The Hill’s Morning Report: Where the Mueller probe stands
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report, and TGIF! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features the first sit-down television interview with Carla Provost, appointed on Thursday as the first female chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. http://thehill.com/hilltv
Prosecutors are expected to finish making their case against President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort by the end of the day today. The defense will then call its witnesses. The trial could be sent to a jury for deliberation soon.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 charges of tax and bank fraud, dating to a period before he signed on to help the Trump campaign with GOP delegates.
Most political watchers believed the case presented against Manafort was air tight, but it has also been a challenge for special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of lawyers. The trial is an off-shoot of the Russia probe but the special counsel has alleged no crimes by Manafort tied to Trump or the 2016 presidential campaign that Manafort managed.
From his Alexandria, Va., courtroom, federal Judge T.S. Ellis III questioned the prosecutors’ approach even before the trial got underway, noting that the indictments against Manafort are separate from the special counsel’s charge from the Justice Department to investigate evidence of U.S. election interference by Russia.
Ellis also instructed prosecutors to stop using the term “oligarchs” to refer to Russian businessmen, calling it a loaded word.
Meanwhile, Manafort’s attorneys raised questions about the credibility of Mueller’s star witness, Richard Gates, who was once Manafort’s protégé. They cast Gates as a liar who had been unfaithful to his wife, untruthful with the special counsel and embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort’s firm.
Gates, who also worked on the Trump campaign, has been cooperating with the special counsel, hoping to get a reduced sentence. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud and lying to the FBI.
Still, Gates and others produced potentially damning testimony about how Manafort laundered millions of dollars through foreign bank accounts and falsified tax and loan documents.
Once this trial concludes, Manafort faces another one in September in Washington, D.C., alongside his former business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. They are accused of illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine and ally of Russia.
Those charges also precede Manafort’s three-month stint with the Trump campaign. Manafort and Kilimnik also face obstruction of justice and related charges.
Here’s a rundown of where the Mueller probe stands as we approach the 15-month mark. Everything we know has come from the grand jury indictments and media reports. Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation, know much, much more…
Who has been charged with a crime?
- 12 Russian military operatives have been charged with the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
- 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups are charged with interfering in the 2016 U.S. election by creating fake online personas and stealing identities of U.S. citizens to set up bank accounts to fund their activities. Richard Pinedo of California pleaded guilty to selling bank accounts to the indicted Russians in an effort to hide the activity. These charges relate to the Russian troll farm that used social media to sow divisions among Americans.
- Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He is cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
- Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
- Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney, is so far the only person to serve jail time in connection with the probe. He served 30 days earlier this year after pleading guilty to lying to investigators.
Who is still at risk?
- The special counsel has referred Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Cohen is reportedly being investigated for bank and tax fraud.
- The special counsel has also transferred inquiries on three other individuals — Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig — to the SDNY to investigate whether they properly registered as foreign agents for their lobbying work.
- Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone has said he thinks Mueller will get him for something. Stone’s interactions with WikiLeaks, which published the hacked DNC emails, could be a focus.
- Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has been dogged by the revelation he met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, after the lawyer contacted him with the promise of damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The meeting reportedly focused on a U.S. law sanctioning Russia, but the president recently defended the receipt of opposition research about his election opponent as legal and common in politics, although he maintains he did not know about the meeting in advance.
- The heat appears to have lifted from Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has cooperated with investigators. Kushner was instrumental in overseeing the campaign’s data operations. It’s unlikely he will clear the clouds of scrutiny until the Mueller probe wraps.
Where does the president fit in?
Mueller wants to interview Trump, and the president has been all over the map about whether that’s a good idea. A sit-down without a subpoena would likely signal the investigation has neared completion, at least in some lines of inquiry, but negotiations over the scope of questioning appear to be at an impasse.
Trump’s attorneys want to shield the president from offering answers about possible obstruction of justice, such as his motivations for firing former FBI Director James Comey. (Comey’s version is that Trump asked him to go easy with the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, who was then a West Wing adviser.)
If Trump declines an interview, any effort to compel the president’s cooperation would be a dramatic escalation. The president’s legal team says it would challenge a subpoena in court.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are pressuring Mueller to end the investigation by September to avert any conflict with midterm elections in November. There is little chance that will happen.
Links from around the web…
> GOP chairman readies Steele dossier subpoenas (The Hill).
> Why Trump really wants his Mueller interview (Politico).
> Mueller request signals Gates may be cooperating beyond Manafort probe (CNN).
> Jon A. Sale: Mueller is not entitled to an interview with Trump and the president shouldn’t give him one.
LEADING THE DAY
CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: There are still two unresolved contests from Tuesday’s primary and special elections.
In the GOP primary for governor in Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s lead over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer dwindled after election officials discovered a mistake in the tally.
