House Republicans cannot be allowed to obstruct justice

Former U.S. district judge John S. Martin, writing in The Post to debunk the baseless proposal by House Freedom Caucus members to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, observes:

The actions of the Freedom Caucus members are not only baseless, they are also shameful. While they call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Rosenstein, it may be more appropriate to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate an attempt to corruptly obstruct justice by members of Congress who so obviously use their office to intimidate the deputy attorney general and to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

.. Their inexcusable acts include:

  • The caper by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in which he scurried over to the White House to review classified documents and then tried to push the fake “unmasking” scandal;
  • Nunes’s memo falsely stating that information about the Christopher Steele dossier’s origins was omitted from the Foreign Intelligence Security Court warrant application to conduct surveillance on suspected spy Carter Page;
  • The outing of a confidential intelligence source;
  • The badgering of Rosenstein for documents from an ongoing investigation and the bogus impeachment articles cooked up by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio);
  • False accusations against the FBI (e.g. accusing FBI officials of aiding Hillary Clinton in the campaign) that were discredited by the inspector general’s report; and
  • Refusal to obtain relevant documents (e.g. the blocked phone number that Donald Trump Jr. called in close proximity to the Russia meeting in June 2016).

.. Congressmen, Trump lawyers and White House aides conferring with intent to mislead investigators and the public, to disable the inquiry and/or to discredit law enforcement sounds an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Conversations or documents relating to that sort of conspiracy are in no way privileged.

.. Norman Eisen, Laurence Tribe and Caroline Frederickson wrote in February: “Endeavoring to stop an investigation, if done with corrupt intent, may constitute obstruction of justice. Plotting to assist such action may be conspiracy to obstruct justice. Normally, what is called ‘speech or debate immunity would provide a strong bulwark against any such liability for Mr. Nunes or his staff.” However, they argued, “Mr. Nunes and company may have ranged so far afield that those protections no longer apply. Under the clause, mere peripheral connection to legislative acts cannot serve as a fig leaf to shield criminal conduct.” They argued that if “a member or staff employee of the House Intelligence Committee engaged with the White House to stifle the special counsel inquiry, it would be difficult to see how such collaboration would be” protected by the speech or debate clause.

.. An investigation into Republican House members’ antics is critical if we want to hold them responsible for actions injurious to our criminal justice system. It is also necessary in order to uncover who if anyone they were colluding with on the White House side of the operation. Any White House official and/or lawyer — with or without the president’s knowledge — scheming to obstruct the investigation in concert with members of Congress needs to be investigated and held accountable.

.. Rather than simply play defense on behalf of Rosenstein and the Russian investigators, defenders of the rule of law need to go on offense, demanding Nunes, Meadows and Jordan come clean on their actions in support of a president trying to thwart a legitimate investigation. It all needs to come out.

At least six people close to Trump almost certainly knew about offers from Russians of dirt on Clinton

at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.

.. Torshin-Trump Jr. In May, a former member of the Russian parliament named Aleksandr Torshin made repeated efforts to contact Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son. He sent multiple emails hoping to set up a meeting with Trump Jr. when both were at a National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky. The two met briefly at a dinner associated with that event. It is not clear whether Torshin had any information to offer Trump Jr.

.. Agalarov-Veselnitskaya-Trump Jr.-Manafort-Kushner.

.. It is apparent that Agalarov and Trump Jr. almost certainly spoke on the phone multiple times before that meeting and that Trump Jr. informed both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort of what was being offered.

.. The question is whether any of those three also informed Trump. There is good reason to think he knew. The night that the meeting time was set up, following calls between Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner — and the day after Trump Jr. had a call with a blocked number before agreeing to the meeting — Trump told reporters, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

When that dirt did not materialize, the speech about Clinton the following Monday did not either.

.. Dvorkovich-Page.

.. This is noteworthy not only because of the connection between Page and a senior government official but because of what other reports suggest about Page’s time in Russia. Specifically, the controversial dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele includes a report from mid-July alleging that Page met with a Russian official who “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ ” — compromising material — “the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.”

.. WikiLeaks-Trump Jr. The following month, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks exchanged private messages on Twitter. None of those messages suggest Trump Jr. and the organization coordinated the released of information damaging to Clinton. But the exchange occurred shortly before WikiLeaks began releasing the emails stolen from Podesta in early October.

.. So we are confident the following people were offered or told about information allegedly incriminating Clinton:

  • George Papadopoulos
  • Roger Stone
  • Michael Caputo
  • Donald Trump Jr.
  • Jared Kushner
  • Paul Manafort

It is possible that the following other people knew about or received similar offers, too:

  • Stephen Miller
  • Carter Page
  • J.D. Gordon (if Page was offered dirt)
  • Donald Trump

Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”

The evidence doesn’t prove collusion. But it sure suggests it.

.. In Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted he wanted Trump to win — something Trump continues to deny to this day.

.. there were 82 known “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives.”

.. the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and Kremlin emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s “support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. gushed. When this was revealed last summer, President Trump personally orchestrated an attempted coverup by claiming the meeting was about adoptions.

