WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI developed a backup plan to protect evidence in its Russia investigation soon after the firing of FBI Director James Comey in the event that other senior officials were dismissed as well, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
The plan was crafted in the chaotic days after Comey was fired, when the FBI began investigating whether President Donald Trump had obstructed justice and whether he might be, wittingly or not, in league with the Russians. The goal was to ensure that the information collected under the investigations, which included probes of Trump associates and possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, would survive the firings or reassignments of top law enforcement officials. Those officials included special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed eight days after Trump fired Comey in May 2017.
Andrew McCabe, who became acting director after Comey was fired, asked investigators to develop a plan to ensure evidence would be protected, said the person, who was not authorized to talk about those discussions publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press. A plan was then created, according to the person, who would not provide specifics. A second person familiar with the talks, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, also said the FBI discussed preserving evidence so that it would outlast any firing or effort to stymie the investigation.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment Tuesday.
McCabe hinted at that anxiety in an interview that aired Sunday with CBS News’s “60 Minutes,” saying he met with investigators after Comey’s firing.
“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion,” McCabe said. “That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.”
He added, “I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision.”
Trump has repeatedly decried the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and has suggested that investigators themselves should be investigated. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out last year amid the president’s anger over his recusal from the Russia investigation.
McCabe himself was fired last year after the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that he had misled officials about his role in a news media disclosure. McCabe has denied the allegations, described his firing as politically motivated and, in a series of interviews this week, has said he plans to sue the Justice Department over it.
Mueller Report: Investigation finds no evidence of Russia conspiracy
Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find Donald Trump’s campaign or associates conspired with Russia, Attorney General William Barr said Sunday.
Mueller also did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute obstruction of justice, Barr wrote, but he did not exonerate the President.
“The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” the four-page letter sent to Congress states.
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided the evidence was “not sufficient” to support a prosecution of the President for obstruction of justice.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr quotes Mueller as saying.
Mueller’s team also has no plans to issue any new indictments.
“The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the special counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public,” the letter states.
Trump’s allies have pointed to the fact that no additional indictments are coming from the Mueller probe as vindication of the President.
The special counsel’s office employed a massive effort through the court system and in interviewing witnesses to reach its findings. In all, Mueller’s team interviewed about 500 witnesses and obtained more than 3,500 subpoenas and warrants of various types — the bulk of which were subpoenas — and 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence.
Fight over release of full report
Democrats have demanded that Barr make Mueller’s full report public and provide the special counsel’s underlying evidence to Congress. They are threatening to subpoena and take the Trump administration to court if they’re not satisfied with what the Justice Department provides.
“We will try to negotiate. We will try everything else first. But if we have to, yes, we will certainly issue subpoenas to get that information,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday before the letter was released.
Mueller’s findings, Nadler said, means it is up to Congress to determine the President’s future.
“Seems like the Department of Justice is putting matters squarely in Congress’ court,” Nadler tweeted after the document was made public.
Barr said he intends to release as much as possible from the report. Mueller will be involved in the scrubbing of the report to remove secret grand jury material and any content related to ongoing investigations before it could be made public, Barr wrote.
“Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the (grand jury) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel.”
The special counsel’s investigation ended Friday after Mueller submitted his confidential report to Barr for review.
The 22-month special counsel probe led to charges against 37 defendants, which included six Trump associates, 26 Russians and three Russian companies. Seven defendants have pleaded guilty, and one, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was convicted at trial.
While Mueller’s investigation is over, several criminal investigations are still ongoing.
They relate to an alleged Russian conspiracy to blast political propaganda across Americans’ social media networks; Manafort’s political colleague from Russia, Konstantin Kilimnik; and what Manafort’s deputy and a central Trump political player, Rick Gates, knows, according to court records.
Another is a grand jury’s pursuit of documents from a company owned by a foreign government. That subpoena for documents began with Mueller last year.
The DC US Attorney’s Office will pick up many of the open court cases, including Gates and former Trump adviser Roger Stone. And the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan continues to look into Trump’s inauguration and allegations waged by Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.
Read the full letter from Attorney General Barr on the Mueller Report below:
This story is breaking and will be updated.
INVESTIGATIONS WILL CONTINUE DESPITE SUBMISSION OF THE MUELLER REPORT
As Robert Mueller exits stage left, the Justice Department will continue to pursue a handful of investigations—and potentially more prosecutions — that began with or were bolstered by the special counsel’s work. And a significant group of them still focus around President Donald Trump.
The still-live investigations range from an expansive probe into the Trump inaugural committee, to various investigations relating to former top Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, to tips that stemmed from Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen’s experience with Trump and his family’s company. It’s possible other investigations are being conducted quietly, as well.
In all, Mueller leaves behind a mess of prosecutors in federal and state government still collecting documents, interviewing witnesses and prosecuting cases that may keep Trump’s family and associates on edge for months.
