Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is charged with making false statements to federal agents and impeding the probe into alleged Trump team involvement in Russian election meddling, may have unwittingly launched the entire Russia investigation during "a night of heavy drinking," The New York Times reported Saturday.
Papadopoulos was in London in May of 2016, the Times report says, where he confided in Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, that he knew Moscow had damaging information — specifically, leaked emails — on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. When leaked Clinton campaign emails surfaced two months later, Australian officials informed U.S. diplomats of Papadopoulos' comments, possibly serving as the basis of the probe.
The extent of Papadopoulos' significance in the Trump campaign and his connection to the president is disputed. Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo told CNN Papadopoulos was a mere "coffee boy," but President Trump called him an "excellent guy" in a Washington Post interview three months prior to the conversation the New York Times report describes.
The Australian government, the FBI, former Trump campaign chief and White House strategist Stephen Bannon, and Papadopoulos' attorneys all declined to comment to the Times. Read the full story here. Bonnie Kristian
Attorneys representing President Trump's transition team on Saturday accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of unlawfully obtaining tens of thousands of private emails as part of his probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign involvement.
The lawyers sent a letter to the oversight committees of both houses of Congress claiming Mueller has run afoul of both attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on search and seizure. The emails in question were obtained from the General Services Administration (GSA), which the letter says "did not own or control the records" but handed them over to Mueller anyway.
Mueller's office denied wrongdoing, stating it has always "secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process" in accessing emails for the investigation. The GSA said the transition team was informed there was no expectation of privacy for these records, and that the transition team was never promised that it would be informed or consulted before the records were distributed. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump has publicly toyed with idea of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though he has of late refrained from talking about it on Twitter, reportedly on the advice of his attorney. That silence has not reassured the president's critics that Mueller's investigation into alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian election meddling efforts will proceed undisturbed, so congressional Democrats have called for additional protections of Mueller's job.
But a new FiveThirtyEight analysis published Monday argues "Mueller's investigation is more secure than it might seem — and that more protections don't necessarily produce more effective prosecutions." The case is based on a review of the history of special prosecutors since the first one was appointed in 1875. Presidents have typically refrained from interference with these probes, and on the rare occasions of White House intervention, public uproar has served to preserve the investigations over the presidents' objections.
This history suggests Trump firing Mueller would mainly be an act of self-sabotage. "As long as [Mueller] doesn't do something to jeopardize" his reputation for competence, "Trump would have no justification for dismissing him," John Q. Barrett, a law professor who investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, told FiveThirtyEight. "And if he did, he'd have to appoint an equally credible replacement, or there would be really catastrophic political consequences." Bonnie Kristian
Court documents filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday present evidence that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was indicted in connection to Mueller's Russia probe in October, violated a gag order by heavily editing an op-ed defending political work he did in Ukraine.
Manafort's attorney claimed earlier this week he was not significantly involved in crafting the article, but Mueller's 41-page filing presented evidence including "emails, drafts with tracked edits, and records showing that a computer user named 'paul manafort' created a version of the op-ed and made numerous changes," Reuters reports.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed FBI agent Peter Strzok, deputy head of the agency's counter-intelligence team, from his investigation into alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian election meddling efforts after Strzok was caught exchanging anti-Trump text messages with a colleague.
"Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel's Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation," said a Mueller representative, noting that Strzok's conversation partner, Lisa Page, had already "completed her brief detail [with the Russia investigation] and had returned to the FBI weeks before our office was aware of the allegations."
President Trump tweeted and retweeted repeatedly on the news Sunday morning, arguing that because Strzok was central to the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, "it all starts to make sense" that Clinton was not prosecuted. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., has reportedly agreed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session scheduled for Dec. 6, CNN has learned. Trump Jr. is at the heart of investigations probing the involvement between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election due to his decision to meet with a Russian operative about "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in June of last year. Trump Jr., it was also revealed, corresponded with WikiLeaks during the campaign, a fact that will almost certainly come up at the testimony.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told CNN that his committee is also planning to interview Trump Jr. at some point in December. The Senate Judiciary Committee met with Trump Jr. in September, but some Democrats have demanded he appear publicly to answer questions from the senators as well.
The House Intelligence Committee is additionally expected to interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Blackwater founder Erik Prince in the coming days as part of their ongoing investigation. Jeva Lange
President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner did not give congressional investigators access to campaign-era email communications he is known to have had with WikiLeaks about a "Russian backdoor overture," Senate Judiciary Committee leaders said in a letter Thursday. On Friday, citing an unnamed source familiar with congressional probes into Russian meddling with the 2016 election, CNN reported that Kushner also denied any memory of those emails when testifying before Congress in July, contradicting the senators' account.
Kushner's attorney dismissed the story in a statement Friday night, maintaining Kushner was correct to say he did not have "contacts with WikiLeaks, Guccifer, or DC Leaks." "From all I have now seen, his statement was accurate then as it is now," added Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell. "In over six hours of voluntary testimony, Mr. Kushner answered all questions put to him and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia." Bonnie Kristian
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has declined to offer any public comment on his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allegations of Trump campaign involvement therein. That silence makes all the more noteworthy Politico's assembly of an organizational chart of his investigation, which the outlet reports Monday was put together using "court filings and interviews with lawyers familiar with the Russia cases."
The chart focuses on the assigned jurisdictions of the 17 federal prosecutors on Mueller's team. For example, the investigation into former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was indicted last month, is led by "three prosecutors schooled in money laundering, fraud, foreign bribery, and organized crime," Politico reports. Meanwhile, the team focused on ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn includes a lawyer "with a specialty in prosecuting and collecting evidence in international criminal and terrorism cases."
However, Politico notes, the assignments do not seem to be rigid roles, and team members may work on multiple aspects of the investigation at once. "I'd fully expect everyone on this team is mature enough and skilled enough to take contributions as they come," said one attorney familiar with the probe. "It's not a case of, 'I'm in charge. You're second in command.'" Read the rest of the report here. Bonnie Kristian