Trump doesn’t rule out pardoning Manafort

President Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to rule out pardoning his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was convicted this week on eight counts of tax and bank fraud.

The president, who sat for an interview Wednesday with Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” praised Manafort for going through with a trial rather than taking a plea deal that could potentially have involved him turning against Trump.

“One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial. You know, they make up stories. People make up stories,” Trump said.

Manafort had been charged with 18 counts of tax and bank fraud as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A jury found Manafort guilty on eight counts, and U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on the other 10 counts. Manafort also faces a second criminal trial, to begin next month in a federal court in Washington, on charges of money laundering, witness tampering and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Wary that the president could move to protect his former campaign chairman, congressional Democrats have been outspoken in recent days, warning the president against taking such a step.

Trump compared Manafort favorably to Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts, including tax evasion, financial fraud and campaign-finance violations. In his guilty plea, Cohen implicated the president, telling the court he violated campaign-finance law “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

Asked directly whether he would grant a pardon to his former campaign chairman, the president did not deny the possibility. Instead, he said he has “great respect” for the legal morass Manafort has been through.

“I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does,” Trump said.

Asked at the Wednesday news briefing whether Trump was considering a pardon for Manafort, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I am not aware of any conversations regarding that at all.

“The president insisted in his Fox News interview that Manafort’s guilty verdict and Cohen’s plea do not implicate him, and that the wrongdoings of Cohen and Manafort had nothing to do with his campaign.

“I didn’t know Manafort well. He wasn’t with the campaign long. They got him on things totally unrelated to the campaign. By the way, they got Cohen on things totally unrelated to the campaign. I’m not involved. I wasn’t charged with anything. People don’t like to say that, I wasn’t charged,” Trump said.

The president had harsher words for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, complaining that the former Alabama senator has failed to root out what Trump said are partisan Democrats embedded in the Justice Department. Trump told Fox News that he only appointed Sessions because he was an “original supporter” on the Trump campaign.

Lamenting Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any investigation involving the 2016 campaign, a move that has sidelined him from Mueller’s Russia probe, Trump did not rule out the possibility that he might fire Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“I put an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department and it’s sort of an incredible thing,” Trump said. “He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’ And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job was I felt loyalty.”

Source: https://www.politico.com/

After Cohen flips, Trump says deals with prosecutors ‘almost ought to be outlawed’

Cutting a deal with prosecutors by offering information on a former boss or superior “almost ought to be illegal,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday, one day after his former attorney implicated him during a guilty plea in federal court.

“This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. Thirty, 40 years, I have been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed,” Trump said in an interview that was taped Wednesday and aired Thursday morning. “It’s not fair.”

Offering to lessen charges or lighten sentences in exchange for information and testimony is a well-known tactic used by prosecutors pursuing significant crimes, especially in large organizations. Such tactics are often used in probes of organized crime, drug cartels and corporate investigations.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, charged with investigating allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, has multiple cooperating witnesses involved in his probe.

The president’s interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” came on the heels of a tumultuous 24 hours for his presidency. Within minutes on Tuesday, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations, telling the court that he broke those laws “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

Trump said Cohen’s campaign-finance violations, which are felonies, are “tiny” and “not a big deal, frankly.” He insisted that Cohen’s admission of guilt does not implicate him in any crimes and that Cohen had unfairly used him to get a better deal.

“He makes a better deal when he uses me. Like everybody else,” Trump said. “In all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. And I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal.”

A source close to Cohen told POLITICO earlier this week that the former Trump attorney had accepted a plea agreement “to save millions of dollars, protect his family, and limit his exposure.”

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump praises Manafort for ‘refusing to break,’ unlike Cohen

President Donald Trump on Wednesday complimented his former campaign chairman’s decision to fight charges against him and took a swipe at his former personal attorney for cutting a plea deal the day before.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump said in a tweet. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him.”

A jury on Tuesday found Manafort guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud charges.

Trump compared Manafort’s refusal thus far to cooperate with investigators to Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight unrelated charges, including bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

“Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’” he tweeted. “Such respect for a brave man!”

Trump also pointed to the number of counts the jury in Manafort’s trial were unable to come to a consensus on as evidence of a “witch hunt.”

“A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case,” he said.

Jurors couldn’t decide on three counts of failure to file reports on foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud.

