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Tag: james comey

Release Of Flynn’s Official Pardon Reveals Its Corrupt Purpose

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump's pardon of his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, released on Monday evening by the Justice Department, revealed just how sweeping — and fundamentally corrupt — the act of clemency was.

It didn't simply cover the charge of lying to the FBI about his interactions with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 transition, which Flynn had pleaded guilty to before trying to withdraw his plea. Instead, it offered a pardon:

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Newsmax: FBI Director Slated For Dismissal By Trump After Testifying On Russian Interference

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The White House is preparing a list of names for President Donald Trump to use as it prepares to replace FBI Director Christopher Wray, just one day after he testified before Congress that Russia again is attacking the U.S. election.

"The White House is preparing a shortlist of candidates to replace Christopher Wray as FBI Director," Newsmax White House Correspondent Emerald Robinson reported, which has not been confirmed by other reporters.

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No President Before Trump Provoked So Many Former Appointees To Openly Revolt

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Waves of former officials working for President Donald Trump have consistently turned on him and denounced his conduct throughout his first term in the Oval Office, a trend that only seems to be accelerating as the November election approaches.

Olivia Troye, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence who worked on the coronavirus task force, was the latest to condemn the president in searing terms on Thursday. In an ad for Republican Voters Against Trump, she described the president as callous to the deaths of Americans and only interested in his re-election.

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How DOJ Report Vindicated Comey And Exposed Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a scathing report Thursday on the conduct of former FBI Director James Comey during the first few months of the Trump administration detailing his actions that violated FBI and DOJ policy. But despite its harsh tone, the narrowly tailored report failed to find Comey guilty of any serious criminal wrongdoing while revealing the IG’s actually rather thin basis for criticizing him.

And in the end, the document proves a vindication for Comey’s controversial choice to release memos that triggered the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That appointment led to the production of the Mueller report, a document that is far more important for the country and damning of its subject — President Donald Trump — than the IG’s report on Comey could possibly be.

To fully understand the extent of Comey’s vindication, you have to be familiar with the right-wing media narrative surrounding the former FBI director. Because this narrative had so little basis in fact, if you don’t pay attention to the conservative echo chamber much, it would have been easy to miss all the fulminating about Comey and the hunger for his head on a platter that has proliferated on the right wing.

But this anger is real, and it is intense. And many critics of the former FBI director have been fuming about the fact that Comey isn’t facing criminal prosecution, and they were certainly hoping the IG report would have more damning details than it does (though they will surely make mountains out of the molehills Horowitz found).

Trump has fueled the hatred of the former FBI director. He has repeatedly taken aim at Comey since firing him in 2017, including with this famous tweet:

As the IG’s report reveals, Comey did not do this. Trump was referring to Comey’s decision, after he was fired, to give memos he had made as FBI director about his interactions with the president to the New York Times through an intermediary. These memos revealed that Trump had asked for his loyalty at a private dinner and tried to get Comey to drop the criminal investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. These revelations, on top of Trump’s controversial firing of Comey, helped prompt the appointment of a special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mueller would go on to investigate Trump’s actions as potential obstruction of justice.

Since Mueller found substantial evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice in a series of events that included these actions, it has been psychologically and tactically important for the president’s allies to discredit Comey’s initial release of the memos. Even if Comey’s sharing of the memos had been illegal, Mueller’s findings would still stand, but Trump and his allies could muddy the waters of the investigation by saying it was corrupt from the start.

But the effort to tarnish Comey as a criminal leaker has crashed and burned, and Horowitz’s report throws water on the remaining embers. Though Comey’s memos contained some marginal classified information, Horowitz, as well as prosecutors at the Justice Department, did not determine that he broke the law or leaked this information to the press.

Comey celebrated the finding on Twitter, with not a little smugness:

Comey is, in the main, right. He has been widely and falsely smeared as a criminal for acts that simply did not violate the law. (So too, it seems, was Hillary Clinton — but that’s another story altogether.)

But some have accused Comey of spinning the results of the investigation, which they argue is more damaging of his conduct than he lets on. Writing for the Bulwark, Andrew Egger argued:

The report partially explains why the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Comey earlier this month, as the inspector general found no evidence to support Trumpworld’s most dire accusation: that Comey had deliberately and knowingly leaked classified information. But the rest of the report is more damning, calling Comey a “dangerous example” of a director using his position to his personal advantage while intentionally violating FBI and Justice Department policy. It also details how Comey treated other classified documents in a careless way, keeping several memos containing secret information in a personal safe at home.

