Purported hackers obtained and leaked confidential information about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as part of a pro-Russian disinformation campaign that appeared to be aimed at discrediting the inquiry, Mr. Mueller’s office disclosed Wednesday.
Mr. Mueller’s office had turned over the documents to a Russian firm fighting federal charges, Concord Management & Consulting LLC, as part of the disclosure process ahead of a trial.
.. This month, Concord’s attorneys criticized the judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, in an unusual filing saying she had created an appearance of bias in favor of the government. That came after Judge Friedrich, appointed to the bench by Mr. Trump, told Concord lawyer Eric Dubelier that he was engaging in unprofessional behavior in his attacks on Mr. Mueller’s team and told him to “knock it off.”
.. The Wednesday filing came in response to request by Concord to share documents with colleagues in Russia, including one of the indicted defendants, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and known as the Kremlin’s favorite restaurateur.
By the bureau’s Trump standard, he looked like an agent of Iran.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly opened a counterintelligence investigation in 2017 to find out if President Trump was a Russian agent. What if the FBI had similarly looked into whether President Obama was an agent of Iran?
Counterintelligence agents would have examined the target’s personal and professional networks. The FBI investigated at least four Trump campaign figures for supposed ties to Russia. Only one, Mike Flynn, worked in the administration, and for less than a month. The Obama administration had a few senior officials with personal ties to Iran.
Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett was born in the Iranian city of Shiraz and reportedly led back-channel talks with the Iranians in 2012. Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter quashed right-wing rumors that her Iranian-American husband’s best man was the son of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But under the FBI’s Trump procedures, that denial might have made her suspect. A month after Trump adviser Carter Page publicly asked then-Director James Comey for an interview to clear his name, the FBI obtained a warrant to wiretap him.
As Mr. Trump’s desire for improved relations with Russia raised eyebrows at the bureau, a 2008 article written by John Brennan—who went on to serve as White House counterterrorism adviser and Central Intelligence Agency director—advocated a grand bargain with Iran. In 2009 the Obama White House conducted secret negotiations with Tehran.
Mr. Obama later sidelined Project Cassandra, an investigation of illicit trafficking networks employed by Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese franchise. Launched in 2008, the investigation was run by a multiagency task force, including the FBI itself. Then for 18 months in 2014-15, the Obama White House gave the Iranians $700 million a month in sanctions relief. In January 2016, Mr. Obama sent Iran another $1.7 billion in cash. The administration also had a habit of leaking news of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys and depots in Syria.
All these Obama actions are easily explained: Inducing Iran to sign a nuclear agreement was the former president’s top foreign-policy priority. I believe this pro-Iran policy was disastrous. But it wasn’t collusion or treason or any of the other crimes of which Democrats and their media allies have accused Mr. Trump.
The FBI’s suspicions about Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin were reportedly piqued by, among other things, a May 2017 television interview in which he said he fired Mr. Comey for the “Russia thing.” He’s also staged a series of brazenly public events where he professed his hopes of warmer ties with Vladimir Putin. Like Mr. Obama’s pro-Iran policies, Mr. Trump’s hope for better relations with Russia was anything but clandestine.
Yet critics of the Russia investigations are wrong to suggest the attacks on the president and his associates reflect the increasing tendency to criminalize policy differences . It has nothing to do with policy, for Mr. Trump’s Russia policy has been as hard-line as that of any post-Cold War administration, including Mr. Obama’s. The FBI’s motive for investigating Mr. Trump looks more like pure politics.
Throughout Thursday’s Senate hearing on Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual-misconduct allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee claimed that they had tried in vain to secure more information about other accusations made about the judge. “We were moving heaven and earth and even moving the schedule to get to the truth,” Senator Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, said.
Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, the chairman of the committee, said, about an allegation of sexual misconduct raised last week by a former college classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Deborah Ramirez, “My staff made eight requests—yes, eight requests—for evidence from attorneys for Ms. . . . Ms. Ramirez.” He added, “The committee can’t do an investigation if attorneys are stonewalling.”
