Mr. Comey’s Bad Week

His memos to himself about Trump don’t help his public claims.

Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to speak about his new book "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership" at Barnes & Noble bookstore, April 18.
Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to speak about his new book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” at Barnes & Noble bookstore, April 18. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The James Comey book tour is off to a rocky start. The idea was to sell the former FBI director as the Beltway Boy Scout who stood up to a corrupt Donald Trump. But the more we learn about the events Mr. Comey was involved in, the more his self-styled reputation for truth-telling comes into question.

On Thursday news broke that the Justice Department inspector general has referred Andrew McCabe for potential prosecution after finding that the former FBI deputy director lied to investigators about a press leak. This started a back and forth between Mr. Comey, who said he might be a witness for the prosecution, and Mr. McCabe, each accusing the other of not telling the truth.

Potomac Watch Podcast

Jim Comey’s Private Memos
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The testimony doing the most damage to Mr. Comey’s reputation comes from Mr. Comey himself in the memos he wrote following meetings with President Trump. After months of stonewalling, Justice finally released them to Congress Thursday. Mr. Comey said he told Mr. Trump, “I don’t do sneaky things. I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves.” So let’s help readers make a weasel assessment.

• Leaking. Mr. Comey writes in his memos that he told Mr. Trump he didn’t leak. But he later did precisely that when he leaked the memos of his conversations with the President to his friend, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, on the understanding that the professor would then leak the contents to the New York Times.

• Classification. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the inspector general is now conducting a review because at least two of the memos that Mr. Comey gave Mr. Richman contained classified information, contrary to Mr. Comey’s claim that it was all unclassified.

• Hillary Clinton’s role in the dossier. When Mr. Comey first briefed the President on the Steele dossier, he limited it to the sexual and salacious aspects. He also omitted a point Mr. Trump had a right to know: The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign through the research firm cutout, Fusion GPS.

An earlier House Intelligence Committee report notes that none of the FBI’s applications for a FISA warrant on former Trump campaign associate Carter Page mentioned the links to the DNC or Clinton campaign even though “the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.” Presumably that includes Mr. Comey, but why didn’t he tell that to Mr. Trump?

• Michael Flynn . Mr. Comey says Mr. Trump’s request that he “let this go” in reference to Mr. Flynn, his first National Security Adviser, is “evidence” of obstruction. But far from suggesting the President encouraged the FBI director to close his eyes to a crime, the memos make clear Mr. Trump was making the case Mr. Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong.

• Loyalty. In his new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” Mr. Comey likens Mr. Trump to a mob boss in his demand for loyalty. But the Comey memos make clear that Mr. Trump raised the issue of loyalty after complaining about leaks and wondering about Mr. McCabe, whom Mr. Trump had criticized during the campaign.

He also had reason to be suspicious: The fact that Mr. Trump had been briefed on the Steele dossier did soon leak—and became the news peg that CNN used to report that the dossier existed, after which BuzzFeed published the entire dossier. Just because Mr. Trump is paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get him.

We know from Mr. Comey himself that he wanted these memos leaked to the New York Times in hopes of having a special counsel appointed. In that he succeeded. But contrary to his claims, the memos suggest little reason for appointing a special counsel: Far from looking to obstruct an investigation into Russian collusion, Mr. Trump urges Mr. Comey to continue to investigate in hopes that this would show that the ugliest details in the Steele dossier weren’t true.

Mr. Trump’s motives were personal vindication because he feared his wife might believe the allegations, and Mr. Trump should not have made the request. But asking for an investigation to disprove the Steele dossier undermines the charge that Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey to obstruct justice. We don’t know what other evidence special counsel Robert Mueller has, but hanging an obstruction rap on the Comey memos isn’t going to work.

Courtesy: WSJ

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Republicans are actively interfering in the Mueller probe to protect Trump

 April 19 at 9:50 AM 

(AFP/Getty Images)

THE MORNING PLUM:

One of the big political questions of the moment is this: Will GOP congressional leaders act to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation against President Trump’s threats to hamstring or kill it?

