1 year on, Robert Mueller is everywhere and nowhere
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Unlike the president, Robert Mueller hasn’t uttered one word in public about his Russia investigation in the year since he was appointed special counsel. And that is rattling just about everyone involved.
What’s he up to? When will he bring the probe to an end?
He doesn’t have to say, and he’s not.
A year into the investigation, the stern-looking prosecutor is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. In that time, the breadth and stealth of investigations surrounding President Donald Trump have unsettled the White House and its chief occupant, and have spread to Capitol Hill, K Street, foreign governments and, as late as last week, corporate boardrooms.
With lawmakers eying midterm elections and Trump publicly mulling whether he will sit for an interview with Mueller, Republican calls are growing for the special counsel to end his investigation. Vice President Mike Pence and others have said it publicly. GOP lawmakers insist they’ve seen no evidence of collusion between Russians and Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
The longer the investigation runs, the more those calls are likely to amplify.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has steadfastly supported the special counsel, seemed to change his tone a bit Thursday.
“I think he should be free to do his job, but I would like to see it get wrapped up, of course,” Ryan said. “I mean we want to see this thing come to its conclusion, but again I’ve always said he should be free to finish his job.”
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the election, whether Trump’s campaign was involved and possible obstruction of justice. And by the standards of previous special counsel investigations, his actually has so far gone fairly quickly. Since Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, his office has charged 19 people and three Russian companies. Among those charged are four Trump aides, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The probe has also ensnared countless Washington insiders who have been called to testify or found themselves under scrutiny, including lobbyists and foreign representatives who may have illegally sought to influence the administration. Large corporations like AT&T and Novartis have been contacted by Mueller and caught up in an offshoot investigation into Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen. The companies acknowledged last week that they paid Cohen for “insight” in the early days of the Trump administration.
While Mueller himself still enjoys generally broad bipartisan support in Congress, particularly in the Senate, the secrecy of the investigation has created some anxiety about what is next.
“The American people are curious about what happened,” says Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “And everything so far that has supposedly come out about it has been speculation and conjecture and rumor — and the truth is nobody really knows what Mr. Mueller and his team are thinking.”
The president’s lawyers have rushed to fill that vacuum, recently suggesting they’ve been told Mueller won’t indict Trump and couldn’t force the president to comply with an interview. Personal attorney Rudy Giuliani suggested that a recent conversation with Mueller’s team led him to believe the special counsel, citing a Justice Department opinion, had ruled out the possibility of trying to indict a sitting president.
Trump has seemed confident of that on Twitter, where he frequently throws barbs at the investigation — a strategy that is increasingly resonating with many Republicans. On Thursday, he marked the anniversary by calling the probe a “disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt.”
But while he calls for an end to the investigation, Trump’s own indecision over an interview remains the most visible impediment to a speedy conclusion of at least one key part.
Mueller asked to interview the president months ago, but the Trump legal team has struggled to formally make a decision. The president has publicly said he wants to talk to Mueller, only to demur, citing his lawyers. Last week, Giuliani told The Associated Press the decision would be delayed at least another month until after a June 12 summit with North Korea.
Giuliani said Mueller has indicated to the legal team that he’s “pretty much finished,” with the exception of the president’s interview.
“As far as we know, we’re basically the last witness,” Giuliani said.
Beyond that, the endgame remains unclear. A final report from Mueller could go to Congress — a move that would become more significant if Democrats win control in this year’s elections.
It’s unclear how much insight the Trump legal team has into Mueller’s timing. As in most major investigations, his office does not leak, and his spokesmen decline to comment on nearly every news story. Mueller is barely even photographed — forcing news outlets to run the same photos and videos over and over again, of Mueller on Capitol Hill or heading to work.
Instead, the few public glimpses into the special counsel’s work come from witnesses who are interviewed, attorneys and court filings made in the publicly filed criminal cases.
It’s also unclear how important the issue is to voters back home.
A December 2017 poll conducted by the AP and NORC at the University of Chicago found that the Russia investigation ranked at the bottom of issues important to most Americans, well behind topics like the economy, taxes and health care.
Sol Wisenberg, who conducted grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton as deputy independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation, said public perceptions of Mueller’s probe wax and wane, filtered through the viewpoints of prosecution supporters and opponents.
Mueller’s detractors would argue that the cases have largely involved false statement allegations divorced from the central Russian collusion question, Wisenberg said, while supporters will point to the indictments to prove the special counsel has uncovered criminal conduct deserving of his appointment.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor: “I would say to the president it’s not a witch hunt when 17 Russians have been indicted; it’s not a witch hunt when some of the most senior members of the Trump campaign have been indicted.” Schumer’s numbers are slightly off; the indicted include 13 Russians, not 17.
Associated Press writers Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
Trump administration preparing to hold immigrant children on military bases
By Nick Miroff and Paul Sonne May 15
The Washington Post
The Trump administration is making preparations to hold immigrant children on military bases, according to Defense Department communications, the latest sign the government is moving forward with plans to split up families who cross the border illegally.
According to an email notification sent to Pentagon staffers, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will make site visits at four military installations in Texas and Arkansas during the next two weeks to evaluate their suitability to shelter children.