.. On Wednesday, several conservative-media outlets published leaks of some of the e-mail correspondence between Ramirez’s team and Republican committee staffers, which appeared to back up Grassley’s characterization. But a fuller copy of the e-mail correspondence between Ramirez’s legal team and Republican and Democratic Senate staffers shows that a Republican aide declined to proceed with telephone calls and instead repeatedly demanded that Ramirez produce additional evidence in written form.
.. Clune proposed a phone call several times, Davis repeatedly insisted that Clune answer two questions: Did Ramirez possess evidence in addition to what was in the New Yorker article? And was she willing to provide testimony to the committee’s investigators?
.. “As you’re aware, Ms. Ramirez’s counsel have repeatedly requested to speak with the Committee, on a bipartisan basis, to determine how to proceed. You refused. I’ve never encountered an instance where the Committee has refused even to speak with an individual or counsel. I am perplexed as to why this is happening here, except that it seems designed to ensure that the Majority can falsely claim that Ms. Ramirez and her lawyers refused to cooperate. That simply is not true.”
.. “Almost immediately in our correspondence, they became less interested in hearing from her and more interested in discovering what witnesses we could bring forward. Since it was only the majority staff that made these demands, as the minority staff questioned those demands as unprecedented, we became suspicious that any disclosures we might file would be shared inappropriately with Judge Kavanaugh or others to prepare and attack Debbie’s account,”
.. Since Debbie’s interest was in an F.B.I. investigation where Judge Kavanaugh could be questioned under oath, we didn’t feel comfortable releasing this information without their assurances. We continued to attempt to negotiate in good faith by submitting a lengthier letter providing more information as well as Debbie’s request for investigation.
.. It is remarkable that the committee admits they had enough information to question Judge Kavanaugh under oath on Debbie’s statements in The New Yorker, yet that very same information was insufficient for Debbie’s counsel to earn even a phone call.”
.. “The imposition of aggressive and artificial deadlines regarding the date and conditions of any hearing has created tremendous and unwarranted anxiety and stress on Dr. Ford.”
.. “many aspects” of the terms under which she would testify “are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process.”
The only way to clear up this messy saga is for Trump to immediately declassify all documents — without redactions — relating to the Mueller investigation, the FISA court warrants, the Clinton email investigation, and CIA and FBI involvement with the dossier and the use of informants.
Second, there needs to be another special counsel to investigate wrongdoing on the part of senior officials in these now nearly discredited agencies. The mandate should be to discover whether there was serial conflict of interest, chronic lying to federal officials, obstruction of justice, improper unmasking and leaking, misleading of federal courts, and violation of campaign-finance laws.
Once, in his days as New York’s chief federal prosecutor and later as the city’s mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani was a master of releasing damaging leaks aimed at the kneecaps of opponents. Sometimes, they were true.
.. witnesses told the inspector general that a fear of leaks from within the F.B.I. drove the agency’s former director, James Comey, to break with established policy against opening or discussing investigations in the run-up to an election.
.. The former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, told investigators that Mr. Comey “said, ‘It’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton.’ And he said, ‘It is deep.’”
.. Mr. Comey said he found it “stunning,” Ms. Lynch told the investigators. She replied to him: “I’m just troubled that this issue — meaning the, the New York agent issue and leaks — I am just troubled that this issue has put us where we are today with respect to this laptop.”
.. On Oct. 25, 2016, three days before Mr. Comey’s stunning announcement, Mr. Giuliani appeared on a Fox morning television show.
“We got a couple of surprises left,” Mr. Giuliani said.
He chortled, and when asked to expand on the subject, replied, “And I think it’ll be enormously effective.”
On Thursday, Oct. 27, Mr. Giuliani appeared on another Fox show and said he was talking about “pretty big surprises.” He added, “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this thing around.”
The news of the reactivated email inspection arrived the following day
.. Upon inspection by the F.B.I., the emails on the laptop turned out to be much ado about hardly anything — many of them had already been reviewed, and the authorities decided they did not warrant changing the conclusion
.. In interviews this week, including on Fox, Mr. Giuliani said that the “surprise” he was talking about in 2016 had nothing to do with the email investigation, but was a speech that Mr. Trump was going to give right before the election blasting Mrs. Clinton.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone, Mr. Giuliani included, would have classified a Trump campaign speech as a “pretty big surprise.”