But in a way, this question, while important, doesn’t really get at the full story here, because its premise is that Republicans are mostly behaving passively toward the Mueller probe, clearing the way for Trump to act if he wishes. In reality, Republicans are, under cover of fake oversight, actively working to interfere in the investigation, on Trump’s behalf.

Here’s the latest on this front: The Post reports that House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte is planning to issue a subpoena for release of the memos that former FBI director James B. Comey has made of his private conversations with Trump, which have been turned over to Mueller.

Those conversations include the ones in which Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty and pressed him to drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but there is a lot more in those memos we haven’t heard about. They are probably important evidence in Mueller’s efforts to establish whether Trump obstructed justice.

 0:55
McConnell on Mueller: ‘I don’t think he’s going to be removed’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on April 10 he doesn’t believe special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be removed from his office. 

The Justice Department is already signaling reluctance to release these memos. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, has already told congressional Republicans that he wants more time to evaluate “the consequences” of giving them to Congress and worries about “publicizing them.”

Does anyone really believe Republicans are motivated by nothing but pure oversight impulses here? There are two other reasons they might want these memos. The first is to deliberately provoke Rosenstein into declining to provide them all — which could create a pretext to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even for Trump to fire him.

“The Deputy Attorney General should be aware that no matter what he gives to these members of Congress, it will never be enough,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me this morning. “The point is to create a conflict with the Justice Department that would give the president grounds to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein. They don’t care what damage they do to our institutions to protect the president.” Separately, Schiff is pushing a new bill that would create disincentives for Trump to pardon people involved in the investigation.

The second reason for getting these memos — and let’s not pretend this isn’t perfectly plausible — would be to selectively leak from them, to mislead the public by, say, creating phony impressions of misconduct on Comey’s part that could provide more fodder for Trump and his allies to delegitimize the investigation, possibly manufacturing further pretext to hamstring or kill it. Let me remind you that Republicans already tried a similar caper with the bad-faith-saturated Nunes memo.

Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and law professor at the University of Michigan, told me that it could be “dangerous to interfere” in this manner with Mueller’s probe. If some info from the memos were to leak, she said, it could tip off other potential witnesses as to what Comey (himself a star witness) might have divulged to Mueller. They might shape their own testimony differently, McQuade said, once they “know the direction of an investigation and know what other witnesses are saying.”

A broader principle is at stake

There is a broader principle at stake here: We want such investigations to be generally insulated from political interference, to protect law enforcement’s integrity and independence. “This could have a chilling effect on Mueller’s team,” McQuade said. “If they know that every decision they make is going to be perhaps exposed to the public, it might change the way they do their work. We want them to be able to act independently, so they can make decisions based on objective facts and without worrying about someone twisting their actions in the eyes of the public.”

The complication here is that Congress, of course, is supposed to exercise oversight over law enforcement. But there comes a point at which this oversight, when exercised in obvious bad faith, crosses over into something else — that is, overt and deliberate political interference — and good-faith observers need to be able to say so. As former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller put it to me: “The president is working with members of Congress to actively thwart his own Justice Department, because he wants it to stop investigating him.”

By the way: Does anyone think this would be happening if House Speaker Paul D. Ryan didn’t give this effort his tacit blessing? And is there any point at which Ryan, who is now the subject of much discussion summing up how his career will be remembered, will step in and put a stop to it?

 1:40
China is putting tariffs on American products. How does this affect U.S. politics?

China imposed tariffs on 128 U.S. goods on April 2. The move is retaliation for tariffs President Trump announced on Chinese aluminum and steel. 

* FARMERS PUT TRUMP ON NOTICE: The New York Times reports that farmers are warning that they’ll be hit hard by Trump’s trade war with China and that this could make him a one-term president:

Soybeans are America’s second largest export to China, and that country’s proposed 25 percent duties on the crop would hit hardest in states like Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota — where there are highly competitive House races — as well as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, whose Senate contests may determine control of the chamber.

