere, except the midterms

Special counsel Robert Mueller can’t escape the headlines, or President Donald Trump’s obsessive Twitter feed. But there’s one place the lead Russia investigator has been noticeably absent: the 2018 campaign trail.

Mueller and his inquiry are missing from the campaign advertising airwaves during the final sprint to November. Debates have all but ignored the story, focusing instead on kitchen-table topics like the economy, health care and taxes. Vulnerable Democrats in red states are actually emphasizing the times they’ve reached across the aisle.

That’s on purpose, candidates and operatives from both parties told POLITICO. Most Americans are barely following the Mueller investigation’s intricate legal movements, which have already ensnared a few top former Trump aides, alleged Kremlin-backed hackers and a cast of characters scattered across both sides of the Atlantic.

Most important, voters don’t want to talk about it either.

“In our state, we’re losing 70 to 80 dairy farms a Continue reading “Mueller is everywhere, except the midterms”

Trump lawyers working on answers to Mueller’s Russia conspiracy questions

Special counsel Robert Mueller has delivered written questions to President Donald Trump and his lawyers about a potential Russian conspiracy with the Republican’s 2016 campaign to influence the election, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The submitted questions bypass — for now — a high-stakes legal fight over whether Mueller will try to force a sit-down interview with the president via subpoena. It also represents a small breakthrough in negotiations between Trump’s lawyers and the special counsel that have been moving ahead in fits and starts for nearly a year.

In sending over their written questions, Mueller’s prosecutors told the president’s legal team they wouldn’t rule out asking the president follow-ups based on the answers they get, the source said.

It’s unclear how long Trump’s team has to answer Mueller’s questions. Even so, the president’s lawyers have been preparing for months to respond to the special counsel on Continue reading “Trump lawyers working on answers to Mueller’s Russia conspiracy questions”

Mueller cooperator Gates asks judge to remove GPS tracker, curfew

Special counsel Robert Mueller is on board with a request from former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates to secure several new freedoms as he continues cooperating with the lead Russia investigator and awaits sentencing as part of his guilty plea.

Gates’ attorney Tom Green filed the unopposed motion Thursday asking a federal judge to let the longtime Republican operative remove his electronic GPS monitoring device, eliminate his 11 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew and allow him to more freely travel to Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The additional freedoms should be granted in exchange for Gates’ ongoing cooperation with both Mueller and other federal investigators. “Those sessions have been numerous and they continue to this day,” Green wrote.

“In short, Mr. Gates has been a model cooperating witness — making himself available to federal authorities whenever they have requested his assistance,” Green added. “For these many reasons we Continue reading “Mueller cooperator Gates asks judge to remove GPS tracker, curfew”

Mueller gets longest sentence yet for man who helped Russian trolls

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a California man to six months in prison and six months of home confinement after he pleaded guilty to a felony identity fraud charge tied to Russian troll activity that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign.

The sentence for Richard Pinedo, 28, is the most severe penalty handed down yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s high-profile investigation into Moscow’s meddling to help elect President Donald Trump.

Pinedo’s case stemmed from his admission in February to unwittingly selling stolen bank accounts to Russian internet trolls who used the credentials to buy internet ads that sowed discord among Americans in the lead-up to Trump’s upset victory almost two years ago.

In brief statement before U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich handed down his sentence, Pinedo said he took “full responsibility” for his actions and pleaded for leniency because of both his full cooperation with Mueller’s investigators and Continue reading “Mueller gets longest sentence yet for man who helped Russian trolls”

Roger Stone associate fighting Mueller in court slams ‘problematic’ Russia probe

A longtime Roger Stone associate challenging special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority in federal court lashed out on Tuesday at the lead Russia investigator in his first public comments about the case.

Andrew Miller, the former Stone aide who remains in contempt of court for refusing to appear before Mueller’s grand jury, said in a radio interview Tuesday that he agreed to be the front man for the lawsuit seeking to oust the special counsel from his post because of the way he was treated after the FBI questioned him earlier this year at his mother’s house in St. Louis.

“I’m not going to be a victim to my government,” Miller said, describing a two-hour interview this spring where FBI agents delivered a subpoena demanding documents and his appearance before a Washington D.C. grand jury.