As secretary of State, Kobach oversees the vote counting. The governor called on him to step aside, and Kobach said late on Thursday during an interview with CNN that he would remove himself from the tally process while the Republican primary outcome hangs in the balance, The Associated Press reports.
Kansas is still counting absentee and provisional ballots and the race remains too close to call. The state has until Aug. 20 to finish.
Trump is backing Kobach in the race, but Republicans are worried that he’ll be a target-rich general election candidate and potentially cost the GOP the governor’s mansion in the fall.
Meanwhile, the House special election in Ohio’s 12th District is also still too close to call, although Republican Troy Balderson is expected to hold on to the solidly Republican district that has been in GOP hands for the past 35 years.
Balderson leads Democrat Danny O’Connor by just over 1,000 votes, or less than 1 percent. The state is still counting absentee and provisional ballots. If the margin shrinks to half a percentage point it would trigger an automatic recount.
Either way, Republicans don’t think the race should have been this close and are panicking over what it means for their election prospects in November.
There was plenty more bad news for them on that front on Thursday:
> The Cook Political Report writes that Democrats have overperformed by 8 points in nine special elections this cycle. If that trend holds nationwide on Nov. 6, Democrats would pick up 81 seats – well more than the 23 needed to flip the House.
> The indictment of Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) on charges related to insider trading has raised Democratic hopes that they can steal a seat in a deep red district (The Hill).
> Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is running away with his Senate race, leading Republican Corey Stewart by 23 points (The Richmond Times Dispatch).
Yet, Democrats have plenty of anxieties, too …
The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports on the grumbling from Democrats that former President Obama’s entrance into the 2018 midterm elections is too little, too late (The Hill).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is causing jitters in her party as at least 27 Democratic House candidates have declined to say whether they would support her as their leader next year, reports The Washington Post.
Alan Dershowitz: How liberals hard tack to the left helps Trump.
More from the campaign trail … Equity Forward Action is putting six figures behind a new ad calling on Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) to confront the Trump administration over its “zero tolerance” policy at the border (YouTube) … Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox will face-off for governor of California but neither candidate is focused on how the other would lead the state (The Los Angeles Times) … Californian Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels and ubiquitous television presence, is in Iowa exploring a potential run for president (The Des Moines Register).
And more politics coverage … GOP super PAC expands field program to 40 districts (The Hill) … Why are Democratic mega-donors Tom Steyer and George Soros backing a little-known African-American candidate for Florida governor? (Reuters) … Drug and insurance companies are worried that a ‘blue wave’ will put new energy behind single-payer healthcare legislation (The Hill) … A fight between two billionaires is driving a ballot initiative fight in Nevada (The Hill) … Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) claims that Russians hacked the Florida voting system are being questioned (Reuters).
ADMINISTRATION & WHITE HOUSE: The president is promoting the militarization of outer space while some administration policies aren’t getting liftoff in federal courts.
Pentagon – Space Force: Vice President Pence on Thursday outlined the administration’s plan to create by 2020 a Pentagon Space Force as the sixth military branch, subject to congressional approval (The Associated Press).
> The president tweeted his enthusiasm for the Defense Department’s plan:
Pentagon – immigrant recruits: The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who signed up for military service seeking a path to citizenship, at least for the time being (The Associated Press). “Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” read the memo signed July 20 by acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.
Justice Department – immigration: The Hill: A federal judge on Thursday threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt after learning the Trump administration attempted to transfer a woman and her daughter out of the country while an appeals hearing for their deportation was underway. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, appointed by former President Clinton, granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for an emergency order to halt the expedited removal of immigrants seeking asylum from domestic abuse and gang violence after he learned the government put a plaintiff in the case and her daughter on a flight to Central America.
EPA – pesticide: A U.S. appeals court on Thursday ordered removal of a widely used pesticide from the market, ruling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored scientific studies about its dangers, particularly to children. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the EPA to remove chlorpyrifos, used on fruit trees and crops, from sale in the United States within 60 days (The Associated Press).
Treasury Department: Bloomberg Businessweek published an interesting profile about Secretary Steven Mnuchin, describing how the former movie producer and investor became a Cabinet practitioner of selective silence to keep any hint of disagreement with Trump out of the press, while also working to preserve his credibility with financial markets.
CIA: Eleven newly released top-secret cables from the time that Gina Haspel, now the CIA director, oversaw a secret U.S. prison in Thailand in 2002 provide graphic detail about the harsh techniques the agency used to interrogate captured terror suspects, The New York Times reports. Haspel disavowed the techniques during her confirmation hearing to lead the CIA, but said the interrogations yielded valuable intelligence. The public debate about the use of waterboarding and torture techniques has continued since the 9/11 attacks.
