As part of the Russia inquiry, President Trump had given written answers to questions from Robert S. Mueller III.
House Democrats are exploring whether President Trump lied in his written answers to Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, a lawyer for the House told a federal appeals court on Monday, raising the prospect of an additional basis for an article of impeachment.
The acknowledgment refocused attention on a quiet debate among Democrats about whether any impeachment of Mr. Trump should go beyond the Ukraine affair and also accuse him of obstructing the Russia investigation. Additional evidence, hidden in grand jury files, that Mr. Trump may have lied under oath to Mr. Mueller could bolster the case for an additional article of impeachment, Democratic aides said.
The House lawyer’s statement was also striking because it came shortly after Mr. Trump said he may also be willing to provide written answers about the Ukraine matter to impeachment investigators.
“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.
His statement and the hearing, in a case over the House’s attempt to gain access to secret grand jury evidence gathered by Mr. Mueller, came as witnesses and lawmakers jostled for leverage before a new round of impeachment hearings scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine who will appear before lawmakers on Tuesday, planned to testify that he was out of the loop at key moments during Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine, according to an account of his prepared testimony.
Democrats conducting the inquiry added to their witness list an official at the American Embassy in Kyiv, David Holmes, who testified privately that he overheard Mr. Trump ask a top diplomat if Ukraine would move forward with investigations he sought. They also released transcripts of depositions by Mr. Holmes and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, that offered more details about the effort by Trump loyalists to pressure Ukraine for the investigations.
And House Republicans wrote to Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who attended the inauguration of Ukraine’s president this year, asking him to provide “any firsthand information you have about President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.”
But the court hearing heightened attention on House Democrats’ longstanding suspicions about Mr. Trump’s responses to questions in the Russia investigation.
The hearing centered on a Federal District Court’s ruling last month that the House should be given access to secret grand jury evidence from the Mueller investigation immediately, and whether enforcement of that ruling should be stayed while the Justice Department’s appeal is fully litigated.
Later on Monday, the appellate panel decided to keep a stay of the lower-court ruling in place “pending further order of the court,” while issuing an expedited briefing schedule with arguments set for Jan. 3.
If the judiciary keeps the stay in place — including for the likely appeals — House Democrats appear unlikely to receive the grand jury evidence before they decide whether to move forward with an impeachment vote.
Still, the argument underscored that they already have evidence calling into question the honesty of Mr. Trump’s responses from the Mueller report and the recently concluded trial of Mr. Trump’s longtime friend and informal adviser Roger J. Stone Jr.
Mr. Trump had refused to let the special counsel’s office interview him. But in his written responses, which were appended to the Mueller report, he denied that he was aware of any communications between his campaign and WikiLeaks.
House lawyers had suggested in a Sept. 30 filing that some of the materials they were seeking bore in on whether Mr. Trump lied about that subject. And on Monday, Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, told a federal appeals court panel that impeachment investigators had an “immense” need to swiftly see the grand jury evidence — redacted portions of the Mueller report, as well as the underlying testimony transcripts they came from.
“Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” Mr. Letter said, adding, “I believe the special counsel said the president had been untruthful in some of his answers.”
He was referring to congressional testimony in July when Mr. Mueller agreed with a lawmaker’s assertion that the president’s written responses “showed that he wasn’t always being truthful.”
Both the lawmaker in July and Mr. Letter on Monday were referring in particular to the question of whether Mr. Trump lied about his campaign’s advance knowledge of and contacts with WikiLeaks about its possession of hacked Democratic emails and plans to publish them.
Mr. Trump wrote that he was “not aware during the campaign of any communications” between “any one I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks” and people associated with his campaign. Mr. Stone was convicted last week of lying to congressional investigators about his efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks and his discussions with the campaign.
“I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him,” Mr. Trump also wrote of Mr. Stone, “nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.”
But the publicly available portions of the Mueller report suggest that evidence exists to the contrary. Several Trump aides, including Michael D. Cohen and Rick Gates, testified that they heard Mr. Trump discussing coming WikiLeaks releases over the phone.
And in October 2016 Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign chairman, wrote in an email that Mr. Stone had told the campaign “about potential future releases of damaging material” by WikiLeaks shortly before it began publishing more hacked emails.
Mr. Letter brought up redactions in the report associated with Mr. Stone and a redacted reference to an assertion by Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, to a grand jury.
“Manafort said that shortly after WikiLeaks’ July 22, 2016, released of hacked documents, he spoke to Trump [redacted]; Manafort recalled that Trump responded that Manafort should [redacted] keep Trump updated,” the Mueller report said, citing grand jury material as the reason for the redactions.
