Mueller braces for challenges to his authority

The special counsel has won some early court victories in the Russia investigation, but with charges filed defense attorneys and others are lining up to rein in the probe.

.. the criminal case against former Donald Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates speeds toward a possible spring 2018 trial
.. Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead attorney …. Downing also said he may try to prevent Mueller’s prosecutors from presenting some of their evidence during the criminal trial.

.. “’Distort, detract, deny’ is a common playbook for defense lawyers,” said Julie Myers Wood, a former Whitewater prosecutor. “And if the allegations are serious here, I wouldn’t expect the lawyers to sit back or withhold any tool in a quest to undermine the perception of Mueller’s legitimacy.”

.. Past independent counsel and special prosecutor cases are rife with legal battles that can come to rival the actual investigation. Michael Deaver, a former senior aide to President Ronald Reagan, tried without success to halt an independent counsel conflict-of-interest probe into his post-White House work by claiming the investigator held a grudge against him.
During the Iran-Contra probe, Lt. Col. Oliver North similarly failed to get the Supreme Court to consider his bid to block the investigation.
.. Trump himself told the New York Times in July that he would consider it “a violation” if Mueller’s investigators looked into his personal finances. And the president’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told POLITICO on Thursday he is primed to lodge formal objections with either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if the Russia investigation took a wide or unexpected detour into issues like an old Trump real-estate deal.
.. “Whenever you operate in uncharted legal territory, and this would be an example, you’d expect defense lawyers to push the envelope and edges
.. In a case like Manafort’s, Mueller may be wise to hand it over to DOJ for prosecution
.. But Rotunda also said a court is unlikely to give a defendant standing to object to Mueller’s jurisdiction. “The only entity that could object is the DOJ,” he said.
..  U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has proposed should go to trial starting May 7
.. Jackson also told the attorneys for Mueller and the defense that she’s considering issuing a gag order that limits the public statements both sides may make about the case.
.. Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last month in the special counsel’s favor when he tried to seek grand jury testimony from an attorney for Manafort and Gates.
.. Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor, said that he expected defense lawyers representing indicted defendants to keep on challenging Mueller’s authority and jurisdiction. “I would also expect such challenges to be unavailing,” he said, “as Mueller’s authority to act is on firm legal ground.”

Donald Trump’s Craven Republican Enablers

Authoritarian leaders in foreign countries seize and maintain power this way. And, despite his bungling start, this is the project that Donald Trump appears to have embarked upon. Since the end of January, he has appointed one of his closest political allies, Jeff Sessions, to run the Justice Department; fired an acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who had warned the White House that the national-security adviser was compromised; and axed forty-six U.S. Attorneys, one of whom, Preet Bharara, had jurisdiction over Trump’s business empire. Now the head of the F.B.I., James Comey, has been ousted, at a time when the agency is conducting an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government.

.. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader

.. claimed, falsely, that it was not Trump but Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who removed Comey. McConnell curtly dismissed calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, saying that such a move would “only serve to impede the current work being done” on Capitol Hill

.. He has long demonstrated an unwillingness to look beyond partisan concerns

.. Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump, who was then the Republican nominee. But since Election Day those words have turned out to be empty. “The President lost patience, and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself,” Ryan told Fox News on Wednesday evening. He also said, “It is entirely within the President’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did.”

.. After Trump won in November, they made a political deal with him. As long as he pursues their legislative agenda—gutting Obamacare and other government programs, axing regulations, cutting taxes on the wealthy—they are likely to stick with him under almost any circumstances, even as their pact gets ever more Faustian.

.. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, issued a statement that said, “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”

.. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who has criticized Trump on other matters, said, “I believe a fresh start will serve the F.B.I. and the nation well.”

.. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.”

.. It would be flattering Trump’s capacity for advance planning to claim that he has a blueprint for abrogating the Constitution and seizing more power. But throughout his career he has exhibited a willingness to push things as far as he can on an opportunistic basis, running roughshod over competitors, business partners, ordinary people, rules, and regulations. As the history of the high-pressure sales scam that was Trump University showed, he only backs off when he is forced to.

.. Trump’s willingness to say and do things that most people would shy away from because they are constrained by social norms, or ethics, helped carry him to where he is today. “He gets an idea in his head and just says, ‘Do it,’ “ Barbara Res, a former vice-president in the Trump Organization, told Politico’s Michael Kruse. Artie Nusbaum, one of the managers of the construction firm that built Trump Tower, said, “This is who he is. No morals, no nothing. He does what he does.” That is who the Republicans are enabling. Until they stop doing it, they will be complicit in the erosion of American democracy.

What Chris Paul and Steph Curry can teach us about President Trump

The best unified theory of Trump I’ve come across is by Sally Jenkins, the legendary Washington Post sports reporter and columnist. Here’s Sally’s explanation of Trump from a tweetlast week “An old sports strategy: foul so much in the 1st 5 min of the game that the refs can’t call them all. From then on, a more physical game.”

.. What Trump is doing by taking on so many controversial subjects so quickly is defining the landscape on which his presidency will be judged. He’s seeing how far he can stretch the system before it breaks and, in so doing, setting the outer limits of what he can do very, very far out.

.. What Trump is doing by taking on so many controversial subjects so quickly is defining the landscape on which his presidency will be judged. He’s seeing how far he can stretch the system before it breaks and, in so doing, setting the outer limits of what he can do very, very far out.

.. (One major difference with that basketball analogy: Paul can foul out of a game. It’s much harder for Trump to be taken off the court for his boundary-pushing.)

.. But if Jenkins is right — and I suspect she is — then that outrage, those protests, those skittish Republicans will all dissipate, or diminish, as Trump’s presidency goes on. What feels like line-pushing now will seem normal sometime soon. By pushing so hard so fast, Trump is redefining what he can do and how the political establishment, and the country at large, will react.

Donald Trump’s Made-for-TV Promises

Bombastic, vain and slippery, Mr. Trump played the same small-screen character he has offered the viewing public for years.

Presenting himself as the leader of “a movement like the world has never seen before,” he offered no olive branch to the majority of American voters who opposed him. He displayed only petulance and braggadocio in response to issues that dogged him during the campaign.

.. He emphasized that, in his view, he wasn’t legally required to do a thing, presenting his largely symbolic measures as a high-minded sacrifice to the public interest.

.. This leaves in place problematic deals Mr. Trump has with politically connected business people in India, the Philippines, Turkey and elsewhere. She did not explain how the ethics adviser would remain free of coercion, or escape firing if he or she rejected any agreements.