Trump’s order to open Arctic waters to oil drilling was unlawful, federal judge finds

The New York Times reports:

In a major legal blow to President Trump’s push to expand offshore oil and gas development, a federal judge ruled that an executive order by Mr. Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.

The decision, by Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, concluded late Friday that President Barack Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawal from drilling of about 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” She wrote that an April 2017 executive order by Mr. Trump revoking the drilling ban “is unlawful, as it exceeded the president’s authority.”

The decision, which is expected to be appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately reinstates the drilling ban on most of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, a pristine region home to endangered species including polar bears and bowhead whales where oil companies have long sought to drill. Along the Atlantic coast, it blocks drilling around a series of coral canyons that run from Norfolk, Va., to the Canadian border which are home to unique deepwater corals and rare fish species. [Continue reading…]

Bezos investigation finds the Saudis obtained his private data

Gavin De Becker writes:

Some Americans will be surprised to learn that the Saudi government has been very intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when the Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi campaign against Bezos has already been reported by CNN International, Bloomberg, The Daily Beast, and others.

Saudi Arabia attacks people in many ways, obviously, including through their elaborate social media program that uses sophisticated technology and paid surrogates to create artificially trending hashtags. To give you an idea of how this program has infected the U.S., the New York Times reported that the Saudis even had an operative inside Twitter, which fired the suspect employee, and later advised select activists and others that “your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors.”

In October, the Saudi government unleashed its cyber army on Bezos (and later me). Their multi-pronged campaign included public calls for boycotts against Amazon.com and its Saudi subsidiary, Souq.com. Just three examples among thousands:

“We as Saudis will never accept to be attacked by the Washington Post in the morning, only to buy products from Amazon and Souq.com by night! Strange that all three companies are owned by the same Jew who attacks us by day, and sells us products by night!”

“Our weapon is to boycott… because the owner of the newspaper is the same as their owner.”

We’re after you – the Jew, worshipper of money, will go bankrupt by the will of God at the hands of Saudi Arabia… the owner of Amazon and Souq is the owner of the Washington Post is the spiteful Jew who insults us every day.”

Bezos is not Jewish, but you get the point.

We studied the well-documented and close relationship between MBS and AMI chairman, David Pecker. That alliance includes David Pecker bringing MBS intermediary Kacy Grine to a private White House meeting with President Trump and Jared Kushner. Mr. Pecker has also traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince. Though we don’t know what was discussed in those private meetings, AMI’s actions afterwards are telling. To coincide with MBS’ March 2018 U.S. tour, AMI created a 100-page, ad-free, glossy magazine called The New Kingdom. Since MBS wasn’t yet a notorious figure in the West (this was before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi), AMI’s magazine introduced him to Americans as “the most influential Arab leader—transforming the world at 32,” and “improving lives of his people & hopes for peace.” [Continue reading…]

Mueller report will be delivered to Congress without White House preview by ‘mid-April, if not sooner,’ says attorney general

The Washington Post reports:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report detailing his investigation of President Trump and Russia’s election interference will be delivered to Congress “by mid-April, if not sooner,” Attorney General William P. Barr said Friday in a letter offering important new details about how the document will be edited before its public release.

Barr’s letter aimed to reassure lawmakers and the public that the process for handling the report — which numbers nearly 400 pages, he said — would be aboveboard and fair. It also underscored just how much political distrust may fester as long as the report remains secret, and Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of misrepresenting the contents of a document they haven’t seen.

“Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” Barr wrote, adding a key new detail — that he does not plan to submit the report to the White House beforehand. [Continue reading…]

Mueller report: Did Barr write a summary or a cover-up?

The New York Times reports:

The still-secret report on Russian interference in the 2016 election submitted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, last week was more than 300 pages long, according to the Justice Department, a length that raises new questions about Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary.

Mr. Barr wrote to Congress on Sunday offering what he called the “principal conclusions” of the report — including that Mr. Mueller had not found that the Trump campaign had taken part in a conspiracy to undermine the election. But he had notably declined to publicly disclose its length.

