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National Govt & Politics
Lingering questions left over from the Mueller Report
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Lingering questions left over from the Mueller Report

Lingering questions left over from the Mueller Report

Lingering questions left over from the Mueller Report

As reporters, politicians, legal experts, and members of both political parties spent the weekend going over the impact of the 448 page redacted version of the Mueller Report, it was obvious from the political and legal reactions that the fight over what Russia did in the 2016 elections - and how the Trump Campaign and President Donald Trump dealt with that - was not going to be ending anytime soon.

"There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN's 'State of the Union' on Sunday, as Republicans continue to press the case that the Mueller Report absolves the President of any and all wrongdoing.

"We need to go back and look at how this fake “Russia Collusion” narrative started," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as Republicans looked to move on from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and to focus on investigating the investigators.

Meanwhile, Democrats were mulling over their own options, which certainly seem to include more hearings in Congress on what was revealed by the Mueller Report, tugging the story in the exact opposite direction.

Democrats pointed to comments from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who said the Mueller Report showed a 'pervasiveness of dishonesty' inside the Trump White House.

Here's some things which may get some attention in the weeks and months ahead:

1. GOP still wants answers on the Steele Dossier. If you were looking for the Special Counsel's office to detail how the Steele Dossier had factored into the Russia investigation, there was precious little in the Mueller Report. The dossier was directly mentioned 14 times, but there was no mention of it contributing anything directly to the findings of the report. The Special Counsel report says nothing about the dossier as the reason for starting a counter-intelligence investigation, instead making clear that it was information from Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos which was the genesis. "On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government rep01ting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign," the report states on page 14. But the Mueller Report does not address one key question - was the Steele Dossier just another effort by Moscow to disrupt the 2016 elections? This is where Republicans say they want answers - they can hold hearings in the U.S. Senate, if they wish.

2. Michael Cohen again demands retraction over Prague story. One item in the Steele Dossier which has often caused a media furor is over the assertion that President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen went to the Czech Republic on some sort of mission for the President during the 2016 campaign. Cohen has always denied it, and repeated that in testimony before Congress earlier this year. "Have you ever been to Prague?" Cohen was asked. "I've never been to Prague," Cohen responded without missing a beat. "I've never been to the Czech Republic." The Mueller Report was clear that Cohen was believed over Steele. "Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false," the report says on page 351. On Friday, Cohen again said he was still waiting for a retraction by McClatchy Newspapers.

3. Why did Donald Trump Jr. not answer questions from Mueller? While President Trump's son has steadfastly defended his father throughout the Mueller investigation, and testified to the Congress about the Russia probe, the Special Counsel report notes that Trump Jr. did not directly aid the Mueller investigation, specifically on the infamous Trump Tower meeting. "The Office spoke to every participant except Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer) and Trump, Jr., the latter of whom declined to be interviewed by the Office" - then, the next two sentences are redacted, with the explanation on page 125 that grand jury information is responsible for the redacation. In a later discussion of how President Trump handled publicity about the Trump Tower meeting, there is a redaction which involves Trump Jr. on grand jury grounds - does it indicate again that Trump Jr. did not answer questions? It's not clear because of the blacked out material - but the President's son never seemingly answered questions from Mueller's team or a federal grand jury.

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Lingering questions leftover from the Mueller Report

4. A Trump tweet that was redacted in the Mueller Report. This seems sort of crazy, but it's true. On page 363 of the report, Mueller discusses President Trump denouncing Michael Cohen, when his former personal attorney had moved to plead guilty and cooperate with the feds. "He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion serve a full and complete sentence," the President tweeted. Then there is a section which is blacked out under, "Harm to Ongoing Matter." But if you look at the footnote, it refers to a tweet by Mr. Trump, at 10:48 am on December 3, 2018. It's not hard to figure out which tweet that was, as it was one in which the President talks about Roger Stone not flipping and cooperating with the feds. I'm not a lawyer, so it makes no sense to me that printing that tweet could interfere with an ongoing case, but that's one of the redactions made by the Justice Department.

5. When will Robert Mueller talk in public? Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have already sent a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller asking him to testify before Congress on his report. Last week, the Attorney General said he would have no opposition to Mueller testifying. Mueller operated in a much different way than previous high-profile independent prosecutors - go back to Watergate and you will see news conferences by Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski; Ken Starr spoke to the press during the Whitewater investigation. But Robert Mueller has been totally silent, ignoring questions on his few visits to Capitol Hill, doing no interviews and saying nothing in public. An effort to get some remarks from him on Sunday after church netted only a 'no comment' - which is pretty much the most we have heard from Mueller during his almost 22 months as Special Counsel.

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  • British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation Friday morning. >> Read more trending news In an announcement from 10 Downing Street, May said her resignation would become effective June 7. May had been under pressure to resign after a backlash by her own party against her latest Brexit plan, the BBC reported. This is a developing story.
  • The journey of two barges on the Arkansas River has captivated many across the state and the nation. The loose barges reached the dam in Webbers Falls Thursday with little damage to the dam. The barges sank into the river.  Muskogee County Emergency Management spokeswoman Tricia Germany says the barges were carrying a total of about 3,800 pounds of fertilizer.  Germany says the concern was that the barges would block the water flow through the dam. The two barges got stuck in rocks overnight but somehow broke loose this morning as crews tried to secure them.  Residents of Webbers Falls were evacuated on Wednesday. 
  • An escalating trade war between the U.S. and China could mean higher prices on a broad array of products from toys to clothing. But some retailers will be less equipped to handle the pain than others, leaving consumers to carry the load. Analysts say big box giants like Target and Walmart who marked their latest quarter with strong performance are best positioned to absorb the higher costs because of their clout with suppliers. They’re also taking a judicious approach to price increases to lessen the impact. The losers will be the ones that have been struggling all along — the mall-based clothing stores and others that sell commoditized products like basic sweaters or that don’t have the financial wherewithal to absorb extra costs. Consumers, as well as most retailers, had been left largely unscathed by the first several rounds of tariffs that the U.S. imposed on China because they mostly focused on industrial and agricultural products. But that began to change when items like furniture saw an increase in tariffs to 25% two weeks ago. Retailers will absorb the extra costs when those products arrive in U.S. ports in June. But now the Trump administration is preparing to extend the 25% tariffs to practically all Chinese imports not already hit with levies, including toys, shirts, household goods and sneakers. Cowen & Co. estimates shoppers could see as much as 10% to 15% in price increases across all goods imported from China, which would mean an incremental cost of $100 billion or more.
  • The storms caused two barges to detach in a navigation channel near Webbers Falls in Muskogee County Wednesday night. Muskogee County Emergency Management leaders are asking residents to evacuate. The evacuation order also includes nearby areas west of the river. Troopers with the Oklahoma Highway patrol say the problem is possible debris flying from the dam. A shelter is set up in Warner. All lanes of SH-100 and I-40 are closed over the Arkansas River near the Muskogee/Sequoyah County line until further notice.  Drivers can expect significant delays and should avoid the area and seek an alternate route if possible.

