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Republicans Scrambled to Discredit Intensifying Trump-Russia Probe

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Many Republicans are scrambling to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the investigation into the cozy relationship between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia intensifies.

The smear campaign is taking on a new urgency after several of Trump’s campaign aides have been charged and are said to be cooperating with the special counsel team.

Republicans are seizing the opportunity following revelations that a top FBI official, Peter Strzok, was removed from the special counsel team for sending text messages critical of President Trump.

“The question really is, if Mueller was doing such a great job on investigating the Russian collusion, why could he have not found the conflict of interest within their own agency?’” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., asked at a news conference, according to the Washington Post

Sen. Chuck Grassley

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, suggested the special counsel investigation is a partisan-driven campaign designed to smear Trump.

“Strzok’s behavior and involvement in these two politically-sensitive cases raises new concerns of inappropriate political influence in the work of the FBI,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the Justice Department and FBI.

Feds from 3 Agencies Conduct Nighttime Raid at Cleveland City Hall

Cleveland City Hall, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Federal agents from three agencies conducted a nighttime raid on Cleveland City Hall on Wednesday night as part of a criminal probe.

The IRS, FBI and HUD were involved in the raid, but it wasn’t immediately clear what the agents were investigating, Cleveland.com reports

The feds declined to provide details on the raid and the investigation.

Cleveland FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson would only say that agents were at city hall “after business hours for authorized law enforcement activity.”

The city also declined to comment on the raid.

Check back for updates.

ATF to Determine if It has Authority to Ban Bump Stocks on Weapons

Acting head of ATF Thomas Brandon.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Two months after the Las Vegas shooting, ATF said it has begun reviewing whether it has the authority to ban bump stocks, a device that allowed the shooter to essentially convert weapons into automatic ones, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Lawmakers have called on ATF officials to determine whether the agency has the authority to regulate bump stocks without congressional action.

ATF’s Acting Director Thomas E. Brandon is testifying in front of a Senate committee hearing about the issue this week.

Those like Sen. Dianne Feinstein believe Congress should pass legislation addressing the issue rather than relying on ATF to make changes.

 

Bradley Moss: Does An FBI Agent’s Anti-Trump Texts Discredit Russia Probe? Hardly

Bradley P. Moss is a partner at the Washington, D.C. Law Office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C., where he has represented countless individuals (including whistleblowers) serving within the intelligence community, and is also the deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, through which he has represented media outlets such as Politico, Gawker, Daily Caller, and the Daily Beast in FOIA lawsuits against the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations.

President Trump

By Bradley Moss
For Politico

What are we to make of the revelation that a senior FBI counterintelligence official, Peter Strzok, was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team this past summer, allegedly for sending anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 campaign?…

If all Strzok did, however, was privately express his personal political views, and he otherwise properly conducted himself in the context of his official duties, has he done anything wrong? The short answer is no. Not only are civil servants permitted to retain their personal political views while employed by the U.S. government, but they are even permitted by law to express those personal political views. The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, governs concerns about politics permeating the civil servant workplace. The statute only prohibits civil servants from engaging in political activity, which is directed at the promotion of or advocacy against a political party, group or candidate. Strzok allegedly sent text messages to a colleague mocking President Trump when he was still a candidate, something comparable to what countless of millions of Americans—including, no doubt, many GOP members of Congress—did with respect to both major candidates throughout the 2016 election.

To read the full column click here.

Is Trump Immune from Obstruction of Justice Charges? It’s Complicated, Legal Observers Say

Donald Trump

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer brazenly declared the president “cannot obstruct justice” because he’s the “chief law enforcement officer.”

Citing the executive powers in the U.S. Constitution, Trump’s attorney John Dowd said the president “has every right to express his view of any case.”

Dowd didn’t elaborate, but his position drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s infamous remarks in 1977: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Dowd’s position that Trump is legally incapable of obstructing justice  came two days after the president’s explosive admission that he knew his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI. It’s a felony to lie the FBI. 

Many legal experts believe Trump’s admission that he knew of the alleged crime bolsters special counsel Robert Mueller’s case that the president intended to quash a legitimate criminal investigation by urging then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the case against Flynn. When Comey refused, he told investigators that Trump fired him.

Trump fired Comey, leading to claims that the president obstructed justice, a felony punishable by prison time.

But can a president be criminally charged with obstruction of justice?

Legal scholars are deeply divided on the issue, but virtually all agree that Trump, if guilty, could be impeached by Congress on the obstruction of justice charges.

Just look at Nixon and former President Bill Clinton, both of whom were accused of obstruction of justice and were impeached, but never criminally charged.

“No one in the judiciary committees during the Clinton and Nixon cases ever claimed that the president is incapable of obstructing justice,” constitutional scholar Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law told ABC.

Former President Nixon

Gerhardt insists the president isn’t above the law and said it’s “absurd” to claim that Trump couldn’t be criminally charged for obstruction of justice.

