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How Michael Cohen Turned Against President Trump

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Ben ProtessWilliam K. Rashbaum, and Maggie Haberman report in the NY Times:

Michael D. Cohen was at a breaking point. He told friends he was suicidal. He insisted to lawyers he would never go to jail. Most of all, he feared that President Trump, his longtime boss, had forsaken him.

“Basically he needs a little loving and respect booster,” one of Mr. Cohen’s legal advisers at the time, Robert J. Costello, wrote in a text message to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer. “He is not thinking clearly because he feels abandoned.”

That was last June. The “booster” from Mr. Trump never arrived. And by August, Mr. Cohen’s relationship with him had gone from fraught to hostile, casting a shadow on the Trump presidency and helping drive multiple criminal investigations into the president’s inner circle, including some that continued after the special counsel’s work ended.

In the biggest blow to the president personally, federal prosecutors in Manhattan effectively characterized Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case against Mr. Cohen involving hush money payments to a pornographic film actress. Mr. Cohen, and evidence gathered by prosecutors, implicated the president.

Now, as Mr. Cohen prepares to head to prison in two weeks, dozens of previously unreported emails, text messages and other confidential documents reviewed by The New York Times suggest that his falling out with Mr. Trump may have been avoidable.

Missed cues, clashing egos, veiled threats and unaddressed money worries all contributed to Mr. Cohen’s halting decision to turn on a man he had long idolized and even once vowed to take a bullet for, according to the documents and interviews with people close to the events. Some of the documents have been turned over to the prosecutors in Manhattan, and a small number were mentioned in the special counsel’s report released on Thursday, which dealt extensively with Mr. Cohen and referred to him more than 800 times.

Mr. Cohen held out hope for a different outcome until the very end, when he pleaded guilty and confessed to paying the illegal hush money to avert a potential sex scandal during the presidential campaign. Just hours earlier, wracked with indecision, he was still seeking guidance, looking, as one informal adviser put it, “for another way out.”

Mr. Cohen’s anxiety, on display in the documents, played a role in the undoing of his relationship with Mr. Trump, as did Mr. Costello’s lack of success in serving as a bridge to the White House. But also looming large were Mr. Giuliani’s and Mr. Trump’s failures to understand the threat that Mr. Cohen posed, and their inability — or unwillingness — to put his financial and emotional insecurities to rest.

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, two of Mr. Cohen’s advisers explored whether the president might be open to a pardon, but Mr. Giuliani offered no assurances.

In June, Mr. Costello proposed that he and Mr. Giuliani, who have been friends for decades, meet urgently with Mr. Cohen to address his grievances and ease his anxieties. “Are we going to meet Thursday or Friday?” Mr. Costello texted Mr. Giuliani on a Monday. “I would like to get back to Michael with a response.”

But Mr. Giuliani did not respond. And when Mr. Costello followed up, “Can I get a response on the possible meeting?” Mr. Giuliani hesitated, replying, “Not yet because haven’t talked to President,” who was out of the country.

The next day, Mr. Cohen’s private admission to friends that he was open to cooperating with prosecutors suddenly appeared in the news. And Mr. Cohen relayed his growing displeasure with the Trump camp to Mr. Costello, sending the lawyer an article that suggested the president and his allies intended “to discredit Michael Cohen” and commenting in the email that “they are again on a bad path.” He also complained to Mr. Costello that the president had stopped covering his legal expenses.

Mr. Costello, who spoke with The Times after Mr. Cohen waived attorney-client privilege in February, said that without Mr. Cohen’s team and the president’s lawyers in sync, it was impossible to navigate the tumultuous relationship.

“What we had here was a failure to communicate,” said Mr. Costello, who was never formally retained by Mr. Cohen. “My mission was to get everyone tuned in to the same channel. My thought was a face-to-face meeting among all the lawyers together with Cohen would put everyone on the same channel. The meeting never happened, and the rest is history.”

Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2019 at 8:47 am

What we need to hear from Mueller

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Jennifer Rubin lists some good questions to ask Mueller when he appears before Congressional committees:

In testimony before Congress, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III can shed much-needed light on the content of his report, the investigation that preceded and will flow from it, and the actions of Attorney General William P. Barr. Rather than engage in the normal scattershot questioning punctuated by speechifying, the House Judiciary Committee should assign its able attorney Norman Eisen to conduct the questioning. Members could then follow up with additional questions.

