‘If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?’

The Washington Post reports:

During the summer of 2017, when temperatures reached triple digits in Arizona, four women drove to a vast desert wilderness along the southwestern border with Mexico. They brought water jugs and canned food — items they later said they were leaving for dehydrated migrants crossing the unfriendly terrain to get to the United States.

The women were later charged with misdemeanor crimes. Prosecutors said they violated federal law by entering Cabeza Prieta, a protected 860,000-acre refuge, without a permit and leaving water and food there. A judge convicted them on Friday in the latest example of growing tension between aid workers and the U.S. Border Patrol.

Aid workers say their humanitarian efforts, motivated by a deep sense of right and wrong, have been criminalized during the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal border crossings. Federal officials say they were simply enforcing the law.

The four women, all volunteers for the Arizona-based aid group No More Deaths, were convicted after a three-day bench trial at a federal court in Tucson. They could face up to six months in federal prison.

Their trial coincided with a partial government shutdown that has now entered its 30th day, the longest in the country’s history. Negotiations have stalled as President Trump stands firm on his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, citing a humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border.

In his verdict, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco said the women’s actions violated “the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.” Velasco also said the women committed the crimes under the false belief that they would not be prosecuted and instead would simply be banned or fined.

Catherine Gaffney, a volunteer for No More Deaths, said the guilty verdict challenges all “people of conscience throughout the country.”

“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” she said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

Protecting the work of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, isn’t the Attorney General’s only job

Jeffrey Toobin writes:

When William Barr testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, he gave the impression that he would be an aberrational figure in the Administration. Unlike many members of the President’s Cabinet, Barr is experienced, knowledgeable, and clearly qualified, in any formal sense, for the job, which he has held before, under President George H. W. Bush. In addition, he has a reputation for integrity and straight dealing. Most of the questions at his confirmation hearing concerned the work of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, whom Barr will supervise if he is confirmed. He made a convincing case that he would allow Mueller to complete his investigation of President Trump. He was less definitive about how much of Mueller’s report he would release, but he seemed receptive to the sentiment, expressed by Democrats and even by some Republicans, that the public has a right to know what Mueller has learned.

Based on the hearing, one might think that supervision of the special counsel is the Attorney General’s main responsibility. But that’s far from true, and it’s regarding the other work of the Justice Department, particularly its central mission of protecting the civil rights of all Americans, that the prospect of Barr’s service appears dismaying. By and large, he seemed prepared to sustain the work of his predecessors in the Administration: the belligerently right-wing Jeff Sessions and the comically unqualified Matthew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General.

Consider voting rights. In the past decade, Republicans have changed and applied electoral laws to make it harder for Democrats, especially people of color, to vote. The Supreme Court abetted these practices with its decision, in 2013, in the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. The midterm elections brought home the consequences. In states around the country—especially Florida and Georgia, where African-Americans ran competitive statewide campaigns—voter suppression, in various forms, demeaned the process and may have affected the outcome.

And what has the Trump Justice Department done about these outrages? It’s encouraged them, in part by withdrawing legal challenges to discriminatory laws which were filed during the Obama Administration. (In Ohio, the department switched sides in a suit that had been brought to halt a purge of registered voters.) Last week, Barr said that he would enforce the Voting Rights Act, but he did not seem perturbed by the problem of voter suppression. He allowed that low voter turnout was likely the result of public disengagement, adding that “turnout shouldn’t be artificially driven up.” Actually, turnout by eligible citizens should be driven up, whether artificially or otherwise.

Indeed, the Trump Justice Department has had something of an obsession with making sure that minorities don’t count. [Continue reading…]

Mueller’s leak-proof investigation

On Friday, Peter Carr, spokesman for the Mueller investigation, released a brief statement challenging the accuracy of “specific statements” in BuzzFeed‘s blockbuster 1500-word report on Donald Trump instructing Michael Cohen to lie to Congress:

BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.

The Washington Post then reported:

Inside the Justice Department, the statement was viewed as a huge step, and one that would have been taken only if the special counsel’s office viewed the story as almost entirely incorrect. The special counsel’s office seemed to be disputing every aspect of the story that addressed comments or evidence given to its investigators.

To go from “specific statements” “are not accurate,” to “the story as almost entirely incorrect,” is a wild leap.

Earlier, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley repeatedly sidestepped issuing a categorical denial of the central claim made in the BuzzFeed report.

