Tag Archives: Russian Investigation

Trump says director of national intelligence is resigning

Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, will leave his job next month, President Trump announced Sunday, after a turbulent two years in which Coats and the president were often at odds over Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump announced Coats’ departure as Aug. 15 in a tweet that thanked Coats for his service. He said he will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to the post and that he will name an acting official in the coming days. Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller last week during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Coats often appeared out of step with Trump and disclosed to prosecutors how he was urged by the president to publicly deny any link between Russia and the Trump campaign. The frayed relationship reflected broader divisions between the president and the government’s intelligence agencies.

Coats’ public, and sometimes personal, disagreements with Trump over policy and intelligence included Russian election interference and North Korean nuclear capabilities. Trump had long been skeptical of the nation’s intelligence agencies, which provoked his ire by concluding that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of getting him elected.

A former Republican senator from Indiana, Coats was appointed director of National Intelligence in March 2017, becoming the fifth person to hold the post since it was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to oversee and coordinate the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.

Coats had been among the last of the seasoned foreign policy hands brought to surround the president after his 2016 victory, of whom the president steadily grew tired as he gained more personal confidence in Oval Office, officials said. That roster included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and later national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Coats developed a reputation inside the administration for sober presentations to the president of intelligence conclusions that occasionally contradicted Trump’s policy aims.

His departure had been rumored for months, and intelligence officials had been expecting him to leave before the 2020 presidential campaign season reached its peak.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s intelligence committee, tweeted Sunday: “The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. As DNI, Dan Coats stayed true to that mission.”

Trump’s announcement that Coats would be leaving came days after Mueller’s public testimony on his two-year investigation into Russian election interference and potential obstruction of justice by Trump, which officials said both emboldened and infuriated the president.

Coats had been among the least visible of the president’s senior administration officials but, in his limited public appearances, repeatedly seemed at odds with the administration, including about Russia.

For instance, he revealed to Mueller’s investigators how Trump, angry over investigations into links between his campaign and Russia, tried unsuccessfully in March 2017 to get him to make a public statement refuting any connection.

“Coats responded that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has nothing to do with investigations and it was not his role to make a public statement on the Russia investigation,” Mueller’s report said.

Trump later called Coats to complain about the investigation and how it was affecting the government’s foreign policy. Coats told prosecutors he responded that the best thing to do was to let the investigation take its course.

In February, he publicly cast doubt on the prospects of persuading North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program despite the diplomatic efforts of the administration, which has touted its outreach to the isolated country as one of its most important foreign policy achievements.

Coats, in testimony to Congress as part of annual national intelligence assessment, said North Korea would be “unlikely” to give up its nuclear weapons or its ability to produce them because “its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”

Trump publicly bristled at the testimony of Coats, the head of the CIA and other officials who contradicted his own positions on Iran, Afghanistan and the Islamic State group as well as North Korea. The intelligence officials were “passive and naive,” he said in a tweet.

Last July, Coats and the president appeared at odds following Trump’s widely panned news conference in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, drawing bipartisan criticism and a rebuttal from his intelligence chief.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said.

The president later said he misspoke in Helsinki.

That same month, Coats appeared to scoff when told in an interview that Trump had invited Putin to Washington.

“Say that again,” Coats said, cupping his hand over his ear on live television. He took a deep breath and continued: “OK. That’s going to be special.”

He later said his comments at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado were “in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president.”

In December, Coats said he was “deeply saddened” when Mattis resigned in protest of Trump’s foreign policy, including the decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. Coats called Mattis a “national treasure” who “will be sorely missed.”

Coats, 76, served in Congress from 1981 to 1999 as a member of the House and in the Senate. He served as ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005 and returned to the Senate in 2011. He decided not to seek re-election and retired from Congress in January 2017.

In a tweet, Trump praised Ratcliffe: “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.”

Ratcliffe appeared Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and made a number of points that were in sync with Trump’s rhetoric. He said it was time to move on from talk of impeachment, questioned the legitimacy of the Mueller report into Russian election interference and urged investigation into potential wrongdoing during the Obama administration.