Much of the apparent action so far has been out of the powerful, insular US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The Southern District of New York office is already looking into donations and expenditures of the Trump inaugural, into the Trump Organization, into allegations from Cohen related to campaign finance and a possible suggested pardon. They’re also investigating well-known US lobbyists who worked for Ukraine.
Prosecutors from state and local offices and other federal prosecutor offices are also getting involved in the sprawling set of cases.
The inaugural investigation
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York in February sent a wide-ranging subpoena to the Trump inaugural committee, marking a major step in what could be a devastating probe in Trump’s political world.
The Manhattan-based prosecutors were seeking virtually every piece of documentation related to the inaugural’s donors, vendors and finances.
The subpoena, which was signed by Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, disclosed that prosecutors are investigating a broad array of potential crimes related to the inauguration’s business conduct: conspiracy against the US, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations and violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person, also known as straw donors.
The subpoena also specifically sought information on a donor named Imaad Zuberi and his investment firm, Avenue Ventures LLC, which donated $900,000 to the inaugural fund, according to Federal Election Commission records.
State attorneys general in New Jersey and DC are looking into the inaugural as well.
Michael Cohen matters
At the same time, Cohen, the President’s former personal attorney, has dangled allegations publicly against Trump, his company and others. One of those allegations may lead to an obstruction inquiry, after Cohen disclosed emails that he contends suggest the possibility of a presidential pardon as Cohen considered cutting a deal with prosecutors regarding his own legal troubles.
Attorney Robert Costello, who sent the emails, disputes that the emails were discussing a potential pardon. Cohen, under oath, has also accused Trump of indirectly instructing him to lie in a statement to Congress. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have requested the emails between Cohen and Costello, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN.
Cohen also alleged, while testifying to Congress last month, that Trump engaged in insurance fraud, which a state regulator in New York is looking into. Separately, Cohen alleged Trump lied to Deutsche Bank when trying to get a business loan.
Cohen also provided details about campaign finance impropriety around the time Trump took office.
Cohen pleaded guilty last year to two campaign finance criminal charges for facilitating payments to two women while he ran for President so they would keep quiet about alleged extramarital affairs.
Since last summer, Manhattan federal prosecutors have been examining whether executives at the Trump Organization violated campaign-finance laws in the company’s effort to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 he paid during the 2016 election to silence an adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, who claimed a sexual encounter with Trump (Trump has denied the affair).
More recently, prosecutors have asked to interview executives at the President’s family business, CNN has reported. Because of the ongoing investigation, information about the hush-money payments Cohen made or orchestrated was heavily redacted from search warrant material related to the Cohen case that was made public last week.
The Cohen case also resulted in an agreement that prosecutors wouldn’t charge the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc, which, in consultation with Trump and Cohen, helped diminish potentially damaging stories about the then-presidential candidate. But now prosecutors are again scrutinizing the publisher to determine whether it violated the agreement.
That agreement, in which the publisher admitted it sought to influence the 2016 election by paying $150,000 to a former Playboy model to silence her claims of an affair with Trump, required the company not to commit any further crimes.
In February, however, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused AMI of attempted extortion and blackmail after the National Enquirer published photos and texts disclosing an affair he was having. Prosecutors are continuing to evaluate whether the company’s actions violated the agreement, but they are cautious about the idea of bringing charges against a news organization because of First Amendment concerns, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Manafort lobbying questions
An inquiry formerly led by Mueller into Manafort’s lobbying efforts for Ukrainian politicians has also been farmed out — parts of it more than once — to other prosecutors’ offices.
Last spring, Mueller referred to the Manhattan US Attorney’s office an investigation into whether a collection of Republican and Democratic political operatives had operated as unregistered foreign agents. The probe looked at former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig and his former law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; longtime Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta and his former firm, the Podesta Group; and lobbyist Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Republican congressman, and his firm, Mercury Public Affairs.
The probe of Skadden and Craig then moved again, this time to the Justice Department’s national security division, with which Skadden settled in January and agreed to turn over $4.6 million it earned for 2012 work for Ukraine orchestrated by Manafort.
That settlement appeared to suggest Craig could be exposed to potential criminal charges for “false and misleading statements” and for failing to register as a foreign agent, and the national security division is now weighing whether to bring a case against him, according to people familiar with the matter. Court filings from the Justice Department in an unrelated criminal case have also pinned the wrongdoing on Craig, without specifically naming him, in recent weeks.
The inquiries into the Podesta and Mercury firms, however, remain with the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, which has continued to conduct interviews in service of the investigation as recently as several weeks ago, according to people familiar with the matter.
Separately, the Manhattan District Attorney filed new criminal charges against Manafort for fraud less than an hour after he was sentenced in federal court this month for admitting to similar violations. That case is still in its preliminary stage in court.
Picking up court pieces
Separately, Mueller’s office’s coming closure doesn’t mean court activity he began will just end. Instead, Mueller’s office has already tapped other parts of the Justice Department for support, especially the DC US Attorney’s Office and the National Security Division.
Top cooperator Gates, for instance, will be dealing with a new group of prosecutors for his still-unscheduled sentencing in DC District Court. His case — originally opened as a conspiracy prosecution against he and Manafort — will be handed off to the DC US Attorney’s Office, the special counsel’s office said on Saturday.