As GOP strategist Karl Rove tells the Times, a trade war “would limit Midwestern enthusiasm from our base.” But who can punch this message through Trump’s bubble?

* TRUMP ALLIES FEAR COHEN WILL FLIP: In the wake of the FBI raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office and home, Politico reports that Trump’s allies are increasingly worried that, faced with jail time, he’ll turn on Trump instead:

Since the raid, the president and his advisers have been singularly focused on the risk of a potential federal prosecution of Cohen, which they view as a much bigger existential threat to the presidency than … Comey …. Trump has regularly ranted to friends and advisers about the investigation into Cohen, according to two other people familiar with the conversations.

Cohen has been at the center of the shadiest of Trump family dealings for many, many years, so how much he knows is really anybody’s guess. But Trump clearly has some inkling.

* HANNITY CONSPIRACY THEORY IS DEBUNKED: Sean Hannity and other Trump allies have claimed Robert S. Mueller III was central to the wrongful FBI imprisonment of four men for a murder they didn’t commit. Nancy Gertner, the judge on the case, debunks the claim:

Based on the voluminous evidence submitted in the trial, and having written a 105-page decision … I can say without equivocation that Mr. Mueller, who worked in the United States attorney’s office in Boston from 1982 to 1988, including a brief stint as the acting head of the office, had no involvement in that case. He was never even mentioned.

This theory has also been pushed by luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz and Rush Limbaugh, the latest sign of how far #Foxlandia will go to shield Trump from accountability.

* TRUMP AND THE CLOUD OF POSSIBLE RUSSIAN BLACKMAIL: Comey says there’s a “non zero” chance Trump could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Meanwhile, Trump just pulled back from new Russian sanctions. E.J. Dionne Jr. locates the common thread:

Trump’s repeated flinching on Russian policy feeds suspicions as to why the Kremlin worked to get him elected … and whether Russia’s intelligence services have information to use against him … There is strange justice in the fact that Trump’s behavior played straight into … Comey’s blanket-the-media book tour.  … Until “non-zero” becomes zero — or 100 percent — there is an obligation on the part of the media and government investigators to figure out what in the world is going on here.

There’s also Trump’s constant efforts to frustrate an accounting of what really happened in 2016 and his refusal to organize a serious response to future Russian electoral sabotage.

* TRUMP WOULD NEVER, EVER FIRE MUELLER OR ROSENSTEIN: The president said at a presser in Japan that it’s daft that anyone would ever suggest such a thing:

“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here,” Trump said. “So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.”

Hmmm. Of course, Trump actually did seriously consider firing both of them at different times, and even unsuccessfully ordered it in Mueller’s case.

* AND IN TRUMP WHITE HOUSE, ‘PUBLIC HUMILIATION’ IS TYPICAL: After officials said “confusion” led U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to announce Russian sanctions that Trump undercut, she said, “I don’t get confused.” CNN’s Jeremy Diamond comments:

Public humiliation is a rite of passage for many top officials in the Trump administration. But when it was Nikki Haley’s turn this week, she fought back … It was a stunning retort in an administration where the typical response to being put down is to slink away quietly … Haley didn’t endure a presidential putdown … none of her colleagues have so publicly bristled at the egg on their faces.

Good for her, we suppose, but the very act of working in this administration is itself deeply self-debasing.

Ivanka Trump: Born to legitimize corruption and make the shoddy look cute

Ivanka Trump: Born to legitimize corruption and make the shoddy look cute
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner attend a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the White House in March 2017. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

 

On July 27, 2017, near the end of the one of the most compelling hearings yet on the Trump-Russia affair, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) offered an extraordinary insight. It shot through the proceedings like a comet.

“Corrupt kleptocrats and international criminals make themselves rich in criminality and corruption,” he said. “Then at some point they need the legitimate world in order to protect and account for their stolen proceeds.”