.. On the day of Mr. Comey’s announcement in 2016, Mr. Giuliani was so pleased that he blurted out a description of his sources for inside information on the email case.
“The other rumor that I get is that there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the F.B.I. about the original conclusion being completely unjustified, and almost a slap in the face of the F.B.I.’s integrity,” Mr. Giuliani said in a radio interview with Lars Larson, the conservative talk show host.
“I know that from former agents. I know that even from” — Mr. Giuliani paused, then continued — “a few active agents who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.”
.. And now Mr. Giuliani is telling a new version. All his predictions were just speculation by retired agents, he said on Fox Business recently.
“We knew just by instinct,” he said, “that the New York office was enraged.”
“Nothing he has been doing in the last four to six weeks with his multiple television appearances advances the interests of his client in the California action,” said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in ethics. “He’s catapulted himself to be the story. There are dangers when a lawyer becomes so publicly vocal.”
Gillers described Avenatti’s media presence as highly unusual for an American lawyer, not only because of his frequent television appearances but also because his arguments are more sweeping than his client’s narrow complaint. “I really cannot think of an equivalent,” he said.
.. Last week, Cohen said that because Avenatti published his private banking transactions, he should not be permitted to represent Daniels in a federal court in New York. Daniels is seeking to intervene in the case
.. “He comes across as consistent and credible and single-minded in his concern for his client’s interest.”
.. Mark Penn, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, last week asked in the Hill publication whether Avenatti is truly representing his client as a lawyer or “just using her as cover to wage a political operation.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked the same question on her show, all but accusing Avenatti of acting as a Democratic operative.
.. Perhaps his most unorthodox move involved the decision to publicize the details of Cohen’s banking transactions. Under the old rules of Washington, a lawyer might have leaked that sensitive information to a trusted journalist who would vet it and publish it, perhaps in a way that could not be traced to the lawyer.
But this is the Trump era. Avenatti turned to Twitter.
.. Cohen’s lawyers noted in their court filing, the dossier contained mistakes, including several transactions by other Michael Cohens. That meant Avenatti had publicized details about the banking histories of people who had nothing to do with Daniels.
.. Not unlike Trump, Avenatti is loath to apologize.
.. He has declined to identify the source of his information. The Treasury Department inspector general is investigating whether the confidential Suspicious Activity Reports that banks submit to the federal government were leaked.
.. Unlike journalists, he said, lawyers may not use or disclose documents that they know were illegally obtained even if the lawyer does nothing unlawful to get them.
.. While in college and later in law school, Avenatti spent five years working for a political consulting firm run by Rahm Emanuel
.. After law school, Avenatti worked for lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, who had represented the family of victim Ron Goldman in the O.J. Simpson case
the taxonomy of White House leakage is a worthy study. A surprising number of leaks are the result of simple vanity — the desire to appear in the know. Other leakers are trying to embarrass or sabotage a rival. Some leaks result from deviousness — the attempt to box the president in on a policy matter.
.. A president pulled into an investigation of improper ties to Russia might be expected to distance himself from disturbing Russian behavior. Such public criticisms are an easy and cheap form of damage control. But at every stage, Trump has been dragged kicking and screaming into the pursuit of self-interest... Ronald Reagan’s diplomatic engagement of the Soviet Union did not translate into fawning subservience toward a dictator. Such self-abasement actually emboldens dictators. And it is rich for Trump to accuse other presidents of lacking “smarts” about U.S.-Russian relations in the course of a foreign policy explanation at the length and level of a fortune-cookie saying... It says something that the most innocent explanation for Trump’s attitude toward Putin is authoritarian envy. Trump seems to admire the strength and efficiency of personal rule. “At least he’s a leader,” Trump once said of Putin.. A Trump adviser once leaked to The Post: “Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and Putin.”