As the IG report takes pains to point out, Comey’s breach of policy was no small thing. To handle the nation’s classified information is a solemn duty that we entrust only to a certain number of our fellow citizens. The understanding is that they are only to make use of that information in relation to their roles as public servants, never for their own personal advancement or gain. To enforce this standard is difficult—by necessity, it is sustained largely by agents’ public-spiritedness and the public’s trust. For the FBI director to abandon that standard on his way out the door does undeniable damage to both.

But this is too harsh on Comey. The report doesn’t actually criticize Comey for keeping classified records in his home. Instead, it criticizes him for not turning in the records after he was fired.

Indeed, the main criticisms of Comey, except perhaps for nitpicking about whether he put the proper banners on documents known to contain classified information, pertain to actions he took after Trump fired him. And this fact is of central importance: Because while you may be criticized for breaking department policy after you’ve been fired, the department usually can’t do much about it. That’s because your duty to follow the policies is a function of your professional obligation — an obligation that was ceased when your employment ended. Breaking your employer’s policies is usually, at most, punished with termination, a foregone conclusion at the relevant point for Comey. Now, you might still have moral reasons to live up to obligations accrued while you were employed, but these reasons can be overruled — as I’ll discuss below, after detailing the allegations.

The report explained allegations against Comey as follows:

Accordingly, after his removal as FBI Director, Comey violated applicable policies and his Employment Agreement by failing to either surrender his copies of Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 to the FBI or seek authorization to retain them; by releasing official FBI information and records to third parties without authorization; and by failing to immediately alert the FBI about his disclosures to his personal attorneys once he became aware in June 2017 that Memo 2 contained six words (four of which were names of foreign countries mentioned by the President) that the FBI had determined were classified at the “CONFIDENTIAL” level.

Perhaps the worst-seeming allegation is that Comey didn’t inform the FBI when he found out that information he had shared with his lawyers had since been classified. However, the details matter. Comey found out about the post hoc classification on June 7, 2017; the next day, he testified before Congress, revealing that he had shared a memo with a friend. The report explained:

Based on Comey’s testimony, FBI leadership knew that Richman was the friend to whom Comey had disclosed Memo 4 with instructions to provide its contents to The New York Times. Baker and Strzok immediately called Richman, while Comey was still testifying, to make arrangements to retrieve Memo 4. It was only through the FBI’s conversations with Richman on June 8 or June 9 that the FBI learned of the need to retrieve classified information, contained in Memo 2, as well as other FBI records, Memos 6 and 7, from each of Comey’s three attorneys.

So within a few days, the FBI became aware that Comey had unintentionally shared six since-classified words in confidence with his attorneys. As stated, the department doesn’t believe this was a violation of the law. It was only a violation of policy for Comey not to inform the bureau sooner. You can wag your finger at Comey over this if you like, but as a former member of the Justice Department, he wasn’t obligated to bend over backward to follow the department’s policies anymore.

To understand some of the other criticism, it’s important to recognize the distinction between “sensitive” and “classified” information. As before, it is a crime to knowingly and intentionally release “classified” information; however, it is just against department policy to release sensitive information, such as that which pertains to an ongoing investigation. This is the other serious complaint the IG had with Comey. In particular, he released information about the ongoing investigation of Flynn — that Trump had asked him to drop the case. And again, this information wasn’t classified, it was only a part of Comey’s professional responsibility not to release it. But it’s understandable that staying with the strict lines of DOJ policy was no longer Comey’s priority, given that he suspected corruption at the top of the executive branch — corruption that was, as it happened, the precise reason he was no longer professionally bound to follow DOJ policy.

The other allegation is, it seems to me, the most obviously trivial. Horowitz dings Comey for not turning over the memos he made of his interactions with Trump. Comey claims that he believed the memos were personal, rather than professional, but the IG argues that this claim is baseless, and I’ll grant that it is. Nevertheless, Comey may genuinely have been mistaken, and this seems to be a rather mild complaint — that a former employee didn’t promptly return bureau materials that were, in the end, handed back over to the FBI. Employment contracts may have endless fine print about proper conduct once one is terminated, and few are likely to be able to confidently state that they have fastidiously followed all the rules of their former bosses.

