Where the investigations related to President Trump stand
By The Associated Press
Monday, February 18
A look at where investigations related to President Donald Trump stand and what may lie ahead for him:
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Trump also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign. New York prosecutors also are looking into Trump’s inaugural fund.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW RIGHT NOW?
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in an interview that aired Sunday that a “crime may have been committed” when President Donald Trump fired the head of the FBI and tried to publicly undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
McCabe also said in the interview with “60 Minutes” that the FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was in league with Russia, and therefore a possible national security threat, following the May 2017 firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.
SO … DID THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN COLLUDE WITH RUSSIA?
There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows that a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and several lied about the communication.
There is evidence that some people in Trump’s orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.
OTHER QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
—WHAT ABOUT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE? That is another unresolved question that Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Trump’s firing of Comey and Trump’s fury over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal.
—WHAT DOES TRUMP HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? Trump has repeatedly slammed the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. He also says his former lawyer Cohen lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.
—WHEN WILL IT ALL WRAP UP? It’s unclear. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said late last month that the probe is “close to being completed,” the first official sign that Mueller’s investigation may be wrapping up. But he gave no specific timetable.
For more in-depth information, follow AP coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
Man with banner scales crane before Trump speech in Florida
SWEETWATER, Fla. (AP) — A man with a banner and an American flag climbed a construction crane near a Florida campus where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak Monday.
The Miami Herald reports the man spent about two hours atop the crane at the northern edge of the Florida International University campus in the Miami suburb of Sweetwater.
It was unclear what was written in black on the man’s white banner. Only the words “Mr. Presidente” were visible, with the rest of the banner twisted in the wind.
Police had blocked off streets around the campus and warned traffic would be interrupted by Trump’s visit.
The president was expected to speak about the political turmoil in Venezuela. The campus is just south of Doral, a city home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the U.S.
Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com
Indict or shut up: The public may never see a report from Mueller’s investigation
February 18, 2019
Author: Stanley M. Brand, Distinguished Fellow in Law and Government, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Stanley M. Brand does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Almost from the day of Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, the media and the public have expected that his investigation will end with a report to either the Congress or the public or both.
I’m a law school professor who teaches a course on the independent counsel, the predecessor of the special counsel.
For eight years, I was the general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, the chief legal officer responsible for representing the House, its members, officers and employees in connection with legal procedures and challenges to the conduct of their official activities.
I believe that the public’s expectation that they will see a report from the Mueller investigation is unrealistic. That expectation appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the legal principles involved in making any such report available to anyone outside of the Department of Justice.
Regulation reflects history
The previous law creating special counsels – which has now lapsed – directed the special counsel to report to the House of Representatives “substantial and credible information” of impeachable conduct.
The current regulation, adopted during the Clinton administration, provides no such direction.
It says only that “[a]t the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report” explaining the decision to either prosecute or not.
The goal of those drafting the regulation was to restore more control to the department over the special counsel after what was seen as the excesses of previous independent counsels in the Iran Contra and Clinton cases.
Those excesses included overly broad and lengthy investigations such as the HUD Independent Counsel, which took eight years to complete; expensive investigations, including US $52 million estimated in one case; and oppressive prosecutorial tactics, like subpoenaing Monica Lewinsky’s mother to the grand jury.
Former Department of Justice official Neal Katyal, who drafted the regulations, has explained that returning a degree of control over the process to the Department of Justice would result in a restoration of the separation of powers balance between the executive branch and Congress in these cases.
“The special counsel regulations were drafted at a unique historical moment,” wrote Katyal in the Washington Post.
“Presidents of both parties had suffered through scandals and prosecutions under the Independent Counsel Act…There was a chance to rethink things without either party fearing that it would give its political adversaries an advantage.”
Grand jury mum
Perhaps more importantly, much of any “Mueller report” would almost inevitably reveal materials presented during the grand jury proceedings. Yet federal law dictates that grand jury proceedings are secret.
There are exceptions. Grand jury materials, for example, such as testimony and documents can be revealed in connection with a judicial proceeding at the request of the government, for state or Indian tribal law enforcement purposes, attorney disbarment proceedings or in connection with a violation of military criminal law.
But they can’t be revealed to Congress or the public unless under these exceptions.
The Department of Justice has vigorously opposed, in court, efforts by Congress to obtain such materials. In connection with the congressional investigation of the E.F. Hutton mail and wire fraud case in the 1980s, a congressional committee subpoenaed records that had been reviewed by the grand jury and the Department of Justice filed an action to prevent disclosure.
