The FBI’s Trump ‘Insurance’

The texts explain why Mr. Mueller would remove Mr. Strzok, though a straight shooter wouldn’t typically resist turning those messages over to Congress for as long as Mr. Mueller did.

.. Yates had every right to resign at the time if she felt she couldn’t implement Mr. Trump’s order. But she had no authority as an executive branch official to defy a legitimate presidential order. Mr. Weissmann’s support for her insubordination was a declaration that he is part of the “resistance.” This should be unacceptable in a ranking FBI official, much less someone charged with conducting a fair-minded investigation.

.. he wouldn’t elaborate on the news that Nellie Ohr, the wife of senior Justice official Bruce Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, which hired Mr. Steele to gin up his dossier.

Mueller Is Squeezing Manafort

I am more interested in reports that business records, connected to Manafort’s taxes and foreign bank transactions, were the object of the raid ordered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That seems peculiar if the rationale for ordering a home search, rather than simply issuing a subpoena, was fear that Manafort would destroy evidence.

It makes perfect sense, though, if the prosecutor is playing hardball.

.. We should further note that the president had the authority to fire the acting FBI director at any time. There was no need for Trump to wait on AG Sessions, nor did anything prevent him from ordering Sessions to fire McCabe if that’s what he wanted done.

.. So, essentially, Trump’s tweet was a rant — nothing new there. Was it a rant triggered by the Manafort search? If so, it was Trump at his paper-tiger worst: He wanted McCabe gone but, knowing that many of his troubles stem from botching Comey’s firing, he could not risk firing McCabe — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at Sessions. And he’d love to fire Mueller, but he knows that would be a political earthquake his presidency might not survive — so in a fit of pique he lashed out at McCabe.

.. Manafort labored many years, at apparently lush compensation, for the Kremlin-backed cabal responsible for Ukraine’s ongoing tumult. That happened well prior to the 2016 campaign, but it has always been very disturbing. If Trump is telling the truth about having no meaningful ties to Putin, he should be encouraging the investigation of Manafort, not acting like he’s incensed by it.

.. the New York Times reported that the warrant sought tax documents and foreign banking records.

.. Search warrants are reserved for situations in which the prosecutor and agents reasonably fear that the subjects of the probe will destroy evidence if they know investigators are sniffing around. And search warrants executed in predawn hours are generally reserved for situations in which agents are dealing with hardened or desperate criminals — subjects who might not merely destroy evidence but endanger the agents who knock on the door; subjects who might alert other conspirators to flee if searches commence when everyone is awake and alert.

.. When a subject is cooperating with investigators, search warrants are wholly unnecessary and excessively intrusive.

.. Mueller’s team could easily have gotten the same disclosure without resorting to a search warrant. They need only have asked Manafort’s lawyers, who’d have had no reason to decline, especially after giving the same information to Congress.

.. That was not good enough for Mueller. This could mean either or both of two things: (1) Mueller believed Manafort was hoarding relevant evidence and might destroy it if it were not taken forcibly from him; and/or (2) Mueller has a message for Manafort: The special counsel is not limiting his inquiry to the Russia investigation that Congress has been pursuing; rather, Mueller intends to scorch the earth as necessary to make a case — any case — on Manafort, for purposes of squeezing him to become a cooperating witness against others, potentially including the president.

.. I believe Manafort is being squeezed. I’ve squeezed bad guys before. It’s not illegal, it’s effective, and if you’re a prosecutor dealing with a real bad guy, it’s righteous. Is Manafort that kind of bad guy? We don’t know what Mueller knows. But we can reasonably surmise that Mueller’s investigation is not confined to Russian meddling in the 2016 election — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s protestations notwithstanding.

Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

.. In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia.

.. Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

.. In the interview, Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Comey told him about the dossier to implicitly make clear he had something to hold over the president. “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump said. As leverage? “Yeah, I think so,’’ Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”

.. Mr. Comey testified before Congress that he disclosed the details of the dossier to Mr. Trump because he thought that the media would soon be publishing details from it and that Mr. Trump had a right to know what information was out there about him.

.. Mr. Comey testified before Congress that Mr. Trump kicked the vice president, attorney general and several other senior administration officials out of the room before having the discussion with Mr. Comey.

.. “I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff,” Mr. Trump said. “He said I asked people to go. Look, you look at his testimony. His testimony is loaded up with lies, O.K.?”

.. He noted that he actually interviewed Mr. Mueller to replace Mr. Comey just before his appointment as special counsel.

..  Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

.. The president also expressed discontent with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a former federal prosecutor from Baltimore.

.. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” he said of the predominantly Democratic city.

He complained that Mr. Rosenstein had in effect been on both sides when it came to Mr. Comey. The deputy attorney general recommended Mr. Comey be fired but then appointed Mr. Mueller, who may be investigating whether the dismissal was an obstruction of justice. “Well, that’s a conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said. “Do you know how many conflicts of interests there are?”

.. As for Andrew G. McCabe, the acting F.B.I. director, the president suggested that he, too, had a conflict. Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, received nearly $500,000 in 2015 during a losing campaign for the Virginia Senate from a political action committee affiliated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is close friends with Hillary and Bill Clinton.

.. But the president repeated that he did not know about his son’s meeting at the time and added that he did not need the Russians to provide damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

“There wasn’t much I could say about Hillary Clinton that was worse than what I was already saying,” he said. “Unless somebody said that she shot somebody in the back, there wasn’t much I could add to my repertoire.”