What Horowitz really seems to mind is that, as a private citizen, Comey took it upon himself to go outside DOJ policy to try to effect a special counsel’s investigation. And anyone can see why the inspector general of the department might bristle at this idea. But it completely removes the actions from the context they were in: Trump had just fired Comey — a potential act of obstruction of justice, and at a second in a series of such acts — who was overseeing a national security investigation into the president’s campaign.

Horowitz said that there were other avenues Comey could have pursued achieve his objective, but this is a wishful counterfactual. At the very least, Comey had good reason to believe that there needed to be more public pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to preserve the integrity of the investigation. Going to the IG or simply making the case for a special counsel without revealing his personal knowledge would have been unlikely to achieve this — he reasonably could have believed he would be brushed off or dismissed as having sour grapes about his firing. Trump, after all, was still officially in charge of the whole Justice Department. Comey knew what was needed to call for a special counsel, and he took the (legal!) steps needed to achieve it. There are few formal structures in place for the department to respond to potential presidential misconduct, and it’s reasonable to think that any satisfactory response may fall outside normal procedures.

Comey was facing a unique challenge of historical significance. And in the course of it, he violated some policies of the employer from which he had already been fired and to which he was no longer formally bound.

And in the Mueller report, Comey was vindicated. Mueller’s rather circuitous reasoning nevertheless reveals decisively that Trump repeatedly tried to obstruct justice during the Russia investigation. Some of those obstructive acts include subsequent efforts to fire Mueller — just like he had fired Comey. This all indicates that Comey was right when he concluded his firing was a serious breach, and it needed to be investigated.

Horowitz warns that it could be “dangerous” if others in the FBI see Comey as a role model. But just as plausibly, it could be dangerous if they think following DOJ policy to the letter is always warranted. Obviously, we don’t want law enforcement violating the rights of civilians whenever they think that will lead to the greater good. But we also don’t want them thinking that they should always stick to the rulebook if the rules were written to protect the powerful.

Matthew Miller, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, succinctly summarized the misguided nature of Horowitz’s probe.

“This is perhaps the stupidest investigation the IG has ever done, and one of its dumber conclusions. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns,” he said on Twitter. “The IG has basically faulted Comey for speeding on his way to tell the village that a fire was coming. Such a narrowly-scoped view of the world.”

Justice Department Will Not Prosecute Former FBI Director Comey Over Leaked Memos

Reprinted with Permission from Alternet

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided that former FBI Director James Comey will not be prosecuted for allegedly leaking classified information, Fox News has reported. This comes after South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s assertion that it would be “stunning” if Attorney General William Barr did not proceed with a prosecution of Comey.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz had referred Comey for a potential prosecution, but an official described by Fox News as “familiar with the deliberations” told the right-wing cable news outlet that “everyone at the DOJ involved in the decision said it wasn’t a close call.” That source, according to Fox News, said “they all thought this could not be prosecuted.”

During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Graham said, “If Bill Barr decided not to prosecute on disclosing the memos, I accept his judgment. I’ve known him for 20 years.” Graham also asserted that if Barr “does bring a charge against Comey,” he would “hate to be Comey.”

Graham, referring to Barr, told Hannity, “I want him to do what he thinks is right by the law and not prosecute anybody if you don’t think the case is there.”

On Wednesday, The Hill’s John Solomon reported that Horowitz was preparing a “damning report” on Comey. But the DOJ, according to the conservative PJ Media, decided not to bring charges against the former FBI director because it didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to show that Comey intentionally violated the law.

At issue was a memo Comey allegedly leaked that was classified as “confidential.” The memo dealt with a conversation Comey had with Trump after being fired in May 2017 during the Russia investigation. But according to Solomon’s sources, that memo wasn’t classified as “confidential” until after Comey allegedly leaked it.

Why Mueller’s Reluctance To Testify Publicly May Be His Biggest Mistake

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Democrats in Congress are eager to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify publicly. But Mueller is dragging his feet — and making a big mistake.

New York Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, gave his most extensive comments on the negotiations around Mueller’s pending testimony thus far Thursday night on Rachel Maddow’s show.

But if Mueller actually gets the chance to describe his work, defend it from combative Republicans, explicate its most important parts when pressed by Democrats, and explain exactly why he made the choices he did, people will listen.