The report went on to suggest that House investigators may see Mr. Manafort’s grand jury testimony as potentially corroborating Mr. Gates’s account of Mr. Trump’s conversation with Mr. Stone about WikiLeaks.
“Deputy campaign manager Rick Gates said that Manafort was getting pressure about [redacted] information and that Manafort instructed Gates [redacted] status updates on upcoming releases,” the report said, citing an F.B.I. interview with Mr. Gates.
Mr. Letter told the court, “The Manafort situation shows so clearly that there is evidence, very sadly, that the president might have provided untruthful answers,” and added that it “might be part of an impeachment inquiry.”
The Mueller report cited additional evidence from Mr. Gates that Mr. Trump did have discussions about the content or timing of the future release of hacked emails.
For example, Mr. Gates also told investigators that about that same time, he was with Mr. Trump in a car to an airport when Mr. Trump received a call. After something that is redacted in the public version of the report, it recounts that after Mr. Trump hung up, he told Mr. Gates “that more releases of damaging information would be coming,” the report said.
Attorney General William P. Barr permitted the House Judiciary Committee to see most of the Mueller report, including portions that are redacted from the public version because they pertained to continuing cases, but he has refused to let it see material that is subject to secrecy rules because it was presented to a grand jury.
In July, House lawmakers petitioned the chief judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, Beryl A. Howell, for an order allowing them to gain access to that material too. Their court filings in that matter were the first time that the House formally pronounced itself engaged in an impeachment inquiry; there is precedent, including in Watergate, permitting the House to get grand jury information for impeachment proceedings.
Judge Howell ruled in October that the Judiciary Committee should be permitted to see the grand jury material in the report and its underlying basis. But the Justice Department appealed that ruling, arguing that the Watergate precedent was wrong and Congress had no right to see grand jury evidence even for impeachment purposes.
The appeals court panel includes Judge Neomi Rao, a former Trump White House official whom he recently appointed to the bench; Judge Judith W. Rogers, a 1994 appointee of President Bill Clinton; and Thomas B. Griffith, a 2005 appointee of President George W. Bush.
A bad day for the president, from Roger Stone’s criminal conviction to Marie Yovanovitch’s moral conviction.
When he was running in 2016, Donald Trump told me that he reminded himself of another presidential candidate — someone, Trump said, who was also tremendously good-looking, a former entertainer and a Democrat-turned-Republican.
The vainglorious Trump felt he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
It is true that, like Reagan, Trump has reshaped his party in his own image, fully inhabiting it. But Reagan’s great mission was to thwart the Evil Empire, taunting that he would put a Star Wars shield in the sky. He wanted democratic ideals to supersede authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union.
Trump’s more sinister and incomprehensible aim is to help the Russians whenever he can.
While Reagan’s legacy will be helping to tear down communism and that wall, Trump’s legacy will be turning Republican lawmakers into dupes assisting Russia as it undermines our democracy — and democracy around the world.
Privately, many Republicans say that they do not buy into all of Trump’s deeply disturbing, topsy-turvy policies toward authoritarian regimes. Trump began echoing the Kremlin talking points during his campaign, saying about Vladimir Putin’s Crimea annexation: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”
But G.O.P. pols go along publicly because they are recreants, slavishly trying to hold onto voters who are more intensely aligned with Trump than old-style Republicans.
Republicans may be winning the impeachment battle on Fox News but they are getting clobbered by the classy diplomats demonstrating true patriotism in the hearing room. Republican members of the Intelligence Committee risibly struggle to back up Trump on his demented conspiracy theory — belied by the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community — that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary, rather than Putin who meddled to help Trump.
Nancy Pelosi never spoke truer words than when she chided Trump, “With you, all roads lead to Putin.”
Reagan would be stunned to find Republican members of the House at war with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. — all to bolster Trump’s tender ego. Their preference seems to be to allow Russian meddling again if that’s what’s necessary for Trump to prevail a year from now.
Despite Republican efforts to throw up a smokescreen, despite their complaints that they are being muzzled even as they pose questions, it is clear that the president was putting his own political interests — looking for dirt on Hillary and the Bidens — above national security and using shady henchmen to do it.
It’s laughable that Donald Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Rather, the most corrupt president ever was determined to export his own corruption to Ukraine.
The longtime civil servants made clear that history in Ukraine is still being written, that soldiers are dying in the “hot war” between Russian and Ukraine and that subjugating U.S. policy to Trump’s petty, paranoid actions may yet deprive us of a valuable ally.
Alluding to Rudy Giuliani and his indicted cronies, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said: “Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign, corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”
Because Republicans are now dupes to dictators and sleazy foreign businessmen.