The total of 300-plus pages suggests that Mr. Mueller went well beyond the kind of bare-bones summary required by the Justice Department regulation governing his appointment and detailed his conclusions at length. And it raises questions about what Mr. Barr might have left out of the four dense pages he sent Congress.

Democrats, who like all other lawmakers have not seen the report, have all but accused Mr. Barr of covering up damaging information it contains. They have specifically focused on an apparent difference between the views of Mr. Barr and Mr. Mueller on whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice. Democrats have demanded that the attorney general make the full report and evidence public. [Continue reading…]

How Donald Trump inflated his net worth to lenders and investors

The Washington Post reports:

When Donald Trump wanted to make a good impression — on a lender, a business partner, or a journalist — he sometimes sent them official-looking documents called “Statements of Financial Condition.”

These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages. They were full of numbers, laying out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth.

But, for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump’s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed. Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts. Some assets were overvalued. And some key numbers were wrong.

For instance, Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.

But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots — and at least $72 million in future revenue — he didn’t have.

He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58. [Continue reading…]

Mueller grand jury ‘continuing robustly,’ prosecutor says

Politico reports:

The special counsel grand jury that investigated Russian collusion into the 2016 presidential election is “continuing robustly” despite the end of Robert Mueller’s probe, a federal prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

The revelation — while laced with uncertainty — indicates that the ongoing cases Mueller handed off after concluding his probe could still feature significant developments, legal experts said.

David Goodhand, an assistant U.S. attorney, acknowledged the grand jury’s active status during a hearing in federal district court over a push to unveil the identity of a foreign state-owned firm that has been held in contempt for defying a Mueller subpoena.

The mystery company’s case was denied a hearing earlier this week before the Supreme Court, and in the meantime the open government group Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has sought access to all materials in the clandestine litigation, including the company’s identity. [Continue reading…]

No one who matters has read the Mueller report yet

Quinta Jurecic writes:

Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report—released on Sunday to Congress and the public at a slim four pages—was greeted as putting to rest the questions that have swirled around President Donald Trump’s campaign and its relationship to Russia.

But reports of the end of this chapter of Trump’s presidency have been greatly exaggerated. The only document that has so far become public is Barr’s highly truncated summary of Mueller’s report—which is not the same as the report itself. This is a time of suspended animation, after the investigators have finished their work but before it’s clear precisely what the conclusion of that work means.

The debate has shifted out of the legal playing field and into the realm of politics without any of the political players knowing what information they’re dealing with. The problem is that Mueller’s report itself is not yet public. So while the matter at hand is definitively no longer one for the courts, members of Congress and the public at large—who will need to decide what is and is not acceptable in public life—don’t yet know the things they need to know in order to make an informed decision. Between the idea of Mueller’s report and the reality of its appearance, in other words, falls the shadow. [Continue reading…]

The counterintelligence portion of Mueller’s report that Barr neglected to mention

Natasha Bertrand writes:

On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr presented a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions that contained a few sentences from Mueller’s final report, one of which directly addressed the question of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” In a footnote, Barr explained that Mueller had defined “coordination” as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Mueller’s full report has not been made available to the public yet, so it’s not clear whether it sets forth everything the special counsel’s office learned over the course of its nearly two-year investigation—including findings about conduct that was perhaps objectionable but not criminal—or whether it is more tailored and explains only Mueller’s prosecution and declination decisions. But national-security and intelligence experts tell me that Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump or his campaign team with a conspiracy is far from dispositive, and that the underlying evidence the special counsel amassed over two years could prove as useful as a conspiracy charge to understanding the full scope of Russia’s election interference in 2016.

“As described by Barr, at least, Mueller’s report was very focused on criminal-law standards and processes,” said David Kris, a founder of Culper Partners, who served as the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division under former President Barack Obama. “We won’t know for sure if that is the case, and if it is the case, why Mueller confined himself in that way, until we see the full report.” Kris noted, however, that “there is no question that a counterintelligence investigation would have a wider aperture than a strict criminal inquiry as applied here, and would be concerned, for example, with the motivations and any sub-criminal misconduct of the principal actors.” [Continue reading…]

Barr goes beyond Mueller in clearing Trump on obstruction, drawing scrutiny

The New York Times reports:

Over the 22 months of their inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators examined countless documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, including some of the highest-ranking lawyers and aides in the White House, to determine whether President Trump obstructed justice. But in the end, the special counsel reached no conclusion — instead producing a report that merely marshaled evidence on both sides.