It will be a spectacle. But he will largely be in control, and he can stick to the facts he wants to stick to.

Mueller likely just sees his role as that of a narrowly constrained prosecutor. His job was to find the facts and to bring the charges he thinks were worth bringing. Having done that, he thinks it would be inappropriate to promote his findings or be used as a political tool. In the report, he was clear that, with regard to his obstruction of justice investigation of President Donald Trump, his role was to find facts for Congress and potentially future prosecutors to consider. Now that the report is public and in the hands of Congress, he concludes, his job is done.

But even as a narrow fact-finder and fact-sharer, his job is not done. It’s true that it is the role of Congress to impeach if necessary based on his findings, but Congress is constrained and guided by the public. For the Congress to do its job, both lawmakers and the public at large have to be educated about what the facts are. Burying the facts in a dense report leaves much of the education of the public undone. Mueller is uniquely situated to educate the public about the report by testifying publicly.

And in fact, Mueller must correct the record. Trump and his supporters — including Attorney General Bill Barr — have lied and misled the public extensively about the report and the investigation. Trump has lied about and endlessly smeared Mueller himself. Mueller’s job isn’t done until he has helped debunk and challenge these lies.

Obviously, this is not a role Mueller wants to play. It will, inevitably, turn him into something of a political figure. But even if he just sees himself as a prosecutor and fact-finder, challenging lies remains a central part of his duty. Defending his work is part of his duty. He will surely insist that it’s not his call whether Trump deserves to be impeached — but he has an important role to play on behalf of those who make that decision.

Somewhat ironically, Mueller could learn something from former FBI Director James Comey. Comey has been extensively criticized for his tendency to make public pronouncements about federal investigations — and I certainly agree that he made mistakes by going too far in this direction. But Comey understood and understands the power and the importance of speaking publicly — even engaging in a bit of spectacle — when needed. Mueller could learn something from that.

Trump Falsely Accused Former FBI Officials Of ‘Treason’ For Investigating Him

Trump’s two-day-long meltdown continued on Thursday afternoon, as the obviously worked-up president baselessly accused federal investigators of committing treason — a serious crime punishable by death — all because they looked into his ties to Russia.

Trump listed a number of his favorite targets, saying former FBI Director James Comey, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page tried to wage a coup against his presidency, referencing a much-ballyhooed “insurance policy” comment Strzok and Page sent in a text message, which Republicans have taken out of context to make look like some sort of nefarious plot against Trump.

“That’s treason, that’s treason,” Trump said of the non-existent coup he says was waged against his campaign. “They couldn’t win the election and that’s what happened.”

Trump said earlier this week at a rally in Pennsylvania that some of his political adversaries had committed treason, but he didn’t specifically list their names.

On Thursday, NBC News’ Peter Alexander pointed out to Trump how serious that charge is, reminding Trump that treason is “punishable by death,” and asked who specifically Trump was accusing of such a serious crime.

Of course, none of the people listed above committed any crimes, let alone treason.

According to the U.S. Code, “treason” is defined as, “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000.”

That definition clearly doesn’t apply here.

Yet Trump — clearly terrified of the congressional oversight probes hanging over his head and the possibility of facing indictments if he loses the 2020 election — is ratcheting up his rhetoric in the hopes it will help him win again next November.

“That’s what’s happening now, they don’t feel they can win the election so they’re trying to do the 1,000 stabs, let’s keep stabbing,” Trump said of the congressional investigations into his conduct, once again baselessly accusing Democrats of “treason” for conducting legitimate oversight.

Trump’s rhetoric is extremely unhinged and dangerous.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Troubling Conclusion To Rosenstein’s Tenure At Justice

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been seen as a steadying force and source of integrity within the Justice Department under President Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure, with his credibility bolstered by the action he’s most likely to be remembered for: appointing Robert Mueller to be special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

But as his time at DOJ is expected to soon come to an end, his credibility is beginning to crumble.

Indications that Rosenstein might not be quite the Boy Scout he’s portrayed himself as began to emerged when Mueller’s investigation wrapped up and Attorney General Bill Barr sent a letter to Congress summarizing its “principal conclusions.” The attorney general wrote that though Mueller had declined to conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice — and also declined to exonerate the president — Barr and the deputy attorney general saw it as their role to step in. And they declared the evidence insufficient for such a charge against Trump.

