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April 29, 2019

CAFE Brief 04/29: Butina sentenced, Barr’s warning, and Oversight negotiations

As one storyline wraps up, another begins — Maria Butina sentenced, Bill Barr’s Congressional testimony up in the air, and a judge stands charged with obstruction of justice. Let’s dive in!

Executive Director Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (C), who was shot in the hands, hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 28, 2019 in Poway, California. – A rabbi who carried on preaching despite being wounded in the latest deadly shooting at a US synagogue said on April 28 that Jews would not be intimidated by the “senseless hate” of anti-semitism. (Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP) (Photo credit should read SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Synagogue shooting

On Saturday, a gunman wielding an AR-type rifle entered a San Diego-area synagogue during Passover services and opened fire, leaving one woman dead and three others injured. The suspect, a 19-year-old male, fled but was quickly arrested according to CBS NewsThe New York Times reported that the gunman “screamed that Jews were ruining the world as he stormed the synagogue.” President Trump and local officials have called the shooting a hate crime; The Washington Post asks, “Will prosecutors be able to do the same?

Barr’s hearing in question

Attorney General Bill Barr warned the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday that he would not show up to Thursday’s hearing, objecting to Chairman Jerry Nadler’s plan to have Committee attorneys question Barr for an additional 30 minutes. Barr is also opposed to testifying in a closed door session about the redacted portions of the Mueller report, according to CNN. “The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period,” Chairman Nadler responded, adding that if Barr fails to comply, the Committee will “have to subpoena him” and “use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena.”

Rosenstein’s tenure

The Washington Post published an in-depth look at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s time at the Justice Department, describing it as a “political tightrope” act designed to appease President Trump, protect Mueller’s investigation, and save his own job. Rosenstein repeatedly assured the president that he would be treated fairly, that he wasn’t a “target”, and that he was on the president’s team. When asked for comment, Rosenstein told The Post that the only commitment he made to President Trump was to conduct the Russia investigation “appropriately and as expeditiously as possible.”

Rosenstein’s speech

On Thursday night, Rosenstein gave a speech at the Armenian Bar Association’s Public Servants Dinner in which he reflected on the Mueller investigation and his time at the Justice Department. Rosenstein insisted that the Mueller probe was handled fairly, saying as a result “our nation is safer, elections are more secure, and citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence schemes.” He also praised President Trump for supporting the rule of law while taking a swipe at the Obama administration, former FBI Director James Comey, “mercenary critics,” and the press, as summarized by The New York Times.

BOSTON, MA – APRIL 25: Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph (C) leaves Federal Court in Boston on April 25, 2019. Shelley Richmond Joseph was indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade a federal agent who had appeared at the courthouse to detain him last year. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Obstructing ICE

Massachusetts District Court Judge Shelley Joseph and a court officer, Wesley MacGregor, were charged by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office with conspiracy and obstruction for allegedly allowing an undocumented immigrant escape arrest by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey criticized U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, calling the indictment “a radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts,” according to an NPR report.

In an op-ed for The Boston Globe, Nancy Garter, former federal judge and professor at Harvard Law School, argues that Lelling abused his power, writing: “Criminal prosecution is a step you take last, not first, especially here, given the extraordinarily chilling effect this prosecution will have on judicial independence and state sovereignty.”

Meanwhile, Leah Litman, a Professor at the University of California School of Law, writes in Slate that “all of the reasons Barr has previously cited for opposing an obstruction investigation against the president suggest the Department of Justice should not have brought obstruction charges against Joseph and MacGregor either.”

Carl Kline will testify

On Friday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone informed the House Oversight Committee that former White House personnel security director Carl Kline would be available for an interview on May 1st, after Ranking Member Jim Jordan sent a letter asking the White House to reconsider their initial denial. Chairman Elijah Cummings then sent a letter to Kline scheduling the deposition but refusing to limit the scope of questioning to the general policies of the security clearance process. Kline “will be expected to answer all of the Committee’s questions, including questions about specific White House officials and allegations of retaliation against the whistleblower,” Cummings wrote.

Resisting oversight

President Trump’s blanket resistance to Congressional subpoenas is “a deeply disturbing argument” that could “tilt the separation of powers…toward the executive branch,” University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck writes in an op-ed for The Washington Post. Vladeck suggests Trump’s position may be a “pre-emptive strategy” to “undermine Congress’s power of inquiry, at least with respect to potential impeachment proceedings, before it can be effectively used against him.”

2020 threat

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia’s continuing interference in American elections presents a “significant counterintelligence threat.” In a speech quoted by The New York Times, Wray said Russia’s use of social media, fake news, and propaganda “to sow divisiveness and discord” and “undermine America’s faith in democracy” is “a 365-day-a-year threat.”

A US government official has told CNN that law enforcement officials have ”spent months and months trying to sound alarm at the White House about the need to take foreign interference more seriously and elevate the issue,” but getting the Trump Administration to pay attention was “like pulling teeth.”

NRA turmoil

NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre sent a letter to NRA board members on Thursday accusing the organization’s president, Oliver North, of extortion over alleged misuse of funds. In response, the board informed North he would not be elected for another term, The Wall Street Journal reported. Then, on Saturday, The New York Times reported that North is stepping down and that the N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

What else?

  • Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates talked about Mueller’s report on Meet the Press, saying, “I have personally prosecuted obstruction cases on far, far less evidence than this. And yes, I believe if he were not the president of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction.”
  • Appearing on Face the Nation, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham declared that the obstruction allegations in Mueller’s report are not important. Asked about Trump ordering former White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, Graham said: “I don’t care what they talked about. He didn’t do anything. The point is the president did not impede Mueller from doing his investigation.” Graham added, “Here’s what I care about: Was Mueller allowed to do his job? And the answer is yes.”
  • Deutsche Bank has begun to turn over documents to the N.Y. Attorney General’s office in response to a subpoena seeking information on loans made to President Trump and his businesses, CNN reported.
  • Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday after pleading guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of Russia. She will serve nine additional months after receiving credit for time served, according to NBC NewsThe Guardian reports that Russian president Vladimir Putin called Butina’s sentence “an outrage” and suggested prosecutors made up charges to “save face.”

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

We hope you’re enjoying the CAFE Brief. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions of articles and analysis of legal and political news. We look forward to your feedback as we continue to expand CAFE content.