Then, Attorney General William P. Barr, a political appointee whom Mr. Trump installed less than a month ago and who began reading Mr. Mueller’s report on Friday, stepped in. With the concurrence of his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, Mr. Barr seized the opportunity to render a judgment — pronouncing Mr. Trump clear of committing any criminal offense.

The propriety of that move by Mr. Barr — who had written an unsolicited memo last year arguing that Mr. Mueller ought not be permitted to investigate Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice — is certain to be a focus of political contention as Congress grapples with what it now knows about the still-secret Mueller report.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited Mr. Barr’s memo as a reason for suspicion and suggested that Mr. Barr’s action may amount to a “hasty partisan interpretation of the facts.” [Continue reading…]

Renato Mariotti writes:

It appears that Mueller approached his role with an admirable sense of humility and caution, with the understanding that whatever conclusion he reached would have an immense impact on the nation. While he essentially punted on the issue, I understand why Mueller may have felt the obstruction of justice decision was one for the American people and their elected representatives to make.

What I don’t understand is why Barr decided to take it upon himself to make a decision hastily based on “discussions with certain [DOJ] officials” when Mueller, after spending almost two years interviewing countless witnesses and reviewing many thousands of documents, had amassed evidence on both sides.

Barr’s speedy decision that Trump did not obstruct justice perhaps is not surprising. Barr wrote a 19-page single-spaced memorandum to the Deputy Attorney General and Trump’s attorneys explaining why Trump did not obstruct justice long before he become Attorney General.

As a practicing lawyer, it would take me dozens of hours to create a 19-page single-spaced memorandum containing nuanced legal analysis on any subject. I would not do so for free unless I felt very strongly about the issue. Although Barr claims otherwise in his letter, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he prejudged the matter and let his strong feelings about the subject influence his judgment.

Barr’s poor reasoning in the four-page summary will reinforce the conclusion that he prejudged the matter. [Continue reading…]

The attorney general’s letter on the Mueller report will do little to bridge the partisan divide

The New York Times reports:

The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr.

The summary also said that the special counsel’s team lacked sufficient evidence to establish that President Trump illegally obstructed justice, but added that Mr. Mueller’s team stopped short of exonerating Mr. Trump.

“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mr. Barr quoted Mr. Mueller as writing.

Mr. Barr delivered the summary of the special counsel’s finding to Congress on Sunday afternoon, just days after the conclusion of a sprawling investigation into Russia’s attempts to sabotage the 2016 election and whether President Trump or any of his associates conspired with Moscow’s interference. [Continue reading…]

Ken White writes:

We cannot yet see the report Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted to Attorney General William Barr on Friday. But we can see its shadow in the four-page letter Barr sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sunday afternoon. That letter will be touted as vindication by President Donald Trump and his supporters, but will do little to bridge the partisan divide over Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, and will inspire more vociferous demands to release the entire report.

Barr’s letter thoroughly quelled some of the fondest hopes of the anti-Trump “Resistance.” The letter revealed that Mueller closed his investigation without recommending more criminal charges, and that no further indictments are under seal, as some had speculated. That’s a great relief for Trump and his family and associates, but it’s not the end of their federal criminal jeopardy. Barr also pointed out that Mueller “referred several matters to other offices for further action.” For instance, the special counsel sent the investigation of Michael Cohen’s hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which secured Cohen’s guilty plea for federal campaign-finance violations. That office is still actively investigating the matter—we know this because it carefully redacted the details of the investigation when it released the Cohen search warrants last week. But the special counsel’s investigation was the most prominent legal threat to the president and his family, and its closure without further indictments is a major victory for him. [Continue reading…]