His remarks echoed his questioning of Mueller last week, in which the Texas Republican challenged the legal basis for the report’s conclusions.


Nadler repeats faulty claim, corrected by Mueller, about why Trump was not indicted

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler repeated a faulty claim Friday – which was corrected by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony earlier this week – about why President Trump wasn’t indicted in the Russia probe.

During a Democratic press conference about Mueller’s testimony, Nadler, a New York Democrat, claimed Mueller said the only reason Trump wasn’t indicted for obstruction of justice was because of a Justice Department opinion prohibiting charging a sitting president with a crime. He cited Mueller’s response to a question from House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.


“He told us in a remarkable exchange with Mr. Lieu that but for the Department of Justice policy prohibiting [him] from doing so, he would have indicted President Trump,” Nadler said. “Indeed it is clear that any other citizen of this country who has behaved as this president has would have been charged with multiple crimes.”

But on Wednesday, Mueller himself went out of his way to clarify that he didn’t intend to suggest that.


“I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning,” Mueller told the House Intelligence Committee, after testimony before the Judiciary Committee earlier Wednesday. “I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu, who said and I quote, ‘You didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”

Earlier in the day, Democrats thought Mueller had delivered a bombshell during his exchange with Ted Lieu. “The reason that you did not indict the president is because of the OLC opinion that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?” Lieu asked Mueller. He responded, “Correct.”

But Mueller, in his clarification, sought to convey that the OLC opinion kept him from even deciding if an indictment would be warranted in the first place.

There has been great interest in the role the OLC’s policy played in Mueller’s decision not to bring charges.

In a March summary of the Mueller report – before a redacted version was released to the public – Attorney General Bill Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that there wasn’t adequate evidence to establish that Trump committed obstruction of justice offense. Barr said that determination was made without regard to the OLC opinion.

Barr also told reporters that he had met with the special counsel about the report and “Mueller stated three times to us in that meeting in response to our questioning that he emphatically was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found obstruction.”

But in May, Mueller delivered a public statement about his probe and said that “charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider,” raising questions about whether he would have indicted Trump if not for the opinion.

This prompted a round of clarifying statements from both the Justice Department and Mueller’s team, saying Barr and Mueller did not contradict each other.

“The attorney general has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice,” read a joint statement from DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr at the time. “The special counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination – one way or the other – about whether the president committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements.”


Mueller fallout: Highest-ranking House Democrat to date calls for Trump impeachment

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., became the highest-ranking House Democrat to call for opening an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

“I deeply respect the committee work of House Democrats to hold the president accountable, including hearings, subpoenas and lawsuits. All of our efforts to put the facts before the American people, however, have been met with unprecedented stonewalling and obstruction,” the sixth-ranking House Democrat said in a statement Thursday evening, adding, “That is why I believe we need to open an impeachment inquiry that will provide us a more formal way to fully uncover the facts.”

Clark made her announcement the day after the former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before two House committees about his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, possible coordination with the Trump campaign and subsequent efforts by the president to obstruct the probe.

“Since the release of the Mueller report in April, it has been clear that the president committed impeachable offenses by welcoming interference from a hostile foreign power in the 2016 election and then attempting to obstruct the investigation into his unpatriotic actions,” Clark said. “Moreover, he said he would do it all again if given the chance.”

Three other House Democrats also publicly called for moving ahead with impeachment since Mueller’s testimony — Reps. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware — which brings the number to 93 Democrats who are backing an impeachment inquiry, according to an NBC News count.

There has been an active discussion for several months inside the House Democratic caucus about whether a formal impeachment inquiry should be launched.


Robert Mueller Hearings Draw 13M Viewers, Fox News and MSNBC Lead

The special counsel’s testimony before Congress brings in a smaller audience than some other recent televised hearings.

News coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress Wednesday drew a sizable audience — but not as big as some other recent televised hearings.