Carr’s statement seems to have had less to do with suggesting the BuzzFeed report was baseless than in underlining that the report’s sources were not members of Mueller’s highly disciplined team that only releases information in the form of court documents.

Marcy Wheeler writes:

I don’t doubt that Mueller hates Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier for the way they got the financial transfer part of this story when no one else did, and more of the Moscow Tower deal story than others (which seems to be forgotten in the squawking about Buzzfeed’s loneliness on this latest story).

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to Southern District of New York and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

Why Trump’s directing Cohen, others to lie would be far worse than Watergate


Ryan Goodman writes:

If the President of the United States directed his personal attorney and fixer to help sabotage the Russia investigation by lying to Congress, there is no turning back for the nation. Given the independent corroborating evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly has to show that’s what the president did, things are only going to get worse for the White House from here.

Cohen’s lying to Congress (and to the Special Counsel’s Office) was not only about covering up a secret deal with the Kremlin during the heart of the campaign, a deal that potentially even included an illegal payoff for Putin personally. It was also a direct hit on the Russia investigation itself. The Special Counsel told the court that Cohen’s lies to both Congress and the Special Counsel were “intended to limit ongoing investigations into Russian interference in a U.S. presidential election, and the question of any links or coordination between a campaign and a foreign government.”

What makes the Cohen lies even worse—and yes, far worse than Watergate—is that it exposed any U.S. officials who were involved in orchestrating his false testimony to blackmail by Russia. As Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney and professor at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote at Just Security, “in the context of counterintelligence investigations, lies can also compromise national security….A foreign adversary like Russia can use lies as leverage over government officials to coerce them into complying with its demands or else face exposure of the lies.” As former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in the context of Flynn’s lying about Russian contacts, “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” If Trump suborned false statements, the President would have exposed not only himself to Kremlin blackmail, but also other members of his team who, according to court documents and reporting, helped orchestrate his personal lawyer’s congressional testimony.

Take a step back and you can see how the national security dimensions of “RussiaGate” are what distinguish the case and, in many respects, makes it far worse than the case for Nixon’s or Clinton’s impeachment.

It is also, as with Nixon’s bad acts, an easy case on the law when it comes to a president’s suborning false statements and obstruction of justice. Even William Barr, the man nominated for attorney general with extreme views of presidential power, has written and testified (see exchanges with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Amy Klobuchar) that suborning perjury or inducing a witness to change their testimony is a criminal act for which no presidential power protects it. And in an op-ed in 2017 titled, “No One Is Above the Law,” staunch Trump defender, Alan Dershowitz wrote, “If a president’s actions, on the other hand, are unlawful—as President Nixon’s clearly were when he told subordinates to lie to the FBI and pay hush money—good intentions … would not be a defense. For purposes of the criminal law, presidents must be judged by the lawfulness or unlawfulness of their acts.” [Continue reading…]

 

Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project

Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia. [Continue reading…]

Poll-rigging for Trump and creating @WomenForCohen: One IT firm’s work order

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.

Mr. Cohen disputed that he handed over a bag of cash. “All monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check,” he said, offering no further comment on his ties to the consultant.

Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president.

Mr. Gauger said he never got the rest of what he claimed he was owed. But Mr. Cohen in early 2017 still asked for—and received—a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by RedFinch, according to a government document and a person familiar with the matter. The reimbursement—made on the sole basis of a handwritten note from Mr. Cohen and paid largely out of Mr. Trump’s personal account—demonstrates the level of trust the lawyer once had within the Trump Organization, whose officials arranged the repayment.

The Trump Organization declined to comment. Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said Mr. Cohen’s being reimbursed more money than he paid RedFinch showed the former Trump lawyer to be a thief. “If one thing has been established, it’s that Michael Cohen is completely untrustworthy,” he said.

The reimbursement was mentioned by federal prosecutors when they charged Mr. Cohen in August with eight felonies, including campaign-finance violations for arranging hush-money payments to an adult-film star and a Playboy model who allege Mr. Trump had extramarital sexual encounters with them.

