The Memo: Trump's legal troubles pile up despite release of IG report

The Memo: Trump's legal troubles pile up despite release of IG report
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE’s legal troubles grew deeper on Thursday, even as his supporters took a measure of vindication from the release of a watchdog report critical of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFormer FBI lawyer speaks with House lawmakers on Rosenstein, 2016 Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure McGahn departs as White House counsel MORE.

The report from the Department of Justice’s inspector general (IG), Michael Horowitz, accused Comey of insubordinate behavior during the FBI probe into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State.

But Horowitz found no evidence that “improper considerations, including political bias” had affected any decisions made as part of that investigation.

For Trump, any political benefits to be gleaned from the highly anticipated report were diluted by a decision announced hours earlier in New York, where state Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) filed a lawsuit against the president’s charitable group, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Underwood alleged that her office has uncovered “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct, occurring over more than a decade, that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations.”

The attorney general is seeking to have Trump and three of his adult children barred from serving as directors of any New York-based not-for-profit organization for 10 years.

The president quickly hit back at the decision on Twitter, blaming the development on “sleazy New York Democrats" and dismissing the case as "ridiculous."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also accused Underwood of being "outrageously biased" against the president.

Not everyone in the president's orbit is so sanguine, however.

Some allies have long believed that the risks for Trump — both politically and legally — can rise sharply as investigators probe broader matters than the allegations of collusion with Russia that are being scrutinized by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

Raids on the office, home and hotel room of Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen in April deeply angered the president, who at the time lashed out at the searches, calling them "a real disgrace" and "an attack on our country."

There is anxiety in Trump's circle about growing rumors that Cohen might cooperate with prosecutors.

One GOP operative who spoke with The Hill argued that the move by the New York attorney general was bigger news than the release of the IG report — and that it was “bad” from the president’s perspective.

Other Trump loyalists pushed back at the New York probe.

Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign, said Underwood “knows where the money went” from the foundation.

“She is trying to make a crime out of giving lots and lots of dollars away to some charities. It is so partisan, it’s laughable,” he said.

The attorney general's announcement came the same day that New York's highest court ruled that a defamation lawsuit brought by a former contestant of "The Apprentice" against Trump could proceed. In that case, Trump's legal team is working to keep the president from having to go through the discovery process.

The added legal drama served as a backdrop Thursday as members of the media and lawmakers across Washington awaited the release of the long-anticipated IG report, which Trump allies quickly seized upon.

Sanders said during the daily press briefing that the report “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI.”

The report’s most damning detail — and one that was pushed hard by conservative-leaning media outlets — appeared to be a text message in which the lead FBI agent on the Clinton probe, Peter Strzok, told a colleague with whom he was having an affair that “we’ll stop” then-candidate Trump from becoming president.

Strzok's attorney blasted other elements of the report as "critically flawed," while a source in the president’s orbit told The Hill that the FBI agent should be fired “immediately.”

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsConservative rep slams Rosenstein's 'conflicts of interest' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate MORE (R-N.C), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in a statement that the IG report revealed “a stunning level of political bias” against Trump.

Outside observers expressed skepticism that the report would be as powerful as the president’s allies believe — though they also noted that Trump has an uncanny ability to survive storms that would sink other politicians.

Trump “seems to have brushed off legal and political liabilities before,” said Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“How bad any of this is depends on how how much we, the people, care. So far, the normal rules of liability for abnormal — and in many cases deeply disturbing — behavior have not generated consequences.”

The immediate political dangers for Trump seem to be receding as his approval ratings tick up modestly and as he tightens his grip on the Republican Party, as illustrated this week by the surprise defeat of Rep. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordOvernight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Haley shocks Washington with resignation | Turkish officials reportedly conclude Saudis killed journalist | Trump eyes second Kim summit after midterms GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' On The Money: House passes 4B spending bill to avert shutdown | Trump 'not happy' after Fed's latest rate hike | Trump says he refused meeting with Trudeau MORE (R-S.C.), a vocal Trump critic, in a primary hours after the president hammered him in a tweet.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Thursday that the political impact of the latest legal developments facing Trump is unclear.

“The Republicans remain pretty supportive in Congress, barely saying anything. They are pretty much standing by him. And his support? It’s not great — it’s not good, even — but it isn’t plummeting as these problems get worse," he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, defended the broader integrity of the Mueller probe, which experts agree represents a prime danger to Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeted on Thursday afternoon that, having read the IG’s report, he believed it “contains no evidence to make any reasonable person conclude that the Mueller investigation is anything other than independent, impartial & just as important today as it was before this report was issued.”

Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, said that Mueller’s track record has been one in which he reveals more damaging information than anyone was expecting.

“Everything that we don’t know probably cuts in favor of even stronger charges,” Litman said. “That has been the theme with Mueller. He has people cooperating with him and telling everything they know. “There are many different scenarios that I think he will round out — and they will look very bad for Trump.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.