Trump’s sudden kind words for Manafort — which came after Trump’s prior attempts to distance himself from his campaign chairman — raise the question of whether or not Trump has plans to issue a pardon on the matter.

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump accuses Mueller’s team of midterm meddling

The team of investigators working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation “are looking to impact” this November’s midterm elections, President Donald Trump claimed Monday morning, labeling Mueller’s team a “national disgrace.”

The president’s fresh attack against the special counsel’s office comes on the heels of a New York Times report that Trump’s legal team is not fully aware of how much information White House counsel Don McGahn shared with Mueller’s team across 30 hours of interviews. The president insisted over the weekend that McGahn sat for those interviews at his instruction.

“Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel [sic], only with my approval, for purposes of transparency. Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone looking for trouble,” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning. “They are enjoying ruining people’s lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side – the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more! Mueller’s Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!”

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on the president’s social media post.

Mueller is spearheading an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and whether then-candidate Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government. Mueller’s team is also probing accusations of obstruction of justice tied to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who was at the time overseeing the Russia investigation. The president has loudly denied all allegations of wrongdoing, a point he reiterated on Monday.

“Where’s the Collusion? They made up a phony crime called Collusion, and when there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony crime that never existed),” he wrote online. “If you FIGHT BACK or say anything bad about the Rigged Witch Hunt, they scream Obstruction!”

The president’s accusation that Mueller’s team will seek to influence the upcoming midterm elections come as campaign season begins to kick into high gear. Control of both houses of Congress is expected to be up for grabs in November’s election, with many predicting a “blue wave” of Democratic victories prompted by the president’s low job-approval poll numbers and the near-constant stream of controversy emanating from the White House.

The president offered no evidence to back up his claim that Mueller’s team would seek to impact the 2018 election, an accusation he made last May. Justice Department guidelines generally dictate that investigators actively avoid taking any steps that might have political implications in the weeks leading up to elections.

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump claims he allowed White House counsel McGahn to ‘fully cooperate’ with Mueller probe

President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed back against a report from The New York Times that White House counsel Don McGahn has shared extensive details with special counsel Robert Mueller about whether Trump tried to obstruct justice in the Russia probe.

“I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel,” Trump tweeted Saturday evening. “In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also played down the idea that there was any tension between Trump and McGahn.

“The president and Don have a great relationship,” Sanders said in a statement. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court nominees.”

On Sunday, Trump circled back to the topic with another string of tweets. “The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type ‘RAT.’ But I allowed him and all others to testify — I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide,” he wrote in the first one, twice spelling “counsel” wrong.

Returning to a regular theme, he added: “No Collusion and No Obstruction, except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats.”

McGahn’s lawyer, William Burck, said in a statement that the president had freed the White House counsel to speak openly to Mueller’s team.

“President Trump, through counsel, declined to assert any privilege over Mr. McGahn’s testimony, so Mr. McGahn answered the Special Counsel team’s questions fulsomely and honestly, as any person interviewed by federal investigators must,” Burck said.

The New York Times reported earlier on Saturday that McGahn has been willing to share numerous details with Mueller’s investigators, and that he has provided at least three voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team that spanned 30 hours over the past nine months.

The report stated that McGahn made the calculation to “protect himself” by fully cooperating with Mueller.

The high-profile NYT coverage threatens to add further tensions as Trump decides whether or not to sit down with Mueller for an interview.

Trump has aggressively denied any collusion with Russian officials in the lead-up to the election or any attempt to obstruct the Justice Department’s investigation into such allegations, regularly dismissing the probe as a “witch hunt.”

Trump has been under scrutiny, in particular, for firing former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump pushed to back off the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, which is said to be part of the larger Russia probe.

POLITICO reported in March that McGahn was expected to step down from his post later this year, but that his departure may hinge on whether there was another opening for Trump to fill on the Supreme Court — an opening that emerged with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

McGahn on three occasions has met voluntarily with the special counsel. In one meeting with Mueller earlier this year, the White House counsel described an encounter with an angry Trump badgering him to publicly dispute a January 2018 New York Times story that said the president ordered him to fire Mueller.

McGahn also told Mueller how the president tried without success to get his then-staff secretary, Rob Porter, to warn McGahn that he could be fired if he didn’t deny that Times article. The president and McGahn had a rough spring and summer working together throughout the defining moments of the Russia probe in 2017.

The president lashed out at his White House counsel in the Oval Office for not doing more to kill the Russia probe when it was in its infancy.