Prosecutors wrote in a charging document that when Mr. Cohen asked Trump Organization executives for a $130,000 reimbursement for a hush payment he made to Stephanie Clifford, the porn actress known as Stormy Daniels, he also scrawled a handwritten note asking for $50,000 he said he spent on “tech services” to aid Mr. Trump’s campaign. Prosecutors didn’t name the company providing those services, but people familiar with the matter say it was RedFinch. [Continue reading…]

Federal agency ‘improperly’ ignored constitutional concerns before allowing Trump to keep lease to his hotel

The Washington Post reports:

The General Services Administration “ignored” concerns that President Trump’s lease on a government-owned building — the one that houses his Trump International Hotel in Washington — might violate the Constitution when it allowed Trump to keep the lease after he took office, according to a new report from the agency’s inspector general.

Trump’s company won the lease several years before he became president. After Trump was elected, the agency had to decide whether his company would be allowed to keep its lease.

At that time, the inspector general found, the agency should have determined whether the lease violates the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar presidents from taking payments from foreign governments or individual U.S. states. But it did not, according to the report issued Wednesday.

“We . . . found that [the agency] improperly ignored these Emoluments Clauses, even though the lease itself requires compliance with the laws of the United States, including the Constitution,” the report said. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s two business offices on Pennsylvania Ave

The Washington Post reports:

Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile’s value and give it a huge new chunk of the cellphone market.

But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval from the Trump administration.

The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming “VIP Arrivals.” That day’s list included nine of T-Mobile’s top executives — including its chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer and chief financial officer, and its outspoken celebrity chief executive, John Legere.

The executives had scheduled stays of up to three days. But it was not their last visit.

Instead, T-Mobile executives have returned to President Trump’s hotel repeatedly since then, according to eyewitnesses and hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post.

By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.

These visits highlight a stark reality in Washington, unprecedented in modern American history. Trump the president works at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Trump the businessman owns a hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania.

Countries, interest groups and companies such as T-Mobile — whose future will be shaped by the administration’s choices — are free to stop at both, and to pay the president’s company while also meeting with officials in his government. Such visits raise questions about whether patronizing Trump’s private business is viewed as a way to influence public policy, critics said. [Continue reading…]

Attorney general nominee asserts independence from Trump

Politico reports:

Attorney general nominee William Barr professed his independence from President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying that Robert Mueller isn’t involved in a “witch hunt” and that he wouldn’t fire the special counsel without a good reason.

In his testimony, Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn’t think Mueller “would be involved in a witch hunt,” a term Trump has used repeatedly to deride the special counsel’s investigation into the president’s 2016 election campaign. Barr also told the committee that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions “probably did the right thing” in recusing himself from the Russia investigation — the primary reason Trump soured on Sessions.

And in response to a question of whether he would resign if Trump asked him to fire Mueller without good cause, Barr replied he “would not carry out that instruction.” [Continue reading…]

The FBI can’t neutralize a security threat when the president is the threat

Asha Rangappa writes:

Exposing the activities of a foreign intelligence service renders them ineffective, since it removes plausible deniability, which is the hallmark of covert intelligence operations. It also reveals the sources and methods that a foreign power is using, forcing them to abandon the operation. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has already utilized this avenue by bringing criminal charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for a disinformation campaign on social media and against 12 GRU officers for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails. This alternative has its downsides: It allows our adversaries to know what we know, enabling them to up their game the next time. (The current aggressive attempts by Russia’s Internet Research Agency to compel discovery of Mueller’s sources and methods in court is an example of this tension.) But where the national security threat is severe, the need to stop the activity immediately can outweigh the costs.

This is where Mueller’s report comes in. Until now, the American public has seen only snippets of Mueller’s investigation — those that he has chosen to make public through criminal charges. But since not all activities uncovered by a counterintelligence investigation, even those that pose a significant threat to national security, are necessarily criminal, they do not reveal the full breadth of what Mueller may have discovered. Only by laying out all of his counterintelligence findings — including what role, if any, Trump played in Russia’s intelligence operation against the United States — can the criminal charges be placed in context and the full scope of the threat be assessed.

If the counterintelligence case against the president was eventually closed because it found that Trump did not pose a threat to U.S. national security, Trump should welcome Mueller’s report reaching Congress. This conclusion would stop the speculation about Trump’s relationship with Russia and reassure the American public that his loyalties remain with the United States. But if it wasn’t, and the threat to national security is ongoing, then informing Congress of the nature of the threat is paramount. This would be the only way that Congress can determine whether it should take the ultimate step to neutralize the damage that the president could inflict on the nation — through impeachment and removal from office.