Grand jury records and prosecutors’ decisions about individual cases are shielded from public view to protect those who may have been investigated but not charged.
The press conference about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails held by former FBI Director James Comey in July 2016 was widely criticized by former Department of Justice officials and prosecutors of both parties for deviating from this policy.
Comey acknowledged he was departing from normal procedure.
“This will be an unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I am going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would,” said Comey.
Some critics have linked Hillary Clinton’s election defeat to the statements by Comey that Clinton was “extremely careless,” even though he determined she did not commit offenses for which she should be prosecuted.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, explained the policy best. Comey “laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook case example of what prosecutors…are taught not to do.”
Given all these limitations, in the words of NYU professor and legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, the prosecutor has two choices: “Indict or shut up.”
Finally, there is the Watergate precedent.
The grand jury investigating Watergate prepared a sealed report, with assistance from special counsel Leon Jaworski, and requested permission from the court to release it to the House Judiciary Committee.
The committee had requested such a report as necessary for its impeachment inquiry into crimes Nixon was alleged to have committed related to the Watergate burglary.
The court determined that Rule 6(e) permitted transmission to the House, despite its restrictions on disclosure and no unambiguous exception for disclosure to Congress.
Nixon did not challenge the decision. The public did not, however, see it for decades. It remained sealed until 2018, when a judge released most of it in response to a lawsuit.
The release of the Watergate grand jury’s report happened under a very narrow and specific set of circumstances related to a House committee’s impeachment investigation. It remains a serious legal question whether release to Congress of the Mueller grand jury’s deliberations would be barred by the law.
No such House proceeding is yet underway to determine whether the president should be impeached. And there are a lot of “ifs” that would apply were such a committee to request access to any Mueller grand jury report: Even if impeachment of Trump were to be considered by the House, if the committee requested grand jury records, if the grand jury wanted to provide the House with testimony and if a judge allowed it, it is unlikely that Trump would respond as Nixon did and fail to appeal the decision.
Of course, Congress could attempt to subpoena the report. That would undoubtedly produce prolonged litigation.
None of this is to say that the “Mueller report” will not ultimately see the light of day.
Rather, there are significant legal and procedural hurdles to overcome in making it public and no clear precedent which can be relied on to predict such an outcome.
Anthony Janetos, Director, Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and Professor of Earth and Environment, Boston University: Thanks for the explanations. I have also wondered whether there is an unreasonable expectation of public release for some fraction of what the Mueller investigation finds because of its origin as a counter-intelligence investigation. It would be unusual for all the details to be released for national security reasons, revealing classified sources and methods, etc. Is this concern correct?
Judge limits public comments in Trump confidant Stone’s case
By CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER
Sunday, February 17
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Friday placed some limits on what President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone and his lawyers can say publicly about his criminal case in the special counsel’s Russia probe.
But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments by the outspoken political operative, issuing a limited gag order she said was necessary to ensure Stone’s right to a fair trial and “to maintain the dignity and seriousness of the courthouse and these proceedings.”
The order bars Stone from commenting about his pending case near the courthouse, but it does not constrain him from making other public statements about the prosecution. It does generally bar his lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses from making public comments that could “pose a substantial likelihood” of prejudicing potential jurors.
Jackson’s order comes after a string of media appearances by the attention-seeking political consultant since his indictment and arrest last month. In several of those interviews, Stone had blasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference as politically motivated and criticized his case as involving only “process crimes.”
Jackson had cited those media appearances in raising the prospect of a gag order, warning Stone at a hearing not to treat his case like a “book tour.”
Stone’s lawyers had argued that any limits on his public comments would infringe on his First Amendment right to free speech. They wrote in a filing last week that Stone’s comments wouldn’t merit a “clear and present danger to a fair trial.” Mueller’s prosecutors didn’t oppose a gag order.
In her order, Jackson said she considered not only the potential impact of public comments on jurors but also the need to maintain order at the federal courthouse in Washington.
Citing the “size and vociferousness” of crowds already attracted to Stone’s court proceedings, Jackson barred Stone, lawyers and witnesses from making any statements to the news media while entering and exiting the courthouse.
Jackson left open the possibility that she could amend the order in the future and reminded Stone that he is not permitted to contact any witnesses in the case. She also said if Stone complained about pretrial publicity at a later date, she would consider whether he had brought it on himself.
The 66-year-old Stone was arrested in an FBI raid at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home last month. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. The charges stem from conversations he had during the 2016 election about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said that Russia was the source of the hacked material, and last year Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking.
