Forensic News Roundup: Mueller criminal referrals closed

September 21, 2020 8:54 am By

The Mueller probe

Documents released by the DOJ related to investigations started by Mueller revealed that his team found evidence that a Trump Campaign vendor and pro-Trump PAC violated numerous laws. The cases were referred to other offices for potential charges, but none were ultimately brought (see the last page in this document). The cases have since been closed.

  • It also appears that the investigation into Erik Prince was closed.

Top Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann describes the challenges and failures of the Mueller probe in his new book, Where Law Ends. The Atlantic has excerpts from the book and an interview with Weissmann:

“The specter of our being shut down exerted a kind of destabilizing pull on our decision-making process.” Where Law Ends describes numerous instances, large and small, when Mueller declined to pursue an aggressive course for fear of the reaction at the White House… They “feared that hauling [Ivanka] in for an interview would play badly to the already antagonistic right-wing press—Look how they’re roughing up the president’s daughter—and risk enraging Trump, provoking him to shut down the Special Counsel’s Office once and for all.”

Weissmann blames this persistent timidity on one of Mueller’s other top deputies, a lawyer named Aaron Zebley… “Repeatedly during our twenty-two months in operation,” Weissmann writes, “we would reach some critical juncture in our investigation only to have Aaron say that we could not take a particular action because it risked aggravating the president beyond some undefined breaking point.”

…In our interview, I asked Weissmann if Mueller had let the American people down. “Absolutely, yep,” Weissmann said, before quickly adding: “I wouldn’t phrase it as just Mueller. I would say ‘the office.’ There are a lot of things we did well, and a lot of things we could have done better, to be diplomatic about it.”

Russian interference

FBI director confirms “very, very active” Russian efforts to interfere in election, “primarily to “denigrate Vice President Biden” (Axios and video clip).

  • Trump Attacks FBI Director Christopher Wray for Warning on Russian Election Meddling (DB).

U.S. Intel Repeatedly Warned About Rudy’s ‘Russian Agent’ Pal. For a year and a half, U.S. intelligence warned that Andriy Derkach was suspected of election interference. Yet Trump associates and supporters, including Giuliani and Sen. Johnson, still used his information (DB).

  • In December 2019, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) warned Johnson that his committee’s probe may only further Russia’s ambitions to undermine the 2020 election. Johnson’s pushed ahead away.

Senate panel authorizes subpoenas in Republican probe targeting Obama officials. The list includes former FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Politico). At the hearing, Romney said the Biden investigation “has the earmarks of a political exercise,” citing Johnson’s recent comments:

  • Johnson (again) admitted his committee’s investigation of Biden and Ukraine is politically motivated and is meant to interfere in the election: “What our investigations are uncovering, I think, will reveal this is not somebody we should be electing president of the United States,” Johnson told a local Wisconsin TV station on Tuesday. Importantly, this is an investigation into Biden’s conduct as VP that ended 4 years ago, but only began when Biden started winning primaries, and is being rushed for pre-election.
  • Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to pass a resolution urging senators “to immediately cease any activities that allow Congress to act as a conduit” for election interference efforts or Russian disinformation. Watch video of their speeches and Johnson’s response.

State Dept. provides House Dems docs previously given to Ron Johnson’s Biden probe (Politico).

U.S. Admits That Congressman Offered Pardon to Assange If He Covered Up Russia Links (DB). However, U.S. government lawyers say that Rohrabacher was not acting with Trump’s backing.


Court cases

A federal judge in Washington state on Thursday granted a request from 14 states to temporarily block operational changes within the U.S. Postal Service that have been blamed for a slowdown in mail delivery (WaPo).

“It is easy to conclude that the recent Postal Services’ changes is an intentional effort on the part the current Administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state, and federal elections,” Judge Bastian wrote.

  • Related: Postal Service turned a $1.6 billion profit on Amazon shipping in the fiscal year that ended last September.

The Trump administration is trying to get a federal judge to help shield thousands of internal documents about the 2020 census from the public. The DOJ missed its deadline to turn over 8,800 documents last week; the judge ordered the remainder to be produced this week (CNN).

