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Archive for January, 2018

Weekend Series on Crime History: Richard Nixon and FBI head Pat Gray Talk Mark Felt, Campaign Bugging

Why Trump Likely Will Be Charged with Obstruction of Justice

President Trump, via White House

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An eight-month special counsel investigation into ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia appears to be targeting the president for obstruction of justice in a case that began with the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

The case against Trump accelerated this week with the revelations that Trump tried to order the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the deputy attorney general to investigate the role Russia and Trump’d campaign played to undermine Hillary Clinton.

Some legal experts were skeptical that a jury would find Trump guilty of obstruction of justice because the charge requires “corrupt” intent.

But minds are changing following explosive revelations that suggest the president was motivated by a desire to protect himself and his associates from criminal charges, Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who handled many obstruction cases, wrote for a column published Friday by Politico

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt” directed by biased FBI officials. 

“We have since learned of very substantial additional evidence that would rebut that defense, or a defense that Trump didn’t understand the consequences of firing Comey,” Mariotti wrote. “While that evidence is indirect, Mueller could argue that we can infer Trump’s intent from that evidence, which is how prosecutors typically prove a defendant’s intent.

Trump hurt his case when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he had planned to fire Comey even if his attorney general, Jeff Sesions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, declined to recommend Comey’s termination, citing “this Russian thing” as the motive for firing the FBI director.

Trump also ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe. The New York Times reported that Trump responded angrily when McGahn failed to persuade Sessions to stay on the case, despite allegations that the attorney general had implicated himself in the case by meeting with Russian officials and failing to disclose the interactions. 

Trump wouldn’t drop the issue and yelled at Sessions, accusing him of “disloyalty” for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.

“On its face, it corroborates Comey’s testimony that Trump wanted “loyalty” from him,” Mariotti wrote. “It is also a very odd reaction by Trump to recusal, which Sessions was advised to do and is a routine practice when there is a potential conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict. Mueller could argue that Trump’s intense anger was due to his fear of the investigation and desire to impede it.”

Unwilling to let the issue go, Trump asked Comey’s replacement, acting FBI director Andrew Mccabe, whom he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. Trump staffers also said the president often complained that Comey was a Democrat, which backs Comey’s claims that Trump was searching for a new FBI boss who would be loyal to the president.

Trump didn’t stop there and urged Sessions to pressure new FBI Director Chris Wray to fire McCabe, who refused and said he would resign if asked to do it again. The discovery makes McCabe a witness in the obstruction of justice case.

Then in August, Trump lobbied Sen. Thom Tillis to kill proposed legislation intended to protect Mueller from being fired by Trump. The legislation was shelved.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel because of “conflicts of interest.” McGahn, the head attorney for the White House, said the case was weak and could easily backfire and lead to catastrophic consequences for the presidency. When McGahn threatened to resign rather than pursue the firing, Trump reportedly backed off.

The president also considered another route to fire Mueller, which would have required the firing of Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel in May.

The Times wrote that Trump had mulled the firing for several months, prompting an “omnipresent concern among his legal team and close aides.”

“Trump’s desire to fire Mueller despite knowing that firing a law enforcement official overseeing the Russia investigation could raise obstruction concerns is strong evidence that Trump’s intent was to obstruct the investigation,” wrote Mariotti, who originally was skeptical that an obstruction of justice case would be successful. “The excuses offered by Trump also bolster Mueller’s case, because they indicate that the president realized that firing Mueller to impede the investigation would be perceived as wrongful.”

Mariotti said the recent revelations “greatly strengthens the case that Trump had ‘corrupt’ intent when he fired Comey.

Trump said earlier this week that he “looks forward” to being interviewed by Mueller because he has nothing to hide and did nothing wrong.

DEA Sex Scandal Not Sufficient Reason to Dismiss Deadly Drug Conspiracy Case

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A DEA sex scandal was not a sufficient reason to dismiss a St. Louis drug case, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Shirley Padmore Mensah rejected defense lawyers’ claims on Jn. 12 that a deadly drug conspiracy case was compromised by an undisclosed affair between a DEA supervisor and a confidential informer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Lawyers for four people accused of a deadly drug conspiracy “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that any government agent or any informant acting as a government agent deliberately or recklessly included a false statement” in an affidavit that resulted in permission to wiretap the suspects.

The wiretaps led to drug-related charges against Dionne L. Gatling, Andre Alphonso Rush, Timothy Lamont Rush and Lorenzo Gibbs. Further evidence was collected that prosecutors said showed Gatling and Rush were involved in the murder of two men whom the suspects believe were feeding information to police.

DEA supervisor Keith Cromer denied having a sexual affair with the informer, but admitted the relationship “became personal in violation of DEA policy but denied that it was ever sexual,” Mensah’s ruling says. 

The judge didn’t buy Mensah’s claims that the affair wasn’t sexual, citing “intimate photographs,” trips the pair took and court testimony.