The 7 1/2 hours of hearings, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. ET, drew an average of just under 13 million viewers (12.98 million) on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

In the hearings, Mueller reiterated the findings of his report on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and contacts with members of Donald Trump’s campaign — including that the report did not clear the president of possible obstruction of justice.

The 13 million viewers falls short of some other recent televised hearings: Former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, for instance, drew about 16 million viewers when he testified before Congress in February. Ex-FBI Director James Comey’s 2017 appearance before Congress attracted 19.5 million and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing averaged 20 million viewers.  

Fox News led the field for Wednesday’s coverage with an average of just over 3 million viewers for the hearings. MSNBC averaged 2.41 million; followed by ABC, 2.12 million; NBC, 1.99 million; CBS, 1.91 million; and CNN, 1.52 million. 

CBS is currently blacked out in about 10 million homes because of a carriage dispute with AT&T that affects DirecTV and U-verse customers. (The network led broadcast coverage for the Cohen hearing with a little over 3 million viewers.) 

NBC had the most viewers in the key news demographic of adults 25-54, with 536,000 viewers. ABC had 489,000; Fox News 441,000; CBS 406,000; CNN 365,000; and MSNBC 347,000.


#ImpeachNow trends after Mueller testimony

Hashtags advocating impeaching President Trump trended on Twitter Wednesday evening after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified in front on Congress.

#ImpeachNow was mentioned in over 45,500 tweets, and #ImpeachmentInquiryNow was mentioned more than 47,000 times.

Mueller testified before the House Judicial and Intelligence committees on Wednesday, months after releasing his 448-page report into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The investigation did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election, and neither implicated nor cleared Trump on the question of obstruction of justice.

The former special counsel’s testimony stuck closely to the report, and he generally declined to answer questions beyond its scope.

A total of 92 House members have expressed support for an impeachment inquiry, but Democratic leadership has been hesitant, instead asking the caucus to focus on investigations and oversight.

Trump has claimed victory following the hearing, declaring the “phony cloud” cast by the investigation had been lifted and insisted “there was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt.”


Robert Mueller says US president not exonerated, Trump calls investigation ‘nonsense’

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller appeared before the US Congress on Wednesday for the first time to testify about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

His testimony had been widely anticipated by Democrats, who were hoping to have him say on the record that Trump was not exonerated of crimes and obstruction of justice.

Read more: Opinion: We don’t need the Mueller report

What did Mueller say:

  • The probe found that Russia conducted “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 election.
  • There was “insufficient evidence” to indicate that the Trump campaign conspired to work with Russia.
  • It was not clear whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.
  • The president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office.
  • Trump was not indicted during the investigation because of his status as a sitting president.
  • He denied Trump’s claims that his investigation “totally exonerated” the president.
  • Mueller’s testimony did not, though, give many Democrats what they most sought: a clear statement that that would lead to an impeachment effort.

Mueller defends investigation

Mueller told lawmakers during two hearings before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee, which took a total of seven hours, that his team had conducted the 22-month-long investigation that ended in March in “a fair and independent manner,” and the individuals who worked alongside him “were of the highest integrity.”

He expressed his deep concern about the findings of his investigation. “Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere with our election is among the most serious,” Mueller said.

Trump rants

The president took to Twitter before the hearings began to slam Mueller and Democrats. In a string of tweets, Trump said he was innocent and accused Democrats of carrying out a witch hunt.


Pelosi Stands By Anti-Impeachment Position After Mueller Hearings

Following former special counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional hearings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Wednesday that she still isn’t ready to begin impeachment proceeding against President Donald Trump.

“My position has always been whatever decision we made in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” Pelosi said at a press conference alongside Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MA). “It’s about the Congress, the Constitution and the courts. And we are fighting the President in the courts.”

When reporters pressed her on impeachment a few minutes later, Pelosi said Democrats have “several considerations,” likely referring to Democrats’ lawsuits on obtaining Trump’s financial information.