“I was happy to speak to the FBI when they came to my house and Continue reading “Roger Stone associate fighting Mueller in court slams ‘problematic’ Russia probe”

Trump team’s contact with Mueller targets could taint findings

Donald Trump’s lawyers have maintained an unusual level of contact with attorneys representing clients caught up in the expanding Russia probe, communication that could taint evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller is collecting in his investigation of the president.

They’re not being shy about it either.

The president’s attorneys talk openly about these “joint defense agreements” that they say were established to keep them connected with lawyers tied to the president’s aides, allies and associates. They took the lead in organizing weekly conference calls earlier this year to strategize with other counsel during an intense period of Mueller’s investigation. In total, Trump’s lawyers have publicly noted they have more than 30 so-called JDAs with Mueller probe targets. Under these agreements, Trump’s attorneys can seek details on everything from what questions and documents Mueller’s team is asking about to who’s on the verge of criminal indictment.

The arrangement itself is routine Continue reading “Trump team’s contact with Mueller targets could taint findings”

Mueller ‘downsizing’ with departure of 2 prosecutors

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is shrinking by two in the wake of its successful prosecution of Paul Manafort and amid signs the Russia investigation may be nearing its final stages.

Brandon Van Grack and Kyle Freeny — government lawyers with key roles in bringing the case against the former Trump campaign chairman over tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent for his lobbying work in Ukraine — are going back to their prior posts at the Justice Department, according to Mueller spokesman Peter Carr.

Van Grack has already returned to DOJ’s National Security Division, while Freeny is ending her detail in mid-October and will return to the Criminal Division’s money laundering and asset recovery session.

With the two departures, the Mueller prosecution team is now down to 13 staffers involved in the core investigation into potential Trump campaign coordination with Russia during the 2016 Continue reading “Mueller ‘downsizing’ with departure of 2 prosecutors”

Roger Stone associate to plead 5th before Senate panel

A liberal talk show host described as an intermediary between Trump confidant Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Senate Russia investigators on Monday that he’s planning to plead the Fifth Amendment in response to its subpoena for testimony and documents.

Randy Credico, a Bernie Sanders-supporting activist and comedian, told the Senate Intelligence Committee through his lawyer that he’d invoke his constitutional right against possible self-incrimination rather than answer the panel’s questions in the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election.

“Should the committee require a personal appearance by Mr. Credico to orally assert his rights, please let us know,” his attorney, Martin Stolar, wrote the panel ahead of his client’s scheduled appearance on Friday.

Credico spent more than two hours last month testifying before a grand jury run by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of its investigation into the Democratic emails stolen by Russian Continue reading “Roger Stone associate to plead 5th before Senate panel”

Manafort meets with Mueller prosecutors

Paul Manafort met Monday with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office as part of his cooperation agreement in the special counsel’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The sit-down at the special counsel’s downtown Washington D.C. office stems from Manafort’s guilty plea last month, which requires the former Trump campaign chairman to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly…in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant.”

Spokesmen for Manafort and Mueller declined comment on the meeting.

POLITICO spotted two attorneys for Manafort — Richard Westling and Tom Zehnle — outside Mueller’s office early Monday afternoon speaking with one of the special counsel’s lead prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann. The men parted ways to buy lunch and then were seen returning with their food to the secure building where the special counsel’s team is headquartered.

Manafort pleaded guilty last month in a federal court Continue reading “Manafort meets with Mueller prosecutors”

Mueller defends authority, hearkens back to Garfield administration

Special counsel Robert Mueller cited more than a century’s worth of presidential scandal on Friday as part of a sweeping legal defense of his own authorities.

The lead Russia prosecutor made the historical references — that attorney generals have needed special investigators dating back to the 1870s — in a legal brief to a federal appeals court considering the case of a reluctant witness tied to a longtime supporter of President Donald Trump who is seeking to have Mueller’s appointment thrown out on constitutional grounds.

“These instances—involving appointments by Attorneys General under Presidents Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton—span nearly 140 years and include some of the most notorious scandals in the Nation’s history, including Watergate,” wrote Michael Dreeben, the deputy solicitor general on loan to the Mueller team.