The DEA forbids its investigators from being alone with an informant or having a relationship closer than “arm’s length.”

Cromer has since been suspended without pay.

The judge said the the alleged misconduct between the DEA supervisor and the informant had no impact on this case. 

Trump Ordered the Firing of Mueller But Backed Off White House Attorney Threatened to Quit

Special counsel Robert Mueller

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Trump in June ordered the firing of the special counsel appointed several weeks earlier to investigate ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, but he backed off after the White House counsel threatened to resign to avoid handling a legally dubious task that could endanger the presidency.

The New York Times reported that Trump demanded the termination of Mueller, who was appointed in May by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general.

At the time, Trump, who has repeatedly claimed he had no plans to intervene in the probe, argued Mueller was incapable of conducting an impartial investigation because of several alleged cases of conflicts of interest, including a dispute over fees that Mueller owed at Trump golf club in Sterling, Va.

White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II declined to ask the Justice Department to fire the special counsel and threatened to quit, saying the president’s allegations of conflicts of interest were not strong enough to hold up in court and could have a catastrophic effect on the presidency. The termination, he added, would give the appearance that Trump was trying to obstruct the Russia probe.

McGahn, a longtime Republican campaign finance lawyer, served as the lead lawyer for Trump’s campaign.

Trump then backed off.

The president’s meddling in the investigation has made him a target of the probe since firing then-FBI Director James Comey. Also this week came revelations that Trump had asked the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, whom he voted for in the presidential election. Axios also reported this week that the Trump administration pressured the president’s new FBI director Chris Wray to fire McCabe. Wray responded that he would resign before firing his deputy director without just cause.

Mueller is expected to soon question Trump about the firing of Comey to determine whether the president tried to obstruct justice.

Retired FBI Agent: The Ongoing Attempt to Denigrate the Unabomber TV Series and My Role in the Investigation

James R. Fitzgerald spent 31 years in law enforcement – 11 years as a Bensalem (PA) police officer/detective/sergeant and 20 years in the FBI as an agent/supervisor/profiler/forensic linguist – before retiring in 2007.  He is now a consultant and an author.

By James R. Fitzgerald, FBI (Ret.)

If you watched the eight-hour Discovery Channel scripted limited-series, Manhunt: Unabomber, which aired during the summer of 2017, and is presently available on DVD, Netflix, and other streaming services, you may recall the protagonist of the series.

His name was Jim Fitzgerald, aka, “Fitz.”  He was portrayed by actor Sam Worthington.  Well, it’s the “real” Fitz (as opposed to the “reel” Fitz) who is the author of the article you are presently reading.  I’m the now-retired FBI  agent/supervisor/criminal profiler/forensic linguist who was directly involved in the actual Unabom case and helped finally bring the 17-year-long investigation to its conclusion with the arrest of Theodore J. Kaczynski in 1996.

James Fitzgerald

I chose to submit this article to ticklethewire.com to address numerous false allegations made about me and my role in the Unabom investigation in two separate articles previously published on this site.  They were each written by an individual named Greg Stejskal.

In both of these articles (dated August 10, 2017 and January 05, 2018) he presented opinions regarding Manhunt, which were very negative regarding its plotline, its supposed historical inaccuracy and other related issues.  At the same time, he alleged certain “facts” which were very negative regarding me.  Upon reading Stejskal’s second article, I decided to take this opportunity to provide a public retort to both of them and his continued grossly inaccurate statements about me, the “real” Fitz, which are contained therein.

Before proceeding any further, let me clearly state that I have no problem whatsoever with Stejskal expressing his negativity toward the “Based on True Events” Manhunt: Unabomber series.

If he sincerely didn’t like it for whatever reasons, he certainly has a right to express his opinions including in forums such as ticklethewire.com – even if he only watched one episode of Manhunt before writing and submitting his first highly deleterious critique, in which it is evident that he doesn’t seem to quite comprehend that the series was not a documentary, that he has little, if any,  concept of what is a “composite character,” and that he apparently lacks an understanding of what the phrase “Based on…” means in Hollywood parlance.

That being said, when I read in Stejskal’s second article the repeated and demonstrably erroneous accounts of the Real Fitz’s/my role, or alleged non-role, while assigned to the Unabom Task Force (UTF) in ’95 and ’96, despite my well-documented contributions to the eventual identification, arrest, and successful prosecution of Kaczynski, I knew it was time to respond to Stejskal and his repeated “fake news,” certainly as it pertained to me.

By the way, if you haven’t read his second article, Stejskal, also a retired FBI agent, cites a recent letter ostensibly written by Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a., the Unabomber, in a bizarre attempt to somehow bolster his (Stejskal’s) negative opinion of Manhunt.  (Spoiler alert: the Unabomber didn’t like the series either – even though, like Stejskal, he never actually watched it.)