Washington Insider

  • Ending months of wrangling over billions of dollars in aid for victims of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, Congress struck a deal Thursday with President Donald Trump on a $19.1 billion aid package, which includes extra relief money for Puerto Rico, but not several billion for border security efforts sought by the President. 'We have been working on this package for several months, and I am pleased to say that help is finally on the way,' said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), as the Senate voted 85-8 to approve the plan, and send it back to the House for final action. The plan includes $600 million in food aid for Puerto Rico, along with an additional $304 million in housing assistance for the island, as President Trump backed off his opposition to extra aid for the island. 'Puerto Rico has to be treated fairly - and they are,' Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters. The compromise plan also includes over $3 billion to repair military bases in Florida, North Carolina and Nebraska which were damaged by disasters, and over $3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damaged waterways infrastructure. The details of the final agreement were just slightly different from a disaster aid package approved earlier in May by the House - that $19.1 billion plan was opposed by President Trump and a majority of GOP lawmakers. 'Now, let's get this bill to the President's desk ASAP,' said Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), whose home state has been hit hard by flooding. Ironically, the vote took place in the Senate as a severe storm rolled through the city, setting off alarms inside the Capitol, as police told tourists, reporters, and staffers to shelter in place. After the vote, Republicans praised the agreement, and the work of the President.  “For Florida, this is a big day,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), as the bill included $1.2 billion to help rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, which was leveled last year by Hurricane Michael. “I just want to tell you how grateful I am to the President,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), as Republicans repeatedly said Mr. Trump had 'broken the logjam' on the disaster bill. Democrats saw it much differently, as they argued if the President had stayed out of the negotiations, the disaster aid would have been agreed to long ago. “He's an erratic, helter-skelter, get nothing done President,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.   “If he stays out of it and lets us work together, we might get some things done.” The eight Senators who voted against the bill were all Republicans - Blackburn (TN), Braun (IN), Crapo (ID), Lee (UT), McSally (AZ), Paul (KY), Risch (ID), and Romney (UT). The bill would also extend the life of the National Flood Insurance Program, giving lawmakers several more months to consider reforms to the program, which has run up close to $40 billion in losses in the last 15 years. The bill also has specific language to force the Trump Administration to release $16 billion in already approved funding for disasters, but which has been withheld by the White House for months - it includes $4 billion for Texas, and over $8 billion for Puerto Rico. The compromise bill still needs a final vote in the House - that could take place either on Friday, or might have to wait until early June when lawmakers return from a Memorial Day break, as the House had already left town when the disaster deal was struck.
  • In the midst of an escalating trade fight with China which has caused financial pain for many American farmers, the Trump Administration announced on Thursday that $16 billion in trade relief payments would be given to farm producers starting this summer, to help farmers deal with economic impacts of foreign retaliation for U.S. tariffs. 'The plan we are announcing today ensures farmers do not bear the brunt of unfair retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other trading partners,' said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The $16 billion would be in addition to $12 billion in trade relief offered last year by the President to U.S. farmers, who have endured lost markets, lower commodity prices, and financial losses as a result of China and other countries retaliating against tariffs authorized by President Trump. Perdue said it would be better to have a trade agreement with China to remove the need for these trade payments, but such an agreement does not seem to be on the horizon. 'We would love for China to come to the table at any time,' Perdue said, adding that President Trump will meet with the Chinese Premier in June. 'It's really in China's court,' Perdue added. The funding for the latest farm bailout would come through the Commodity Credit Corporation, but Perdue and other USDA officials said the increase in revenues from tariffs would offset the cost. 'The President feels very strongly that the tariff revenue is going to be used to support his program, which will come back out and replenish the CCC,' Secretary Perdue said. Those tariff duties are not paid by China - but rather by companies in the United States importing items from the Chinese, as those businesses can either eat the extra import costs, or pass them on to American consumers. Democrats in Congress have grabbed on to the issue of rising costs for consumers in criticizing the President's trade policies - even though many Democrats do support the idea of being much more tough on Beijing over trade matters. Caught in the middle are farmers, who have been more readily - and publicly - voicing their concerns in recent months with the President's trade policies. 'The Farm Bureau believes in fair trade,' said American Farm Bureau Federal chief Zippy Duval. 'Eliminating more tariffs and other trade barriers is critical to achieving that goal.”  A recent poll by the Indiana Farm Bureau found 72 percent of farmers surveyed in that state felt a 'negative impact on commodity prices' because of the current trade dispute between the U.S. and China. Farm County is also mainly Republican - and the continuing pressure on farmers has filtered through in recent polling. The collateral damage for U.S. farmers could increase even more in coming months if there's no deal between the U.S. and China. President Trump has already threatened to raise tariffs on an additional $325 billion in imports from China, which could draw even more trade retaliation from Beijing - with U.S. agriculture being the most obvious target.