What? Whitehouse sketched a new bipolar world order, in which the so-called legitimate world, which includes the United States, is not at war with, but rather deeply enmeshed in, the corrupt one, where governments are built on bribery, kleptocracy, electoral fraud, slush funds, legal plunder and nepotism.

Whitehouse then addressed William F. Browder, the hedge funder turned global finance reformer, who was giving testimony on foreign-agent registry violations. “How good a job is the legitimate world doing about fencing off the corrupt world rather than facilitating it? ”

Browder didn’t mince words. “The legitimate world, and America in particular, are failing in an absolute way,” he said. The corrupt “steal the money, commit their crimes and kill the people, and then come here in the legitimate world with the rule of law, with the property rights, and with all the protections and keep their money.”

Crooks seeking legitimacy are not fenced out in America. The U.S. is teeming with enablers champing at the bit to serve rich thugs: lawyers, lobbyists, bankers, security firms, consultants and PR people.

If it’s the coverup and not the crime that will ultimately bring down the Trump syndicate, Ivanka may turn out to be the point person for its demise.


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The enabler sector now boasts several household names. Among them are the lobbyist and onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has been indicted for financial crimes; and Trump’s favorite child, Ivanka, who holds an indeterminate public-facing position in the White House — or in real estate, or maybe fashion.

Oh, Ivanka. Her livelihood is as opaque as her full-coverage foundation, but she plays a critical role in her father’s administration — and in the broader danse macabre of corruption and legitimacy.

The so-called first daughter proves that “laundering” applies to more than money. She washes and gilds just about everything she touches. Consider her warehouses upon warehouses of petroleum-based separates, many of them sewn for poverty pay in sweatshops. When you call this schmatte smorgasboard the Ivanka Trump Collection it does brisk business — if not on Rodeo Drive, then in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

She has the same magic touch with the multitudes of flesh-and-blood rogues who flock to her for redemption. It’s Ivanka who first brought Gen. Michael “Lied to the FBI” Flynn into the administration, according to the New Yorker; she praised him for his “amazing loyalty” and offered him his choice of positions at a transition-team meeting. One person present said, “It was like Princess Ivanka had laid the sword on Flynn’s shoulders and said, ‘Rise and go forth.'”

The laying on of that princess sword seems to be Ivanka’s favorite pastime. In 2006, when she was 25, she toured Moscow with Felix Sater, who in 1998 pleaded guilty to a $40-million stock fraud scheme run by the Russian mafia. She also collaborated with the Soviet-born businessman Tamir Sapir, whose top aide in 2004 pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy with the Gambino crime family.

It’s impossible to keep track of all the gangsters Ivanka has palled around with. But what’s truly damning are the shady real-estate projects she has made rise and go forth.

In 2006, she oversaw the development of the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The project was connected to a Brazilian money launderer later arrested for fraud and forgery as well as a Russian investor who’d previously been jailed in Israel for kidnapping. On Wednesday, a dispute between Trump’s company and the building’s owner turned violent. The journalist Marcy Wheeler has suggested the fight concerns records that may show Ivanka knew the property was laundering money. Police in riot gear stormed the hotel that Ivanka once hyped as “exemplary of the grandeur in which we like to enter a market.”

Ivanka was also a ranking official on the Trump SoHo, which has since shed the name Trump. In 2010, as ProPublica and WNYC have reported, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office began building a criminal case against Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. for using inflated sales figures to defraud prospective buyers. After receiving a visit from Trump family lawyer and campaign donor Marc Kasowitz, then-DA Cyrus Vance Jr. backed off.

Just Thursday, CNN reported that FBI counterintelligence officials are investigating another Trump real-estate deal, the 63-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, which opened after Trump became president.

Ivanka has been described as “point person” on the development, which features an Ivanka Trump-branded spa. No one yet knows why it caught the FBI’s eye, but Ivanka’s long-awaited top-secret security clearance may turn on what the agents find out.

When an organization exists not to build buildings but to brand them, its business is optics. And Ivanka has long window-dressed the Trump Organization’s deals. She was born to make the shoddy look cute, to legitimize corruption.