  • “Constitution doesn’t require census to be accurate, Trump administration says,” CNN

The White House said Friday that the administration will ask the Supreme Court to review a district court decision blocking the president’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count. Due to the rare makeup of the three-judge district court panel, the Supreme Court cannot decline to hear the appeal.

A federal law, known as the “Three-Judge Court Act,” specifies that constitutional challenges to federal or state legislative districts are to be considered by a three-judge federal district court panel, with direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eric Trump is willing to be interviewed by the New York State Attorney General’s Office for its investigation into the Trump Organization… but not until after the presidential election (CNN).

On Thursday, prosecutors in New York leveled new charges against Lev Parnas and David Correia, associates of Rudy Giuliani, alleging they used more than $2 million of Fraud Guarantee investors’ money on personal expenses while promising the money would only be spent on the business.

According to the New York Times, in 2018 Parnas and Correia agreed to pay Giuliani’s consulting firm $500,000 in exchange for his public endorsement of Fraud Guarantee.

The Supreme Court set arguments for Dec. 2 on the House of Representative’s bid for access to grand jury secrets in the Mueller report.


Trump keeps profiting

President Trump’s luxury properties have charged the U.S. government more than $1.1 million in private transactions since Trump took office — including for room rentals at his Bedminster, N.J., club this spring while it was closed for the coronavirus pandemic (WaPo). In other words, the Secret Service pays $17,000 a month for a cottage at Bedminster, even when Trump is in DC. Just in case he decides to visit.

The Qatari government is paying Trump $135,000 a year for an unused office in a San Francisco skyscraper, an apparent violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. The Qatari sovereign wealth fund decided to lease space in the San Francisco building just as the Trump administration was siding with Saudi in its fight with Qatar. Soon after, the White House patched things up with Qatar.

  • In 2019, Trump welcomed Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, and about one third of the Qatar Investment Authority’s board of directors in the Treasury Department’s Cash Room. “I have to say that the investments that you make in the United States,” he told his guests, “are very much appreciated.”

A previously unknown company owned by Rudy Giuliani got between $150,000 and $350,000 in taxpayer-backed PPP money through a small bank tied to the Trumps and Kushners.

A group of tenants filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Kushner Companies of illegally collecting rent and creating dangerous living conditions (CNN).

CAMPAIGN

Negotiations on a deal between the White House and pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices broke down last month after Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, insisted that drugmakers pay for $100 cash cards to be mailed to seniors before the election (Axios).

  • Reminder: Trump’s name was added to the physical coronavirus stimulus checks approved under the CARES Act and sent to millions of Americans earlier this year.

Trump’s campaign, Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, and other GOP committees have together taken money from 80+ people representing themselves as employees of Qanon… which is a conspiracy theory, not an employer. These donations may violate federal election law, which explicitly forbids making ‘materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent’ statements to a federal agency.

One Trump donor who gave the president’s re-election effort $140 identified his employer as “QAnon” and his occupation as “agent.” Another “QAnon” employee listed his occupation as “soldier,” while several others described themselves as a QAnon “digital soldier” or “patriot.” Several others list either their employer or occupation as “WWG1WGA” — shorthand for the QAnon slogan, “where we go one we go all.”

A digital ad released by a fundraising arm of the Trump campaign on Sept. 11 calling on people to “support our troops” uses a stock photo of Russian-made fighter jets and Russian models dressed as soldiers (Politico).

  • Russia mocks the Trump campaign for using a picture of Russian jets: “Obviously, this is a mistake caused by the beauty of Russian weapons. Probably, the designer was so impressed that he forgot to check the country of origin… we hope that he will not be punished severely.”

Turning Point Action – an affiliate of right-wing provocateur Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA – reportedly paid teenagers in Arizona, some of them minors, to flood social media with pro-Trump messages, including disinformation about the coronavirus and mail-in voting (WaPo).


Immigration news

At minimum, 17 women have spoken out about experiencing “forced, invasive procedures” by a gynecologist at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Some of these women allege they were subject to unwanted hysterectomies and other unnecessary medical procedures with the “clear intention of sterilization,” according to a statement released by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who was briefed on the subject.