“It’s about what information is there,” Pelosi said. “And this isn’t endless. This isn’t endless.”


No Russia exoneration for Trump, despite his claims

Robert Mueller, the taciturn lawman at the center of a polarizing American drama, bluntly dismissed President Donald Trump’s claims of “total exoneration” Wednesday in the federal probe of Russia’s 2016 election interference. In a long day of congressional testimony, Mueller warned that Moscow’s actions represented — and still represent — a great threat to American democracy.

Mueller’s back-to-back Capitol Hill appearances, his first since wrapping his two-year Russia probe, carried the prospect of a historic climax to a rare criminal investigation into a sitting American president. But his testimony was more likely to reinforce rather than reshape hardened public opinions on impeachment and the future of Trump’s presidency .

With his terse, one-word answers, and a sometimes stilted and halting manner, Mueller made clear his desire to avoid the partisan fray and the deep political divisions roiling Congress and the country.

He delivered neither crisp TV sound bites to fuel a Democratic impeachment push nor comfort to Republicans striving to undermine his investigation’s credibility. But his comments grew more animated by the afternoon, when he sounded the alarm on future Russian election interference. He said he feared a new normal of American campaigns accepting foreign help.


Mueller’s high stakes congressional hearings went about as badly as they could have for Democrats

The stakes for Democrats could not have been higher when the former special counsel Robert Mueller took center stage on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning. That’s why it was all the more painful for them when Mueller’s highly anticipated testimony fell significantly short of their expectations.

Mueller appeared before the House judiciary and intelligence committees for two back-to-back hearings. The first, before the judiciary, focused primarily on Mueller’s findings in the obstruction of justice investigation into President Donald Trump.

The second, which took place before the intelligence panel, zeroed-in on Mueller’s counterintelligence findings in the FBI’s Russia investigation; namely, the nature of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow’s efforts.

Before the hearings even kicked off, Democrats were urging caution.

Read more:‘The death rattle for impeachment’: Republicans take a victory lap after Mueller’s testimony misses Democrats’ expectations

The worst case scenario, one Democratic House aide told the Washington Post early Wednesday, is “that it’s a snooze-fest and we put in all of this work and effort for nothing. [Constituents] will be really bummed when they learn nothing new [today].”

“Everyone will watch it and nothing will happen,” the aide added.


‘Euphoria’: White House, GOP exult after a flat Mueller performance

West Wing aides were spiking the proverbial football even before the former special counsel had finished testifying.

The tense opening moments of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill gave way to an early sense of relief at the White House, where aides were quietly celebrating what they viewed as disjointed questioning from Democrats and a weak performance from the star witness himself.

Mueller, whose steely reputation has cast a long shadow over the Trump’s tenure, proved — at least in the early offing — a less formidable witness in the flesh than Democrats had hoped, offering up clipped, monosyllabic responses and repeatedly asking lawmakers to repeat their questions. Watching from the White House, at least one Trump aide said the former FBI director, who spent some 22 months investigating the president, simply seemed past his prime and incapable of doing Trump much harm.

“The Democrats built up these two Mueller hearings as their Super Bowl, and at halftime, it is not looking good for their side,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has kept a low profile since she was tapped for the job late last month, said in a statement, “The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half.”

“So far, so good,” a senior White House official said in a text message when lawmakers took a brief break about 90 minutes into the Judiciary Committee hearing. Another Trump ally described the mood in the White House simply as “euphoria.”

The president himself, who said Monday he was unlikely to tune in to the hearings, has been gleefully telling people he thinks Mueller’s testimony will stop any momentum toward impeachment, according to a source familiar with the conversations. At last count, 95 House Democrats had gone on the record favoring impeachment, a move Speaker Nancy Pelosi has derided as premature and politically unwise.

“We had a very good day today, the Republican Party,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart for a fundraiser in West Virginia. “There was no defense of what Robert Mueller was trying to defend. … There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt.”

The president, said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who visited the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a previously scheduled meeting, “was in a very upbeat mood.”