|Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump|
This past Saturday might prove to be one of the most historic days in many of our lifetimes. It started with a lot of folks, including yours truly, figuring that keeping track of the Georgia vs. Florida college-football game would be the big news item of the day. It ended with revelations -- seemingly coming out of the blue -- that could bring down a president.
Many of us had forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that BuzzFeed News and CNN had filed lawsuits to force release of background materials from Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice chose Saturday to make the first release, with BuzzFeed filing its first dispatch at 11:08 CT. The memos point to officials with the 2016 Trump campaign -- including Donald Trump himself and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) -- seeking to conspire with WikiLeaks and Russia to obtain emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. From CNN's report:
President Donald Trump and other top 2016 Trump campaign officials repeatedly privately discussed how the campaign could get access to stolen Democratic emails WikiLeaks had in 2016, according to newly released interview notes from Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation.
CNN sued the Justice Department for access to Mueller's witness interview notes, and this weekend's release marks the first publicly available behind-the-scenes look at Mueller's investigative work outside of court proceedings and the report itself. Per a judge's order, the Justice Department will continue to release new tranches of the Mueller investigative notes monthly to CNN and Buzzfeed News, which also sued for them.
A retelling of events from former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who served alongside campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is the fullest detail revealed by the Justice Department yet on discussions within the Trump campaign as it pursued damaging information about its Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The documents were stolen by the Russians, the American intelligence community has found.
"Flynn had the most Russia contacts of anyone on the campaign and was in the best position to ask for the emails if they were out there," the investigators also wrote about Gates' interview.
Gates described in an interview with Mueller investigators last year how several close advisers to Trump, Trump's family members and Trump himself considered how to get the stolen documents and pushed the effort, according to investigators' summary. "Gates said Donald Trump Jr. would ask where the emails were in family meetings. Michael Flynn, [Jared] Kushner, [Paul] Manafort, [Redacted] [Corey] Lewandowski, Jeff Sessions, and Sam Clovis expressed interest in obtaining the emails as well. Gates said the priority focuses of the Trump campaign opposition research team were Clinton's emails and contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Flynn, [Redacted] [Jeff] Sessions, Kushner, and [Donald] Trump Jr. were all focused on opposition topics," Gates told investigators, according to the interview summary.
Here are key takeaways from the BuzzFeed team, headed by senior investigative reporter Jason Leopold:
Paul Manafort was pushing the unfounded conspiracy theory — now part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump — that Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails as early as 2016.
The president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, "had to keep Trump out of the messaging related to Russia” in preparation for his testimony to Congress under oath and that the false testimony was "not his idea."
Top Trump campaign aide Rick Gates said the campaign was “very happy” when a foreign government helped release the hacked DNC emails.
These are some of the revelations that BuzzFeed News pried loose after pursuing five separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for all the subpoenas and search warrants that then–special counsel Robert Mueller’s team executed, as well as all the emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and interview transcripts it generated.
In response to a court order, the Justice Department released the first installment of documents: hundreds of pages of summaries of FBI interviews with witnesses, available here for the first time. Another installment will be released every month for at least the next eight years.
The documents revealed Saturday, known as “302 reports,” are summaries of interviews with former White House official and Trump campaign manager Stephen Bannon, Cohen, Gates, and more. They are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They reveal what key players in the campaign told FBI agents about Russia, Trump, the email hack during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump's associates’ handling of the special counsel’s investigation.
Mueller’s 448-page report last March was the most hotly anticipated prosecutorial document in a generation, laying out the evidence of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and the Trump administration’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry. The report, however, reflected only a small fraction of the billions of primary-source documents that the government claims Mueller’s team may have amassed over the course of its two-year investigation.
Those documents are a crucial national legacy, a key to understanding this important chapter in American history. But the public has not been allowed to see any of them. Until now.
It appears no news outlet has been able to fully analyze the voluminous documents, and they are heavily redacted, so the full story of what they reveal still is in the making. But one of the first summaries came from Bill Palmer, of the Palmer Report, with the headline: "Proof emerges that Donald Trump criminally conspired to try to obtain stolen DNC emails from Russia." From Palmer:
It turns out BuzzFeed isn’t the only one who’s managed to get its hands on memos from the Robert Mueller investigation today. Even as BuzzFeed is exposing that the Republican National Committee was at least indirectly conspiring with WikiLeaks on the release of stolen DNC emails, CNN is revealing that Donald Trump himself was directly in on the plot to illegally obtain the stolen emails.
Trump 2016 Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates testified to Mueller that he heard Donald Trump say “get the emails” to his team. Michael Flynn responded that he could try to obtain the emails from his Russian intel sources, and Trump did nothing to discourage this offer. Knowingly receiving stolen goods is a felony, so this proves that Donald Trump criminally conspired to obtain the stolen DNC emails. Worse, Trump entered into a criminal conspiracy to obtain the emails from Russia.