Stone is not accused of directly coordinating with WikiLeaks. But Mueller’s team did confirm in a court filing Friday that investigators have evidence of communication between Stone and WikiLeaks and between Stone and Guccifer 2.0, who purported to be a Romanian hacker responsible for the intrusions but who authorities say was actually a front for Russian intelligence.
Mueller did not provide details of the communications, though The Atlantic last year published what it said were Twitter direct messages between Stone and WikiLeaks, including one in which WikiLeaks appeared to scold Stone for suggesting in his public comments an association with the organization.
The messages that have been made public were exchanged after WikiLeaks had begun releasing the hacked material, and they don’t show Stone coordinating with the anti-secrecy group.
Stone has been outspoken since his arrest, declaring his innocence in a news conference following his first court appearance in Florida and accusing Mueller of heavy-handed tactics by having him arrested in a pre-dawn raid.
He’s been more muted outside the courthouse in Washington, though he did hold a hotel news conference — accompanied by a host from the conspiracy theory website InfoWars — in which he said he would respect any gag order from the judge but also expected to appeal it.
He maintained he had no negative information about the president to share with Mueller and insisted he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I am not accused of Russian collusion, I am not accused of collaboration with WikiLeaks, I am not accused of conspiracy,” Stone said. “There is no evidence or accusation that I knew in advance about the source or content of the WikiLeaks material.”
Read the order: http://apne.ws/DZtnY0b
How the ballooning $22 trillion national debt will affect Americans
February 13, 2019
The national debt is no longer a problem that can be ignored. According to the Treasury department, the total public debt crossed the $22 trillion mark on Monday, with some $30 billion in debt added this month alone. When President Donald Trump took office, debt stood just over $19.9 trillion.
Trump had promised to eliminate national debt during his presidency, a pledge he dialed back to “reducing” a chunk. While the national debt took a temporary dip to $19.8 trillion thanks to the debt ceiling, Trump’s decision to raise the debt ceiling in the fall of 2017 caused the debt to hit $20 trillion. Last year, he suspended it until March 2019. And the debt has been skyrocketing since.
Trump isn’t the first president to preside over an ever-increasing national debt. Under President Barack Obama, national debt increased from $11.1 trillion to $19.85 trillion. (It’s important to note here that national debt started to increase right before Obama took office; and increasing national debt was a critical part of improving the economy amid a recession.) Obama saw the annual deficit decline during his presidency, a trend that ended when Trump took office. President George W. Bush presided over a debt increase from $5.77 trillion to $11.1 trillion.
More than halfway through his presidency, Trump has seen the national debt increase at the fastest rate since 2012. The annual deficit is projected to rise 15.1% this year from $779 billion in 2018. By 2022, it will hit $1 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
But with so much talk about the need to reduce the country’s debt, why has it continued to balloon?
There are a few reasons. The most recent can be attributed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). According to estimates by the CBO, TCJA will add $1.9 trillion to the national debt. Congress also increased spending on the military and domestic programs in a spending bill that topped $1.3 trillion dollars. But that isn’t all. An aging population has increased spending on healthcare, while retiring Baby Boomers put a strain on Social Security.
The national debt has become a runaway train that can be easy for the average American citizen to ignore. But the expanding national debt will impact everyone.
Rising national debt hurts the economy, in large part thanks to interest that must be paid on the debt.
According to the most recent CBO economic outlook, interest on the national debt is projected to hit $383 billion this year, an 18% increase from last year. By 2029, the United States will have to pay $928 billion in interest alone.
Outlining the risks
The CBO highlights all the consequences of rising debt. As more money is funneled towards the increasing national debt interest, federal spending reduces, meaning less money spent on infrastructure, education, research and development. But that isn’t all. CBO points to an increased likelihood of a fiscal crisis — a crisis that the United States wouldn’t be able to respond to as easily.
“Lawmakers would have less flexibility than otherwise to use tax and spending policies to respond to unexpected challenges,” says the CBO report. “Specifically, the risk would rise of investors’ being unwilling to finance the government’s borrowing unless they were compensated with very high interest rates. If that occurred, interest rates on federal debt would rise suddenly and sharply relative to rates of return on other assets.”
Families would also take a more direct financial hit in addition to increased interest rates on loans and mortgages. The CBO estimates that with current projections, the national debt will reduce a family’s income by $16,000 by 2048.
While the U.S. isn’t the only country with high debt levels, it is the only advanced economy that is expected to increase its debt to GDP ratio by 2023, according to the IMF. Currently, that ratio sits at 78%, but the CBO projects that it will hit 93% by 2029 — its highest level since just after World War II.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.