Republicans tried to minimize the former ambassador’s ordeal at the hands of her bosses, suggesting it was a matter for H.R. and noting that she now has a sweet gig at Georgetown University. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley sarcastically riposted that Yovanovitch getting ousted at the pinnacle of her career no doubt felt “like a Hallmark movie.”
Trump told Ukrainian President Zelensky that “the woman was bad news” and added ominously that “she’s going to go through some things.” In another call, Trump introduced his favorite subjects — beauty pageants and Eastern European beauties — telling Zelensky: “When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented.”
In an aria of oblivious self-destruction, the president further intimidated Yovanovitch just at the very moment that she was testifying about how she had felt intimidated by the president.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted, seemingly blaming her for Black Hawk Down. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”
In testimony Friday afternoon, another State Department aide said that he too overheard Trump on a call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland of the European Union pressing for investigations and that Trump was reassured by his man in Kiev that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do what it takes. Oh, high-level diplomacy.
Democrats know Moscow Mitch will squelch them in the end but hope they’ll get through to enough independents and suburban Republicans to deny Trump a second term.
No matter how many decent Americans come forward to expose his sordid behavior, will Trump be hauled out of the White House kicking and screaming while a celebratory Baby Trump balloon flies overhead?
The answer to that: Nyet.
Mr. Stone was found guilty of all seven counts against him, including five involving making false statements to Congress. Federal prosecutors made the case that Mr. Stone lied to Congress about his efforts to make contact with the organization WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating Thursday morning at a Washington D.C. courthouse after a one-week trial.
The witness tampering charge carries a stiff penalty, with Mr. Stone facing as much as 20 years in prison, although first-time offenders often get far less than the maximum penalty. The other charges carry a maximum of five years.
WikiLeaks published several troves of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of a Kremlin campaign to boost Mr. Trump at the expense of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded.
““Roger Stone had no intention of being truthful with the committee…he is just making stuff up,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis had told jurors, saying Mr. Stone did so to help Mr. Trump.
Mr. Stone is the sixth associate of Mr. Trump to be convicted on charges stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activity in the 2016 election.
Mr. Mueller’s report didn’t establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia. The Stone trial was one of the final loose ends from the Mueller investigation, which wrapped up in March.
Mr. Stone’s defense attorneys portrayed him as a serial exaggerator who was merely pretending to have inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to inflate his standing in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They offered no witnesses in Mr. Stone’s defense. They rested their case after playing a roughly hourlong clip of Mr. Stone’s testimony in front of Congress.
“There was no purpose for Mr. Stone to have to lie about anything to protect the campaign, when the campaign was doing nothing wrong,” Bruce Rogow told jurors in summing up the case. He also noted that Mr. Stone spoke to Congress after Mr. Trump was elected, so couldn’t have hurt Mr. Trump’s campaign.
Mr. Stone has been a Republican operative for decades, beginning in 1972 when he served as a junior staffer on President Nixon’s reelection campaign. He went on to work for Ronald Reagan in his presidential bid. When in New York organizing for the campaign in 1979, he was introduced to Mr. Trump by attorney Roy Cohn.
Mr. Stone registered as a lobbyist on behalf of the Trump Organization in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to public records. Around that time, he began counseling Mr. Trump on his political ambitions, and the two became friends.
Although Mr. Stone was sidelined from mainstream Republican politics following salacious revelations about his personal life in the mid-1990s, he continued to advise Mr. Trump for years, including helping to lead Mr. Trump’s aborted 2000 presidential campaign on the Reform Party ticket. He served on the Trump 2016 campaign when it started but severed ties in the summer of 2015.
Despite leaving his official role on the campaign, the two men remained in contact leading up to the 2016 election, according to testimony and phone logs introduced in court.
Witnesses testified that Mr. Stone relayed information about WikiLeaks’ plans directly to Mr. Trump and officials at the top of his campaign. Former campaign chairman Steve Bannon told jurors that the campaign considered Mr. Stone to be its “access point” to WikiLeaks, and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified that Mr. Stone spoke about forthcoming WikiLeaks releases as early as April of 2016.
Mr. Stone has denied speaking to Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks, and Mr. Trump told the special counsel’s office he didn’t recall discussing WikiLeaks with Mr. Stone, according to written responses he provided to Mr. Mueller’s office last year.
While prosecutors argued Mr. Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee and effectively obstructed their investigation by withholding the name of another witness—conservative activist Jerome Corsi—the trial didn’t resolve questions about whether Messrs. Stone and Corsi and Trump had inside information about WikiLeaks’ plans.
