The hype of Trump’s Ukraine call
Robert Mueller has operated for 19 months as a law unto himself, reminding us of the awesome and destructive powers of special counsels. About the only possible check on Mr. Mueller is a judge who is wise to the tricks of prosecutors and investigators. Good news: That’s what we got this week.
.. The agents (including the infamous Peter Strzok) showed up within two hours. They had already decided not to inform Mr. Flynn that they had transcripts of his conversations or give him the standard warning against lying to the FBI. They wanted him “relaxed” and “unguarded.” Former Director James Comey this weekend bragged on MSNBC that he would never have “gotten away” with such a move in a more “organized” administration... The investigator’s report found prosecutors had engaged in deliberate and repeated ethical violations, withholding key evidence from the defense. It also excoriated the FBI for failing to write up 302s and for omitting key facts from those it did write. The head of the FBI was Mr. Mueller... Judge Sullivan has since made it his practice to begin every case with a Brady order, which reminds prosecutors of their constitutional obligation to provide the defense with any exculpatory evidence. On Dec. 12, 2017, days after being assigned the Flynn case, Judge Sullivan issued such an order, instructing Mr. Mueller’s team to turn over “any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.” Had any other judge drawn the case, we likely would never have seen these details of the FBI’s behavior.
It’s clear that something has concerned the judge—who likely sees obvious parallels to the Stevens case. The media was predicting a quick ruling in the Flynn case. Instead, Judge Sullivan issued new orders Wednesday, demanding to see for himself the McCabe memo and the Flynn 302. He also ordered the special counsel to hand over by Friday any other documents relevant to the Flynn-FBI meeting.
.. Given his history with the FBI, the judge may also have some questions about the curious date on the Flynn 302—Aug. 22, 2017, seven months after the interview. Texts from Mr. Strzok and testimony from Mr. Comey both suggest the 302 was written long before then. Was the 302 edited in the interim? If so, by whom, and at whose direction? FBI officials initially testified to Congress that the agents did not think Mr. Flynn had lied.
The Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS to compile a dossier against Mr. Trump, a document that became the basis of the Russia narrative Mr. Mueller now investigates. But the campaign funneled the money to law firm Perkins Coie, which in turn paid Fusion. The campaign falsely described the money as payment for “legal services.” The Democratic National Committee did the same. A Perkins Coie spokesperson has claimed that neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the research, and maybe so. But a lot of lawyers here seemed to have been ignoring a clear statute, presumably with the intent of influencing an election
.. But under this standard, where are the charges against the principals of Fusion GPS, who Sen. Chuck Grassley has said look to have been lobbying on behalf of powerful Russians against a U.S. sanctions law, with its payment again funneled through a law firm? This was a sideline to its dossier work, but Mr. Mueller usually has no issue with sideline charges.
.. Or what about an evenhanded look at dossier author Christopher Steele ? FARA also requires foreigners to register if they act on behalf of a foreign principal. Recently disclosed emails from senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr show the British Mr. Steele pleading the case to the Justice Department on behalf of a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
Of the seven U.S. citizens Mr. Mueller has charged, five have been accused of (among other things) making false statements to federal officials. But there have been no charges against the partisans who made repeated abjectly false claims to the FBI and Justice Department about actions of their political opponents. There have been no charges against those who leaked classified information, including the unprecedented release of an unmasked n between former national security adviser Mike Flynn and a Russian ambassador. Nothing.
Some of these charges might not stand up in court, but that’s beside the point. Plenty of lawyers would poke holes in the campaign-finance charges against Cohen, or the “lying” charges against Mr. Flynn. Special counsels wield immense power; the mere threat of a charge provokes plea deals. It’s the focus that matters.
Prosecutors can claim all they want that they are applying the law equally, but if they only apply it to half the suspects, justice is not served. Mr. Mueller seems blind to the national need for—the basic expectation of—a thorough look into all parties. That omission is fundamentally undermining any legitimacy in his findings. Lady Justice does not wear a blindfold over only one eye.
Trump has a solid record, but he’s too busy making noise to tout it.
If a tree falls in a noisy circus, does it make a sound? If the Trump administration announces its largest deregulatory effort to date while the president is in the throes of a Twitter rampage, will anybody pay attention?
No, and thereon may hang the balance of Republican congressional control. It’s never clear where Donald Trump gets political advice, if he does at all. What is clear is that this White House is doing an able job of whiffing one of the best political messages in decades, a reality that is demoralizing administration insiders and GOP candidates alike.
.. The Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department released a plan—announced on the website of these pages—to ax the Obama administration’s car-emissions standards, saving consumers $500 billion. Dollarwise, it may be the biggest deregulation ever.
.. The Treasury has recommended rescinding the “payday lending” rule, which threatened to cut off the poorest Americans from viable credit.
.. The Internal Revenue Service lifted a political threat to nonprofits by allowing them to shield the names of their donors.
.. The Department of Health and Human Services finalized its rule allowing more non-ObamaCare insurance options to millions of Americans. The Senate sent a $717 billion defense authorization bill to the White House, increasing active-duty strength and providing troops their largest pay raise in nine years. The Senate also confirmed the 24th Trump circuit-court judge.
.. The Labor Department released new numbers showing worker compensation increased 2.8% year over year, the fastest pace in a decade
.. Republicans have long known they don’t get a fair hearing from the press, which is why they shifted to talk radio and other alternative media. Mr. Trump understands that better than most—thus his heavy use of Twitter, live rallies and press conferences.