  • There is still a level of uncertainty regarding the initial complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center. Dawn Wooten said that she included the allegations in the report with the intention of triggering an investigation into whether or not the claims were true. At the very least, it appears safe to say there is a systemic lack of informed and legally valid consent to perform procedures that could result in sterilization.
  • More: “ICE Hysterectomy Doctor Wasn’t Even a Board-Certified OB-GYN,” Daily Beast. “ICE Almost Deported Immigrant Woman Who Says She Got Unwanted Surgery While Detained,” NPR.

Inside Ice’s pattern of medical neglect as immigrants flown on its planes. Heart attacks, miscarriages, and even a death have all occurred on Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights, investigation finds.

The U.S. government deported a crucial witness in an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at an El Paso, Texas, immigrant detention center.

ICE is expected to begin collecting the DNA samples of people arrested across the country starting next month. The expansion opens DNA collection up to include people who are awaiting deportation and those who are not charged with a crime, such as undocumented immigrants.

A federal appeals court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to terminate a program that lets at least 300,000 immigrants live and work in the U.S. – and allows their 200,000 U.S-born children to stay. The ACLU plans to seek further appeals.

  • The ruling was made by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. A Trump judge and a W. Bush judge were in the majority; an Obama appointee dissented.

Rep. Ilhan Omar warned that a deportation flight scheduled for Somalia last week may include passengers with COVID-19 symptoms. Omar noted that Somalia, which has only 15 intensive care unit beds for a population of 15 million, has refused to take deportees who are positive for COVID-19. Lawyers report their clients are not being regularly tested for the virus.


Miscellaneous

President Trump has given tentative approval to a deal that will keep TikTok alive in the U.S., essentially funneling a 20% stake in the successful company to supporters Larry Ellison and Doug McMillon of Oracle.

  • It appears that Trump is more interested in making another quid pro quo deal for himself. The president expressed disbelief that his lawyers advised him there is no “legal path” for the government to get a payout from the private deal. “Amazingly, I find that you’re not allowed to do that — you’re not allowed to accept money.” (clip)
  • Trump seems to have invented a deal wherein TikTok’s parent company would set up a $5 billion “patriotic education” fund. Parent Company ByteDance said Sunday it had never agreed to such a fund. In a speech on Thursday, Trump decried what he said was a “twisted web of lies” being taught in U.S. classrooms about systemic racism in America, calling it “a form of child abuse.”

Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners. Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them, including heavily redacting an IG report on the issue so “lawmakers with security clearances could not see them.”

Foreign Affairs Cmte. Chairman Engel: “The picture is starting to come into focus: a top priority at Mike Pompeo’s State Department was to go around Congress to sell weapons, and his senior aides worked hard after the fact to obscure their indifference to civilian casualties.”

U.S. Sending More Troops to Syria to Counter the Russians. The deployment of armored vehicles, advance radar, and more fighter jets comes in response to a Russian convoy ramming an U.S. ground patrol, injuring seven soldiers (NYT). On the same day, Trump declared that American troops “are out of Syria,” except to guard the region’s oil fields (admitting to a war crime, again: “We kept the oil. I kept the oil.”)

  • Former Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk: Trump says “nothing happened” after he abandoned NE Syria to Putin and Erdogan. But according to a new UN report, “war crimes”—rape, murder, abduction, looting, forced displacement—happened in areas we abandoned (and getting worse).
  • Russian jets bombed rebel-held northwestern Syria on Sunday in the most extensive strikes in six months.

The Trump Administration ordered an Al Jazeera affiliate to register as a foreign agent, following a furious lobbying campaign by the United Arab Emirates. Al Jazeera condemned the order, saying it was a precondition of the UAE to participate in Trump’s Isreal-UAE-Bahrain accord ceremony.

  • The UAE paid Aiken Gump nearly $2 million to convince lawmakers that Al Jazeera should be registered as a foreign agent. It worked on a bunch of conservatives – like Cruz, Rubio, Cotton – who pressured the DOJ to do it.
  • Read human rights attorney Noura Erakat’s analysis of the accords: “Trump ‘peace’ deals for Israel, UAE and Bahrain are shams. They boost oppression, not amity.” For instance, as a result of its agreement with Israel, the UAE was able to purchase high-tech weapons from the United States


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