This was shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing,” as he put it in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” — showing just how much he fears this inquiry.

.. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was in touch in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Campaign chairman

Paul Manafort, who has a long history of representing Russian interests and was running the campaign for no pay, also reportedly met with Kilimnik in 2016.

Manafort was also in contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (whom he owed at least $10 million) , offering him “private briefings” that would no doubt have been instantly conveyed to Putin.

.. Russians first tried to hack into Clinton’s email on July 27, 2016, hours after Trump asked them to do just that (“Russia, if you’re listening”).

.. Both Stone and Donald Trump Jr. were also in contact with WikiLeaks, the Russians’ conduit for releasing stolen emails. Surely it is no mere coincidence that Stone predicted on Aug. 21, 2016 — nearly seven weeks before Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails were released — that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

.. the indictment also reveals that the Russians stole not just emails but also the data analytics Democrats used to run their campaign. This happened in September 2016. A few weeks later, the Trump campaign shifted its “datadriven” strategy to focus on the states that would provide the margin of victory, raising the question of whether it benefited from stolen Democratic data.

.. The application, approved by four Republican judges, notes that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.” It also says that Putin aide Igor Diveykin “had met secretly with Page and that their agenda for the meeting included Diveykin raising

a dossier or ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin possessed on Candidate #2 [Clinton] and the possibility of it being released to Candidate #1’s campaign.”

.. Helsinki, where Trump refused to criticize Putin and insisted on meeting with him alone for two hours. Why doesn’t Trump want his own aides in the room when he talks with Putin? What does he have to hide?

.. Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. , among others, suspects that Putin has “something” on Trump — perhaps evidence of financial wrongdoing. But, by now, any such “kompromat” could well include the help that Russia provided in 2016. Trump certainly gives the impression that he knows how much he owes Russia and how important it is to repay that debt lest Putin release the evidence that might bring him down. And the

Putin Republicans give the impression that they couldn’t care less if the president plotted to win power with help from a hostile foreign state.

At least six people close to Trump almost certainly knew about offers from Russians of dirt on Clinton

Roger Stone, means that at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.

.. Papadopoulos sent an email to Trump adviser Stephen Miller the day after Mifsud reached out to him, telling Miller he had some “interesting messages” coming in from Moscow.

.. Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”

How Carter Page got tangled up in the Russian web

The sharpest rebuttal to Trump came from Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He told Fox News that after talking with intelligence officials about the probe, “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.”

.. the Kremlin can be very aggressive indeed in trying to cultivate Americans. This counterintelligence primer never seems to have been offered to members of the Trump campaign.

..  he had a “private conversation” with then-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. He also wrote in a July 8, 2016, email to two campaign staff members that he received “incredible insights and outreach” from senior Russian officials.

.. In 2013, Russian intelligence allegedly made a run at Page. The story is outlined in the 2015 indictment of three Russian intelligence officers, which includes a transcript of FBI surveillance of Victor Podobnyy, a Russian U.N. team member who was actually an intelligence officer

.. his plan was to “feed [Page] empty promises” and “get documents from him.”

.. Even Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee concluded in their final majority report that Page “was already a subject of interest for the FBI” when he became a Trump adviser in March 2016.

..Page is the type of susceptible and ambitious individual with impressionable views broadly aligned with the Russian government’s worldview who would be a prime target of the Russian intelligence services.

The Real Origination Story of the Trump-Russia Investigation

.. It turns out that, in “late spring” 2016, the FBI’s then-director James Comey briefed the principals of the National Security Council on “the Page information.” As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York observes in a perceptive column today, NSC principals are an administration’s highest-ranking national-security officials.

.. we know that Page, an Annapolis alumnus and former naval intelligence officer, is . . . well, he’s a knucklehead. He is a Russia apologist whose “discursive online blog postings about foreign policy,” Politico noted, “invoke the likes of Kanye West, Oprah Winfrey, and Rhonda Byrne’s self-help bestseller, ‘The Secret.’” More to the point, Page blames American provocations for bad relations with the Kremlin and advocates, instead, a policy of appeasing the Putin regime.

..  on March 21, 2016 — i.e., early spring — the Trump campaign announced the candidate’s foreign-policy advisory team. Trump had been spurned by the Republican foreign-policy clerisy and was under pressure to show that he had some advisers. So the campaign hastily put out a list of five little-known figures, including Page.

.. Another source of consternation: On March 29, just a few days after Page was announced as a foreign-policy adviser, Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign. Manafort and his partner, Richard Gates (who also joined the Trump campaign), had been on the FBI’s radar

..  the FBI had interviewed Carter Page in March 2016.

.. There are many different ways the Obama administration could have reacted to the news that Page and Manafort had joined the Trump campaign. It could have given the campaign a defensive briefing. It could have continued interviewing Page, with whom the FBI had longstanding lines of communication. It could have interviewed Manafort. It could have conducted a formal interview with George Papadopoulos rather than approaching him with a spy who asked him loaded questions about Russia’s possession of Democratic-party emails.