  • For the second time in three days, a federal judge rejected arguments by lawyers for President Donald Trump, refusing to block subpoenas issued by a U.S. House committee for financial records held by U.S. banks which did business with the President's companies. 'I think the courts are saying that we are going to uphold the rule of law,' said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has subpoenaed information from the Mazars USA accounting firm. Wednesday's ruling from federal Judge Edgardo Ramos, put on the bench by President Barack Obama, related to subpoenas by two other House panels to Deutsche Bank and Capital One, for records related to Mr. Trump's businesses. Lawyers for the President, the Trump Organization, and Mr. Trump's family had asked that the subpoenas be quashed - the judge made clear that wasn't happening, and also rejected a request to stay his ruling to allow for an appeal. As in investigative matters involving the President's tax returns, and other subpoenas from Democrats, Mr. Trump's legal team argued that there is a limit on the investigative power of the Congress. 'Congress must, among other things, have a legitimate legislative purpose, not exercise law-enforcement authority, not excess the relevant committee's jurisdiction, and not make overbroad or impertinent requests,' the President's lawyers wrote in a brief filed last week. But as with a case in federal court in Washington earlier this week, that argument failed to sway Judge Ramos, who said Deutsche Bank can turn over in the information sought by the House Financial Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. In the halls of Congress, Democrats said the legal victories were clear evidence that the resistance of the White House to Congressional investigation could only succeed for so long. 'The White House has attempted to block Congressional oversight, but the law is on our side,' said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT). And Democrats also were pleased by the quick action of both judges this week, amid worries that multiple legal challenges by the President could cause lengthy delays. 'We should not be slowed down in our work simply by a clock that goes through judicial processes,' said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA). The legal setback for President Trump came several hours after he cut short a White House meeting with top Democrats on infrastructure, saying he would not work with them on major legislation until the House stopped a variety of investigations. 'Get these phony investigations over with,' the President told reporters in the Rose Garden. Mr. Trump seemed especially aggravated by statements earlier on Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accused the President of resisting subpoenas and other document requests for a reason. 'And we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up, in a cover-up,' Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.
  • Angered by investigative efforts in Congress pressed by House Democrats, President Donald Trump on Wednesday cut short an Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders on an infrastructure bill, walking into the Rose Garden to tell reporters that he would not work with Democrats on major legislative initiatives until Congress ends investigations related to the Russia probe and more. 'Get these phony investigations over with,' the President said, clearly aggravated by comments made earlier in the day by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accused Mr. Trump of engaging in a 'cover-up' by ignoring subpoenas and refusing to turn over documents in a series of investigations led by Democrats. 'I don't do cover-ups,' Mr. Trump said with a distinct note of frustration in his voice, as he again said the Mueller Report should have been the last word on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. 'As President Trump has always said: No Collusion. No Obstruction,' the White House tweeted soon after his impromptu Rose Garden remarks. Returning to the Capitol from the White House, Democrats said the scene seemed like a set up. 'It's clear that this was not a spontaneous move on the President's part,' said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, as Democrats accused the President of doing everything he could to avoid bipartisan agreements on issues like infrastructure, which was the subject of today's sit down at the White House. “I pray for the President,” Speaker Pelosi said afterwards. Just last night, Mr. Trump had sent Democrats a letter asking that infrastructure efforts be delayed until after approval of the US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement - which still has not even been submitted to the Congress for a vote.
  • Facing pressure within Democratic Party ranks to open an official impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday vowed to 'follow the facts' of any investigations related to the President and his administration, bluntly accusing Mr. Trump of doing all he can to block oversight related to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. 'We believe it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law including the President of the United States,' Pelosi said after a closed door meeting of House Democrats. 'And we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up, in a cover-up,' Pelosi told reporters. Pelosi's advice to her House Democratic Caucus has been to hold off on starting any official impeachment effort, and instead focus on holding hearings, getting documents, sending out subpoenas, taking their document fights to the courts, and increasing the pressure on the President with those actions. The Speaker touted the success of one of those efforts on Wednesday, as she noted that the House Intelligence Committee - after using its subpoena power - pressured the Justice Department into providing the panel with more counter intelligence information which was generated by the Russia investigation. 'The Intelligence Committee talked about the documents that the Justice Department is now willing to convey,' Pelosi said, using that as one example of how Democrats are slowly getting information from the Trump Administration - without the need to take a step towards impeachment hearings. 'We have to be patient as we plow along,' said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who said now is not the time to start an impeachment effort by that panel. 'We've got to have evidence,' Johnson told me. 'We can't just take the Mueller Report.' But Democrats have encountered numerous hurdles set up by the President and the White House in terms of getting the underlying evidence of the Mueller Report, getting testimony from Mueller, hearing from former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and more. 'The potential reasons to cite impeachment have been growing,' said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). 'I believe the facts fully justify an impeachment inquiry,' said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who was joined by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) in calling for a start to official proceedings against the President. For now, Speaker Pelosi is still resisting that course - but making it very plain that she agrees with fellow Democrats about what they are seeing. 'It was a very positive meeting; a respectful sharing of ideas,' Pelosi said.