CAFE Brief 06/14: Trump’s interview, Durham’s CIA review, and more House activity

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CAFE Brief 06/14: Trump’s interview, Durham’s CIA review, and more House activity

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Dear Readers:

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On the docket for Monday’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast: Preet Bharara and Anne Milgram will break down Trump’s ABC News interview, developments in John Durham’s review of the Russia investigation, Michael Flynn’s decision to retain a staunch Mueller critic as his new attorney, and more. To listen, become a member. Thank you to all for supporting our work!

As usual, more politically charged legal matters are making the headlines — Let’s dive in!

Trump’s ABC News Interview

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos for ABC News, President Trump said, in widely criticized comments, that he would accept “dirt” on a political opponent from a foreign government, stating: “It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.” Trump’s stance is at odds with the views of FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Bill Barr, both of whom testified last month that any attempt by a foreign state to influence U.S. elections should be reported to the FBI.

Accepting this type of information may also be a violation of campaign finance laws that prohibit the taking or soliciting of a “thing of value” from foreign nationals in connection with an election. However, as Mueller points out in Volume I of his report, it is unclear whether courts would determine that gratuitous “opposition research” would constitute a “thing of value” in violation of law.

Democratic 2020 presidential contenders quickly condemned Trump’s interview comments, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-M.A.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-V.T.), and Beto O’Rourke renewing calls for impeachment. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that “it should be practice for all public officials…to inform the FBI” if they receive offers of campaign assistance from a foreign government.

Durham to review CIA activity

The New York Times reports, citing “people briefed on the matter,” that John Durham, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut who is conducting a review of the origins of the Russia investigation, intends to interview at least two senior CIA officers involved in the determination that President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign” aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helping Trump win the election. The Times also notes that Barr and Durham are seeking information on the sources the CIA used to “inform its understanding” of the Russian influence campaign, suggesting that the inquiry is examining the flow of information between the CIA and the FBI in the summer of 2016.

While the intelligence community’s assessment that Putin interfered in the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit is widely accepted, some conservative figures argue that Putin’s goal was simply to sow chaos. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that Putin’s goal was “destabilization,” adding that it was “a mistake to portray him on one side or another.”

Flynn’s new attorney and House subpoenas

After firing his legal team last week, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn hired Sidney Powell, a frequent Fox News guest and Mueller critic, as his new attorney. Powell has described Mueller’s team as “creeps on a mission,” and has pushed a theory that Flynn was “set up” by the FBI. Although Powell has argued in the past that Flynn should withdraw his guilty plea for lying to the FBI, she told Politico that Flynn “will continue to cooperate with the government.” On Thursday, President Trump praised Flynn and Powell, tweeting that “General Michael Flynn, the 33 year war hero who has served with distinction…retained a GREAT LAWYER…Best Wishes and Good Luck to them both!”

The House Intelligence Committee announced on Thursday that it has subpoenaed Flynn and former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gatesfor information related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In a press release, Chairman Adam Schiff (D-C.A.) said that Flynn and Gates “were critical witnesses for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, but so far have refused to cooperate fully with Congress. That’s simply unacceptable.” To comply with the subpoenas, Gates and Flynn must turn over documents requested by the Committee by June 26 and testify before the Committee by July 10.

BERWYN, PA – NOVEMBER 03: Donald Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway speaks to media during at a rally for Donald Trump at the Main Line Sports Center on November 3, 2016 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)

Rider:

  • The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a government watchdog agency, recommended that Trump remove senior adviser Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act—a law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. In a report sent to the President, OSC states that Conway “disparag[ed] Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
  • The House Oversight Committee voted on Wednesday to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas related to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The vote followed President Trump’s assertion of executive privilege over the requested materials at Barr’s request.
  • On Tuesday, the House approved a resolution allowing the Judiciary Committee to go to court—without the approval of the full House—to enforce subpoenas issued to Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn. As Lawfare explains, the resolution also empowers other House committees to move more quickly to court in future disputes, only requiring the approval of the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group.
  • On Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. testified behind closed-doors before the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly three hours, reportedlyrefuting statements by former Trump associates regarding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting and the Trump Tower Moscow project. As he was leaving, Trump Jr. told reporters: “I don’t think I changed anything of what I said because there was nothing to change.”
  • Former White House communications director Hope Hicks has agreed to testify, behind closed doors, before the House Judiciary Committee on June 19; a transcript will be released to the public.
  • The Michigan Attorney General’s office announced on Thursday that it has dropped all pending criminal charges against eight current and former officials accused of neglecting their duties by allowing Flint residents to drink tainted water. Prosecutors said they would continue their investigation into the Flint crisis that they believe resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people.

Further reading:

“Trump claims he wouldn’t have let CIA recruit Kim Jong Un’s brother,” CNN, 6/12/2019

“With classified filing, feds eye national security case against Mar-a-Lago intruder,” The Miami Herald, 6/12/2019

“Adam Schiff threatens to subpoena FBI Director Chris Wray,” Politico, 6/12/2019

“Jon Stewart Blasts Lawmakers In Hearing For Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund,” NPR, 6/11/2019

“Schiff demands intelligence agencies provide documents on White House’s suppression of climate testimony,” The Washington Post, 6/11/2019

“Trump urges appeals court to block subpoena for his accounting records,” Reuters, 6/10/2019

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

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