McGahn threatened to quit that June 2017 after Trump pushed the idea of firing Mueller and backed down only when the president did, too. And the White House counsel ultimately recused himself from the Russia probe that same month because too many people working with him were being questioned about the roles they played in the Comey and Flynn firings.

All of the president’s Russia matters since McGahn stepped back — to focus on regulations and judicial nominations — have been handled by a still-evolving list of personal and official White House lawyers: Marc Kasowitz, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, Ty Cobb, Jane and Marty Raskin, Emmet Flood and Rudy Giuliani.

Source: https://www.politico.com

‘We won’t let that happen’ Trump alleges social media censorship of conservatives

President Donald Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to allege social media companies are discriminating against prominent conservatives, saying “we won’t let that happen.”

“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…….” the president tweeted.

…..Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police. If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed. I get used to it and watch with a grain of salt, or don’t watch at all.”

Trump in July said his administration will look into the practice of “shadow banning” on Twitter, or reducing the visibility of certain people or groups on the platform, which he alleged was happening to prominent conservative voices.

Conservatives have long complained about unfair treatment on social media platforms, which they see as bastions of Silicon Valley liberal views.

The president later added: “….Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen. Who is making the choices, because I can already tell you that too many mistakes are being made. Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is slated to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss Russian election interference, along with executives from Facebook and Google, on Sept. 5.

Staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have raised the possibility of subpoenaing Dorsey to testify before the panel on the company’s data and content policies, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

The Trump administration on Friday charged Facebook with violating housing discrimination laws. The company has denied the charge.

Trump has some 53.8 million followers on Twitter, where he frequently delivers policy announcements and attacks on his political rivals and the media. In October 2017, the president suggested he would challenge NBC’s broadcast license, although the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t directly license networks.

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump cancels military parade, feuds with D.C. mayor over ballooning cost

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has canceled plans for a military parade in Washington, and ignited a feud with the D.C. mayor after accusing “local politicians” of price gouging.

“The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up!”

CNBC reported Thursday that the expected cost of Trump’s planned parade had ballooned to $92 million, significantly higher than previous estimates of $12 million and $30 million.

Shortly after CNBC published its reporting, the Pentagon announced that the parade had been postponed. The Defense Department did not offer a reason for the change of plans but said it had “agreed to explore opportunities in 2019.”

Trump initially ordered the Defense Department last February to begin the process of planning a military parade, to be held in Washington on Veterans Day, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The president, who has long been publicly obsessed with generals and shows of military might, first suggested a U.S. parade after attending the Bastille Day parade in Paris last summer.

“I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th,” the president wrote online on Friday morning. “Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN. Now we can buy some more jet fighters!”

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser responded to the president’s jab at local politicians with a tweet of her own, suggesting the White House had been unwilling to accept the true price tag of holding a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Yup, I’m Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, the local politician who finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad),” the Washington mayor wrote.

Bowser followed up with a statement on Friday afternoon that referenced the city’s relative smooth handling of the demonstrations last weekend on the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally.

“The District has a long history of hosting parades, protests, and demonstrations including National Special Security Events. We have always done so professionally, fairly, and efficiently,” Bowser said. “That has and will continue to be the case. As the District has shown as recently as this past weekend, we can execute these events even under the toughest of circumstances. Any statement to the contrary is an affront to those who safely host events in our nation’s capital each and every day, including our first responders.”

The since-canceled military parade would create nearly $13.5 million in Metropolitan Police Department costs for public safety and crowd control, among other services, according to a mock-up budget that the mayor’s office shared with POLITICO. Other high-price-tag services include $3.6 million in fire and emergency medical services, including “emergency medical support, hazardous materials response, mass casualty incident response,” and other safety measures.

Department of Transportation services would have cost more than $2.2 million, including establishing security and traffic perimeters, traffic control officers and other costs, according to the mayor’s budget.

The exact details of who would cover the costs were unclear, but each year, the city’s budget includes a federal appropriation for events like parades and protests. For the parade, the city mocked up a budget after receiving a letter on Aug. 8 from Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen that the event was in the works. DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although the Pentagon on Thursday wound up announcing a postponement of the parade, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis slammed reports of a ballooning price tag for the parade during an exchange with reporters traveling with him in Colombia. Whoever served as the source for CNBC’s $92 million figure was “probably smoking something that is legal in my state but not in most,” said the native of Washington state, where marijuana is legal.