East Wing: First lady Melania Trump’s parents were sworn in as U.S. citizens on Thursday, completing a legal path to citizenship that their son-in-law has suggested eliminating. Viktor and Amalija Knavs, both in their 70s, took the citizenship oath at a private ceremony in New York City. The Slovenian immigrants, a former car dealer and a textile factory worker, had been living in the U.S. as permanent residents (The Associated Press).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➔ SUPREME COURT: Brett Kavanaugh, 53, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, has one of the largest paper trails among contemporary appointees to come before the Senate for confirmation to the high court.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released its first tranche of documents drawn from Kavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush White House, setting off deep-dives by the news media and scrutiny by senators’ staffs, as well as inside advocacy organizations determined to pore over every available page.
The first batch released, totaling more than 5,700 pages, is among more than 125,000 pages sent to the committee last week by the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas (The Hill). The office of Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the committee expects more of the documents to be cleared for public release over the next “several days.”
From Thursday’s batch, The New York Times reported that a Kavanaugh email written in November 2001 when he was an associate White House counsel touches on his involvement with the Bush administration’s legal approach to terror suspects deemed enemy combatants after 9/11. It is subject that Senate Democrats, most of whom are expected to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, want to explore with the nominee in more detail
“The email about the monitoring of terrorism suspects’ attorney-client communications stood out, and — anticipating controversy — the White House had prepared a detailed explanation about its context,” the Times reported.
The National Review almost immediately published a defense of Kavanaugh and said the Times hyped its headline and got the gist of the 2001 email topics muddled: “The `attorney-client issue’ here had nothing to do with detained enemy combatants. Rather, it concerned inmates in federal prisons.”
The back-and-forth over a few brief sentences in one email written weeks after the 9/11 attacks will only serve to encourage Kavanaugh’s detractors to press for public examination of his entire paper trail, regardless of the judge’s confirmation by the Senate in 2006 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
(Materials released by the Senate committee on Thursday are HERE. Documents previously released by the National Archives are HERE.)
The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley firstname.lastname@example.org & Alexis Simendinger email@example.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Social media giants shouldn’t be arbiters of free speech, by David Harsanyi, The Federalist. http://bit.ly/2KFNLEb
GOP tax law is undermining American health care, by Frank Clemente and Margarida Jorge, opinion contributors, The Hill. http://bit.ly/2AYXMNf
WHERE AND WHEN
The House is out until after Labor Day.
The Senate is out this week.
The president is enjoying a working vacation in Bedminster, N.J., through Aug. 13. He has nothing on his public schedule today.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this afternoon meets with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the State Department, and later with Jan Kubis, United Nations special representative for Iraq and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
Attorney General Jeff Sessions today is in Houston to speak at 9:45 a.m. local time to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas about combating violent crime.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the Consumer Price Index and Real Earnings reports for July at 8:30 a.m.
> White nationalists – and groups that oppose their views – will demonstrate this weekend in downtown Washington near the White House, marking a year since violent demonstrations killed one woman in Charlottesville, Va. … Mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer picks up her daughter’s baton (NPR) … Mayor Muriel Bowser orders activation of D.C.’s Emergency Operations Center before “Unite the Right 2” demonstration on Sunday (DCist.com) … The planned event in Washington (WTOP.com) … Demonstrations are expected in other cities, including in Charlottesville (Fox News).
> Facebook is removing content related to instructions on 3D printing of firearms, the company said on Thursday (Reuters).
> Wildfires in California are producing another environmental hazard: hazy, dirty air, which has drifted 450 miles east to Salt Lake City (The Associated Press).
> Tribune Media backed out of its proposed $3.9 billion merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group and said it will file a lawsuit against the broadcasting giant for alleged breach of a merger agreement (The Hill).
And finally … Kudos to Morning Report QUIZ CONTEST winners! Marking the resignation of former President Nixon 44 years ago, readers knew their Watergate trivia. Answering this week’s five questions correctly: Frank Maisano, Lorraine Lindberg, Dara Umberger, David Dupuis, Susan Harber, Robert Easley (yep, Jonathan’s dad), Paul DeGiusti, Patrick Alford, Mike Woodard and Mary Tynan Kelly.
Looking back at events in the early 1970s, we have the quiz answers:
The property across the street from the Watergate break-in site is now a George Washington University dormitory.
The GOP lawyer acting as a committee investigator during the Watergate hearings who asked a question that helped bring to light Nixon’s secret taping system was Fred Thompson, who later worked in law, in film and television and as a U.S. senator representing Tennessee.
The last member of the Senate Watergate Committee to leave office was former Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who died in 2012.
The former presidential candidate who served as a young Yale Law School graduate assisting Democrats during the Watergate probe was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Deep Throat,” the anonymous source who selected a desolate parking garage in which to leak to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, was revealed in 2005 to be former FBI associate director Mark Felt – by Felt’s attorney, John D. O’Connor. Felt died in 2008.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.