Instead of doing some or all of those things, the Obama administration chose to look at the Trump campaign as a likely co-conspirator of Russia — either because Obama officials inflated the flimsy evidence, or because they thought it could be an effective political attack on the opposition party’s likely candidate.

.. From the “late spring” on, every report of Trump-Russia ties, no matter how unlikely and uncorroborated, was presumed to be proof of a traitorous arrangement. And every detail that could be spun into Trump-campaign awareness of Russian hacking, no matter how tenuous, was viewed in the worst possible light

there are two basic flaws in version 2.0. First, Papadopoulos’s story is actually exculpatory of the Trump campaign: If Russia already had the emails and was alerting the Trump campaign to that fact, the campaign could not have been involved in the hacking. Second, there is confusion about exactly what Mifsud was referring to when he told Papadopoulos that the Russians had emails that could damage Clinton. Democrats suggest that Mifsud was referring to the Democratic National Committee emails. They need this to be true because (a) these are the emails that were hacked by Russian operatives, and (b) it was WikiLeaks’ publication of these hacked DNC emails in July 2016 that spurred the Aussies to report to their American counterparts about the encounter, two months earlier, between Papadopoulos and Downer

.. Papadopoulos maintains that he understood Mifsud to be talking about the 30,000-plus emails that Hillary Clinton had deleted from her homebrew server. That makes more sense — it was those emails that Donald Trump harped on throughout the campaign and that were in the news when Mifsud spoke with Papadopoulos in April 2016. While there are grounds for concern that Clinton’s emails were hacked, there is no proof that it happened; Clinton’s 30,000 emails are not the hacked DNC emails on which the “collusion” narrative is based.

.. longtime CIA source Stefan Halper, was run at Page by the FBI, in Britain. Because this happened just days after Page’s Moscow trip, the implication was that it was the Moscow trip itself, not the dossier claims about it, that provided momentum toward opening the investigation.

.. The real origination story begins in the early spring of 2016 — long before Page went to Russia and long before the U.S. government was notified about Papadopoulos’s boozy conversation with Downer.

Trump loves a strongman, so of course he fawns over Hungary’s Viktor Orban

How Washington pivoted from finger-wagging to appeasement.

Two important American visitors showed up in Budapest on Wednesday. One was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser who is an admirer of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orban; he addressed a conference on “Europe’s Future ” organized by Mária Schmidt, an Orban counselor with Bannon-esque ideas about maintaining a Christian culture in Europe. Bannon had called Orban “a man of principles” as well as “a real patriot and a real hero” earlier this year.
..  Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, the highest-ranking American official responsible for U.S. relations with Hungary. Mitchell came to usher in a new era of accommodation between the Trump administration and the Orban government.
.. this administration believes that offering high-level contacts and withholding criticism will improve an authoritarian regime’s behavior. For those who know Hungary’s politics, this is appeasement — the victory of hope over centuries of experience.
.. Orban’s odyssey began in 1998 when, during his first term as prime minister, he started to flirt with nationalistic, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments to try to win reelection in 2002.
.. When Istvan Csurka, the head of an anti-Semitic party, blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks (it got what it deserved, he said), the premier declined to dissociate himself from Csurka, despite a White House request to do so.
.. He has since managed to change the Hungarian constitution five times to reduce judicial independence, restrict press freedoms and modify the electoral system to ensure that no viable opposition could ever form against him and his coalition.
.. he still embraces anti-Semitism as a political tool, praising a Nazi-allied wartime leader of Hungary and using stereotypes to cast Jewish emigre George Soros as an outside puppeteer... the pro-government weekly Figyelo recently issued an enemies list of about 200 prominent opposition individuals. Most were local civil society advocates

.. Two Hungarian newspapers, Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon , shut down this spring as advertisers vanished because of their opposition to the Hungarian government, leaving only one print opposition daily.

.. on May 15, when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, received Jeno Megyesy, Orban’s chief adviser on the United States. (Megyesy was also the official point of contact for then-Trump aide Carter Page’s meetings in Budapest during the campaign.

.. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; although Szijjarto has visited Washington an eye-popping seven times in the past 18 months

.. What, if anything, is the United States getting from Hungary for this appeasement? The $12 billion Russian-financed and secretly signed Russian Paks II nuclear plant in southern Hungary is one reflection of Orban’s Russian orientation.

.. Hungary spends only 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest levels for NATO members, despite Trump’s insistence that nations step up their payments.

.. the policy of appeasement signifies abandonment

.. But the hour is late. Orban’s vision has gained considerable appeal throughout Europe.

.. In 2014, when he declared the end of the age of liberalism, he was seen as a pariah; today he is the leader of a xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-American trend that haunts Poland, Austria and Turkey.

..  His hostility to migration, particularly what he calls the “Islamic multitude” that “leads to the disintegration of nations,” is widely shared.

.. He is admired for having built the first wall in Europe — on the Hungarian-Serbian border — to stem the flow of migrants in 2015. (Paradoxically, Hungary used to be admired for tearing down the barrier between itself and Austria, precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall.)