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Office Of Special Counsel Urges Conway’s Firing For Hatch Act Violations

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
When the Office of Special Counsel announced in a new report Thursday that Kellyanne Conway has so egregiously violated the Hatch Act that she must be removed from her federal job, the White House was clearly upset.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Steven Groves released a statement saying that the office has “unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees.” And White House Counsel Pat Cipollone requested that the office withdraw its report on Conway, writing in a letter that “the White House must ensure that OSC exercises its significant authority in an appropriate and neutral manner.”

But Henry Kerner, the special counsel (a completely separate role from the the Special Counsel’s Office, which was previously run by Robert Mueller), is standing firm. A Trump appointee, Kerner acknowledged what was an “unprecedented” step against Conway in comments to the Washington Post.

“You know what else is unprecedented?” he added. “Kellyanne Conway’s behavior.”

“In interview after interview, she uses her official capacity to disparage announced candidates, which is not allowed,” he continued. “What kind of example does that send to the federal workforce? If you’re high enough up in the White House, you break the law, but if you’re a postal carrier or a regular federal worker, you lose your job?”

Conway had previously been reprimanded when she directed viewers of Fox News to buy products from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, which she is not allowed to promote from her federal post. But most of her violations of the Hatch Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel, stem from her advocacy for and against certain electoral candidates, which federal employees (the president and the vice president excepted) are barred from doing.

The White House argued that enforcement of this act inhibits the free speech of federal employees, but employees like Conway are free to resign and join the Trump campaign if they wish to be paid political advocates.  The purpose of the Hatch Act is to prevent the president from using the federal government to advance his narrow electoral ends. The White House also complained that the office is partisan and biased against Republicans, but this claim is senseless, given it is led by a Trump appointee.

“Typical White House gas lighting,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, of the White House’s complaints. “OSC’s leader is a Trump appointee from a respected right-leaning watchdog group.”

IMAGE: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Judge Eases Order Requiring Justice Department To Release Flynn Records

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan announced in a filing on Tuesday that he will not force the Justice Department to comply with his previous order to release records relating to Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who was charged as a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Last week, the Justice Department boldly defied Sullivan’s orders in a filing, saying that it was refusing to release the audio recordings of Flynn’s discussions with Russian officials, which would include his conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 for lying to the FBI about the content of these conversations during the Trump administration’s transition period.

The department did release a separate recording and transcript of a voicemail Flynn received from one of Trump’s lawyers, which was relevant to the obstruction of justice investigation. But it said the other materials were not relevant to Flynn’s sentencing, which is the matter before Sullivan.

Many observers saw the refusal as a brash defiance of a judge’s explicit order, and some suggested that it may be a part of Attorney General Bill Barr’s attempts to cover up damaging information for the president.

But Sullivan’s response on Tuesday makes those interpretations less likely.

“The government is not required to file any additional materials or information on the public docket pursuant to the Court’s Orders of May 16, 2019,” the judge’s filing said.

“It was surprising for the court to have asked for these transcripts to be publicly filed in the first place, but it’s even more surprising to see the court back down in the face of outright DOJ refusal,” said Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey in a tweet. “I’d imagine there was lots of back and forth behind the scenes here.”

She added that it’s possible Sullivan agreed to let the government file the materials under seal.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said: “I’m surprised by this move, because the information would appear to be relevant to the factors that he is required to consider at sentencing. He appears to be deferring to DOJ’s view of what is relevant.”

Several Mueller Aides Say Report Is Worse For Trump Than Barr Indicated

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Multiple members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team believe the final report on the Russia investigation is more damning for President Donald Trump than the public has been led to believe by Attorney General William Barr, according to a new report in the New York Times.

Barr has already released a four-page letter summarizing what he called the “principal conclusions” of the report. He backtracked somewhat in a follow-up letter, clarifying that it was not a “summary” of the report.

The Times reported:

The special counsel’s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24 laying out their main conclusions, according to government officials familiar with the investigation. Mr. Barr only briefly cited the special counsel’s work in his letter.

Noah Schachtman, editor in chief at the Daily Beast, said on Twitter that his own team had heard similar reports.

The Times cited “government officials and others” who are familiar with the “simmering frustrations” of some of the special counsel team members in question.

The story continued:

The officials and others interviewed declined to flesh out why some of the special counsel’s investigators viewed their findings as potentially more damaging for the president than Mr. Barr explained, although the report is believed to examine Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation.

Barr’s letter revealed that Mueller’s report concluded that he could not “establish” that Trump or any of his allies conspired with the Russian government in its effort to influence that 2016 election. To many observers’ surprise, Barr also revealed that Mueller had not reached a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation, and instead only laid out the case for and against such a charge. Barr, however, took it upon himself, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to determine that there was not enough evidence to conclude Trump obstructed justice.

 

A Big Hint? Mueller Asks For A Little More Time

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller included a mysterious note in a court filing Tuesday that suggests his team is busily working on a project that will soon be over.

The filing came in response to a request from the Washington Post to unseal the redacted records in Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort, who has been sentenced to around seven years in jail for crimes uncovered in the investigation. Mueller’s team was supposed to respond to this legal motion by Thursday, March 21.

But instead, Mueller requested in a new filing that the deadline be extended to April 1; he said that the Post’s attorneys had not objected to the adjustment. Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted the request.

Here’s what’s interesting: According to Mueller, the lawyers who would respond to the request “face the press of other work and require additional time to consult with the government.”

That means there’s some other, pressing matter that Mueller’s team thinks should be prioritized before it responds to the Post’s request by the initial deadline.

Vox reporter Andrew Prokop noted: “The lawyers referenced are Michael Dreeben and Adam Jed. But it’s unclear what they’re busy with at the moment. There are no imminent deadlines in Roger Stone’s case, or the two appeals from a Stone associate and a mystery company. There’s a March 25 deadline in the Russian troll farm case, but Dreeben and Jed don’t appear to be involved in that filing.”

So there’s a big open question left by the filing: What is keeping Mueller’s team so busy?

Two immediate possibilities come to mind. They could be working on more indictments, or they could be working on the much speculated about “Mueller report.” There has been extensive reporting for months now that some kind of report from the special counsel is imminently forthcoming, but no one knows exactly when; all previous predictions that were at all precise have proven false. Of course, it could be another matter entirely.

There’s a related possibility, though I should note it’s largely speculative. It’s possible that Mueller wants to put off responding to the Post’s request not only because the lawyers are busy, but also because the matter of the Manafort redactions could be resolved once the lawyers in question are finished. If the Mueller team is putting its final touches on its report, that may effectively close the investigations surrounding Manafort, and thus obviate the need to seal much of the information regarding his case in the court records.