Here is an array of potential questions (aided by Benjamin Wittes’s must-read Lawfare blog summary):

Mr. Mueller, the attorney general said you did not find “collusion.” However, you did not look for collusion. Please explain what you looked for and how that differs from Barr’s assertion that you essentially cleared President Trump of collusion?

Did the Carter Page FISA warrant initiate the Russia investigation? Your report states that “a foreign government contacted the FBI about a May 2016 encounter with Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos.” Was that what precipitated the investigation?

You state that you have transferred 10 cases and made 14 referrals. Do these involve Russia? Do any involve the president?

You say the Trump campaign welcomed and expected to benefit from Russian meddling. Did the numerous contacts and the president’s public call to find Hillary Clinton’s emails encourage that meddling? Within a few hours of Trump’s call to find Clinton’s emails, Russian hacking efforts began. Can you conclude that there was a connection between the two?

The numerous contacts between Russian officials and surrogates and the campaign were unprecedented. Were the Russians trying to cultivate or manipulate the Trump team?

You did not find a basis for prosecution in the June 9 Trump Tower meeting because you did not find Donald Trump Jr. had the requisite intent. Is it fair to say he intended to seek help from a foreign hostile power but was so ignorant of the law that prosecution would be difficult? To your knowledge, has any campaign ever sought the help of a hostile foreign power?

You established that no criminal conspiracy between the Trump team and the Russian government occurred. Did you rule out such a conspiracy between Roger Stone or other Trump associates and WikiLeaks? Is that a matter of ongoing investigation?

The president and numerous associates claimed there was no contact between the Russians and the campaign. Was that a lie?

The campaign had been advised of Russian efforts to interfere with the campaign. Did anyone from the Trump campaign contact the FBI to report any of the Russian contacts? Had they done so, would the FBI have investigated?

When the president says the report shows “no collusion,” is that accurate?

Did you reject Barr’s concept that a president acting under Article II powers can’t be found to have obstructed justice?

You state that, “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” Because you did not “so state,” is it correct that there is evidence of obstruction of justice? Can you describe the level of evidence (e.g., beyond a reasonable doubt)?

Have you prosecuted cases with less evidence of obstruction than what you found in this case?

Is it correct that, because an Office of Legal Counsel guideline prohibits prosecution of a sitting president, the judgment as to what action, if any, should be taken is up to Congress? If the OLC guideline were not present, would you have reached a decision on indictment? You cannot tell us what that would have been, but would indictment after Trump leaves office be justified?

Did you in any way invite or call upon Barr to “make the call” on indictment? He is bound by the same OLC guideline as you are, correct? Was it appropriate for him to insert himself when the OLC expressly says this is Congress’s job.

Does the report serve as a referral to Congress to consider impeachment?

Why is obstruction such a serious crime?

The president swears to “take care” that the laws are faithfully executed. Did the sitting president do so with regard to the investigation of the Russia situation? Would interfering with an investigation of this importance violate his oath?

Did the president fully cooperate with the investigation? Is refusing to sit for an interview the action of someone fully cooperating? Are firing the FBI director, attempting to influence witnesses, lying to the public, writing an inaccurate account of the Trump Tower meeting and other actions detailed in your report consistent with “full cooperation”? If not, why did Barr say they were?

Was Barr’s letter an accurate representation of your work? Did you express your concerns to him? Did he reply to them?

The report states that “many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view.” Can that still be actionable? If such actions occurred secretly, would there be any doubt they were criminal? As a matter of law, there is no difference between telling someone privately not to cooperate with authorities and telling someone publicly, correct?

Of the 10 episodes you describe in the obstruction of justice section, you look at actions to obstruct the investigation, evidence of corrupt intent and a connection to an ongoing proceeding. Lawfare blog notes that, “in six of these episodes, the special counsel’s office suggests that all of the elements of obstruction are satisfied: Trump’s conduct regarding the investigation into Michael Flynn, his firing of Comey, his efforts to remove Mueller and then to curtail Mueller’s investigation, his campaign to have Sessions take back control over the investigation and an order he gave to White House Counsel Don McGahn to both lie to the press about Trump’s past attempt to fire Mueller and create a false record ‘for our files.’” Is that correct?

