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Russia Investigation

FBI Had Backup Plan To Save Russia Probe Evidence After Firing of FBI Director James Comey

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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.

Russia Investigation

Mueller Report Principal Conclusions Will Not Be Released To Congress Today

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr will not be providing Congress with special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on Saturday.

That’s according to a senior Justice Department official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the review process.

Mueller has concluded his investigation of Russian election interference and possible coordination with Donald Trump’s campaign.

Barr is reviewing Mueller’s confidential report and has said he expects to provide Congress with the “principal conclusions” this weekend.

Attorney General William Barr is reviewing the special counsel’s report on the Russia investigation at the Justice Department.

That’s according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday. The person couldn’t discuss the confidential process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Barr arrived at the Justice Department’s headquarters Saturday morning.

He received special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on the Russia investigation Friday afternoon. Mueller was investigating Russian election interference and possible coordination with Donald Trump’s campaign.

Barr has said he could notify Congress of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” as soon as Saturday.

The special counsel’s full report is confidential, but Barr says he will be deciding soon how much of it he will release to Congress and the public.

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Russia Investigation

Mueller concludes Russia probe, delivers report to AG Barr

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After a 22-month investigation, charges against 37 defendants, seven guilty pleas and one conviction at trial, the Justice Department announced Friday that the special counsel’s office has wrapped up its probe into Russian election interference, possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow and obstruction of justice.

The Justice Department informed Congress in a brief letter that Mueller has submitted a confidential report to Attorney General William Barr detailing the decisions his team made to prosecute or not prosecute those who were investigated.

Barr said he may provide Congress with “the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.”

A Justice Department official described the report as “comprehensive.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House has not seen Mueller’s findings.

“The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report,” Sanders said in a statement.

The completion of the special counsel’s investigation marks the end of one of the most dramatic chapters in Donald Trump’s presidency, one that led to numerous criminal charges against and guilty pleas by some of his closest associates. The conclusion of the investigation, however, opens a new chapter into the fallout from the report and a potentially fraught political battle over the extent to which its contents are made public.

It’s too soon to say what Mueller’s report will ultimately mean for the President, but surviving the investigation without being subpoenaed for a sit down interview with the special counsel’s team is a significant victory for Trump and his legal team.

It’s also not clear what Mueller uncovered about Trump’s involvement or advance knowledge, if any, of WikiLeaks release of damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The special counsel’s findings on the question of obstruction of justice are also unknown, but Trump’s allies will likely argue anything short of a criminal indictment proves the President did nothing wrong.

The fight to make Mueller’s report public could be fierce and possibly spark a court battle between Congress and the executive branch. Key House Democrats have said that the full report that Mueller submitted to Barr should be made public, and they intend to subpoena for the document — and Mueller’s underlying evidence — if it is not handed over to Congress. White House lawyers, meanwhile, expect to have an opportunity to review whatever Barr intends to submit to Congress and the public.

Mueller did not speak publicly during his nearly two-year investigation into Trump and his team. Instead, his prosecutors largely used indictments and court filings to illustrate their sweeping investigation. To announce charges against Russian operatives on two separate occasions in 2018, Mueller relied on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in 2017 and oversaw much of his work.

What Mueller found

The investigation revealed that Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election were far more extensive than previously known, and multiple Trump associates lied about their contacts with Russian officials and others with ties to Moscow.

The list of officials in Trump’s orbit who have pleaded guilty in Mueller’s probe is lengthy, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone was charged in January with obstruction, false statements and witness tampering. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Mueller has not yet alleged a conspiracy to collude with Russians or detailed what he learned about the other key issue he investigated: whether the President obstructed justice, either by pressuring then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017 to go easy on Flynn or by later firing Comey — which is what prompted Mueller’s appointment in the first place.

Trump had repeatedly attacked Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” sending hundreds of tweets that have gone after Mueller and his team of prosecutors, as well as Cohen after he began cooperating with Mueller. Earlier this month, Trump launched into a long broadside against the probe in a two-hour speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, summing up the criticisms he’s launched throughout the Mueller probe.

“You put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that shouldn’t be there, and all of a sudden, they’re trying to take you out with bullshit, OK,” Trump said.

But Trump has also signaled he isn’t opposed to Mueller’s report being released publicly. Asked on Wednesday whether the public had a right to see the report, Trump said, “I don’t mind. I mean, frankly, I told the House, if you want, let them see it.”

