What Rosenstein’s ouster would mean for Mueller

More than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s job will be on the line when he meets with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday. Also in the balance will be the fate of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

The ouster of Rosenstein — who serves as Mueller’s direct supervisor — would subject the special counsel’s probe to new uncertainty and, critics fear, new restrictions on Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, it is his deputy who approves everything from Mueller’s budgets to his subpoenas and the scope of his probe. And if Mueller produces a written report about his work, he will file it to Rosenstein or his successor, who will then decide what action to take in making the much-anticipated document public.

Even if a Rosenstein replacement did not Continue reading “What Rosenstein’s ouster would mean for Mueller”

Judge rules Ross can be deposed over Census citizenship question

A federal court ruled that a Cabinet secretary must provide, for the first time in 19 years, a deposition in a civil case.

The Cabinet member, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, must answer questions about the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said.

Furman wrote in a 12-page opinion that the need to hear from Ross qualified as an “exceptional circumstance” that would warrant a deposition from a high-ranking federal official.

“Applying well-established principles to the unusual facts of these cases, the court concludes that the question is not a close one,” Furman wrote. “Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.”

The state of New York is leading a coalition of states, cities, counties and mayors in a lawsuit against the inclusion of a citizenship Continue reading “Judge rules Ross can be deposed over Census citizenship question”

Court grapples with case that could impact release of Mueller report

A federal appeals court wrestled Friday with a case that could limit special counsel Robert Mueller’s options to release a report on the findings of his probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

The case — heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Friday morning — has no direct connection to Mueller’s investigation, but centers on issues of grand jury secrecy and when judges have the power to disclose information gathered through that process.

A ruling that judges lack that power could close off some options Mueller may have to release a public report or to transmit one to Congress.

The three-judge panel issued no immediate decision and gave no definitive indication of where the court will come out, but one of the judges — Greg Katsas — seemed to favor a reading of court rules that would require judges to strictly enforce Continue reading “Court grapples with case that could impact release of Mueller report”

NSA: Security breaches of hacking tools curtailed snooping

The National Security Agency shut down expensive and vital operations as a result of top secret information being spirited out of its headquarters by a fired NSA computer engineer who claims he took the sensitive records home to work on bolstering his performance review, according to a report submitted to a federal court.

Admiral Mike Rogers disclosed the far-reaching fallout in connection with the upcoming sentencing of Nghia Pho, 70, who pleaded guilty last December to taking highly classified information from the NSA from 2010 to 2015, when the FBI raided his Ellicott City, Maryland, home and hauled away a large volume of material.

"The fact that such a tremendous volume of highly classified, sophisticated collection tools was removed from secure space and left unprotected, especially in digital form on devices connected to the Internet, left the NSA with no choice but to abandon certain important initiatives, at great economic Continue reading “NSA: Security breaches of hacking tools curtailed snooping”

Trump claim that FBI can’t probe Kavanaugh allegations is wrong, ex-officials say

The White House could order the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, several former senior White House and Justice Department officials from both parties said Wednesday, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claims that doing so would exceed the FBI’s mandate.

Trump continued to insist on Wednesday that there is no potential role for the FBI in exploring claims by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh covered her mouth while trying to strip her bathing suit off during a party when both were in high school in the 1980s.

“It would seem that the FBI really doesn’t do that,” the president said in response to a reporter’s question about Ford’s call for the FBI to look into the matter before she agrees to testify at a Senate hearing. “They’ve investigated about six times before, and it seems that they don’t do that.”

Continue reading “Trump claim that FBI can’t probe Kavanaugh allegations is wrong, ex-officials say”

Trump-proof aspects of Manafort deal rankle lawyers

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Friday plea agreement with Paul Manafort took unusual and possibly unprecedented steps to undercut President Donald Trump’s ability to pardon his former campaign chairman.

The plea deal Mueller struck with the former Trump campaign chairman contains several provisions that appear intended to discourage the former Trump aide both from seeking a pardon and to rein in the impact of any pardon Trump might grant.

Legal experts with sweeping views of executive power and attorneys who advocate for broad use of clemency criticized what they call an effort by Mueller’s team to tie the president’s hands.

“What is most concerning to me is that Mr. Mueller, who is a part of the executive branch and is supposed to follow all of DOJ’s policies and procedures, is specifically seeking to impede the ability of the president to exercise his constitutional pardon authority,” said David Rivkin, a Justice Department Continue reading “Trump-proof aspects of Manafort deal rankle lawyers”

Trump orders declassification of surveillance application, release of Comey texts

President Donald Trump has moved to immediately declassify 20 pages of the surveillance application that authorized the FBI to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The move, long foreshadowed by calls from Trump’s top allies in Congress, also includes an effort to reveal the details of former Justice Department official Bruce Ohr’s interviews connected to the Russia investigation.

Trump also directed the Justice Department to publicly release all text messages "relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction" of Ohr, former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Chief Justice Roberts halts campaign finance ruling

Chief Justice John Roberts stepped in Saturday to halt a federal judge’s order last month that a conservative political group said threatened to discourage independent expenditures by raising the prospect that anonymous donors could be exposed.