Blanket Immunity

Peter Zeidenberg, a lawyer who focuses on white collar and investigations, agrees, saying blanket immunity for a president would mean he could lie to prosecutors, destroy evidence and violate other laws.

“That assertion would literally mean that the president is above the law,” Zeidenberg told Politico.

Eugene Kontorovich, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said it’s possible that a president’s action could constitute obstruction of justice, but added that the president may direct “inferior officers,” such as Comey, because Trump is the president of the supreme law.

“Offering advice on prosecutorial discretion cannot amount to obstruction,” Kontorovich told Politico. 

Noting the law is very unclear and has no precedent in a criminal proceeding, some legal experts said the authority to determine whether a president committed obstruction of justice belongs to the U.S. House of Representatives, which has impeachment powers.

For that reason, some legal scholars said the best way to handle obstruction of justice is through the impeachment process, not through the legal system.

“The task of determining whether Trump acted improperly ultimately falls to the House,” John Culhane, professor at Widener University Delaware Law School, told Politico.

But Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who focuses on constitutional law, insisted Trump cannot commit obstruction of justice by “exercising his constitutional power” to terminate employees and control appointees.

“I think if Congress ever were to charge him with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, we’d have a constitutional crisis,” Dershowitz told ABC News. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power.” 

Others disagree, saying the president is required to follow the law like any American citizen.

“We have a president, not a king,” said Sam Berger, senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “No one is above the law, whether it be Trump or any of his close associates. It’s the sort of desperate claim that makes you wonder, ‘What exactly are they hiding?’”

Ousted Member of Russia-Trump Probe May Have Saved Clinton from Charges

Hillary Clinton

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

In what could become a distracting setback to the credibility of the Trump-Russia investigation, the FBI agent who was removed from the special counsel probe for mocking the president altered the language used to describe Hilary Clinton’s actions in the email inquiry last year.

Peter Strzok’s change in the original writing, which was by then-FBI Director James Comey, was significant and may have helped Clinton avoid charges, legal observers told CNN

Strzok, a former top counterintelligence expert at the FBI, altered Comey’s earlier draft language, from “gross negligence” to “extremely careless.”

Several people were involved with the decision to change the language, a U.S. officials familiar with the matter said. The change in language carries significant legal implications because federal law makes it a crime to mishandle classified material in a grossly negligent way.

Other Stories of Interest

FBI Director Defends Agents Against Dubious Trump Attacks

Christopher Wray is sworn in as the new FBI director. Photo via FBI.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his bureau against repeated attacks from President Trump and sought to assure employees and agents that they’re appreciated and admired. 

Responding to the president’s unfunded and dubious claims on Twitter that the FBI’s standing was “the worst in History,” Wray sent an email to the bureau’s 35,000 agents and support staff and said he is “inspired by example after example of professionalism and dedication to justice demonstrated around the bureau. It is truly an honor to represent you,” The New York Times reports

Wray, whom Trump nominated to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, didn’t mention the president by name but showed his loyalty is to his employees, not the president. Wray has been on the job for about four months.

Trump has become more vociferous and conspiratorial as the special council investigation continues to heat up and get closer to his inner circle.

Wray encouraged his employees to ignore criticism and continue to focus on enforcing the law and Constitution.

Baltimore Sun: Trump’s Tweetstorm Slamming FBI Rings Shallow

By Editorial Board
Baltimore Sun

It’s not every day that a sitting president savages as “in tatters” the reputation of the federal government’s top law enforcement arm, but it is a fairly common practice for those who have something to fear from police and prosecutors to attack them as biased, ineffectual or dishonest. Given that Donald Trump’s extraordinary claim that the agency’s standing is the “worst in history” came not long after his former national security adviser admitted to lying to an FBI agent about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Americans can draw their own conclusions as to what’s going on.

Nothing much surrounding President Trump’s latest frenetic Twitter storm is especially shocking. Not Michael T. Flynn’s guilty plea. Not the prospect that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is closing in on the president’s inner circle. And certainly not Mr. Trump’s customary counter-punch strategy directed mostly at familiar targets, former FBI Director James B. Comey and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What would have been far more surprising would have been for Mr. Trump to remain silent and not give the nation further reason to suspect that he is seeking to obstruct justice.

Perhaps the most notable moment of all came Sunday when Mr. Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, took responsibility for an especially problematic Saturday tweet in which the president admitted he knew Mr. Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him — which strongly suggests he knew his adviser had committed a crime when he asked Mr. Comey to go easy on him after the firing (something Mr. Comey testified to under oath before Congress). Mr. Dowd said he dictated that particular tweet and sent it to the White House social media director to be posted.

Does anyone seriously believe Mr. Dowd actually did that? Or was he just protecting his client from a criminal charge (keeping in mind that the tweet in question was one of 10 on the subject of the Russia investigation from Mr. Trump’s account)?

Also in classic Trumpian fashion, the president took a small development and blew it entirely out of context.

To read more click here.