News – hot and heavy

Daily 202 via WaPo – by James Hohmann
with Mariana Alfaro

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Barr and Trump hint at coming moves after Flynn is let off

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a television interview to defend his decision on Thursday to throw out the guilty plea of Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. “People sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes,” said Barr, who argued that agents did not have a legitimate reason to question President Trump’s then-national security adviser.

CBS News’s Catherine Herridge asked how he thinks history will remember such a stunning reversal, which has irked many career prosecutors inside the Justice Department.

“Well, history is written by the winner,” Barr replied. “So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” The rest of the answer suggested that Barr intends to write it. “I mean, it’s not going to be the end of it,” the Trump appointee added, referring to letting Flynn off the hook. “We’re going to get to the bottom of what happened.” Barr was referring to the ongoing probe by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, whom he appointed to reinvestigate the investigators in the Russia probe. “There probably will be a report as a byproduct of his work, but we also are seeing if there are people who violated the law and should be brought to justice, and that’s what we have our eye on,” he said. “I don’t want to get into particular individuals.”

Trump celebrated the Flynn news in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a lot of things happen over the next number of weeks,” he said. “This is just one piece of a very dishonest puzzle.”

Trump then accused “the Obama administration Justice Department” of committing “treason.” He also referred to the FBI investigators and Justice Department officials who worked on the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as “human scum,” as well as “dishonest, crooked people.” “He was targeted in order to try and take down a president,” Trump said of Flynn. “I hope a big price is going to be paid. A big price should be paid. … It’s treason.”

Trump accusing law enforcement officials of “treason” as he seeks to settle old scores is another indication that his attention has shifted away from the novel coronavirus contagion, which is causing the greatest public health and economic crises in nearly a century.

Trump said he discussed the investigation earlier Thursday during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and raised the possibility that they could work together more closely now. “And that was a very nice call,” Trump said. “And remember this: The Russia hoax made it very hard for Russia and the United States to deal with each other. They’re a very important nation. We’re the most powerful nation; they’re a very powerful nation. Why would we not be dealing with each other? But the Russia hoax … made it very difficult for our nation and their nation to deal. And we discussed that. I said, ‘You know, it’s a very appropriate time.’ Because things are falling out now and coming in line … We are talking about arms control with Russia, and we will go forward with that. And we are talking about it very seriously.”

“Russia will see this as a huge victory. A sign both of American weakness and of a corrupt judicial system, in which they can continue meddling in our affairs and get away with it,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia at the time of the 2016 U.S. campaign.

Donald Trump Jr. called for revenge against investigators in a stream of tweets.

The president’s son arranged a June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower after being told in an email that they wanted to help his dad’s campaign. “It’s time for some transparency & bad actors should be punished accordingly, you know, [the] way they would have punished us!” he tweeted. “Now it’s time to go on the offense. I look forward to watching General Flynn take a flamethrower to these corrupted institutions.”

Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell said in a statement that this is just “the first step toward restoring the importance of truth and the rule of law.”

The president suggested Friday that the FBI director’s job is not safe.

During a phone interview with Fox News on Friday morning, Trump claimed Chris Wray was “appointed by Rod Rosenstein,” the former deputy attorney general who oversaw former special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe after Jeff Sessions recused himself. In fact, Trump appointed Wray after he fired James Comey. The president added that “a lot of things are going to come out” and said on Fox: “Let’s see what happens with him. The jury’s still out.”

Trump is unlikely to remove Wray before the election, even though he would love to replace him, Axios reported on Sunday, citing three sources who have discussed the matter with the president: “First, some of Trump’s key advisers don’t want to kick the hornet’s nest so close to an election by firing a second FBI director. And, second, there isn’t an obvious replacement who’d both pass muster on Capitol Hill and be the sort of loyalist Trump wants to run the FBI.”

Career federal prosecutors believe Barr is politicizing the DOJ in alarming ways.

“It is highly unusual for the Justice Department to seek to undo a guilty plea, and comes just months after [Barr] pressed prosecutors in another of Mueller’s cases to soften their sentencing recommendation for the president’s friend and former political adviser Roger Stone,” Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report. “Shortly before the Justice Department abandoned Flynn’s prosecution, the line prosecutor on the case, Brandon Van Grack, formally withdrew — just as the Stone prosecutors had. In the new filing, Timothy Shea, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wrote that ‘continued prosecution of this case would not serve the interests of justice,’ but current and former law enforcement officials said the decision was a betrayal of long-standing Justice Department principles. Shea, who was tapped by Barr to lead the U.S. attorney’s office, was the only lawyer to sign the filing; no career attorneys affixed their names to it. …

“Thursday’s filing blames a handful of former senior FBI officials for what Shea declared was an unjustified pursuit of Flynn. … The filing asserts that the government could not prove Flynn lied, but more important, cannot show his statements were relevant to an ongoing investigation because the FBI was winding down its case against Flynn before suddenly deciding to interview him about his phone calls. Legal analysts and those involved in the case vigorously dispute both assertions.”