I’ll withhold the behavioral implications of this peculiar dynamic for perhaps a subsequent article.  However, I will state here that if another FBI agent has ever quoted an imprisoned convicted serial killer to enhance his or her own personal image, reputation, opinion, and/or agenda, to somehow prove he or she was “right” about something outside of law enforcement circles (in this case, doubts about the accuracy of a television show), I’m not aware of it.  Stejskal may be a true trailblazer in this regard.

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

Before getting into the facts regarding my real role in the Unabom case, a brief summary is in order regarding the genesis of Manhunt: Unabomber.  How it made its way from the sloping hills of Lincoln, Montana, to the rolling streets of San Francisco to the Atlanta area (where it was filmed), to the Discovery Channel and other media is an interesting story in and of itself.

After Retiring 

The making of Manhunt began in earnest when I first retired from the FBI in 2007.  That’s when my good friend Jim Clemente (a fellow FBI profiler; ret. 2009) and I got together and decided that telling the story of the Unabom investigation in a television limited-series format would be a highly worthwhile undertaking.

We wanted to showcase to the world how our agency, the FBI, initially struggled, but then finally succeeded in resolving this 17-year-long investigation of an unknown serial bomber who had killed three, seriously injured dozens, and almost brought down a commercial airliner.

While committing these crimes, this nameless offender was also taunting the FBI and the public with his various pseudonymous letters (each signed with only “FC”), not to mention trying to get his “Article,” a.k.a., Manifesto, published in a mainstream newspaper.  Clemente and I knew we had in this long-term investigation an excellent story about a group of dedicated agents and analysts going up against the consummate criminal mastermind, the likes of which U.S. law enforcement, to include the FBI, had never before encountered.  We even came up with an early working title for the series – Manifesto.  Now, it was time to put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard.  And that’s exactly what we did.

Jim Clemente and I eventually brought our friend Tony Gittelson into the project.  He is a long-time professional screenwriter based in Los Angeles.

Read more »

Special Counsel Probe Closes in on Trump After 8 Months of Interviews

President Trump, via White House.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An eight-month special counsel probe into ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials has hit a critical stage as investigators close in on the president over allegations of obstruction of justice and collusion with an adversarial country.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his legal team plan to soon question Trump in what could carry enormous consequences for the presidency and the country.

Since May, Mueller’s team has already interviewed more than 20 White House employees, and legal analysts believe, based on those meetings, that Mueller is pursuing obstruction of justice charges against Trump for allegedly firing his FBI director James Comey for refusing to drop an investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

But legal experts are growing skeptical that Mueller’s team has enough evidence to charge Trump with colluding with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

It’s unknown whether the special counsel team is pursuing other charges against the president.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt” and accused the FBI’s leadership of conspiring to bring him down.

On Wednesday, Trump said in an impromptu press conference that he “looks forward” to the special counsel investigation, insisting he did nothing wrong.

Trump Says He’s ‘Looking Forward’ to Speaking Under Oath As Part of Russia Probe

President Trump, via White House

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A defiant and resolute President Trump said Wednesday he is “looking forward” to testifying in the special counsel investigation into ties between his campaign and Russians, insisting he did nothing wrong.

Trump told reporters at an impromptu question-and-answer session that he’s so confident of his innocence that he will testify under oath – a move that could have enormous consequences for his presidency.

“Here’s the story, just so you understand,” Trump said in the West Wing.

“There’s been no collusion whatsoever. There’s no obstruction whatsoever, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Trump cast himself as the victim of an over-zealous crusade to undermine his presidency and pledged to vigorously defend himself.

“You fight back,” Trump said.

The surprise press conference comes during a tumultuous week of discoveries for the president. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, became the first cabinet member last week to be questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller. 

Trump also was accused of asking the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe about whom he voted for in the presidential election. 

And Trump’s new FBI director, Christopher Wray, threatened to resign after coming under intense pressure from the administration to fire McCabe.

Flynn Met with FBI Investigators without an Attorney or Trump’s Knowledge

Former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Just two days after he was sworn in as President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn secretly met with FBI investigators to answer questions about his communications with Russians.

Flynn, who pleaded guilty late last year to lying to the FBI about ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, didn’t bother to bring an attorney and never mentioned the meeting to the president or his inner circle, NBC News reports. 

As part of an agreement with the FBI, Flynn has pledged to cooperate with the special counsel team investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The FBI interview on Jan. 24, 2017, is considered a key moment in the special counsel investigation, setting in motion an ever-increasing probe with allegations ranging from collusion to money laundering. The investigation, led by Robert Mueller, so far has produced indictments against four of Trump’s closest associates, and the president said Wednesday that he is “looking forward” to clearing his name in an interview with the special counsel team.

Flynn was fired after less than a month on the job for lying the Vice President Mike Pence about contacts with Russians who wanted Hillary Clinton defeated.