We all saw Trump stand there on the debate stage and publicly ask Russia to obtain and release Hillary Clinton’s emails – but he’s since tried to play this off as a joke. Now it turns out Trump really was trying to criminally conspire with Russia behind the scenes to obtain stolen emails during the 2016 election cycle.
This FOIA treasure trove of Mueller memos comes even as House Democrats are fighting in court to obtain the full unredacted Mueller report so it can be used in the impeachment process against Donald Trump. While it’s shocking and outrageous that Mueller uncovered proof of Trump’s guilt and it never saw the light of day until now, the timing nonetheless works well for the impeachment process.
Palmer notes that the newly released documents raise questions about Mueller's handling of the investigation. From a post titled "What was Robert Mueller DOING?"
Thanks to newly granted FOIA requests on the part of CNN and BuzzFeed, we’re getting a look . . . at the first batch of internal memos from the Robert Mueller probe. These stunning memos reveal that Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Republican National Committee were conspiring with Russia and WikiLeaks on a level far deeper than anyone knew.
For instance, it turns out Donald Trump instructed his team to obtain the stolen DNC emails, and Michael Flynn then told Trump that he would use his Russian intel contacts to try to obtain them. The Republican National Committee also had advance knowledge of when WikiLeaks was going to release new batches of stolen DNC emails.
These are the kinds of felonies that send people to prison for a very long time. Robert Mueller had all of this information dating back to when Rick Gates cut his plea deal in February of 2018 – and yet nothing came of it. This was long before Bill Barr came on the scene. We don’t know if Mueller put prosecutions in motion that were later shut down by Barr, or if those prosecutions are still underway, or if Mueller just didn’t do anything.
We do know that Robert Mueller apparently ended up including all of this damning evidence in his final report, which he expected would make its way to Congress. By that time Barr was in charge, and he redacted the most incriminating parts of the report. Now it’s finally starting to come out, and it should play a key role in impeachment. But now more than ever, we deserve answers on why Mueller was sitting on a goldmine of information that could have sent Donald Trump and dozens of other people to prison forever, and nothing came of it. Did Mueller simply fail us, or was Mueller’s work sabotaged on a criminal level?
Will Bunch, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, had questions similar to the one Bill Palmer raised. From Bunch's column published yesterday:
There is no doubt that the knobs of gaslighting were switched to “high” when new Attorney General William Barr — also known as Trump’s Roy Cohn — arrived at the Justice Department in February. Under Barr’s thumb, Mueller appeared newly pressed to quickly wrap things up. The end of his investigation came with a weeks-long delay before his actual report — a vacuum that was filled with Barr’s Trump-serving four-page memo with his own conclusions that there was no obstruction of justice and no collusion with Russia. Barr even staged a press conference hours ahead of the actual report with misleading spin on what was in it.
In the end — as the memos dropped on Saturday reveal — the Mueller report was not the definitive word on what happened with Trump, Russia and the tainted 2016 election. Rather, it was a series of not-always-great prosecutorial decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out, and what conclusions to make of it all — reached by an iconic-but-fading prosecutor no longer on top of his game, under relentless pressure from a justice apparatus that has been politicized and warped by the president and his Cohn-like hatchet man.
What’s telling is that Mueller’s impotent testimony before Congress came just one day before Trump’s extortionist phone call with Ukraine’s Zelensky — suggesting the presidential beatdown on the Mueller probe had inspired the delusion that he was now untouchable. The next few months on Capitol Hill will prove whether Trump was actually right — and if he was right, you can kiss goodbye to the United States of America.
Interestingly, the new Mueller info came just a day after an interview in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to confound expectations that she plans to limit the Trump impeachment probe to Ukraine and nothing more.
“What we’re talking about now is taking us into a whole other class of objection to what the president has done. And there may be other — there were 11 obstruction of justice provisions in the Mueller report. Perhaps some of them will be part of this,” Pelosi told Bloomberg Television. “But again, that will be part of the inquiry, to see where we go.”
This is a tough call, because every day that Donald Trump remains in the Oval Office is a danger to America and the world. But it’s increasingly clear that the speediest narrow impeachment — one confined solely to his Ukraine dealings while ignoring the naked corruption of obstructing the Mueller probe and his efforts to become president through lawbreaking, either through stolen emails or hush money, and then use his office to line his own pockets — would be a terrible mistake.
That’s because — as noted earlier — the real scandal of Trump’s presidency is his amoral and narcissistic willingness to do any and all things that are terrible for the country but are good for his own personal power and ambition. The symptoms of that corrupt disease played out on a global canvas from Kyiv to Trump’s golf resort in Scotland to the corridors of the Justice Department. If we don’t make it clear that no president is above the law — all of the laws, including obstruction of justice and the Emoluments Clause — then we will only be setting the stage for a future president who will be even more dangerous than Donald Trump.
Here is a link to the full DOJ document, obtained via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).