Posts Tagged ‘Rob Porter’

The Mueller Report: I read it for you, but you should read it for yourself. pt 9

July 10, 2019

The President’s Conduct Towards Flynn, Manafort, HOM

            We’ve seen how Mr. Trump’s behavior has become increasingly criminal from the venial “can you see your way to letting Flynn go” he started with Comey up to the “you’d better tell it like I say it happened or you’ll be fired” he threw at Don McGahn. In this section of the report we come to what can only be described as “bribery:” you scratch my back, don’t say nuthin’ to the FBI, and I’ll use my power to get you off scot free. Sometimes the seriousness of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice could be debated, and the Mueller report itself grants that something like a trial is necessary to determine whether Trump’s attempts to interfere always rise to the level of obstruction of justice. Here, the obstruction stinks like week-old sardines. At the same time, there is a madding amount of redacted material in this section. Speculation in the press is that the blacked-out sections refer to Roger Stone, who was still under investigation at the time this report was published. Since we know neither the evidence nor the accused, we must focus instead on the two figures about whom we do have some information.

This issue here is Trump’s transparent and even public dangling of pardons to induce people not to testify, as well as attempts to intimidate them when bribery wasn’t working. In Flynn’s case, Trump made public statements praising Flynn while sending private messages of support, encouraging him to “stay strong.” However, when Flynn began cooperating with the FBI, Trump and his attorneys became increasingly “indignant” and threatening. Even after he pled guilty to lying to the FBI, however, Trump never totally ruled out using his pardon power.

In the case of Paul Manafort, the efforts to interfere in the FBI investigation were even more heavy-handed. Manafort and his subordinate Richard Gates were indicted on multiple felony counts for conduct beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2018. Manafort told Gates in January 2018 that the President’s personal counsel assured him that the President was “going to take care of us” and that they’d be stupid to negotiate a plea deal. Manafort did say that they’d not specifically used the word “pardon” in those conversations. As the Manafort and Gates trials proceeded, Trump privately said he’d never liked Manafort and thought he was incompetent. He also discussed with Rob Porter whether Manafort might know anything that could be damaging to Trump himself. Publicly, however, Trump was effusive in is praise for Manafort and repeatedly said that he thought the FBI investigation was “unfair” because some of the things he’d been investigated for happened a long time ago—ignoring the fact that some of it happened mere weeks earlier. After Manafort’s bail was revoked due to his attempted witness tampering while out on bail, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani publicly said in several interviews that “things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” While he said “no one has been pardoned yet,” he also said pardons were likely if Trump thought someone had been treated “unfairly.” This was followed by a series of public statements by Trump and his legal team that Manafort was in fact being treated unfairly, leading to the logical conclusion that pardons were in the offing so long as nobody “flipped.”

In analyzing the President*’s conduct, the Special Counsel considered the following elements:

  1. Obstructive act: Would Trump’s public praises, public and private threats, and barely-concealed offers of pardons have the natural tendency to prevent witnesses from testifying truthfully? The report concludes that it is unable to determine whether this is true of Flynn since much of the communication was between lawyers and thus was privileged. But in the case of Manafort, much of the evidence comes from public statements and other non-privileged communication. Not only did Trump and his team convey to Manafort that if he was “strong” and didn’t cooperate with the FBI he’d be likely to get a pardon, but when Manafort did finally negotiate a deal he broke it by lying again to investigators. Furthermore, the President*’s public statements during the Manafort trial were likely to sway the jury and were likely attempts to influence their deliberations. At least, any sane, moderately intelligent person would have known that making public statements that the press were likely to repeat and which the jury would likely hear about might influence them, and thus would be improper during the days they were deliberating; yet Trump made such statements anyway. To qualify as an “obstructive act,” it is only necessary to show that the act would have the natural tendency to obstruct an official investigation or trial. Clearly anything that might either encourage a witness to not truthfully cooperate with law enforcement, or might sway a jury during its deliberations would qualify.
  2. Nexus to an official proceeding: Trump’s actions were all connected to official investigations; they took place during either investigations or trials and directly referenced these official proceedings. They also clearly stated his desire that witnesses testify in certain ways.
  3. Intent: The report does not reach a firm conclusion as to why Trump behaved towards Flynn as he did. Even after Flynn had begun cooperating with Mueller and had pled guilty to lying under oath, Trump continued to express sympathy towards him. It seems clearer that his behavior towards Manafort was intended to persuade him to either lie or at least stay silent. While Trump continued to express sympathy for Flynn pretty consistently, he privately expressed dislike and disdain for Manafort while publicly praising him and complaining that he was being treated “unfairly.” Thus his public statements were not true expressions of his actual feelings, and were instead intended for some other purpose. That purpose was to encourage Manafort not to say anything that might hurt Trump; we don’t have to speculate about that because so much of this was carried out on Twitter. The repeated message, publicly and covertly, was that Manafort should not “flip” and say anything harmful about Trump, and that if he remained “strong” and loyal he would be “taken care of,” likely through a presidential pardon. Furthermore, Trump’s public praise of Manafort could be considered an effort to influence the jury. Again, while he actually didn’t think much of Manafort, in public statements the jury would be likely to see or hear while deliberating he praised him for his public service, his strong character, and bemoaned the “witch hunt” and “hoax” trial in which they were the jury. Even so, the report holds out the possibility that maybe Trump was not really engaged in jury tampering but was only expressing genuine sympathy; only a trial, an impeachment inquiry or some other public hearing of that sort, where all the evidence could be presented and argued, could determine this with more certainty.