Roberts acted Saturday after a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel turned down the same arguments for a stay earlier in the day.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell in August issued a ruling invalidating a Federal Election Commission regulation that has allowed donors to so-called dark-money groups to remain anonymous.

That decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) against the FEC after Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS failed to disclose the names of contributors behind its effort to defeat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012.

The district court’s ruling was set to take effect on Sept. 17, until Roberts intervened Saturday.

“Upon Continue reading “Chief Justice Roberts halts campaign finance ruling”

Manafort’s deal reins in a pardon’s impact

The plea deal special counsel Robert Mueller granted to Paul Manafort on Friday appears built to be pardon-proof.

That doesn’t mean President Donald Trump won’t try to legally absolve Manafort anyway, a step the president has considered taking for months. But Friday‘s events mean Trump’s ability to contain the legal damage from his former campaign chairman is now severely limited.

Two new factors appear to stymie the impact of a potential Trump pardon for Manafort.

The first is that Manafort is already talking. One obvious rationale for a pardon would be to reward Manafort for holding out against Mueller’s pressure for cooperation in building a case against the president or those close to him. But Manafort’s lead lawyer said Friday his client has already cooperated with Mueller’s team, and Friday’s plea agreement says that Manafort "shall cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities Continue reading “Manafort’s deal reins in a pardon’s impact”

Giuliani: Trump sees no danger in Manafort plea

The prospect of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort cutting a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office to avoid a second criminal trial set to open next week doesn’t concern President Donald Trump or his legal team, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO.

"We can see a reason why he might want to do that. What’s the need for another trial?” Giuliani said in an interview late Wednesday. “They’ve got enough to put him in jail. His lawyer is going to argue they shouldn’t. The judge should decide this. Not Mueller. I think it’s pretty clear if they were going to get anything from him they’d have gotten it already.

“What’s the point of further harassing him?”

Giuliani said Trump and his attorneys are unconcerned about a potential plea agreement because they’re convinced Manafort has nothing damaging to say about the president.

"From our perspective we Continue reading “Giuliani: Trump sees no danger in Manafort plea”

Kavanaugh rebuffs call to open up confidential talks with journalists

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has refused requests from Democratic senators that he free up journalists to speak openly about off-the-record or background conversations he had with them while working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr two decades ago.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut urged Kavanaugh to publicly declare that he releases those reporters from any agreement not to identify him as a source or to describe what they discussed.

However, in written answers Wednesday to more than 1,200 written questions put forward by senators after last week’s confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh offered a flat “no” in response to the two senators’ suggestions. What’s more, the nominee contended he was respecting the reporters’ First Amendment rights by refusing to free them of such confidentiality agreements.

“It would be inappropriate in this context to disregard that foundational privilege and protection for Continue reading “Kavanaugh rebuffs call to open up confidential talks with journalists”

Court hands Trump victory in lawsuit by campaign rally protesters

A federal appeals court on Tuesday shot down a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over alleged abuse protesters say they received at a campaign rally in 2016 after he repeatedly urged the crowd to "get ’em out of here."

Two of the three judges on the appellate panel said Trump’s call to oust the demonstrators was protected by the First Amendment because he did not explicitly call for anyone to do something illegal.

"In the ears of some supporters, Trump’s words may have had a tendency to elicit a physical response, in the event a disruptive protester refused to leave, but they did not specifically advocate such a response," Judge David McKeague wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Richard Griffin. "As to how the offensive words were said, we know, most relevantly, by plaintiffs’ own allegations, that the words were accompanied by the admonition, ‘don’t hurt ’em.’ Continue reading “Court hands Trump victory in lawsuit by campaign rally protesters”

Koch group loses donor secrecy fight at appeals court

A nonprofit group founded by conservative political megadonors Charles and David Koch must disclose its largest givers to law enforcement authorities in California, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation had argued that the state’s rules requiring filing of the donor list violate the First Amendment by discouraging individuals from giving and by exposing them to threats and harassment.

In 2016, the group persuaded a federal judge in Los Angeles to issue a permanent injunction against the requirement. U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real said the state rarely used the information, but often disclosed it accidentally with charities’ public tax filings.

However, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed that ruling Tuesday, holding that the state had a legitimate need for the data and that the Koch-founded group had not shown a significant burden on donors.

"To the extent the Continue reading “Koch group loses donor secrecy fight at appeals court”

Michael Cohen seeks to unwind hush money deal with Stormy Daniels

President Donald Trump’s disgraced former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is trying to rescind the $130,000 hush money deal he struck with porn star Stormy Daniels to tamp down reports about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, but a lawyer for Daniels says the move seems to be aimed at preventing full disclosure about Trump’s role in the agreement.

Cohen submitted a filing to a federal court in Los Angeles on Friday renouncing the contract and promising he will take no action to enforce it, although he said he might still try to recover the $130,000 Daniels received under the pact struck just days before the 2016 presidential election.

