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The assault on Mueller: Six ways Russia investigation is under attack

Alexander Panetta

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As its trail of arrests gets closer to U.S. President Donald Trump, the Russia investigation is facing a multi-front assault. The attacks have ramped up following news that Trump’s close confidant Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty and become an informant.

The president’s defenders are now seeking to poke holes in, and undermine, the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. Here are six avenues of attack:

1. Mueller is biased: “It’s so disturbing and troubling,” Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Monday. She was speaking about weekend news that the Mueller probe removed a top investigator over the summer, after the discovery of texts to a lover blasting the president. This is atop reports that the same FBI investigator, Peter Strzok, was a key figure in the emails investigation that yielded no charges against Hillary Clinton. And there’s more: a paper trail of political donations shows several senior probe employees have a history of donating to Democrats. Another report said Strzok was involved in interviewing Flynn. Said Republican lawmaker Ron DeSantis: “It was almost as if they bent over backwards not to make the case on Hillary. With the Mueller probe, they’re just scorching the earth finding whatever little ticky-tack charge they can find on anyone… (Strzok’s role) undercuts the legitimacy of both those investigations.”

2. Presidents can’t be charged for obstructing justice: This is potentially a key question. There’s evidence Trump tried thwarting an investigation into Flynn. The argument here is he’s allowed to. Trump lawyer John Dowd expressed it via the Axios website: “The president cannot obstruct justice.” Harvard scholar Alan Dershowitz says Trump has constitutional power — to pardon Flynn himself, to fire the FBI director, and to issue instructions to the Justice Department. So what’s the legal problem if he orders the FBI to lay off Flynn, Dershowitz asks: “We’d have a constitutional crisis (if Trump is charged with obstruction),” he told Fox News. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power.” He says presidents can only be charged with obstruction that involves innately illegal acts — like the Nixon White House destroying evidence and paying hush money. Other legal scholars call this a laughable, quasi-regal, anti-democratic argument. One headline on the Vox website said, “Trump’s lawyer: the president can’t obstruct justice. 13 legal experts (say): yes, he can.” A list of law professors cited legal precedents, and the fact that the president’s power comes from the Constitution — the same Constitution that says he must faithfully execute the law. Peter Shane of Ohio State University called the Dershowitz-Dowd argument “nonsense.”

3. It’s a nothing-burger: They say this investigation is built on a flawed foundation. Mueller’s probe was struck to examine collusion with Russia — during the election. His critics note that four people are now charged — two for financial crimes predating the election, two for lying to the FBI after the election. This view is articulated in a Washington Examiner piece, “Was it all about the Logan Act?” In this narrative, the root of the probe is a dust-gathering, never-used law from 1799, the Logan Act, which forbids people from undermining U.S. foreign policy: Flynn spoke with Russians during the presidential transition; the FBI then questioned him about it; Flynn lied; he and Comey were forced out; Flynn was charged; now he’s a co-operating witness against Trump. A closely related argument involves the notorious Steele dossier — a document filled with jaw-dropping allegations that the Russians spent years recruiting Trump as an asset, and collecting blackmail material on him. The document was gathered by a former British spy and handed to the FBI. But his original customers were Trump campaign opponents. Critics now argue that any evidence stemming from this dossier is illegitimate. Others say this entire line of attack is wishful thinking — there are already several documented communications during the campaign with Russians, or suspected Russian intermediaries like Wikileaks, and some other investigation targets, like Paul Manafort, had reportedly been under surveillance for years.

4. Cut off funding: This is reportedly the route suggested by Steve Bannon. Trump’s ex-staffer, and still-ally, doesn’t want him to fire Mueller. He’s publicly said so. What he’s urging, reports say, is that Congress slash Mueller’s funding. That view is articulated by pro-Trump senator Steve King, who told Politico: “For them to say to us, ‘Vote for an open-ended appropriation into a Mueller witch hunt,’ I think you’ll see significant objection.”

5. Fire Mueller: Canadian friend of Trump Conrad Black suggests how to make this happen. Deriding the investigation as a “never-ending fishing expedition,” Black proposed a chain-reaction of moves, starting with Rex Tillerson’s removed as secretary of state — shift the CIA director to the State Department; appoint to the CIA Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from Russia-related matters; have Dershowitz replace Sessions; have Dershowitz kill the probe.

6. Rally the base: Ultimately, politics could decide all of this. Trump’s fate could eventually rest with Congress, given the legal realities — the president’s power to pardon; doubts about whether a sitting president can be charged; and the aforementioned debate about obstruction of justice. Impeachment, the ultimate political punishment, requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress. That’s 290 in the House, 67 in the Senate. It means more than 100 Republicans would have to turn on their president. And the full-throated assault on Mueller — from Trump’s Twitter feed, Fox News, and conservative news outlets — provides a daily rallying cry for the ranks to remain united.

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Crime

AG Whitaker Alleged to Have Served on Board of WPM

Polipace Staff

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The FBI is reportedly conducting a criminal investigation related to World Patent Marketing, a company that was shut down in 2017 after the Federal Trade Commission alleged that it operating “an invention-promotion scam” that tricked “thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.”  According to recent reports, new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker served on its advisory board.