And if it’s the coverup and not the crime that will ultimately bring down the Trump syndicate, Ivanka may turn out to be the point person for its demise.

Twitter: @page88

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Courtesy: L A Times

McMaster speaks to Trump’s tweets, North Korea and Middle East peace

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says neither the American people nor U.S. allies should question the stability of the Trump administration amid his predecessor Michael Flynn’s guilty plea and rumors Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is stepping down.

“No, I don’t think our allies need any reassurance,” McMaster told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “In fact, what we’re doing is continuing to work with them on all the key challenges we face today — from North Korea, to the defeat of ISIS across the Greater Middle East — the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, too.”

McMaster reiterated that President Trump’s main priority is to protect American interests at home and abroad.

Tillerson will continue to be a part of that effort, McMaster said.

“I’m not aware of any plan at all” for Tillerson to resign, he said.

Wallace also asked McMaster about the president’s recent retweets of online posts linked to “Britain First,” a far-right group in the United Kingdom.

Last week, Trump retweeted a video that purported to show Muslim immigrants committing acts of violence. Those depicted in the footage reportedly were European-born.

Wallace noted that many British leaders – including Prime Minister Theresa May – voiced outrage at Trump, saying the president had “got it wrong” and risked needlessly stirring racial and ethnic discord.

“General, why did President Trump send out those videos?” Wallace asked.

“Well, President Trump is the best judge of why he did that,” McMaster said. “I know it was his intention to highlight the importance of creating safe and secure environments for our citizens — to make sure that we have the right laws in place, enforcement mechanisms in place.”

Wallace then suggested that between the Britain First retweets and Trump’s support for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the president might be tossing away any hope of achieving Middle East peace during his presidency.

“No, the president’s not giving up on the Mideast peace agreement at all,” McMaster said.

“There are options involving the move of an embassy at some point in the future, which I think, you know, could be used to gain momentum toward a — toward a peace agreement, and a solution that works both for Israelis and for Palestinians,” McMaster added.

McMaster also addressed North Korea.

Last week, North Korea launched its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile – a provocation to which President Trump replied, “I will only tell you that we will take care of it.”

How exactly would the president “take care of it” given China and Russia’s complicity in propping up the regime, Wallace asked.

“Well, the president’s going to take care of it by, if we have to, doing more ourselves,” McMaster said. “But what we want to do is convince others it is in their interest to do more.

“China, as you know, has taken some unprecedented actions.  And what we’re asking China to do is, not do us or anybody else a favor, but to act in China’s interest.

“There’s a real grave danger to China, to Russia, to all nations, by — you know, from a North Korea that’s armed with nuclear weapons. And of course, you have that direct threat, but you also have the threat of — the potential of Japan, South Korea, others, arming themselves, possibly even with nuclear weapons. That is not in China’s interest; it’s not in Russia’s interest.

“And so, what the president’s saying is, we all need to take care of it. If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he’s not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States with the most destructive weapons on the planet.”

Courtesy: Fox News

Donald Trump insists no collusion shown in Flynn case

The US president has remained confident that testimony from his former national security adviser did not implicate him. But his new timeline on Michael Flynn raises further questions.

Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing the White House for New York in Washington (Reuters/J. L. Duggan)

US President Donald Trump insisted there was “absolutely no collusion” between his election campaign and Russia, in comments to media on Saturday.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for fundraising events in New York. “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy.”

His comments came after his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty in court on Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US before Trump took power.

Investigators also revealed that Flynn was now cooperating with authorities and that he was prepared to testify that he was directed by a “very senior” transition official to make contact with Russia.

Read more: Michael Flynn to testify Trump’s team directed him to contact Russia

Many major US outlets reported that the figure allegedly directing Flynn was likely to be Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner. Flynn’s contact with Russia undermined Obama administration foreign policy at the time.

Later on Saturday Trump posted on Twitter, saying Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were entirely legal and that there was “nothing to hide,” but the post presented a different timeline of events to what the White House had earlier indicated.