Some have said that Trump does nothing wrong to suggest he might pardon people while they are on trial or are considering whether to cooperate with an official investigation. After all, doesn’t the Constitution give the President the right to grant pardons? By that argument, he could have just offered them money; the Constitution also gives the President the right to give money to anyone he (or she) chooses. What makes it corrupt is the intention. The Constitution envisions the President using the pardon power to undo miscarriages of justice, not to influence witnesses away from truthful testimony. And the Constitution grants the President and anyone else free speech, but not the right to try to influence a jury’s deliberations. Bribery, suborning perjury and jury tampering are very serious charges, and to suggest they are less serious because they are done by a President using Constitutional powers is like suggesting murder is less serious if it is done by a doctor using his drugs and medical training to kill instead of to heal.

The Mueller Report: I read it for you, but you should read it for yourself. pt. 7

July 2, 2019

The President’s Further Efforts to Have the Attorney General Take Over the Investigation

From summer 2017 through 2018, Mr. Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal, take control of the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian subversion of our nation’s elections (and specifically of Russia’s intense campaign to help elect Trump, an effort that included over 200 contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives), and to order an investigation of Hillary Clinton despite the fact that multiple investigations by the FBI and Republican-controlled Congress had not found any significant wrongdoing. This episode includes more examples of Trump’s own people thinking his orders were so irrational or illegal that they simply refused to carry them out. Jeff Sessions testified that Trump asked in July 2017 to “unrecuse himself” so that he could order an investigation of Ms. Clinto, and to unrecuse from “all of it” including the Russia investigation in which he was himself both witness and potential target. About that same time Mr. Trump asked Staff Secretary Rob Porter about Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, and specifically whether she was “on the team” and whether she would like to be responsible for the Special Counsel’s investigation and whether she would want to be Attorney General.   Porter considered the idea of reaching out to her in this manner to be inappropriate, and did not do as the President ordered. It seems that the Deep State that Mr. Trump complains is undermining his efforts to be the Best President Ever is made up largely of his own advisors and staff refusing his demands. Don McGahn and Hope Hicks both testified that Mr. Trump regarded Sessions as disloyal for having recused himself from the Russia investigation, since it meant he wouldn’t be able to shield Trump or to prosecute those he wished to target. From October through December Trump repeatedly asked Sessions to “unrecuse” like Ralphie trying to get a Red Ryder BB Gun. He was always careful not to demand it, but to suggest, request, ask him to think about it, and then tweet about how unfair and incompetent it was that no one was investigating Clinton while he was being so sorely persecuted, or suggest in press interviews that his AG was less loyal than others because he didn’t protect him. Finally, after a year and a half of public statements and private pressure on Sessions to block investigation of Russian contacts with his campaign, and to investigate his rival instead, Mr. Trump finally fired Jeff Sessions.

Mr. Mueller considered the following elements to be relevant to the question of obstruction of justice:

  1. Obstructive Act: Would having Sessions reverse his recusal and take charge of the investigation naturally impede its activity? Mueller did not ask what Sessions would or would not do if he had unrecused himself; there is no way to know. Instead, he asked whether the President*’s actions to get him to do so would themselves have had the natural effect of impeding the Russia investigation. In this regard, the report states, “On multiple occasions in 2017, the President spoke with Sessions about reversing his recusal so that he could take over the Russia investigation and begin an investigation and prosecution of Hillary Clinton… The duration of the President’s efforts—which spanned from March 2017 to August 2018—and the fact that the President repeatedly criticized Sessions in public and in private for failing to tell the President that he would have to recuse is relevant to assessing whether the President’s efforts to have Sessions unrecuse could qualify as obstructive acts.” This does not directly state that yes, there was an obstructive act. However, had Sessions taken over the investigation, it would have been with the understanding that he would not look at what Trump did not want examined, and that he was to look at whatever Trump did want investigated. In other words, had Sessions followed the President’s request to take over, he would have been doing so with full knowledge that his taking over was to allow the President to control the investigation for his own ends.
  2. Nexus to an official proceeding: While all these efforts to meddle were going on, there were two grand jury investigations which could have been affected. Again, the report does not directly say that they would have been affected, but only that the public and private statements of Mr. Trump were that he wanted Sessions to take over so he could affect these investigations.
  3. Intent: The report states, “There is evidence that at least one purpose of the President’s conduct toward Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope.” He knew by then that he was already under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in his efforts to protect Michael Flynn, and that his son Donald Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort were also under investigation. Mr. Trump continually complained to Sessions and others that he was not being treated “fairly” and that he wanted his opponent investigated and prosecuted for something. The report concludes that it is “a reasonable inference…that the President believed that an unrecused Attorney General would play a protective role and could shield the President from the ongoing Russia investigation.”

Mr. Trump has stated repeatedly that be thinks the job of the Attorney General is to be the personal attorney for Donald J. Trump at taxpayer’s expense, not to do the business of the people and government of the United States of America in an impartial and nonpartisan manner. Up until the time that Mr. Sessions was fired and replaced by William Barr, Trump’s efforts to use the Attorney General for personal and partisan business was thwarted by those around him who did not want to be involved in potential obstruction of justice, or who simply thought the President was behaving in an irrational and self-destructive manner and thus sought to save him from himself by promising to carry out his fool notions with no intention of actually doing so.