Trump administration invokes privilege again, blocks intel committee from classified Mueller docs

The Trump administration has been quietly engaged in an escalating tug-of-war with the House and Senate intelligence committees over sensitive documents from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the latest in a series of attempts to stymie Congress, including with claims of executive privilege, sources have told ABC News.

“The scope of confidentiality interests being asserted by the executive branch is breathtaking,” said Andrew M. Wright, an expert on executive privilege who served as a congressional investigator and as a White House attorney in two Democratic administrations. As is “the lack of accommodation and compromise,” he added.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee sent a letter in mid-April to the CIA and other covert agencies asking them to share copies of all the materials they had provided to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over the course of their 22-month investigation, according to sources familiar with the request. The requests were referred by the intelligence agencies to the Department of Justice, which has custody of all of the records gathered as part of the Mueller probe.

Though Mueller’s report does not discuss the classified intelligence gathered during the investigation, congressional investigators believe the team was given access to a range of materials that could include intercepts, secretive source interviews, and material shared by the spy agencies of other foreign governments.

More than three months later, the attorney general’s office has still not produced them. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department officials have argued that they are, for now, shielded by the same blanket privilege they initially asserted in response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for the entire trove of special counsel records.

Trump administration attorneys declined to comment on the matter, and the Department of Justice has not responded to questions. Experts said the response was part of a pattern.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said the DOJ did produce a subset of underlying documents related to the special counsel’s investigation to their members for review, “although it has failed in recent weeks, despite repeated requests, to produce key materials central to the Committee’s oversight work.”

The House committee said Justice Department lawyers did not invoke privilege with them when refusing the requests. “None would be warranted given the Committee’s jurisdiction,” a committee spokesman said. “The Committee remains engaged with DOJ to ensure it complies fully and completely with the Committee’s duly authorized subpoena.”

Experts have been monitoring the conflict between branches as it has escalated.

“The way the administration has been using executive privilege has been extraordinary,” said Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School and a co-founder and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. “It’s a level of non-cooperation with Congress that has been striking. We’ve never seen it to this degree.”

Congress and the White House have been locked in a range of disputes over records and testimony that the administration has withheld – covering a variety of subjects that includes the president’s personal finances, his tax returns and the administration’s policy on the census. Just Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt over their refusal to produce documents concerning the addition of a citizenship question to the census.

In May, the Trump administration invoked executive privilege for the first time in response to the request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, for the un-redacted Mueller report and the entire trove of investigative documents.

“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the president has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time that members of Congress were exercising their proper authority to review the Mueller material on behalf of their constituents.

“This is not about Congress or any committee of Congress,” Pelosi told ABC News at the time. “It’s about the American people and their right to know and their election that is at stake and that a foreign government intervened in our election and the president thinks it is a laughing matter.”

This latest stalemate – over sensitive materials gathered in connection with the 2016 elections — has frustrated leaders on the intelligence committees, sources told ABC News. In part, that is because the committees have sweeping oversight powers when it comes to the secretive agencies. The National Security Act says “congressional intelligence committees [must] be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.”

The congressional committees have invoked such powers during a range of sensitive probes. Congress fought for and received intelligence documents during its investigation into the Iran-Contra affair during the late 1980s. And more recently, the senate prevailed during a review of allegations that the agencies engaged in torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. After a protracted fight, the senate received the documents and drafted its scathing report.

One Trump administration source familiar with the matter told ABC News that the stand-off is temporary – with the response to the intelligence committee on hold until the Department of Justice finishes releasing Mueller-related materials to the Judiciary Committee.

In early June, the DOJ and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement allowing committee members access to some of the documents that underpinned Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. Members and some committee staff were also allowed to see a less-redacted version of the full Mueller report, with the exception of grand jury material that was included.

The DOJ is in the midst of reviewing the special counsel documents, and under an agreement with the Judiciary Committee, has pledged to turn over documents they believe do not run afoul of their assertions of privilege.

As the review process for the House Judiciary Committee grinds forward, an administration official familiar with the effort said that may free up some of the documents in the subset of materials requested by the intelligence committees. But, the source said, the intelligence request will have to wait until the negotiations with Judiciary are resolved.

Congressional sources told ABC News they believe Justice Department officials have no grounds to hold the intelligence records, and are merely stalling.

Experts said the stand-offs between branches of government may ultimately force the third branch of government – the judiciary – to get involved.

“A lot of it is going to get resolved in court,” said Wright, the expert on executive privilege who served in two Democratic administrations. “But some may only get resolved at the ballot box.”

[ABC News]

Trump calls Justin Amash ‘loser’ after GOP lawmaker Quit the Party Saying president’s conduct was ‘impeachable’

Justin Amash, the only congressional Republican who has publicly called to impeach President Donald Trump, says he is leaving the GOP, a move that drew a swift rebuke from the president Thursday.

“Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party. No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us,” the five-term Michigan lawmaker wrote in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday morning.

Trump responded hours later on Twitter: “Great news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress is “quitting” the Party. No Collusion, No Obstruction! Knew he couldn’t get the nomination to run again in the Great State of Michigan. Already being challenged for his seat. A total loser!”

Amash, a 39-year-old libertarian elected in 2010, faced two primary challenges and Trump’s lash on Twitter after saying the president committed impeachable offenses May 18. He also said Attorney General William Barr had “deliberately misrepresented” special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allegations the president sought to obstruct the investigation.

Trump has called Amash “a total lightweight” and “a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!” on social media.

Donald Trump Jr. and Amash feuded on Twitter on June 13 after the president’s son teased a campaign appearance for an Amash primary challenger, state legislator Jim Lower, in Michigan’s 3rd District.

Amash on June 10 quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which he was a founding member. The group, which has frequently allied with the president, uniformly opposed Amash’s impeachment stance. Trump has discussed the idea of a primary challenge to Amash with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Freedom Caucus co-founder, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a former Michigan GOP leader and Trump ally.

In light of Amash’s move to ditch the party, the RNCC will almost certainly support a primary challenger since it only supports Republicans running for office. Amash has told friends and allies in Congress that he didn’t plan on running for president as a libertarian, POLITICO Playbook reported.

In the op-ed, published on the Fourth of July ahead of the president’s “Salute to America” on the Mall but which doesn’t mention the president by name, Amash stresses his long support for the GOP as the child of Republican-supporting immigrants before criticizing the partisanship of modern-day politics.

“In recent years, though, I’ve become disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it. The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions.”

He adds: “These are consequences of a mind-set among the political class that loyalty to party is more important than serving the American people or protecting our governing institutions. The parties value winning for its own sake, and at whatever cost. Instead of acting as an independent branch of government and serving as a check on the executive branch, congressional leaders of both parties expect the House and Senate to act in obedience or opposition to the president and their colleagues on a partisan basis.”

Amash encouraged others to follow his lead in becoming an independent. “Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape,” he wrote. He had not previously ruled out a run as an independent.

Six hours before his op-ed was published, Amash tweeted a picture of the Declaration of Independence, writing: “Happy Birthday, America!”

On Thursday morning, he tweeted a link to his op-ed, adding: “Today, I’m declaring my independence.”

Trump on Thursday traveled by motorcade to Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, arriving at 9:07 a.m., according to pool reports.

[Politico]

Trump Stuns Maria Bartiromo By Accusing Mueller of Crimes in Wild Rant: ‘That’s Illegal! That’s a Crime!’

President Donald Trump railed against Robert Mueller’s upcoming testimonythroughout his interview with Fox Business on Wednesday, but towards the end, he cranked it up to 11 and went off on a tangent accusing the special counsel of numerous crimes.

Trump once again accused the FBI of improperly spying on his campaign before lashing into “the two pathetic lovers” Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.

“Well, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page wrote everything down, so we’ve got all the texts,” Bartiromo said.

That’s when Trump went wild and claimed there were more exchanges between the Strzok and Page that Mueller concealed. Bartiromo tried multiple times to interject with a question, but the president charged along:

“Wait till you see the rest of their – here’s the problem, Robert Mueller, they worked for him, and two lovers were together and they had texts back-and-forth, e-mail back-and-forth…Mueller terminated them illegally. He terminated the emails, he terminated all stuff between Strzok and Page, you know, they sung like you’ve never seen. Robert Mueller terminated their text messages together, he terminated them. They’re gone! And that’s illegal! That is a crime!”

Bartiromo nodded along, a little perplexed, before asking why the alleged crimes had not been discussed in courts. Trump responded “I guess it will be, and the Republicans know it.”

“Can you imagine what they said – how stupid they are – can you imagine what they said, these stupid lovers,” Trump continued. “He’s trying to show what a big man he is making statements, and she is back to him ‘oh yes darling, yes darling.’ How stupid they were, this was a love serenade going on.”

Bartiromo tried once more to ask why no one has seen this after Trump gave Attorney General William Barr clearance to declassify, but the president switched gears — grumbling about his approval ratings getting bogged down by “phony charges.”

[Mediaite]

TRUMP INSISTS THE CONSTITUTION’S ARTICLE II ‘ALLOWS ME TO DO WHATEVER I WANT

President Donald Trump insisted that Article II of the U.S. Constitution “allows” him to do “whatever” he wants, arguing that he never planned to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller but had every legal right to do so.

The president made the remarks during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ host George Stephanopoulos, part of which was released last week and another part of which was released ahead of its airing on Sunday.

Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on specific allegations of obstruction of justice, as many legal experts have defined them, laid out in the second portion of Mueller’s report. One of the primary examples that critics of the president often point to, is the allegation that Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller.

“Number one, I was never gonna fire Mueller,” Trump insisted. “I never suggested firing Mueller.”

Stephanopoulos pushed back, pointing out that McGahn’s testimony to the special counsel and the report told a different story.

“I don’t care what he says,” Trump replied. “It doesn’t matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was. Now he may have got confused with the fact that I’ve always said to anybody that would listen: Robert Mueller was conflicted.”

The president also argued that McGahn lied under oath about being told to fire Mueller because he “wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer” or perhaps misunderstood Trump, because he constantly criticized the special counsel. “Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest,” the president argued.

“Look, Article II [of the Constitution], I would be allowed to fire Robert Mueller,” he asserted. “Assuming I did all the things… Number one, I didn’t. He wasn’t fired … But more importantly, Article II allows me to do whatever I want. Article II would have allowed me to fire him,” Trump claimed.

Again, the president insisted that he “wasn’t gonna fire” Mueller, pointing out that actions like that did not go very well for former President Richard Nixon, who resigned from office back in 1974. “I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody, and that didn’t work out too well,” he said.

Article II of the Constitution outlines the powers given to the president of the United States. The duties outlined in the article include making treaties in conjunction with the Senate, commanding the U.S. military and delivering the annual State of the Union address.

Legal experts disagree over whether or not Trump legally could fire the special counsel. Some have argued that he would have had to tell a Justice Department official to make the call, and they would have had to choose if they would carry out the demand. Others have contended, as Trump did to Stephanopoulos, that he had the legal authority to simply fire Mueller whenever he wanted to. However, many have viewed such an action as obstructing justice, as the special counsel was specifically tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether or not the Trump campaign conspired in that effort.

[Newsweek]

Trump tests out new ‘no obstruction’ claims: ‘Facts that led to no obstruction’

President Donald Trump ended a day on the golf course Sunday with another attack on Democrats claiming “no collusion and no obstruction,” but with a unique twist.

This time around, Trump claims that the “facts led to no obstruction,” he tweeted. The facts actually led special counsel Robert Mueller to ten examples of obstruction that he handed over to Congress.

“And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” Mueller said during his press conference in May.

[Raw Story]

Reality

Donald Trump wrote the Democrats should “Go back to work” while on a golf course.

Trump Rips Mueller in Interview From Normandy Cemetery: He ‘Made Such a Fool Out of Himself’

In his latest interview with Fox News, President Donald Trump blasted Robert Mueller by saying the special counsel made a “fool” of himself with his recent press conference.

Trump was late for a D-Day commemorative ceremony on Thursday when his interview with Laura Ingraham apparently ran long, and the first details of their conversation include the president ripping Mueller’s public remarks about his investigative findings.

“Let me tell you, he made such a fool out of himself,” Trump said, “because what people don’t report is the letter he had to do to straighten out his testimony because his testimony was wrong.”

It’s not clear what testimony Trump was talking about, but he seemed to be referring to Mueller’s letter to William Barr, the letter in which Mueller criticized the attorney general for not conveying the full gravity of the special counsel’s conclusions. While Barr has been favorable to Trump by dismissing the idea that the president committed obstruction of justice, Mueller said that Justice Department policies prevented him from charging the president, and, “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Trump also used part of the interview to attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which comes after their recent feud where he raised questions about her mental fitness. This time, Trump bashed Pelosi by accusing her of ignoring a Justice Department statement insisting there’s no contradiction between Barr and Mueller.

“Nancy Pelosi, I call her Nervous Nancy, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t talk about it,” said Trump. “Nancy Pelosi is a disaster, ok? She’s a disaster. Let her do what she wants, you know what? I think they’re in big trouble.”

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump Spends Morning Live-Tweeting Made-Up Quotes From CONCATENATED Fox News Chryons

President Donald Trump, loyal cable news viewer, tweeted out a quote he saw on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Thursday night regarding the Mueller investigation.

The quote was attributed to Sean Davis, a writer at The Federalist who appeared on Carlson’s show to criticize Robert Mueller for his press conference this week.

Weirdly enough, Davis never said that quote on Carlson’s show. As it turns out, Trump just cobbled together a series of Fox’s chyrons from the segment to fabricate a quote he attributed to Davis.

If you thought Davis would take issue with the president of the United States fabricating a quote and attributing it to him, you don’t know The Federalist. Davis celebrated Trump’s made up quote with a retweet:

When a Media Matters editor pointed out that Trump invented the quote, Davis responded, claiming the president was actually quoting an article he wrote on the subject.