“In the cases of Comey’s firing, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2019 at 5:46 am

And in addition: Claims of Shoddy Production Draw Scrutiny to a Second Boeing Jet

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I’m not so sure that cutting taxes and thus cutting the government’s ability to deliver services is a good idea. The FAA has had to let Boeing do what it wants. But what Boeing wants is increased profit, even at the expense of safety. This is not an unusual attitude for corporations: cf. coal mines.

Natalie Kitroeff and David Gelles report in the NY Times:

When Boeing broke ground on its new factory near Charleston in 2009, the plant was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub, building one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But in the decade since, the factory, which makes the 787 Dreamliner, has been plagued by shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety.

A New York Times review of hundreds of pages of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, reveals a culture that often valued production speed over quality. Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees.

Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes.

Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.

Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.

“I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.”

In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems. Regulators and lawmakers are taking a deeper look at Boeing’s priorities, and whether profits sometimes trumped safety. The leadership of Boeing, one of the country’s largest exporters, now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend its practices and motivations.

“Boeing South Carolina teammates are producing the highest levels of quality in our history,” Kevin McAllister, Boeing’s head of commercial airplanes, said in a statement. “I am proud of our teams’ exceptional commitment to quality and stand behind the work they do each and every day.”

All factories deal with manufacturing errors, and there is no evidence that the problems in South Carolina have led to any major safety incidents. The Dreamliner has never crashed, although the fleet was briefly grounded after a battery fire. Airlines, too, have confidence in the Dreamliner.

But workers sometimes made dangerous mistakes, according to the current and former Boeing employees, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.

Faulty parts have been installed in planes. Tools and metal shavings have routinely been left inside jets, often near electrical systems. Aircraft have taken test flights with debris in an engine and a tail, risking failure.

On several planes, John Barnett, a former quality manager who worked at Boeing for nearly three decades and retired in 2017, discovered clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands the flight controls. If the sharp metal pieces — produced when fasteners were fitted into nuts — penetrate the wires, he said, it could be “catastrophic.”

Mr. Barnett, who filed a whistle-blower complaint with regulators, said he had repeatedly urged his bosses to remove the shavings. But they refused and moved him to another part of the plant.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, Lynn Lunsford, said the agency had inspected several planes certified by Boeing as free of such debris and found those same metal slivers. In certain circumstances, he said, the problem can lead to electrical shorts and cause fires.

Officials believe the shavings may have damaged an in-service airplane on one occasion in 2012, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The F.A.A. issued a directive in 2017 requiring that Dreamliners be cleared of shavings before they are delivered. Boeing said it was complying and was working with the supplier to improve the design of the nut. But it has determined that the issue does not present a flight safety issue.

“As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public,” Mr. Barnett said. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and if you travel by plane, you should be uneasy.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2019 at 9:29 am

What Barr said about obstruction

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From the Washington Post write-up, “What Attorney General Barr buried, misrepresented or ignored in clearing Trump,” just one section:

Barr noted at the outset that the assessment made by him and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took issue with how Mueller approached the question of obstruction of justice.

He and Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr said. He added that they “disagreed with some of the Special Counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law but that they instead “evaluated the evidence as presented by the Special Counsel in reaching our conclusion.”

As Mueller makes clear, that presentation of evidence was his goal. Since there exists an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel that prevents the Justice Department from indicting a sitting president, Mueller’s team “conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.” Their investigation specifically aimed “not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes.” If, however, “we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

In other words, they aimed to collect evidence and were open to exonerating him on charges of obstruction, though not to trying to prove a criminal case.

“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however,” Mueller continues, “we are unable to reach that judgment” — that is, that Trump clearly didn’t commit obstruction. At several points, in fact, the Mueller report aims at Congress as a potential arbiter of the obstruction question.

In an effort to bolster his own decision to exonerate Trump, Barr tries to contextualize Trump’s behavior. It’s important to quote this at length. We’ve added boldface for emphasis.

“In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context,” Barr said. ” . . . As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion” — at least using the definition Barr offered, which was limited to the interactions described above.

“[T]here is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said. “Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.

“Apart from whether the acts were obstructive,” Barr continued, “this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

The two boldface segments above are directly at odds with what Mueller writes.