Rosenstein’s role in this decision was presumably intended to give Barr additional credibility, since the new attorney general has already shown himself to be a deeply partisan figure. But Rosenstein’s input raised questions about the deputy attorney general, too. Why did he think it was OK to usurp the special counsel’s role and essentially reverse Mueller’s lack of exoneration? And perhaps more importantly — wasn’t such a decision wildly inappropriate, given that Rosenstein played a central part in firing former FBI Director James Comey, the key event in the obstruction investigation?

There have been no good answers to these questions.

And Rosenstein’s credibility has only tanked from there. Barr’s letter and the press conference he delivered ahead of the report’s release, with Rosenstein at his shoulder, have now been shown to be clearly deceptive by a full examination of Mueller’s findings. Mueller’s report was much more damning for Trump than Barr had let on. In some cases, it looks like Barr outright lied about it.

Yet Rosenstein has defended Barr.

“He’s being as forthcoming as he can, and so this notion that he’s trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre,” Rosenstein told the Wall Street Journal before the report was released. Even if it hadn’t turned out Barr was as deceptive as he was, there was still reason to doubt Barr’s credibility given what was known at the time. Rosenstein’s incredulity was purely performative and only more damaging to his own case.

All this looked even worse Friday, when the Washington Post dropped a bombshell report about an incident in which Rosenstein was almost fired. Back in late September 2018, The New York Times had broken the story, since confirmed by former Acting FBI Director Andy McCabe, that after Comey was fired, Rosenstein suggested he might wear a wire when talking to the president. (Rosenstein has tried to cast doubt on the story.)

According to the new Post report, Rosenstein called Trump after the Times’ story broke and tried to save his job:

“I give the investigation credibility,” Rosenstein said, in the words of one administration official offering their own characterization of the call. “I can land the plane.”

Trump ended the call with Rosenstein thinking he was “on the team after all,” one senior administration official said, adding that the president has been further swayed by Rosenstein’s deference in meetings and other settings.

Rosenstein also told Trump he wasn’t a “target” of the probe. Trump was, however, a subject of the probe, and it is now clear that he would have been a target had he not been a sitting president.

The deputy attorney general tried to push back against the characterization of the Post’s account, denying any suggestion that he was capitulating to the president.

But in addition to the evidence discussed above that Rosenstein is less credible than he once was seen to be, the deputy attorney general delivered a speech Thursday night giving the impression that he really is on Trump’s team.

For example, he lashed out at the media:

A republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle. Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper it was printed on, if anybody bothered to print it. It quickly fades away. The principles are what abide.

And then he criticized the Obama administration for its choices in response to Russia election interference, while ignoring the fact that the sitting president has denied (and encouraged) the attacks:

Some critical decisions about the Russia investigation were made before I got there. The previous Administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to a broader strategy to undermine America. The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media. The FBI Director announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges. Then the former FBI Director alleged that the President pressured him to close the investigation, and the President denied that the conversation occurred.

There, too, he conveniently elided how James Comey became the “former FBI director.”

He also favorably cited Trump on the “rule of law”:

We use the term “rule of law” to describe our obligation to follow neutral principles. As President Trump pointed out, “we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather [than] … the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will.”

This was absurd on its face, given that the Justice Department just published a report that shows how extensively Trump tried to obstruct justice and undermine the rule of law. And of course, Rosenstein and Barr are helping Trump get away with his subversion of democratic principles.

In perhaps the strangest section of the speech, Rosenstein even seemed to get in a dig at Mueller himself, saying:

It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.

Mueller’s report, in fact, showed that he took it as a responsibility of his investigation to create a thorough factual and analytical record of Trump’s obstruction efforts without recommending charges. What’s particularly strange about Rosenstein’s point on this matter, though, is that he knew what Mueller was doing all along and knew that Trump wasn’t going to be indicted. If he thought what Mueller was doing was somehow contrary to the Justice Department’s mission, why did he let it continue?

In his time at the Justice Department, Rosenstein has been criticized by people on both sides of the aisle. Much of the time, in fact, he was taking heat from Republicans and even the president himself for his role in the investigation. But at the close of the special counsel’s probe, and as his time as deputy attorney general comes to an end, Rosenstein seems to be undermining the whole point of appointing an independent special counsel in the first place by inserting himself and ingratiating himself to the president. It will leave him with a complex legacy to explain.