Davis is correct that the first part of Trump’s Franken-Quote is inspired by his headline, which was used in a Fox News chyron. But the rest of the quote — “Still ZERO evidence of Trump-Russia Collusion, and no new evidence from Mueller” — is pulled directly from Fox News chyrons.

Mediaite reached out to Davis to confirm that he does not care about the president making up quotes and attributing them to him. He did not respond.

UPDATE 2:29 p.m. EST: Davis stood by the president’s made up quote in an email to Mediaite:

“The president accurately quoted the headline of an article I wrote, you’re a clown for having a temper tantrum over this, and I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”

[Mediaite]

Trump still thinks the courts can prevent impeachment (they can’t)

About a month ago, Donald Trump tried to address the Mueller report by falsely claiming it “didn’t lay a glove on me.” The president quickly added, however, “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

That didn’t make any sense, though the Republican doesn’t seem to realize that. Consider this exchange between the president and a reporter this morning during a brief Q&A on the White House South Lawn:

Q: Do you think they’re going to impeach you? Do you think they’re …

TRUMP: I don’t see how. They can, because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gotten into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word, the word ‘impeach.’ It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word and it had nothing to do with me.

The president’s etymological feelings notwithstanding, if he thinks “the courts” can block a congressional impeachment process, Trump is likely to be disappointed.

Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that the president, among his many scandals, has been credibly accused of criminal obstruction of justice. Why he thinks federal judges might deem this insufficient grounds for presidential impeachment is unclear.

But even putting that aside, Trump’s assertions are a civics failure, too. As we discussed in April, Congress is responsible for initiating, overseeing, and executing the impeachment process. Lawmakers, and no one else, determine whether a president has committed impeachable acts.

It’s not up to the judiciary to allow or forbid the legislative branch from exercising its legal authority.

When Trump is in a jam, he looks for a fixer. Indeed, he’s spent much of his presidency assuming that everyone from his attorney general to his congressional allies to his White House counsel can simply make his problems go away for him. Now, evidently, he’s making similar assumptions about the courts.

I’m curious as to why. Is the amateur president simply confused again? Is there someone at the White House giving him strange advice? Did Trump hear something along these lines from conservative media?

Whatever the explanation, if Trump plans to sue to make sure impeachment doesn’t happen, he should probably start working on a Plan B.

[MSNBC]

Trump says Russia helped elect him – then quickly backtracks

Donald Trump has denied that Russia helped elect him president, less than an hour after he admitted Russia did help to elect him president.

In a flurry of tweets lashing out at people and concepts including the special counsel Robert Mueller, “fake news media” and “this phony crime”, Trump, for the first time, said Russia aided his 2016 presidential win.

“Russia, Russia, Russia!” the president tweeted on Thursday morning.

“That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”

For a president who has previously denied Russia interfered in the 2016 election at all – despite the conclusions of US intelligence agencies – the admission of Russian help was startling.

But soon after Trump’s statement, he made a prompt about-turn.

“Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia did not help me at all,” Trump said during a White House press conference.

On Wednesday Mueller said his two-year investigation had “established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”.

Mueller’s report states that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.

The report also detailed 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump and his campaign. Mueller has said charging Trump with a crime was “not an option we could consider”, because of justice department policy.

Mueller added: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Trump was en route to Colorado on Thursday morning, to address a graduation ceremony for the US air force academy.

[The Guardian]

Trump: Dems are getting nothing done in Congress

President Trump in a tweet on Monday repeated his criticism of Democrats, saying they are “getting NOTHING done in Congress.”

“The Dems are getting NOTHING done in Congress! They only want a Do-Over on Mueller!” Trump wrote in a post during his four-day state visit to Japan. 

He also went after renewed calls for his impeachment, calling Democrats “Obstructionists.”

“Impeach for what, having created perhaps the greatest Economy in our Country’s history, rebuilding our Military, taking care of our Vets (Choice), Judges, Best Jobs Numbers Ever, and much more?” Trump wrote. “Dems are Obstructionists!”

Democrats have increasingly called for an impeachment inquiry into the president after his administration defied several congressional subpoenas.

On Sunday, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) publicly called upon Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring impeachment proceedings the president.

Last week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested that impeachment proceedings could be a “tool” to get more information from the White House. 

Trump last week walked out of a White House meeting with Democrats on infrastructure, saying he would not work with them until they stopped investigating him.

[The Hill]

Reality

In addition to their investigations, they’ve been passing legislation at a rapid clip. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills, resolutions, and suspensions since January — 49 of which they’ve passed. This includes a slate of bills to attempt to end the longest government shutdown in history, the result of a protracted fight between Trump and Congress over border wall funding.

Meanwhile the Senate has only passed two bills in two months.

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