No matter Trump’s protests, Russia investigation grinds on

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While President Donald Trump spent part of the Labor Day weekend once again using Twitter to vent his frustration about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and possible ties to his campaign for the White House, the evidence in recent days is that the investigation is not ending anytime soon, as it’s still not clear if the President will answer questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“There’s no fairness here,” the President tweeted on Saturday night, arguing “if you’re a Democrat or a friend of Hillary you get immunity or off scott free.”

“If you’re connected to Donald Trump, you get people like Robert Mueller & Andrew Weissman, and his team of partisans, coming after you with a vengeance,” the President wrote.

At this point, all signs seem to point to an active September:

1. A second trial for Paul Manafort. After being found guilty on eight of eighteen counts of tax and bank fraud – the other ten were a hung jury, courtesy of a single holdout juror – the President’s former campaign manager faces a second trial in Washington, D.C. later this month. Last week a federal judge delayed the start of the trial for a week until September 24. This case deals with money laundering, charges that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent when working for a political party in Ukraine that was backed by Russia. Manafort’s lawyers have asked for this trial to be moved to southwestern Virginia.

2. President labels probe an “illegal investigation.” In an interview with reporters from Bloomberg News last week, President Trump ratcheted up his criticism of the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to new heights. “I view it as an illegal investigation,” the President told reporters, as he again argued that the Justice Department should never have appointed Mueller in the first place. This matter has already been litigated in the courts, as various federal judges have brushed aside such legal challenges, ruling that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller is on rock solid legal ground. Except with the President. And some of his most ardent supporters.

3. Papadopoulos not moving to drop his plea bargain. For months, I have faced a steady stream of messages from listeners and readers, that the Mueller investigation had wrongly charged George Papadopoulos, a one-time foreign policy adviser to the Trump Campaign, who had plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about possible contacts with Russians during the campaign. But the argument that Papadopoulos was about to go rogue officially went out the window late on Friday, when his lawyers submitted their latest documents in the case, asking that Papadopoulos not be sentenced to any prison time for his offenses. “Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve
a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master,” his lawyers wrote, seemingly referring to a desire to work in the Trump Administration.


4. Associate of Manafort pleads guilty. If you missed this on Friday, it’s not one to ignore, as lawyer Sam Patten, who has ties to people in Paul Manafort’s orbit, plead guilty to failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, acknowledging that he had misled Senate investigators, and deleted documents sought in the Russia investigation. The guilty plea also said that Patten helped funnel foreign money through a ‘straw’ purchaser in the U.S. to the Trump Inaugural committee. In his guilty plea, Patten agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe, as well as other federal prosecutors.

5. Overall – this is about more than Robert Mueller. In the past two weeks, the guilty plea of Sam Patten, the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, and the reports of immunity for executives at the National Enquirer, all show that the legal troubles for the President aren’t just centered in the work of Mueller’s office. The sprawling nature of the probe makes it even more difficult for the President to focus his ire on just one person, one office, one set of prosecutors.

6. Impeachment of Rosenstein gains little support. Just before the U.S. House went home for an extended summer break in late July, a group of Republicans filed impeachment articles against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, making the case that Rosenstein had not turned over documents and other information when requested by Congressional investigators. But the plan did not gain the support of GOP leaders, and not one House member endorsed the plan during the past five weeks, leaving just 14 GOP lawmakers officially on board with the idea. With the House scheduled to be in D.C. for legislative work for just 19 days between now and Election Day, a vote on this plan seems unlikely.



7. No public hearings slated with Ohr or Page. While Republicans hauled now fired FBI official Peter Strzok before a House hearing in July, so far there is no hearing set for DOJ official Bruce Ohr, or former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Both were brought in for closed-door questioning, but the GOP has not released any transcripts of those sessions, or set a public hearing. There were few leaks from the testimony of Bruce Ohr last week, and some of them seemed to come not from Republicans in the Congress, but from the Justice Department, pushing back against GOP lawmakers, and the President.

8. Is there a 60-day window or not? There has been lots of talk in recent days about whether the Mueller probe will try to get something big out this week, or hold off until after the November mid-term elections. There is no written rule which says that, but it’s sort of one of those internal understandings, that you shouldn’t take actions within the 60 day window before an election, because it could impact the outcome of that election. The Trump legal team has been making a point about the 60 day time frame – which would be this coming Friday, September 7. One could argue that if the 60 day rule was hard and fast, then Manafort’s trial would not be starting in late September.