I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!

Problematic timeline

Trump’s Friday Tweet implied he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI — a criminal act — and that this had contributed to his firing, but this was never listed as a reason for his dismissal.

Flynn was forced to resign in February after just three weeks for supposedly misleading Trump staff about his communication with former Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. On Friday, investigators made clear that Flynn had kept his superiors abreast of his conversations, which took place after the election.

If Trump knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI before he was asked to resign — as Trump implied on Twitter — then he would have known about Flynn’s crime even as he reportedly pressed then FBI chief James Comey to drop his inquiry into Flynn. Trump fired Comey soon after that reported conversation.

Read more: Analysis — Despite Flynn’s guilty plea, Trump presidency not over yet

Michael Flynn in Washington (Reuters/C. Barria)Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser

Inner circle

Flynn was the first member of Trump’s administration to plead guilty to a crime since Special Counsel Robert Mueller began investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion by Trump aides.

Immediately after Flynn’s guilty plea, White House lawyer Ty Cobb insisted Flynn had only implicated himself. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” he said.

But Flynn’s compliance grants Mueller access to someone who was one of Trump’s closest advisers during the campaign, transition and the early days of the administration.

aw/ng (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

MUELLER’S RUSSIA INVESTIGATION COULD HINGE ON 18TH CENTURY LAW

Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be throwing the book at members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team, and one law now getting scrutiny was written around the time the telegraph was invented.

The Logan Act, an 18th century law meant to crack down on U.S. citizens looking to conduct diplomacy that goes against the interests of the U.S. government, got new attention when Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI.

Flynn admitted to lying about December 2016 conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Sergey Kislyak, during which he pushed for a lesser response to President Barack Obama’s new sanctions tied to Russia election meddling, as well as to the Obama administration’s acceptance of a U.N. resolution to denounce Israeli settlements, according to court documents.

During the conversations, which took place before Trump took office, Flynn attempted to undermine Obama’s position on sanctions and Israel. That appears to be a textbook case of the Logan Act, although no one has ever been prosecuted under the law—and Mueller likely knows it.

“I have no doubt that Mueller will use the Logan Act as part of its investigation, but I don’t know if they’ll ever charge someone,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

GettyImages-812857070Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

Vladeck, an expert on the Logan Act, said that although the law appears to apply to Flynn’s actions, its constitutionality might come into question if it were ever used in court. The problem is that the act covers speech, and the Supreme Court’s past predilections in favor of free speech are well known. There’s also the issue that the law has never been used for a prosecution—though that doesn’t mean Mueller won’t use the threat of the Logan Act to help convince Flynn and others to cooperate.

“It just hasn’t been used in forever and a half,” Vladeck said. “It’s surrounded by uncertainty. It certainly seems to cover some of the things that Flynn has now admitted to.”

Documents released as part of Flynn’s plea agreement said Flynn was acting under instructions from a “senior member of the Presidential Transition Team,” and reports indicated that at least in one instance that person was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

That means Kushner and other senior officials might be in jeopardy under the Logan Act, even as Flynn pleaded only to lying to the FBI about the conversations.

Those lies about phone calls, and the public representation of their content, served as the impetus behind Flynn’s firing after the shortest tenure as national security adviser in history.

The admission by Flynn of having attempted to sway Russia’s actions before Trump took office confirm previous reporting by several outlets, but it does not touch the larger issue of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Several former intelligence officials and operatives who spoke to Newsweek said that although the court proceedings Friday don’t change the facts about the case, they’re a sign that Special Counsel Mueller is working to build a larger case.

“For the general public, it is speculation for now,” said Alex Finley, a former CIA operative and author of Victor in the Rubble. “But signs are pointing in a direction. We see smoke. My guess is the FBI and IC [intelligence community] see the fire.”

Courtesy: Newsweek

Analysis: Despite Flynn’s guilty plea, Trump presidency not over yet

With a guilty plea and reports that former US national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating, the investigation into Russian election meddling has picked up pace. DW answers three key questions.