The DC US Attorney’s Office — which is led by Jessie Liu, Trump’s pick for the No. 3 position in the Justice Department — has already stepped up to prosecute several cases alongside Mueller, like those against Concord Management and Consulting and against Roger Stone, so the Gates hand-off is a natural fit.
Gates pleaded guilty last February, flipping on Manafort and signing up to help prosecutors as a witness at the Manafort trial and in other ongoing investigations.
Gates continues to cooperate with prosecutors in several investigations, prosecutors said in court this month. And those appear to be outside of DC. One of those investigations appears to be the inaugural probe in New York.
Two other pending court cases that Mueller’s team alone handled — the criminal prosecution of Michael Flynn and the pursuit of grand jury testimony from Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller — do not yet have hand-off plans finalized, the special counsel’s office said Saturday.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to a lying charge, isn’t yet ready for sentencing. He’s expected to be a star witness in a case brought by Northern Virginia federal prosecutors against his former lobbying partner, who’s pleaded not guilty for illegally working for Turkey.
Finally, there are two major question marks that Mueller never answered, and that remain as parts of ongoing investigations, according to recent court records.
One is the communications between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik in 2016, which Mueller’s team asserted was at the heart of their work, and the other is the pursuit of documents from a still-unnamed foreign-government owned company. That company is still refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena Mueller sent it last year, and has looked to the Supreme Court for help, citing sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court reviewed the proposed case on Friday but hasn’t yet said what it will do.
DOJ NOT SENDING ‘PRINCIPAL CONCLUSIONS’ OF MUELLER REPORT TO HILL TODAY
(CNN) — Attorney General William Barr is not sending the “principal conclusions” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to lawmakers Saturday, multiple congressional sources and a Justice Department official told CNN.
But Barr conveyed to his team he still wants to get the conclusions to the Hill by this weekend, according to the Justice official.
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrived at their Justice Department offices Saturday morning to work together, reviewing and analyzing Mueller’s confidential report, the official told CNN.
The official said that Barr and Rosenstein, along with a select few advisers, were still there as of Saturday afternoon.
The “principal conclusions” that Barr promised lawmakers will be derived from the special counsel’s report — a distillation of the main takeaways from the report, rather than a word-for-word summary.
The expectation, according to the official, continues to be that the document sent to Congress with the conclusions will also be made public.
Barr’s submission to Congress and the public is being eagerly anticipated on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, with lawmakers and the White House waiting to learn more about Mueller’s findings.
But the waiting game will continue for at least one more day now, after Mueller submitted his report to Barr on Friday.
Barr announced on Friday evening that Mueller had submitted his confidential report and that the 22-month special counsel investigation had concluded.
The end of the investigation also means that no more indictments are coming from the special counsel, according to a Justice Department official, which Republican allies of President Donald Trump say is a sign that the President will be vindicated by the Mueller report.
But a battle is brewing between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats over Mueller’s report. Democrats say the public needs to see Mueller’s full report for itself — and not a summarized version from Barr — and they are demanding that Mueller’s underlying evidence is provided to Capitol Hill.
House Democrats held a caucus-wide call Saturday afternoon to discuss the next steps for the House, which has its own sprawling set of Democratic-led investigations into Trump’s administration, finances and business already underway.
They renewed their demands for full transparency of the Mueller report, according to people on the call.
Democratic leaders circulated talking points to their members arguing that “the White House must not be allowed to interfere with the report’s release.”
The talking points include details about why they believe there’s precedent supporting the release of a report, pointing to the hiring of a special counsel in 1999 to investigate the 1993 incident in Waco, Texas. They also point to precedent involving the Justice Department providing 880,000 pages of internal material last year to the House as part of the GOP probe into the FBI’s Hillary Clinton investigation — as well as how the Justice Department provided records to the Hill over the Watergate probe.
“If necessary, Democrats would be prepared to use its subpoena authority to obtain the full report and underlying evidence as well as to obtain briefing and testimony from the Special Counsel, the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General and other necessary officials,” the talking points said.
On the call, which lasted roughly 35 minutes, Democrats argued that the public will is overwhelmingly on their side for full transparency, pointing to public opinion polls to make their case.
“Right now, we are in the mode (of) wanting to know the truth, wanting the facts so that our chairpersons and members of the committees can take a look into this going forward,” Pelosi said, according to a person on the call.
Mueller’s 22-month investigation led to charges against 37 defendants, seven guilty pleas and one conviction at trial, which included charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal attorney.
Allies of Trump have pointed to the fact that none of the indictments against the Trump associates were tied to any conspiracy to collude with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
It’s still not known what Mueller found with respect to the President, but the fact he was not subpoenaed for a sit down interview with the special counsel’s team is a significant triumph in itself for Trump and his legal team.
Barr wrote in his letter that throughout the investigation, Justice Department leaders never told the special counsel a proposed action should not be pursued.
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