First, the White House didn’t fully cooperate: Trump himself refused to sit for an interview with Mueller. The report addresses that, with Mueller explaining why they decided against pursuing a subpoena.

“Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate,” the report states. “But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report.” Ultimately, given the progress that had been made and the evidence elsewhere, they decided against what would have been a lengthy and nasty subpoena fight.

Second, there’s a reason that Trump didn’t take other actions obstructing the special counsel: The people who he directed to take those actions decided against it.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” Mueller writes, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

That’s not how Barr presents the issue.

What’s more, Mueller’s report suggests strongly that Trump’s frustration and anger was not something his team saw as working in Trump’s favor. The report notes two phases of Trump’s frustration, divided by the point at which Trump learned that there was an obstruction of justice inquiry. In that second phase, the report describes more urgent and direct actions taken by Trump. That increase is directly linked to concern about an obstruction inquiry.

After his prepared remarks, Barr took questions from reporters. One asked whether Mueller’s decision on obstruction was solely a function of the OLC opinion about indictments of presidents.

“We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion,” Barr said. “And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position. He — he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found a crime; he made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.”

Again, though, the OLC opinion did affect how Mueller approached the obstruction question, as outlined above. Mueller didn’t make a determination about a crime because of how he decided to approach the obstruction question which was itself a function, in part, of what the OLC wrote.

What Barr didn’t talk about . . .

There’s much more. Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 8:07 pm

Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies like a rug: It apparently is the Christian thing to do

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Bess Levin reports in Vanity Fair:

On May 11, 2017, two days after Donald Trump fired F.B.I. director James Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a little briefing with reporters. Addressing the matter of Comey’s unceremonious axing—he reportedly learned of his termination from the breaking news chyrons flashing on TV screens in the room as he delivered a speech at the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles field office—Sanders claimed that Comey was fired not because the president was trying to stop the Russia investigation, but because “he was not fit to do the job. It’s that simple . . . the president knew that Director Comey was not up to the task. He decided he wasn’t the right person for the job. He wanted somebody that could bring credibility back to the F.B.I. that had been lost over the last several months.” Sensing that this excuse for dismissing the man probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was, as they say in the business, total horse shit, several reporters pressed Sanders further.
“What led you in the White House to believe James Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file members of the F.B.I when the acting director says it‘s exactly the opposite?” the first asked. “I can speak to my own personal experience, I’ve heard from countless members of the F.B.I. that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision,” Sanders replied. Clearly not buying it, another reporter asked, incredulously, “You personally have talked to ‘countless’ F.B.I. officials, employees, since this happened?” “Correct,” Sanders said, her voice breaking.
“I mean, really?” the reporter asked. Apparently incensed that someone would dare question her, Sanders doubled down: “Between like e-mails, text messages, absolutely.” Saying she wasn’t going to “get into a numbers game” when asked to quantify just how many of these e-mails and text messages she’d received (“50, 60, 70?”), Sanders reiterated that she’d “heard from a large number of individuals who work at the F.B.I. who said that they are very happy with the president’s actions.” And yet, according to the redacted special counsel’s report from Robert Mueller released today, that actually wasn’t the case!

Here’s Mueller (emphasis ours):

The president’s draft termination letter also stated that morale in the F.B.I. was at an all-time low and Sanders told the press after Comey’s termination that the White House had heard from “countless” F.B.I. agents who had lost confidence in Comey. But the evidence does not support those claims. The President told Comey at their January 27 dinner that “the people of the F.B.I. really like [him],” no evidence suggests that the President heard otherwise before deciding to terminate Comey, and Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything.

In other words, Sanders invented the “countless” F.B.I. employees who’d supposedly e-mailed and texted her to say they’d lost confidence in Comey, i.e. she told a giant lie. This, of course, is not the first time the White House press secretary has stood at the podium and lied to reporters’ faces . . .

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a despicable person for whom self-respect must be well-nigh impossible without willful self-blindness. Of course, it helps that she apparently lacks any trace of shame or honor.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 5:06 pm

Searchable PDF of the Mueller report

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The Trump administration post an unsearchable PDF of the Mueller report. Cory Booker has now posted a searchable PDF of the report.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 2:47 pm

What if Fox News covered Trump the way it covered Obama? It would look like this

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Watch the video. Spot-on.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2019 at 8:48 am

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