While Mueller’s investigation is finished, the investigations into Trump, his business and his administration are far from over. The new Democratic-controlled House has announced multiple investigations into all elements of Trump’s life, while Mueller’s team has farmed out some cases to other prosecutors across the Justice Department that will continue, such as the probe into the Trump inaugural committee’s donations and spending.

Gates, a key Mueller witness, continues to cooperate in several ongoing investigations, prosecutors said this month.

On Capitol Hill, Cohen testified publicly last month, accusing Trump of directing him to issue hush-money payments to two women alleging affairs, which Trump has denied, and alleging Trump committed financial fraud. Multiple committees are now pursuing other Trump Organization associates for testimony, as well as Trump’s family members like Donald Trump Jr.

But the biggest question for Congress may ultimately be tied to Mueller’s investigation, and whether his findings spark an effort in the House to begin impeachment proceedings against the President.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this month that impeaching the President was “just not worth it.” But Mueller’s findings could amplify the liberal voices in the House Democratic caucus already calling for Trump’s impeachment.

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Russia Investigation

FBI Was Investigating Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Months Before Special Counsel

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NEW YORK (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller began investigating President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, for fraud in his personal business dealings and for potentially acting as an unregistered foreign agent at least nine months before FBI agents in New York raided his home and office, according to documents released Tuesday.

The series of heavily redacted search warrant applications and other documents revealed new details about the timing and depth of the probe into Cohen, who ultimately pleaded guilty to tax fraud, bank fraud, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

The records show the inquiry into Cohen had been going on since July 2017 — far longer than previously known— and that a big part of its focus was Cohen’s taxi businesses and misrepresentations he made to banks as part of a scheme to relieve himself of some $22 million in debt he owed on taxi medallion loans.

Prosecutors were also interested in money that was flowing into Cohen’s bank accounts from consulting contracts he’d signed after Trump won office. Some of those payments were from companies with strong foreign ties, including a Korean aerospace company and Columbus Nova, an investment management firm affiliated with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

Cohen was ultimately not charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.

Many sections of the records dealing with the campaign-finance violations Cohen committed when he paid two women to stay silent about alleged affairs they had with Trump were redacted. A judge ordered those sections to remain secret after prosecutors said they were still investigating campaign finance violations.

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said the release of the search warrant “furthers his interest in continuing to cooperate and providing information and the truth about Donald Trump and the Trump organization to law enforcement and Congress.”

The FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan home and office last April, marking the first public sign of a criminal investigation that has threatened Trump’s presidency and netted Cohen a three-year prison sentence he’s scheduled to start serving in May. The agents who also scoured Cohen’s hotel room and safe deposit box, seized more than 4 million electronic and paper files in the searches, more than a dozen mobile devices and iPads, 20 external hard drives, flash drives and laptops.

Both Cohen and Trump cried foul over the raids, with Cohen’s attorney at the time calling them “completely inappropriate and unnecessary” and the president taking to Twitter to declare that “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”

A court-ordered review ultimately found only a fraction of the seized material to be privileged.

Tuesday’s release of the search warrant came nearly six weeks after U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III partially granted a request by several media organizations, including The Associated Press, that the search warrant be made public due to the high public interest in the case.

David E. McCraw, vice president and deputy general counsel for The New York Times, said he was hopeful Pauley would approve the release of additional materials in May after the government updates the judge on its investigation.

“The documents are important because they allow the public to see first hand why the investigation was initiated and how it was conducted,” McCraw said in an email.

The judge acknowledged prosecutors’ concerns that a wholesale release of the document “would jeopardize an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties,” a ruling that revealed prosecutors are still investigating the campaign-finance violations.

The judge ordered prosecutors to redact Cohen’s personal information and details in the warrant that refer to ongoing investigations and several third-parties who have cooperated with the inquiry. But he authorized the release of details in the warrant that relate to Cohen’s tax evasion and false statements to financial institutions charges, along with Cohen’s conduct that did not result in criminal charges.

“At this stage, wholesale disclosure of the materials would reveal the scope and direction of the Government’s ongoing investigation,” Pauley wrote in a ruling last month.

Cohen pleaded guilty over the summer to failing to report more than $4 million in income to the IRS, making false statements to financial institutions and campaign-finance violations stemming from the hush-money payments he arranged for porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen implicated Trump in his guilty plea, saying the president directed him to make the payments during his 2016 campaign.

Read the just-released documents related to the Michael Cohen FBI raid in 2018 below.

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