In July of 2016, Mr. Stone and Mr. Corsi exchanged emails as they scrambled to learn more about the material the organization planned to release.
Days later, Mr. Corsi responded that WikiLeaks planned “2 more dumps,” including one in October. “Time to let more than Podesta be exposed as in bed w enemy,” Mr. Corsi wrote, referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Soon thereafter, Mr. Stone began boasting privately and publicly about his contact with Mr. Assange. Then, on Aug. 21, Mr. Stone tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel” (sic). Weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from Mr. Podesta, roiling the presidential race.
Mr. Corsi said he merely “figured out” that WikiLeaks had Mr. Podesta’s emails by using publicly available information, and both Mr. Corsi and Mr. Stone have denied being in touch with Mr. Assange directly or indirectly. Mr. Stone has also maintained that his tweet was related to the lobbying activities of Mr. Podesta and his brother Tony.
Mr. Assange has denied being in communication with Mr. Stone.
Mr. Corsi publicly rejected a plea deal from Mueller’s team last year. He said that while he was “constantly amending testimony,” he never intentionally lied to prosecutors. He also acknowledged deleting emails in which he and Mr. Stone discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks, though he denied wrongdoing and was never prosecuted.
To shield Mr. Corsi from scrutiny in the congressional probe, Mr. Stone falsely told lawmakers that he only had one “backchannel” to WikiLeaks, naming radio personality Randy Credico, prosecutors said. They argued that Mr. Stone corruptly persuaded Mr. Credico to lie to the House committee and even avoid testifying.
The other Trump associates who have been convicted in connection with the Mueller investigation are: Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, convicted by a jury of financial crimes; Mr. Gates, former deputy chairman of the campaign, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and false statements; former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to false statements; former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to false statements, tax charges and campaign finance allegations; and George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying.
Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret White House taping system in Senate testimony. Trump once suggested that he may have covertly taped his conversations with Comey, though on Thursday he denied doing so. Nixon claimed the special prosecutor’s office was made up of political partisans out to get him, and Trump calls Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his staff “very bad and conflicted people.” Both presidents have also sharply criticized the press, calling it the “enemy.”
As if all these parallels are not enough, Trump’s surrogates have raised the possibility that he will fire Mueller, too. Presidential confidant and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told reporters earlier this month he believed Trump was considering the dismissal. Incredibly, longtime Trump supporter Roger Stone, who himself worked on Nixon’s reelection campaign, has loudly encouraged Trump to reprise the Saturday Night Massacre by firing Mueller. This despite the fact that Mueller—tapped to lead the FBI by George W. Bush in 2001 and selected by Trump’s own deputy attorney general to lead the Russia inquiry, has been on the job for only a month and is still hiring staff.
If Trump’s actions seem like a ham-fisted imitation of Nixon’s, they are no laughing matter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she is “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire Mueller, and send a message that he “believes the law doesn’t apply to him, and that anyone who believes otherwise will be fired”—a perhaps unintentional allusion to Nixon himself, who once said that when a president does something, “that means that it is not illegal.” The usual limits on presidential power must apply to Trump, Feinstein argued: “The Senate should not let that happen. We’re a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, a lesson the president would be wise to learn.”
The question is not whether Trump can fire Mueller—it is whether it would be a misuse of executive power for him to do so. Should Trump let Mueller go, it would spark a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen in four decades. The business of Congress would grind to a halt and the stock market would suffer a shock. With Comey’s dismissal as the backdrop, there could be an immediate resolution introduced in the House for Trump’s impeachment for attempting to obstruct a lawful, ongoing criminal investigation.
Rod Rosenstein, in his role as acting attorney general, followed the law in appointing Mueller to be special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” and related matters. It should be remembered that Nixon was named by the Watergate grand jury as an unindicted co-conspirator in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and that the House Judiciary Committee cited his interference with Cox’s investigation among the grounds for voting in favor of impeachment. And only former President Gerald Ford’s pardon precluded an indictment of citizen Nixon for obstruction.
In Watergate, there were several Republicans in both houses who are remembered for putting country above party loyalty. The die-hards who stood with Nixon until the end—not so much. If Trump were to fire Mueller to cut off a full investigation, it would fall to congressional Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, to determine whether the United States continues to be a nation of laws. Americans would see whether a new
- Howard Baker,
- Lowell Weicker,
- Tom Railsback,
- Bill Cohen,
- Caldwell Butler, or
- Hamilton Fish
would step forward and join with Democrats, who would no doubt sponsor an impeachment resolution. Or would GOP lawmakers simply go along with a foolhardy reenactment of the Watergate scandal’s Saturday Night Massacre?