Stay informed of pressing issues at the intersection of law and politics. The team behind Stay Tuned with Preet is launching a new newsletter: CAFE Brief, a recap of news and analysis of politically charged legal matters sent every Tuesday and Friday. We look forward to your feedback as we continue to expand CAFE content. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions.
The past week has been a whirlwind of charges and arrests, with Assange facing extradition to the U.S., the first Democrat charged from Mueller’s probe, and additional charges filed against Michael Avenatti. Let’s dive in!
On Thursday, U.K. authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces extradition to the U.S. on the charge of Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion. In a newly unsealed 2018 indictment, Assange is accused of helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning crack a Department of Defense password in 2010, in order to steal classified Pentagon documents. For a thorough summary of the events leading up to Thursday’s arrest, read this piece by the New York Times.
Barr’s congressional testimony
In testimony before the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, Attorney General Bill Barr said he intends to release the redacted Mueller report next week. Barr also testified that the Justice Department would investigate the “genesis” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and possible improper “spying” on the Trump campaign by the U.S. intelligence agencies, according to the New York Times. Writing for Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes argued it was not appropriate for Barr “to dangle those questions in a congressional hearing in a fashion bound to stir up conspiracy theories.”
Trump’s tax returns
In a letter Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin informed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal that the Treasury would not meet the deadline to turn over Trump’s tax returns, suggesting that the request was made for “political reasons” and required further consultations with the DOJ to determine the appropriate response. In a Washington Post op-ed, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers writes that not only is the law clear that the IRS cannot withhold information from congressional inquiries, it is also “inappropriate and probably illegal” for the treasury secretary to “get involved in taxpayer-specific matters.”
Obama-era counsel charged
On Thursday, the New York Times reported former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig was charged with lying to federal officials about work he did in 2012 with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom. Craig and Skadden worked in coordination with Paul Manafort to assist Russia-friendly Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in “quell[ing] Western criticism of the prosecution and jailing” of Yanukovych’s political opponent. Read the indictment over at Lawfare.
Campaign finance violations
The evidence gathered by SDNY in its campaign finance investigation into hush-money payments made by Trump associates is more extensive than previously known. According to the Wall Street Journal, prosecutors have interviewed former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Trump’s former security chief, Keith Schiller. Both reportedly told prosecutors about their phone calls with David Pecker, the chief executive of National Enquirer publisher AMI, which has admitted to paying off two women to keep them quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump.
SDNY prosecutors are planning to meet with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “as soon as this week,” according to CNN, to further investigate claims that Saudi Arabia obtained private information from Bezos’ phone. The private data was published by the National Enquirer, allegedly after the tabloid carried out a failed extortion and blackmail plot against Bezos. In related news, the Washington Post reported that the parent company of AMI is “actively seeking” to sell the National Enquirer after its controlling shareholder “became ‘disgusted’ with the Enquirer’s reporting tactics.”
Michael Avenatti indicted
The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California has unveiled an expansive indictment of 36 criminal charges filed against celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on Thursday. It is alleged that Avenatti stole millions of dollars from five clients, including a paraplegic man, using “[m]oney generated from one set of crimes… to further other crimes. ” These California charges are separate from charges Avenatti faces in New York for allegedly trying to extort over $20 million from Nike. In a tweet, Avenatti said, “Any claim that any monies due clients were mishandled is bogus nonsense.”
Winter White House
U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating if Yujing Zhang, a Chinese woman who gained entry to Mar-a-Lago, was part of a Chinese espionage operation. CNN reported on her court appearance Tuesday, where prosecutors said Zhang carried a USB drive with malware into Mar-a-Lago and then lied to federal authorities when questioned. Writing for the Washington Post, former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan argued “Mar-a-Lago may present the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War.”
On Monday, federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memo in the case against lobbyist and Manafort associate Samuel Patten. The government praised Patten’s cooperation and “substantial assistance,” ultimately not recommending a sentence. Patten’s lawyers also filed their own sentencing memo, arguing Patten should receive probation instead of prison time. His sentencing is scheduled for today, before Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
The Guardian published a piece summarizing an article in the Indiana Law Journal by Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark in which she revealed a change in how the DOJ is interpreting the emoluments clause of the Constitution. According to Clark, the new interpretation “would permit the president – and all federal officials – to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official.” This shift in perspective could affect current and future lawsuits against the president for profiting off the presidency.
Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team
We hope you’ve enjoyed our first issue of the CAFE Brief. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions of articles and analysis of legal and political news.