.. The president is certainly focused on his base, though with an eye to whipping them up with rallies focused primarily on the polarizing issues of trade and immigration. His tweets revolve around the same issues—those and Mr. Mueller—and are often defensive or whiny.
.. If Mr. Trump makes those centrists believe this election is about family separation, Republicans lose. If he refocuses it on voters’ newly thriving prospects, Republicans have a shot.
.. One remarkable aspect of the Trump administration is its productivity. The cabinet set a pace of reform in its openings weeks that has never lagged. If Mr. Trump isn’t going to spend every day embracing, elevating and making this product of his own presidency the dominant discussion, then no one will. The press isn’t going to do it. Democrats sure aren’t. And no other Republican has that megaphone.
Team McCaskill is already employing the Democratic Party’s go-to tactic this midterm: character assassination. There’s not much else. The economy is humming, the party’s centrist and liberal wings are fighting, and the drumbeat of impending Trump doom isn’t finding much accompaniment. So in Missouri as elsewhere, candidates are reverting to personal attacks. But the McCaskill forces are piling on a guy who isn’t even running.
.. Indeed, they are attacking a private citizen and donor, David Humphreys. Back in March, Chuck Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC began plowing millions into attacks on the businessman, who donated to Mr. Hawley’s campaign for attorney general. The pattern is the same: An ad makes a malicious accusation against Mr. Humphreys, then sidles over to tar Mr. Hawley with guilt by association. Just how invested are they in this strategy? Since airing their first spot, 70% of Democratic ads—amounting to $4.7 million—have been focused on Mr. Humphreys... Mr. Humphreys is a long and active participant in Missouri civic life. He’s been a major backer of judicial reform, so the trial bar loathes him. He pushed hard for the state’s recently enacted right-to-work law, so unions loathe him. He sits on the boards of the free-market Cato and Acton institutes, so liberals in general loathe him... A liberal organization, Campaign for Accountability, sought to keep the affair in the news by filing an official complaint with a federal prosecutor in Missouri. It may now wish it hadn’t. Mr. Humphreys’s attorney recently got a letter from U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison, stating that his office had followed protocol and referred the issue to the FBI, which determined that “there was no basis for further inquiry.”.. That won’t stop the attacks because they serve a greater purpose. Beyond the smears against Messrs. Hawley and Humphreys, such ads are a warning to other donors. Don’t get involved, or your reputations and businesses will be next... Intimidation and threats, leveled against private citizens, are now standard liberal practice... It isn’t about transparency in the public interest; it’s about identifying new political targets.
.. there’s something Fusion cares about keeping secret even more than the Clinton-DNC news—and that something is in those bank records.
.. If the House wins, don’t be surprised if those records include money connected to Russians. In the past Fusion has worked with Russians, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who happened to show up last year in Donald Trump Jr.’s office.
.. We may learn the FBI knew the dossier was a bought-and-paid-for product of Candidate Clinton, but used it anyway. Or that it didn’t know, which would be equally disturbing.
.. And the more ugly info that came out (Fusion, Democratic clients, intelligence-for-hire) the more former Obama officials seemed skeptical of it. In May, former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper said his people could never “corroborate” its “sourcing.” In June, Mr. Comey derided it as “salacious and unverified.”
.. it is highly unusual for a law firm to pay bills without a client’s approval. Somewhere, Perkins Coie has documents showing who signed off on those bills, and they aren’t protected by attorney-client privilege.
.. If the Steele dossier reports (which appear to date back to June 2016) were making their way into the hands of senior DNC and Clinton political operatives, you can bet they were making their way to the Obama White House. This may explain why Obama political appointees began monitoring the Trump campaign and abusing unmasking. They were looking for a “gotcha,” something to disqualify a Trump presidency. Of course, they were doing so on the basis of “salacious and unverified” accusations made by anonymous Russians, but never mind.
The president is stocking the courts with a class of brilliant young textualists bearing little relation to even their Reagan or Bush predecessors. Mr. Trump’s nastygrams to Bob Corker will be a distant memory next week. Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s influence on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could still be going strong 40 years from now.
.. Mr. Trump has now nominated nearly 60 judges, filling more vacancies than Barack Obama did in his entire first year. There are another 160 court openings, allowing Mr. Trump to flip or further consolidate conservative majorities on the circuit courts that have the final say on 99% of federal legal disputes.
.. Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to blow up the filibuster for judicial nominees has freed the Trump White House from having to worry about a Democratic veto during confirmation. Mr. McGahn’s team (loaded with former Clarence Thomas clerks) has carte blanche to work with outside groups like the Federalist Society to tap the most conservative judges.
.. The result has been a band of young rock stars and Scalia-style textualists like Ms. Barrett, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras.
.. Because Mr. Trump’s picks have largely spent their careers focused on administrative law and constitutional questions, few have gotten bogged down by controversial cultural rulings. They do have paper trails, but mostly on serious and technical issues. This helps reassure Republicans even as it deprives Democrats of the fodder they’d need to stage dramatic opposition.
.. Conservatives praised Mr. McConnell last year for refusing to consider Judge Merrick Garland, whom Mr. Obama had nominated to the Supreme Court. Less well known is the sheer number of federal judgeships Mr. McConnell sat on as the Obama administration wound down. Mr. Trump took office with 107 lower-court vacancies
.. The Trump judicial reset was never guaranteed. Mr. McConnell just happens to have a steely passion for remaking the judiciary. Previous majority leaders Trent Lott (best friends with trial lawyers) and Bill Frist (nice, nice) would never have gotten Justice Gorsuch confirmed. Those guys were the “establishment.”
.. Mr. Trump will keep baiting the media with shiny objects. In the background, government is being redone.