Alleged WPM Conduct

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission charged the operators of an invention-promotion scam, World Patent Marketing, with deceiving consumers and suppressing complaints about the company by using threats of criminal prosecution against dissatisfied customers.  At the FTC’s request, a federal court temporarily halted the Florida-based scheme and froze its assets pending litigation.

“This case is about protecting innovators, the engine of a thriving economy,” said then Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen.  “The defendants promised to promote people’s inventions and took thousands of dollars, but provided almost no service in return.  Then they added insult to injury by threatening people who complained.”

According to the FTC, consumers paid an individual and various corporate entities thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions based on bogus “success stories” and testimonials promoted by the defendants.  But after they allegedly strung consumers along for months or even years, the defendants purportedly failed to deliver what they promised.  Instead, many customers allegedly ended up in debt or lost their life savings with nothing to show for it.

WPM Threats of Legal Action

The FTC also alleged that the defendants used various unfair tactics, including threats of legal action, to discourage consumers from publishing truthful or non-defamatory negative reviews about the defendants and their services.  According to FTC attorney Richard B. Newman, the agency reported that one customer who sought a refund and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau allegedly received a letter from the defendants’ lawyer.  According to the FTC, the letter stated that seeking a refund was extortion under Florida law and, “since you used email to make your threats, you would be subject to a federal extortion charge, which carries a term of imprisonment of up to two years and potential criminal fines.”

WPM Settlement Order

In 2018, the defendants agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that bans them from the invention promotion business.  Under the settlement order, the defendants are also banned from  misrepresenting any good or service, and suppressing the availability of truthful negative comments or reviews by consumers.  They are also prohibited from profiting from consumers’ personal information collected as part of the challenged practices, and failing to dispose of it properly.

A $25,987,192 judgment was imposed, which was partially suspended when $78,670 in frozen funds were transferred to the Commission and the individual defendant Cooper paid $976,330.

Whitaker’s Alleged Involvement

According to media reports, court filings indicate that Whitaker received regular payments of $1,875 from the company while serving as a member of its advisory board.  It has also been reported that Whitaker sent a strongly worded email to a former customer in 2015 that had complained about the company.  Whitaker is not a named as a defendant in the case against the company.

In a statement, a Justice Department spokeswoman said, “Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity. Any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”  In fact,   FTC investigators did not obtain evidence or internal communications showing Whitaker knew about the company’s alleged bogus promises, according to those with firsthand knowledge of the matter.  The  receiver that oversaw the settlement confirmed, recently stating to The Washington Post that he has “no reason to believe that [Whitaker] knew of any of the wrongdoing.”

Richard B. Newman is an FTC defense lawyer at Hinch Newman.  Follow him on Twitter @ FTCLawDefense.

Attorney Advertising. These materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice, nor do they create a lawyer-client relationship. . Information on previous case results does not guarantee a similar future result. Hinch Newman LLP | 40 Wall St., 35thFloor, New York, NY 10005 | (212) 756-8777

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GOP

Mueller To Deliver Report Soon, Public May Never See

Polipace Staff

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US special counsel Robert Mueller could deliver the results of his investigation into whether there was collusion between members of US President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian Federation within the next seven days, according to sources within the DOJ.

Other possible Mueller targets with the “most exposure,” according to Vanity Fair’s sources, include political operative Roger Stone, whose role in the campaign was scrutinized in the special counsel probe over his correspondences with WikiLeaks.

“The possible exposure” in the case of Donald Trump Jr., according to the outlet, is that he may have perjured himself when he said that he had not alerted his father prior to his June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in New York City’s Trump Tower, from which music publicist Rob Goldstone had promised there would be “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Three sources with connections to the president’s legal team told the outlet that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is preparing a document to provide a counter-narrative to Mueller’s findings. “They don’t know what Mueller has, but they have a good idea, and they’re going to rebut it,” a Republican close to Giuliani said. Moscow denies interfering in the election and colluding with the Trump team.

According to POLITICO, the public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths.

“That’s just the way this works,” said John Q. Barrett, a former associate counsel who worked under independent counsel Lawrence Walsh during the Reagan-era investigation into secret U.S. arms sales to Iran. “Mueller is a criminal investigator. He’s not government oversight, and he’s not a historian.”

Worse, the new acting AG Matt Whitaker tweeted approval of an NPR article suggesting that the public might never learn what special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reveals because the attorney general might simply decline to release Mueller’s report.

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GOP

MAGA Bomber Cesar Sayoc, Jr Was Trump Rally Celebrity Despite Being Criminal

Polipace Staff

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Police have arrested a 56 year-old well-known #MAGA supporter  named Cesar Sayoc, Jr. on suspicion of being the MAGA bomber who sent 12 pipe bombs to Democrats and Donald Trump critics. He was a well known figure in Trump Rallies, and considered a bit of a celebrity amongst those who attend the Rallies.

Cesar Altieri Sayoc also has arrest history in Hennepin County, Minnesota 2005, besides criminal records in New York and Florida.

Sayoc was taken into custody close to an auto parts store in Plantation, a suburb of Miami, around 10:30 Friday morning. He was traced by DNA evidence.

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