At issue is the case of Andrew Miller, a former aide to Trump confidante Continue reading “Mueller defends authority, hearkens back to Garfield administration”

Trump delays Rosenstein meeting, leaving future of Mueller boss uncertain

President Donald Trump and Rod Rosenstein have postponed until next week Thursday’s highly anticipated meeting to hash out the fate of the embattled deputy attorney general.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two didn’t want to distract from the Senate’s monumental hearing Thursday morning examining sexual assault allegations made against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

“They do not want to do anything to interfere with the hearing,” Sanders told reporters.

Trump and Rosenstein spoke earlier Thursday to rearrange their plans, Sanders added.

The meeting between the president and the No. 2 Justice official who supervises special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was sparked by a New York Times story published last week that said Rosenstein had discussed wiretapping the president and mused about invoking the 25th Amendment to dispose of Trump during a tumultuous period early in the Republican’s administration.

Rosenstein has disputed Continue reading “Trump delays Rosenstein meeting, leaving future of Mueller boss uncertain”

Mueller ready for Flynn to get prison sentence

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday signaled he’s ready for a federal court to impose a prison sentence on Michael Flynn, a signal that the Russia investigator has finished tapping the former Trump national security adviser for information as part of a guilty plea agreement.

Mueller and an attorney for Flynn told the U.S. District Court in a joint status report that after several delays “the matter is now ready to be scheduled for sentencing.” They proposed a court hearing as early as Nov. 28.

Flynn pleaded guilty last December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador at the end of 2016, soon after Trump’s upset election victory.

In exchange for Mueller’s recommendation for a reduced jail sentence, Flynn agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s wider probe into Russia’s interference during the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin on Continue reading “Mueller ready for Flynn to get prison sentence”

Manafort’s surrender shows Mueller probe’s overwhelming force

Paul Manafort vowed he’d never flip on Donald Trump. After Manafort’s conviction in federal court last month in Virginia, the president declared he had “such respect for a brave man!” because his former campaign chairman hadn’t folded.

About three weeks later, Manafort broke.

The longtime GOP operative, who pleaded guilty Friday in a Washington D.C. federal courtroom days before he was set to go on trial, is now the third close Trump associate to reverse course and throw himself at the mercy of government prosecutors.

The surprise twist provided further evidence of the overwhelming power of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, before which a growing roster of defendants are finding resistance to be futile.

While Mueller passed up the opportunity for a public trial that would bring to light more proof of wrongdoing, legal experts say Manafort’s plea agreement contained important new details that continue what has been Continue reading “Manafort’s surrender shows Mueller probe’s overwhelming force”

The Manafort plea deal: Your questions answered

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, had struck a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The agreement comes just days before Manafort is set to face foreign-lobbying and money-laundering charges in a Washington, D.C., court room. The pact has surprised some, given President Donald Trump’s effusive praise of Manafort’s willingness to fight Mueller in court.

Last month, Manfort was found guilty in a Virginia trial on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, while the judge declared a mistrial on 10 other charges after the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.

After the decision, Trump called Manafort “a brave man” on Twitter.

Manafort’s charges came out of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin on its efforts. Trump has regularly decried the investigation as a “witch hunt. Continue reading “The Manafort plea deal: Your questions answered”

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort reaches plea deal

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The plea deal, set to be officially announced at an 11 a.m. court appearance in Washington, D.C., calls for a 10-year cap on how long Manafort will be sent to prison, and for Manafort to serve time from his separate Virginia and Washington cases concurrently, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Prosecutors filed a new slimmed-down set of charges against Manafort Friday morning, reining in the felony counts pending against him in D.C. from seven to just two: conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Notably, though, it remained unclear whether the Manafort plea will include a requirement that he cooperate with the Mueller prosecutor, an arrangement that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO earlier Continue reading “Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort reaches plea deal”

Trump’s search for a top scandal fighter pits resume against loyalty

President Donald Trump and his allies are debating the value of political loyalty versus legal credentials in their search for a new White House counsel, a crucial decision ahead of a potential onslaught of congressional scrutiny following the midterm elections.