The bases would be used for minors under 18 who arrive at the border without an adult relative or after the government has separated them from their parents. HHS is the government agency responsible for providing minors with foster care until another adult relative can assume custody.
The email characterized the site visits as a preliminary assessment. “No decisions have been made at this time,” it states.
[Sessions vows to prosecute all illegal border crossers and separate children from their parents]
An official at HHS confirmed the military site visits, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The official said that HHS currently has the bed space to hold 10,571 children.
In a statement, the agency’s Administration for Children and Families said its programs require “routinely evaluating the needs and capacity of an existing network of approximately 100 shelters in 14 states.”
“Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering,” the statement said.
Those facilities are at 91 percent capacity, the HHS official said, and the Trump administration’s crackdown plans could push thousands more children into government care. The official said that DHS has not provided projections for how many additional children to expect.
Trump officials say they are moving forcefully to halt a sharp increase in the number of families crossing the border illegally this spring, many of whom are Central Americans seeking asylum. U.S. border agents in March and April arrested more than 100,000 people who crossed the border illegally, the highest monthly totals since President Trump took office.
Trump has seethed at the increase, singling out Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for blame.
He has ordered her to “close” the border and cut off the migration flows, which typically increase in spring with seasonal demand for rural labor.
[Trump unloads on Homeland Security secretary in lengthy immigration tirade]
Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions say the government will take the extraordinary measure of filing criminal charges against anyone who crosses the border illegally, including parents traveling with their children. In most cases, that means adults will be held at immigration jails to await court dates while their children are sent into foster care.
“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law,” Sessions said in a speech last week.
“If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” he added. “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
Children held in HHS custody spend an average of 45 days in the government’s care, the HHS official said, and they are provided with educational and recreational opportunities. The agency conducts background checks on potential sponsors for the minors, and in 85 percent of cases the children are released to a parent or other adult relative already present in the United States, the official said.
Homeland Security officials have struggled for years to manage the demographic shift in the population of immigrants arrested at the border, where single men from Mexico were once the overwhelming majority of those taken into custody.
Families with children and unaccompanied minors made up 10 percent of illegal border crossers five years ago, Nielsen told senators in testimony Tuesday. Today, they account for 40 percent of those detained by U.S. border agents, she said.
The use of military bases to hold immigrant children is not without precedent. At the peak of the 2014 child-immigration crisis, the Obama administration used bases in Oklahoma, Texas and California to house more than 7,000 children over a period of several months.
Critics of the family-separation practices denounce the practice as heartless, saying it inflicts additional trauma on families fleeing from Central America’s bloody gang wars.
Trump last month ordered the Pentagon to help Homeland Security officials cope with the surge in illegal crossings, including the mobilization of up to 4,000 National Guard troops. Military personnel have been deployed in a supporting role and are not allowed to arrest immigrants.
It is not clear whether the troops could be assigned to the bases where children will be held. Three of the bases are in Texas — the Army’s Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base. Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas also will be evaluated, according to the Pentagon communications and HHS.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, said the Defense Department had not yet received a formal request from HHS. When the military has loaned space at its facilities in the past, HHS has reimbursed the Defense Department and the military has had little to do with the operation.
Nick Miroff covers drug trafficking, border security and transnational crime on The Washington Post’s National Security desk. He was a Post foreign correspondent in Latin America from 2010 to 2017, and has been a staff writer since 2006.
Paul Sonne covers the U.S. military and national security. He previously reported for the Wall Street Journal from Moscow, London and Washington.
“This nation was built on Christian values.” Yup…including slavery, subservience of women and killing of Native Americans.
Judiciary Dems: Kremlin may have used the NRA to help Trump campaign
By Avery Anapol – 05/16/18
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they have obtained documents that suggest Russia used the National Rifle Association (NRA) to help President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The Democrats on Wednesday released a document outlining preliminary findings from their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It states that the Kremlin may have “used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.”
“The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign,” the document reads.
The Democrats identified two figures of particular interest: Maria Butina, a Russian national living in the U.S., and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia. The Democrats noted that Butina, who worked as an assistant to Torshin, has refused to cooperate as a witness.
The document says that Butina and Torshin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were key parts of the Kremlin’s effort to use the NRA to aid Trump.
“[Butina and Torshin] repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump,” the committee said.
Both Butina and Torshin have ties to former NRA President David Keene and hosted him for a pro-gun conference in Russia. Butina founded Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and also started a business with former Trump adviser Paul Erickson.
The Democrats said they have requested from Butina an interview and documents related to Torshin’s efforts to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump. They are also looking into “possible use of the National Rifle Association (NRA) by Russia to contribute money to the Trump campaign,” according to the document.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is reportedly investigating whether the NRA accepted illegal contributions from Russians in the 2016 campaign. The NRA and its lobbying arm spent $30 million in support Trump’s campaign.
The Democrats noted Erickson and Keene have refused to cooperate.
The Hill has reached out to the NRA for comment.
The release from Democrats came after Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released hundreds of pages of transcripts of the panel’s interviews with participants at a controversial Trump Tower meeting in 2016. Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting after being promised dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In their document, the Democrats said the transcripts are interviews with just five of the eight participants in the meeting.
“We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia,” the Democrats said.