James Comey’s Testimony: ‘Comey Was Playing Chess’

Trump’s defenders will be trying to portray Trump’s pressuring Comey to drop the Flynn investigation as an isolated incident, a president who simply didn’t know any better going a bit too far trying to get a friend off the hook.

.. The president asked Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to pledge his loyalty and to shut down one part of the investigation. When the director didn’t comply, he was fired.

And the intelligence committee hearing on all of this proceeded like it was just another partisan fight about tax cuts. The word “surreal” comes to mind.

.. the specific takeaway is actually something we already knew: Comey said: “I take the president, at his word, that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. Something about the way I was conducting it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.” Comey was clear Trump didn’t ask him to stop the Russia investigation. But the president wanted to change the course of what the F.B.I. was doing. In this context, whatever his rationale, and whether or not he broke the law, is that acceptable conduct for an American president?

.. including a cryptic reference by Trump to the “the McCabe thing,” suggesting that our president might have his cross hairs on the acting FBI director.

.. The statement by Trump’s lawyer that the president feels “completely and totally vindicated” by Comey’s testimony was particularly bizarre given that Trump and the White House had both flatly denied the president ever made such a request. True, Comey’s testimony confirms that as of March 30, the F.B.I. wasn’t investigating Trump himself, but that’s hardly proof of innocence. After all, as Comey points out, that could change.

.. David French describes Comey’s account of the exchange in which Trump asked him for loyalty and concludes:

“There’s no serious argument that this is appropriate behavior from an American president. Imagine for a moment testimony that President Barack Obama or a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton had a similar conversation with an F.B.I. director. The entire conservative-media world would erupt in outrage, and rightly so. The F.B.I. director is a law-enforcement officer, loyal to the Constitution, not the president’s consigliere.”

.. The Department of Justice has long taken the position that criminal charges can’t be brought against a sitting president because that would “undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions”

.. Attorney General Jeff Sessions couldn’t bring charges even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.

.. an aggressive accusation that the Trump administration “defamed” him and the agency to justify his firing. “Those were lies, plain and simple,”

.. Comey wants to be providing the facts, and his gut reaction — “disturbing” — while leaving the legal conclusions to the senators questioning him, and to Bob Mueller

.. Rich Lowry’s argument in Politico that Comey’s willingness to talk about ongoing investigations helps explain why Trump thought he could ask Comey to publicly say that the president himself wasn’t under investigation.

.. there something to the underlying idea, that Comey himself scrambled the rules for what should and shouldn’t be public, in the context of a highly politicized F.B.I. investigation?

.. how telling is it that the former director of the F.B.I. testified that he felt he needed to document every encounter with Trump because, given “the nature of the person,” he felt Trump might lie? He actually used the “L” word!

.. Trump is right about the “cloud” hanging over him. Comey set a bad precedent last summer and I hope the F.B.I. ditches it.

.. Senator Marco Rubio’s line of questioning, is that the defense of Trump is taking form

.. One Comey subtheme is Sessions’s failure to protect the F.B.I’s independence from the White House.

.. it sounds like Sessions is more mixed up in the Russia investigation than we know.

.. And if it turns out the campaign assisted Russia in any way, that’s a political crime that would make the Watergate break-in look benign.

.. He didn’t order Comey to shut down the whole Russia investigation, he merely asked Comey to shut down the inquiry into Flynn

.. I’ll stipulate that much of Comey’s conduct strikes me as bizarre: The vicarious leaking of his memo probably tops that list, and his reason for not alerting Sessions of Trump’s misconduct, at a time when Sessions was still overseeing the Russia investigation, is pretty thin.

.. I’m still getting my mind around Comey’s statement that he asked a friend (Dan Richman, a Columbia University law professor has confirmed he was that person) to leak Comey’s memo about Trump to the press in order to trigger the appointment of a special counsel. Wow! Trump doesn’t play chess, but that’s what Comey was doing. It also suggests that he didn’t think the Justice Department should handle the investigation through normal channels.

Reince Priebus Sought FBI’s Help in Refuting News Report on Russian Contacts

White House dismisses suggestions of inappropriate interaction with law-enforcement agency

 The White House acknowledged Friday that its chief of staff asked senior officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to publicly refute a news report alleging repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials, after it says the FBI told him the story was inaccurate.
.. Sean Spicer said that last week, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe approached White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus after a meeting at the White House to tell him a New York Times story that morning reporting that Trump campaign aides had been in constant contact with Russian intelligence officials was “false.”
.. “And the answer was, ‘We don’t want to get in the middle of starting a practice of doing this.’ So our answer is, ‘Why did you come to us with this information if not to elicit a response?’”
.. Mr. Trump has previously said he would root out government officials who leak sensitive or classified information to the press.
.. I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in.”
.. The attacks, criticism and leaks could have a long-term impact on the FBI, former officials said. “All it does is corrode the perception of independence,” said Ron Hosko, a former senior FBI official.

Terry McAuliffee Donation to Deputy FBI Directory’s Wife’s Campaign

Campaign finance records show Mr. McAuliffe’s political-action committee donated $467,500 to the 2015 state Senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, who is married to Andrew McCabe, now the deputy director of the FBI.

.. Andrew McCabe might be the straightest arrow in the entire quiver of the Bureau, and Mrs. McCabe might have never even discussed the Clinton prosecution with him. But if your spouse is going to be involved in politics, you should not oversee criminal investigations of political figures. It will always present the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Is everybody at the FBI married to a partisan political figure?