Donald Trump (left) jokes with Michael Flynn (Getty Images/G. Frey)

The guilty plea of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who on Friday admitted to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, is very significant.

First, in Flynn, not only has a member of US President Donald Trump’s campaign team been charged but also a former high-ranking official in the administration.

Second, despite the White House downplaying the charges by saying that Flynn was only in the administration for a short time, he was one of the most important foreign policy advisers, if not the most important, to the future president during the election campaign. Trump’s high esteem for Flynn led him to be appointed national security adviser, a position that doesn’t require congressional approval, against the advice of many experts.

USA Michael Flynn beim Briefing im Weißen Haus in Washington (Reuters/C. Barria)Under the deal with Mueller, Flynn can expect only six to 12 months in prison — or a suspended sentence

Third, Flynn’s guilty plea is a clear indication that he has provided important information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who will be able to use that information to prepare investigations and charges against more significant figures.

“That’s the real story here. That he agreed to cooperate in exchange for favorable treatment from Mueller,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department and a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

“You don’t enter into a plea agreement unless the prosecutor has determined and independently corroborated that the potential witness has substantial, credible and reliable evidence that would implicate higher ups in the criminal enterprise in unlawful activity.”

Read more: Why the Russia probes don’t cripple Trump’s foreign policy

According to Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia, Flynn has likely already given up valuable information to investigators.

“A plea deal would only have been offered once there was real cooperation,” he said.

Lisa Kern Griffin, a criminal law scholar at Duke University, noted that Flynn appears to have gotten off lightly, although further charges are still possible.

Making false statements to the FBI is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to five years. But under the deal with Mueller, Flynn can expect only six to 12 months in prison, or possibly a suspended sentence, Griffin said.

That’s almost nothing, she added, compared to what the public record of Flynn’s activities suggests, which could have led to multiple charges.

In addition, no charges have been brought against Flynn’s son, who according to media reports was in Mueller’s sights over an alleged plot to kidnap US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is wanted by the Turkish government over last year’s failed coup attempt.

Read more: President Donald Trump after six months — Expect more of the same

Who’s next?

Watch video00:22

Trump on Putin and US election meddling

Since Mueller’s strategy is to work his way up to “big fish” through indictments and deals with “small fish,” the net around potential targets will now become smaller.  After all, as former national security adviser, Flynn was already fairly high up in the White House hierarchy.

For legal experts, there are only a few people in Mueller’s sights, and high on this short list stands Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser.

Read more: Kushner denies colluding with Russia after Senate Intelligence Committee meeting

“There were a number of ways during the campaign that Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner were working together and at a minimum I suspect that Michael Flynn has damaging information to offer about Jared Kushner,” Griffin said.

According to US media reports, Kushner is the “very senior member” of the Trump transition team who directed Flynn to make contact with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016.

Trump’s son could also be targeted by Mueller, noted Gurulé. “To me the other potential target is Donald Trump Jr. There is reason to believe that he is being targeted based on this June [2016] meeting in the Trump Tower [with a Russian lawyer and others — Editor’s note], where he appears to be excited over the possibility of Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton,” he said.

Beginning of the end for Trump?

Although many Trump critics — on social media and elsewhere — may be tempted to see Flynn’s plea deal as the beginning of the end for the president, it’s still premature to conclude whether or not Flynn may implicate others in Trump’s inner circle.

Read more: Think Donald Trump will be impeached soon? Think again

For legal experts, this is only a step, even if a significant step, in the long process of Mueller’s investigation. Certainly, it’s true that the charges have been getting ever closer to the president. But Trump has, so far, never directly been under investigation. And it remains constitutionally questionable whether a sitting president can even be charged.

Griffin thinks it’s unrealistic to assume Trump will soon be leaving office — at least at this point in time. She believes the question over Trump’s future will likely not to be answered legally, but rather politically in next year’s midterm elections.

Watch video01:55

First charges in Trump Russia investigation

COURTESY: DW

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