The move came less than three weeks after Cohen appeared before a federal judge in Manhattan and admitted his guilt on eight felony charges, including one that said the payment to Daniels violated federal campaign finance law because it was intended to Continue reading “Michael Cohen seeks to unwind hush money deal with Stormy Daniels”

Papadopoulos sentenced to 14 days in jail

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser whose loose talk overseas about Russians having "dirt" on Hillary Clinton triggered an FBI probe into election interference, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI during that inquiry.

Papadopoulos was also given 12 months of supervised release, commonly known as probation, and must perform 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay a $9,500 fine.

U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss rejected pleas by Papadopoulos’ lawyers and his outspoken wife that he be spared jail time despite his guilty plea last October and thanks to his cooperation with Mueller’s team. Prosecutors argued that Papadopoulos’ dishonestly hindered efforts to determine whether the Kremlin had infiltrated the Trump campaign and sought to influence the 2016 campaign.

Specifically, prosecutors said Papadapoulos had cost them an opportunity to question a crucial witness in the case: Josef Mifsud, Continue reading “Papadopoulos sentenced to 14 days in jail”

Giuliani says deal near for written questions from Mueller

President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says a deal is near for Trump to provide written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, but Giuliani disputed a report that Trump has entirely ruled out a sit-down interview with the prosecutor probing the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

"I think we’re pretty close to an agreement, maybe this weekend," Giuliani told POLITICO Thursday night about the prospects of a deal for written responses to questions on alleged collusion between the campaign and Russia before Trump took office.

However, the former New York City mayor said the two sides remain at odds over questioning on issues of obstruction of justice and on whether Trump should be questioned in person by Mueller’s team on any issue.

Earlier Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Giuliani said a decision had been reached that Trump would not voluntarily submit to an interview on alleged efforts Continue reading “Giuliani says deal near for written questions from Mueller”

Judge dismisses McAuliffe and Rodham from Chinese investors’ suit

A fraud lawsuit Chinese investors filed against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) and Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham suffered a major setback Wednesday, as a federal judge dismissed both men as defendants in the case.

More than 30 Chinese citizens filed a lawsuit against the two men and others last year, alleging that misleading and inaccurate representations were made to raise more than $17 million for Greentech Automotive, a defunct electric-car project spearheaded by McAuliffe.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton said the suit failed to meet legal standards requiring a clear description of the alleged fraudulent statements and how they induced the investors to chip in for the project. The investors were not just seeking a profit, but also visas under a program that allows foreigners to get green cards in exchange for investments of $500,000 or more in certain projects that create U.S. jobs.

Continue reading “Judge dismisses McAuliffe and Rodham from Chinese investors’ suit”

‘You can’t exclude the politics’: Manafort defense tells judge that client was singled out

Paul Manafort’s defense team argued Wednesday that their client was singled out for prosecution because of his role as chairman of the Trump campaign — but the judge handling the case seemed determined to head off any such argument at Manafort’s upcoming trial.

The clash of views took place at a pretrial hearing Wednesday in federal court in Washington, where Manafort is scheduled to go to trial later this month over charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent, laundered money and obstructed justice. Manafort defense attorney Kevin Downing said it was evident that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office came after Manafort "because of his involvement in the Trump campaign."

"That’s why we’re here," Downing said flatly. "You can’t exclude the politics. Mr. Manafort is here because he was Trump’s campaign manager."

"Is that a fact? That’s just argument," U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson Continue reading “‘You can’t exclude the politics’: Manafort defense tells judge that client was singled out”

Court won’t force North Carolina redistricting this year

A panel of federal judges has dropped plans to force a redrawing of North Carolina’s congressional districts in advance of this fall’s midterm elections.

The decision Tuesday came after groups challenging the state’s district map said they opposed making such a change so close to the Nov. 6 contest.

"Having carefully reviewed the parties’ briefing and supporting materials, we conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019. And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina’s congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State’s electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout," Judges James Wynn Jr., William Osteen Jr. and W. Earl Britt wrote in a joint order.

The judges startled the Continue reading “Court won’t force North Carolina redistricting this year”

Papadopoulos lawyers ask for no prison time for lying to FBI amid Russia probe

Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, the first suspect charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe, is asking a court to allow him to avoid prison time for lying to federal investigators.

In a filing submitted shortly before midnight Friday, lawyers for Papadopoulos urged U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss to reject Mueller’s recommendation that their client get up to six months in prison for misleading the FBI about the timing and scope of his contacts with individuals connected to Russia.

Papadopoulos’ attorneys say he didn’t lie out of concern he was involved in a dastardly plot, but due to more pedestrian worries about his job prospects and avoiding embarrassment to the Trump campaign.

“His motives for lying to the FBI were wrongheaded indeed but far from the sinister spin the Government suggests,” defense lawyers Tom Breen, Todd Pugh and Robert Stanley wrote. “Caught off-guard by an Continue reading “Papadopoulos lawyers ask for no prison time for lying to FBI amid Russia probe”