“Another pillar in the foundation of the Department of Justice and the rule of law has fallen,” said one federal prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The justification for this move is not credible, and it may be used by criminals in the future to escape legitimate prosecution.”

Barr’s department has “intervened in a range of other ways, from seeking more comfortable prison accommodations last year for Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, to abruptly dropping charges in March against two Russian shell companies that were about to go to trial for financing schemes to interfere in the 2016 election using social media,” the New York Times notes. “I’ve been practicing for more time than I care to admit, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Julie O’Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at Georgetown University, said of the reversal in the Flynn case.

Trump seems determined to rehabilitate Flynn.  The president’s advisers are contemplating a possible visit to the White House by Flynn in the coming weeks and say he could become a campaign surrogate this fall. “I’m very happy for General Flynn,” he said on Thursday in the Oval Office. “He was a great warrior, and he still is a great warrior. Now, in my book, he’s an even greater warrior.”

Nine senior Trump administration officials, campaign staff, outside advisers and longtime associates of the president told the Daily Beast on Thursday that they want Flynn to have a public-facing role in helping the president. One of Trump’s campaign pollsters even compared Flynn to Nelson Mandela: “Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution, he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” John McLaughlin said. “Now after over three years of political persecution, General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.”

None of the new developments change the fact that Flynn didn’t tell the truth to the FBI. “We know the FBI made some serious mistakes in the Russia investigation,” writes columnist David Ignatius. “But none of that addresses the fundamental question that got this story rolling in the first place: Why was the incoming national security adviser telling the Kremlin’s man in Washington not to worry about the expulsion of 35 of his spies? … That was the wrong message to be sending in December 2016. And with the accumulation of evidence since then about the scope of Russian subversion, it’s even more troubling.”

Ignatius poses several questions that remain unanswered: “If Flynn did nothing wrong when he called the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29, 2016, the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering in the presidential election, why did he conceal it? … Why was the Trump administration so eager to blunt the punishment Obama gave to Russia for what we now know was gross interference in our presidential election? … Was Flynn improperly tricked in his Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI into misstating what he had told [Ambassador Sergey] Kislyak? If so, why did he resign and later plead guilty? In Flynn’s Feb. 13, 2017, resignation letter, he admitted that he had made misleading statements to Vice President Pence about the Kislyak call.”

There’s still a bear in the woods.

On April 20, the news was overshadowed by the coronavirus, but the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia conducted a sweeping and unprecedented campaign to interfere in the 2016 election to boost Trump. The committee’s 158-page report vindicating the intelligence community was the result of a three-year investigation. Significantly, it also concludes that analysts felt no political pressure to shape findings and “that they were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper for the analytic process.” Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement: “The committee found no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusions.”

On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee published thousands of pages of new transcripts from more than 50 closed-door interviews conducted as part of its GOP-led Russia investigation in 2017 and 2018. Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the belated release of the documents was because the White House put a hold on their declassification. “Despite the many barriers put in our way by the then-Republican Majority, and attempts by some key witnesses to lie to us and obstruct our investigation, the transcripts that we are releasing today show precisely what [Mueller] also revealed: That the Trump campaign, and Donald Trump himself, invited illicit Russian help, made full use of that help, and then lied and obstructed the investigations in order to cover up this misconduct,” Schiff said in a statement. “While [Mueller] found insufficient evidence to prove the crime of criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, he refused to draw any conclusion on the issue of collusion — contrary to false representations made by [Barr] and others. There is ample evidence of the corrupt interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia, both direct and circumstantial, in the record.”

Last night, Trump’s solicitor general also asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block a ruling that requires the Justice Department to give Congress certain secret grand jury material from Mueller’s investigation. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in March cleared the way for Congress to access certain secret evidence from Mueller’s investigation in one of a set of separation-of-powers lawsuits between House Democrats and the Trump administration,” Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes report. “Noel Francisco told the Supreme Court on Thursday that if it does not put the order on hold, the government will have to disclose those materials Monday, ‘which would irrevocably lift their secrecy and possibly frustrate the government’s ability to seek further review.’ … A divided D.C. Circuit found that the House was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from secrecy rules that typically shield grand jury materials from disclosure.”

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