March 6, 2019

Former CIA Director John Brennan explained to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Tuesday night why President Trump overriding intelligence officials and his own staff to give security clearances to his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner would be such a big deal, as well as an unprecedented one. He also said he heard "a lot of tantalizing tidbits" from Michael Cohen's public testimony last week, specifically the still-under-wraps federal criminal investigations involving Trump. And he hazarded a guess about when Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation would wrap up, and how.

"I think Robert Mueller wants to be able to conclude his work and turn over the investigative threads to the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and other jurisdictions as appropriate," Brennan said. "I wouldn't be surprised if, for example, this week on Friday — not knowing anything about it — but Friday is the day that the grand jury indictments come down." And this Friday, he said, is better than next Friday, the Ides of March, for Mueller to hand in "what I think are going to be his indictments, the final indictments, as well as the report that he gives to the attorney general."

Brennan explained he thinks Mueller still has some indictments coming because he hasn't yet addressed possible Russia-related criminal conspiracy by Americans. "I do think also if anybody from the Trump family, extended family, is going to be indicted, it would be in the final act of Mueller's investigation, because Bob Muller and his team knows if he were to do something, indicting a Trump family member, or if he were to go forward with indictment on criminal conspiracy involving U.S. persons, that would basically be the death knell of the special counsel's office," he said, "I don't believe Donald Trump would allow Bob Mueller to continue in the aftermath of those types of actions." Watch below. Peter Weber

March 4, 2019

In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 58 percent of Americans say they don't believe President Trump has been "honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters," while 37 percent said they think he has been honest and truthful. The results were starkly different depending on political affiliation, though: 75 percent of Republican respondents said they believe Trump has been honest, while just 27 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats felt the same way.

And the results also varied by what cable news channel viewers watched, the pollsters found: 84 percent of Fox News viewers, 21 percent of MSNBC viewers, and 1 percent of CNN viewers said they believe Trump has been honest and truthful on the Russia investigation. "Look, these are small samples, we can debate that, but that does tell you something major," Chuck Todd said on Sunday's Meet the Press. "What does that say to you, Fred?" he asked Democratic pollster Fred Yang. "It tells us that you get your reality from what channel you watch," Yang replied.

And even though Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not released his report — or, really, put out any public statements on the Russia investigation — 48 percent of respondents said Mueller's investigation has already given them more doubts about Trump's presidency while 47 percent said it has given them no new doubts. By a 66 percent-to-9 percent margin, respondents said Mueller's report should be made public.

The poll was conducted Feb. 24-27 among 900 adults, including 720 registered voters, over the phone. The overall margin of error is ±3.3 percentage points, ±3.7 points for registered voters, ±6.3 points for Democratic primary voters, and ±6.8 points for GOP primary voters. Peter Weber

February 11, 2019

A heavily redacted transcript of a closed-door hearing in a Washington federal courtroom released late Thursday contained "one of the most tantalizing" hints that Special Counsel Robert Mueller "is still pursuing the central question of whether there was some kind of deal between Russia and the Trump campaign" during the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times reported Sunday night. The hearing was about the Mueller team's assertion that Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign manager, had lied to prosecutors, voiding his cooperation deal.

The theory that Trump campaign officials were in talks to effectively cede Eastern Ukraine to Russia and maybe ease Russian sanctions while Russia was helping the Trump campaign "was offered almost as an aside by the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann," the Times says. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked Weissmann why Manafort's alleged lies about discussing a "peace" plan for Ukraine with longtime Russian colleague Konstantin Kilimnik — beginning Aug 2, 2016, when Manafort was still running Trump's campaign, and continuing into 2018 — mattered. The Times continues:

"This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think is the motive here," Mr. Weissmann said. "This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating." ... Jackson seemed to agree with prosecutors that whether Mr. Manafort lied about his contacts with Mr. Kilimnik was important, saying at one point, "I am, actually, particularly concerned about this particular alleged false statement." [The New York Times]

Mueller's office has mostly skirted the collusion question, racking up guilty pleas or convictions for Manafort and others in Trump's orbit for lying to investigators and financial crimes while laying out a case that Moscow interceded on Trump's behalf in 2016. But there have been hints of conspiracy, and Weissmann told Berman that whether any American even unwittingly engaged with election-meddling Russians relates to "the core" of Mueller's investigation. Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

February 5, 2019

President Trump turned to his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, in early 2016 for a loan of at least $10 million to work on the Trump Organization's Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, and Deutsche Bank said no, judging the risk too high, The New York Times reported over the weekend. On Monday, The Times of London reported that Maryland prosecutors have subpoenaed financial documents relating to DJT Holdings LLC, the company that owns the Turnberry club and Washington's Trump International Hotel, among other properties, to find out who exactly owns it. There is speculation Russia is financially involved.

"In the decade before he was elected president, Mr. Trump's company spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying or renovating about a dozen clubs and resorts around the world," The New York Times reports. "The funding of Mr. Trump's golf empire has been something of a mystery." Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh says his team is looking for evidence "President Trump is violating the Constitution's emoluments clauses." Those cases "are rare and challenging to prove," says Vanity Fair's Eric Lutz. "Potentially more worrisome for the president is the possibility that the Maryland subpoena could reveal the unknown source of DJT Holdings's funding."

Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, told the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 that Trump's "Irish courses and the Scottish courses ... don't, on their face, show Russian involvement," but do show "enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources ... hundreds of millions of dollars. And these golf course are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money." In 2013, Eric Trump told golf writer James Dodson that "we have all the funding we need out of Russia" for Trump golf properties; Eric Trump denied saying that in 2017, Dodson stood by his report.