“I would discount that, and anybody who said [that number],” the defense secretary said, according to the Associated Press. “I’ll almost guarantee you one thing: They probably said, ‘I need to stay anonymous.’ No kidding, because you look like an idiot. And No. 2, whoever wrote it needs to get better sources. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Ahead of the president’s Friday morning announcement, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway downplayed the parade’s significance during an interview with Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” She touted the administration’s support for the the military before taking jabs at protesters and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said earlier this week that “we’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.”

“We don’t need a parade to celebrate all this president has done for those brave men and women in uniform,” Conway said. “And all the people who are so anti-American — America was never great, abolish ICE, spitting on men and women in uniform, disrespecting the flag when they have the opportunity. I’m very proud to work for a man who loves this country and the men and women in uniform, parade or no parade.”

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump: Manafort trial is a ‘very sad day for our country’

President Donald Trump on Friday refused to say whether Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who’s been wrapped up in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, could count on a pardon from the White House.

Responding to a shouted question of whether or not he would pardon Manafort, Trump wouldn’t answer either way, saying that “I don’t talk about that.”

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn, as jurors deliberate charges of tax and bank fraud against his former campaign chairman in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

“When you look at what is going on, I think it’s a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time, but you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort,” he said.

Manafort faces 18 charges — including filing false tax returns and failing to report overseas bank accounts — in his first federal trial stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Source: https://www.politico.com

Pompeo announces new team for Iran strategy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday unveiled a new team to coordinate the Trump administration’s post-nuclear deal approach to Iran and bolster support for the strategy abroad.

The Iran Action Group will be helmed by Brian Hook, who will receive the title of special representative for Iran. Pompeo told reporters that the coalition is charged with “directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity” and will report directly to him.

The main objective of the new U.S. strategy is to change the behavior of the Iranian regime by applying economic pressure and diplomatic isolation to squeeze Tehran. Hook said Thursday that out of 12 goals laid out by Pompeo earlier this year, the group will key in on eliminating Iran’s nuclear arsenal, choking off Iran’s ability to finance terrorist groups, and securing the release of and putting an end to the practice of “arbitrarily detained” American citizens.

Another emphasis of the coalition will be building “the broadest level of international support” for the new U.S. strategy, and Hook said he had productive discussions Wednesday with French, German and British officials about Iran. Those allies, who opposed the White House’s decision in May to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, have said they intend to continue doing business with Iran despite the threat of secondary sanctions from the U.S. Hook would not rule out that possibility.

He applauded President Donald Trump’s refusal to recertify the deal in May, arguing that the move freed the State Department to diplomatically “pursue the entire range of Iran’s threats,” which he pointed out are also concerns held by U.S. allies.

And asked if the formation of the group, which comes nearly 65 years to the day since the 1953 coup in Iran, intends to oversee regime change, Hook responded that the timing was “pure coincidence.”

The group was not formed with the goal of establishing a dialogue between Tehran and Washington, Hook said, adding that “normal relations can only begin after we see Iranian regime is serious about changing its behavior.”

But “those two things occur on a parallel track,” he said.

Source: https://www.politico.com

Trump pulls security clearance of ex-CIA Director Brennan

President Donald Trump on Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who has become a harsh critic of the president, and appeared to be targeting others who have disagreed with the administration.

“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries which is to sow division and chaos,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said while briefing reporters on Wednesday.

In addition, she said, the administration is evaluating clearances for former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strozk, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose security clearance was deactivated after he was fired earlier this year, and Bruce Ohr, who is still in the Justice Department although he was demoted from associate deputy attorney general.

“More broadly, the issue of Mr. Brennan’s security clearance raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets long after their time in government has ended,” Sanders said.

The White House last month announced that it was looking into revoking security clearances for those individuals, with the exception of Yates, Strozk, Page and Ohr, whose names were added on Wednesday.

“Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked, and those who have already lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated,” Sanders said.

Comey last month said he no longer had a security clearance, and Hayden also said on Twitter that he did not go back for classified briefings but would occasionally be asked to “offer a view on something.”

Conservatives have over the past couple of weeks pushed for Brennan’s security to be removed.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in June said he spoke to the president about that very issue, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson also called for Brennan’s clearance to be removed after he reported he still had it.

Source: https://www.politico.com