Trump is “counting down the days” until the departure of his current lead White House lawyer, Don McGahn, with whom he has clashed, according to a former White House official. The longtime Trump legal adviser is set to leave upon the expected Senate confirmation later this month of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

But Trump has not settled on a successor. The obvious candidate is Emmet Flood, an elite Washington lawyer respected by members of both parties for his expertise in handling Capitol Hill scrutiny and someone who could help stock the depleted ranks of the counsel’s office with top legal talent.

Four sources close to the White House, including Continue reading “Trump’s search for a top scandal fighter pits resume against loyalty”

Manafort hearing delayed again amid reports plea deal is near

A federal judge on Thursday again delayed a key pretrial hearing for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, as news reports said he was close to an agreement to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money-laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson had originally set the hearing for Wednesday morning, then shifted it to Friday at 9:30 a.m. On Thursday, she delayed the hearing again, to later Friday morning.

The unexplained delays came amid reports of ongoing discussions between Manafort’s defense lawyers and Mueller’s prosecutors about a potential deal to head off the looming trial. The high-profile legal showdown that Manafort has been facing in Washington in the coming weeks could be an embarrassing distraction for President Donald Trump and the White House in the lead-up to the November midterm elections.

Jury selection for Manafort’s D.C. trial is, Continue reading “Manafort hearing delayed again amid reports plea deal is near”

Smoke breaks, sandwiches and solitaire: Manafort verdict waiting game

ALEXANDRIA, VA— The throngs of journalists gathered at the federal courthouse here on Monday included five bookers from ABC News, standing at the ready for a verdict in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial.

Their mission: to track down and sign up the jurors for television appearances in which they might explain how they reached the most eagerly-anticipated verdict in recent political memory.

They’ll have to wait for another day.

The third full day of deliberations in Manafort’s trial left the media and political worlds in a continued state of suspended animation, as reporters, legal experts and various other gadflies here speculate about how much longer the jury might take—and whether, as Manafort’s lawyers have suggested, the fact that they are still talking is good news for the defendant. (Many legal experts disagree, saying several days of deliberation are normal in a case this complex, with Manafort facing 18 counts including tax Continue reading “Smoke breaks, sandwiches and solitaire: Manafort verdict waiting game”

Smoke breaks, sandwiches and solitaire: Manafort verdict waiting game

ALEXANDRIA, VA— The throngs of journalists gathered at the federal courthouse here on Monday included five bookers from ABC News, standing at the ready for a verdict in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial.

Their mission: to track down and sign up the jurors for television appearances in which they might explain how they reached the most eagerly-anticipated verdict in recent political memory.

They’ll have to wait for another day.

The third full day of deliberations in Manafort’s trial left the media and political worlds in a continued state of suspended animation, as reporters, legal experts and various other gadflies here speculate about how much longer the jury might take—and whether, as Manafort’s lawyers have suggested, the fact that they are still talking is good news for the defendant. (Many legal experts disagree, saying several days of deliberation are normal in a case this complex, with Manafort facing 18 counts including tax Continue reading “Smoke breaks, sandwiches and solitaire: Manafort verdict waiting game”

Manafort trial Day 15: Jury meets for third day as Trump-fueled political cacophony grows

Paul Manafort’s tax- and bank-fraud trial is set to kick off its third day of jury deliberations Monday with questions swirling about jurors’ ability to ignore the politically charged cacophony enveloping them, including President Donald Trump’s public suggestion that his former campaign chairman’s trial is a miscarriage of justice.

Jurors weighing the evidence against Manafort have long known that they’re assigned to a high-profile case; the packed courtroom, reporters dashing out to file stories and fleet of satellite trucks deployed around the Alexandria, Virginia, courthouse leave little doubt of that.

However, Trump’s comments Friday calling Manafort a “good person” and his trial a “very sad day” may have intensified the pressure on jurors as they try to follow U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis’ repeated instructions to ignore media coverage and other public commentary about the case.

Manafort’s defense team has embraced the presidential condolences and seems to Continue reading “Manafort trial Day 15: Jury meets for third day as Trump-fueled political cacophony grows”