House Democrats are planning to investigate Trump's involvement with Deutsche Bank, which was fined as recently as 2017 for laundering Russian money. Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller told the Times that "at no time was any money needed to finance the purchase or the refurbishment of Trump Turnberry"; she did not address the 2016 Deutsche Bank loan. Peter Weber

December 28, 2018

On Thursday, McClatchy reported that a cellphone linked to Michael Cohen, former lawyer and fixer for President Trump, had briefly connected with cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, about the time an unverified dossier placed Cohen in the Czech capital for a covert meeting with Russians. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is aware of the intercepts, McClatchy said, and its reporters were told about the cellphone evidence from four sources who learned of it independently from foreign intelligence connections. Cohen, who has been cooperating with Mueller's Trump-Russia collusion investigation, reiterated Thursday that he has never been to Prague, ever, adding cryptically that "#Mueller knows everything!"

Was Cohen being cute about Prague, and had maybe visited its suburbs or somewhere else in the Czech Republic? "NO," he tweeted, when people asked. Still, McClatchy's "reporting is the opposite of thin," notes New York's Jonathan Chait, and assuming this isn't "a massive journalistic error," evidence that Cohen was in Prague that summer and met with Russians "would mean just about the worst possible thing for Trump," providing a direct link between the president and Russians allegedly trying to cover up collusion with Trump's campaign. A spokesman for Mueller's office declined McClatchy's invitation to comment on its report. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

Former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators on Friday that the bureau's counterintelligence investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began with four unidentified Americans starting in July 2016, "weeks or months" before the FBI learned of "the so-called Steele dossier" compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele for Trump's political rivals. But now, thanks to recent disclosures by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, we know of at least 14 Trump associates and family members — including children Don. Jr. and Ivanka Trump — who were contacted by Russian nationals during President Trump's 2016 campaign, according to The Washington Post's tally.

Some of the Russians circling Trump's world "offered to help his campaign and his real estate business, and "some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent," the Post reports. As Mueller "slowly unveils the evidence that he has gathered since his appointment as special counsel in May 2017, he has not yet shown that any of the dozens of interactions between people in Trump's orbit and Russians resulted in any specific coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia. But the mounting number of communications that have been revealed occurred against the backdrop of 'sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,' as Mueller's prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week."

Russia experts and former presidential campaign officials say that the number and nature of such contacts with a foreign power, much less a hostile power, is highly unusual during a presidential campaign. You can read more about the 14 Trump associates and their Russian contacts at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

November 30, 2018

Michael Cohen's plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his admission that he lied about ending negotiations for a Trump Tower Moscow in January 2016, and the revelation that he was negotiating directly with the Kremlin were all big topics on cable news Thursday night. And on CNN and MSNBC, at least, there was a consensus that this is a big deal.

At CNN, Chris Cuomo fact-checked Trump's response to Cohen's plea. Trump's admission he knew about the Moscow negotiations and was aggressively pursuing such deals because he didn't think he was going to win the election "is very important in understanding why they would have kept doing this deal at a time when it would really smell bad," Cuomo said.

On MSNBC, BuzzFeed reporter Anthony Cormier explained why Cohen's deep knowledge of Trump's business makes him "a very dangerous threat" to Trump, Cohen friend Donny Deutsch affirmed that Cohen has enthusiastically flipped on Trump, and former FBI counterintelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi — who argued earlier Thursday that "our president is essentially a mob boss" — explained how what Cohen's revealed is "the definition of the Russian word Kompromat."

Trump handed Russia "a blackmailable set of facts" by lying about things the Russian government know are true, Figliuzzi said. "The question that's not answered in the information that's filed today by Mueller is what have the Russians done with that, what is the level of compromise, what is the level of coordination? ... Did Trump hand false answers to Mueller based on an understanding of what everyone he thought was saying? The Russians have all of this, the Russians have likely used it, and that's at the heart of what's being hidden by this president."

Fox News also covered the plea deal, in its own way. Below, for example, you can watch Tucker Carlson mock Cohen and complain that a series of Obama officials were not charged with lying to Congress "about things that actually matter." Peter Weber

November 29, 2018

"You know, today's the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Anderson Cooper Thursday night, after a week of revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia. "Really?" Cooper asked. "I mean, I think this thing is enormous," Toobin said. He laid out a series of "preposterous" positions now being staked by President Trump, including that lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated Trump Organization deals in Russia for six months without telling Trump, that Trump and Roger Stone never discussed WikiLeaks, and that Don Jr. never talked to his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"All of these are complementary to each other, and all of the stories that Trump is telling about them are preposterous," Toobin said. "And when you combine them all, the question becomes: When do Republicans start to turn on Trump? Because that's the only thing that's going to get Trump out of office, it's not going to be Democrats. And it's certainly not now, but there may be a point where it's too much."

Democratic strategist Paul Begala said he's "not there yet" on believing Trump won't finish out his term, because Trump needs to keep only 34 senators on his side and House Democrats say they won't impeach Trump unless Republicans ask them to. At the same time, he added, "I do worry, honestly, for our country that the president, this president, is too distracted, is too obsessed," and is "having a presidential panic attack" over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. When he worked for Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, Begala said, Clinton "found the work therapeutic, he would lose himself in the work."

Toobin also spells out the motive Cohen's plea deal reveals for Trump to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

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