Former Trump campaign CEO and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is expected to meet with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Tuesday, ABC News reports. This will be Bannon's first interview with congressional investigators looking into Russian election interference, and the House committee reached out to Bannon before the Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury made Bannon persona non grata in President Trump's White House, leading to his forced resignation as head of Breitbart News. Bannon hired a lawyer last week in preparation for his testimony.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News that he has questions about what Bannon knows of any Trump-related money laundering, the meeting Donald Trump Jr. set up with Trump campaign officials and Kremlin-linked lawyers who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and a meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince and the head of a Russian investment bank, apparently after Prince and Bannon met. Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August 2016, and one of his predecessors, Corey Lewandowski, is also expected to testify before the House panel this week. Peter Weber
President Trump's legal team has been preparing for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to press for a face-to-face interview with Trump since former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted in October, NBC News reports, and they're discussing several proposals to avoid such a sit-down. Trump lawyers Ty Cobb, John Dowd, and Jay Sekulow are seeking guidance on whether Mueller himself would interview Trump as part of his investigation into Trump's campaign and Russian election meddling, where such an interview would take place, for how long, and which topics would be covered, but they would prefer "potential compromises that could avoid an interview altogether," two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
One idea reportedly under consideration would be having Trump submit written answers to Mueller's questions, and "another possibility being contemplated was an affidavit signed by the president affirming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and denying any collusion," NBC News reports. "It was not clear what such an affidavit might state regarding the president's firing of former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 at a time when Comey was leading the Russia probe." Former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg told NBC that "the odds of prosecutors agreeing to written responses are somewhere between infinitesimally small and zero," while defense attorney Alan Dershowitz said he didn't blame Trump's lawyers for trying.
“With the Russia probe intensifying… preliminary discussions are underway between the President’s legal team and special counsel investigators about a possible interview with President Trump.”-@KWelkerNBC pic.twitter.com/RoeBulkZxE
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 8, 2018
Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, said while Bill Clinton testified under oath late in his presidency, a sitting president being interviewed in a criminal investigation during his first year in office "has never happened before" and must be "devastating" to the Trump administration. You can read more at NBC News. Peter Weber
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has been butting heads with Justice Department officials over subpoenas he issued last summer for highly classified FBI documents tied to the dossier on President Trump and Russia compiled last year by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. After Nunes threatened contempt of Congress citations against Justice Department leaders last month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray requested a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) Wednesday evening; after the meeting, Nunes said Rosenstein had agreed to give him "access to the documents over the coming days."
At the meeting with Ryan, "Rosenstein and Wray wanted to make one last effort to persuade him to support their position," CNN reports:
The documents in dispute were mostly FBI investigative documents that are considered law enforcement sensitive and are rarely released or shared outside the bureau. During the meeting, however, it became clear that Ryan wasn't moved and the officials wouldn't have his support if they proceeded to resist Nunes' remaining highly classified requests. ... The Justice Department and the FBI also had learned recently that the White House wasn't going to assert executive privilege or otherwise intervene to try to stop Nunes. [CNN]
House Intelligence Committee members will reportedly be allowed to view the documents in a secure facility at the Justice Department. The Justice Department also agreed to let Nunes' committee interview a host of DOJ and FBI officials in January, including FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, ex-members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team whose released text messages were critical of Trump and other politicians.
Nunes, a member of Trump's transition team, appeared to have recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Russia last spring, but he has remained involved, issuing subpoenas and leading a GOP subset of the committee in an investigation of the Justice Department and FBI that, Politico says, has divided Republicans and infuriated Democrats. Peter Weber
In March, President Trump told White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times reports.
Two people with knowledge of the meeting told the Times that when McGahn spoke with Sessions, the attorney general told him he had made up his mind in February to recuse himself, after conferring with others in the Justice Department. When McGahn told Trump he had been unsuccessful in trying to sway Sessions, Trump was furious and said he needed an attorney general who would protect him, the Times reports. Sessions recused himself that month and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May.
The Times also learned that Mueller has received handwritten notes from former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, stating that Trump talked to him about how he called former FBI Director James Comey to urge him to announce publicly that he was not under investigation; that one of McGahn's deputies, concerned about what might happen if Trump fired Comey, at one point misled the president about his authority to fire the FBI director; and that just days before Comey was fired in May, one of Sessions' aides asked a congressional staffer if he had any information on Comey that could hurt him, as Sessions wanted to see negative stories about Comey in the news every day. Read the entire report at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia
At the same time the House Intelligence Committee has been looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, a subset of Republicans who believe there is corruption at the Department of Justice and FBI have been meeting in secret, Politico reports.
Led by committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), their goal is to prove that the DOJ and FBI have mishandled the contents of the dossier that reports ties between President Trump and Russia, four people familiar with the plan told Politico. Some of the allegations in the dossier have been verified and others have not; it has not been discredited, despite Republican claims. Democrats have not been notified of these get-togethers, and it's unclear how many people are participating.
The Republicans apparently suspect the FBI and Justice Department actively tried to hurt Trump and assist Hillary Clinton, Politico reports, and they are hoping to have a report compiled early next year spelling out their concerns. What really set them off, people told Politico, was that the Justice Department refused to detail ways the dossier was used to launch an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team while on Capitol Hill last week, and Democrats say the closer his investigation gets to the White House, the more vocal Trump's allies become. Catherine Garcia
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is pushing back against calls from a handful of Republicans to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller from the investigation into possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate Wednesday, Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called such statements "reckless," "inappropriate," and "extremely worrying." They are also "at odds with the president's own lawyers who have pledged to cooperate with the special counsel. Beyond being irresponsible, the seemingly coordinated nature of these claims should alarm us all."
One of the Republicans calling for Mueller's removal is conservative Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who, without citing any evidence, called the probe a "corrupt investigation." While Trump has said he has no plans to fire Mueller, Warner still warned him on Wednesday that any attempt to remove Mueller from his position "or to pardon key witnesses ... would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities. These truly are red lines." Catherine Garcia
Despite new public tensions between the White House and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, and increasingly strident criticism from conservative pundits of Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation, President Trump told reporters Sunday night that he is not planning to fire Mueller. "No, I'm not," he said when asked outside the White House. He added that how the investigation is being conducted is "not looking good," though, saying "my people were very upset to see" emails from his presidential transition team handed over to Mueller and that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.
Earlier Sunday, several White House officials said there has been no discussion of firing Mueller in the White House. "As the White House has repeatedly and emphatically said for months, there is no consideration about firing or replacing the special counsel with whom the White House has fully cooperated in order to permit a fully vetted yet prompt conclusion," Trump lawyer Ty Cobb, who's overseeing the Russia investigations response, said in a statement.
"Trump has watched Fox News Channel segments attacking Mueller's investigation, advisers said, including those by Jeanine Pirro," The Washington Post reports, but according to Trump friends and associates, the president blames Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein more for the investigation than Mueller. Peter Weber
In July 2015, British music publicist Rob Goldstone suggested in an email that his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, would be able to set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Washington Post reports.
The Post obtained the email Goldstone sent to Trump's personal assistant Rhona Graff one month after he announced he was running for president, which asked if Trump would be able to attend a birthday party later in the year for the pop star's father, Aras Agalarov, and contained the line, "Maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin." There is no indication that Graff or Trump followed up on the offer, the Post reports, although Trump did send a birthday note to Agalarov. Agalarov licensed the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013, bringing it to Moscow, and while in Russia, Trump appeared in one of Emin Agalarov's music videos.
Goldstone is the same publicist who arranged a meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney, with Trump Jr. told he'd be receiving compromising information on Hillary Clinton. Read more about Goldstone's first overture at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia