Email #335: “scope of legitimate inquiry”?

By indicting Manafort and Gates for tax fraud and money laundering that began in 2006, special counsel Mueller has established that the scope of his investigation extends beyond June 2015 when the Trump campaign officially began and includes actions that were not part of the campaign. Similarly, special counsel Kenneth Starr indicted President Clinton for lying under oath about a sexual affair even though the focus of his investigation was the Clintons’ involvement in White Water real estate deals.

But despite this precedent, President Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said on Saturday that he would challenge the legality of Mueller’s actions if he looked at anything beyond Russian collusion, such as the President’s real estate deals. Sekulow said:

“We’d view that as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.”

The President believes so too. When asked by the New York Times in June whether Mueller looking at his finances and his family finances unrelated to Russia would be a breach of his charge, the President answered:

“I would say yeah. I would say yes… I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years … No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company.”

Do you agree with the President and his lawyer that if Mueller discovers evidence that the President committed crimes that are unrelated to Russian collusion that Mueller should not make those crimes public and prosecute them? For instance, if, like his predecessor Kenneth Starr, Mueller discovers evidence that the President had a sexual affair, whether in Russia or elsewhere, and whether with underage prostitutes or consenting adults, should he depose the President and record his testimony under oath? If Mueller discovers evidence of tax evasion that is unrelated to Russian collusion, should he suppress it? What illegal activities should he ignore?

You supported the scope of special counsel Starr’s investigations at the start of your career; will you now contradict yourself and oppose special counsel Mueller’s scope at the end of your career?

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Email #333: “hopelessly compromised”?

Senate Majority Leader McConnell said yesterday that he doesn’t support any of the bipartisan legislation that would protect special counsel Mueller from being fired by  President Trump:

“There’s been no indication that the President or the White House are not cooperating with the special counsel. I think the view up here is let him do his job.”

But what about protecting the special counsel from you?

A member of your House Judiciary Committee, Republican Rep. DeSantis, introduced an amendment in August that would have ended funding to Mueller’s office after six months and curtailed its scope to events that took place after Donald Trump launched his campaign in June 2015. If the amendment had passed, it would have undermined last week’s Manafort and Gates indictments for years of tax fraud and money laundering that started before they joined the Trump campaign.

Former White House senior advisor Steve Bannon has been advocating for a reprisal of the amendment, discussing it with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. According to Vanity Fair, Bannon spoke with the President after last Monday’s indictments, suggesting ways to hinder Mueller:

“Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal. He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”

Now other Republican members of your House Judiciary Committee are attempting to obstruct the Mueller investigation. Reps. Gaetz, Biggs, and Gohmert are introducing a new resolution, arguing that special counsel Mueller “must step down immediately” because he is “hopelessly compromised.”

They claim that, after being appointed FBI Director by President Bush in 2001, Mueller remained during President Obama’s first term and so was therefore involved in the administration’s approval of the Russian company Rosatom’s purchase of controlling stocks in the Canadian company Uranium One in 2010. This is untrue. The Uranium One deal was overseen by a total of fourteen agencies, including Homeland Security and the National Security Council. The FBI was not involved.

Donald Trump said in June 2016 campaign speech:

“Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.”

His campaign repeated the accusation in October TV ads:

“So Hillary, if Russia is such a threat, why did you sell them 20% of our uranium? Are you a liar, or a traitor, or both?”

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the uranium could not be exported and remains under U.S. control.  It can only be sold to U.S. nuclear power plants, amounting to roughly 6% of our domestic uranium production. According to Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez, who approved the deal on behalf of the State Department, Secretary Clinton was not involved in the decision. Uranium One founder Frank Giustra did donate $131 million to the Clinton Foundation, but he was no longer a part of the company and had divested all of his stocks in 2007.

Snopes.com rated the Trump campaign’s accusation as “False.” Politicofact.com rated it “Mostly False.” The Washington Post Fact Checker gave it “Four Pinocchios,” its worst rating. Regardless, if you and your House Judiciary Committee or any other Congressional committees wish to investigate these matters further, or if the Attorney General wishes to appoint another special counsel, I see no reason not to. The more oversight the better.

But there is nothing regarding the Uranium One deal that compromises special counsel Mueller and his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. Like Steve Bannon, the Republicans on your House Judiciary Committee wish to obstruct not expand government transparency by interfering. While unprincipled, this is also a bad political strategy. Special counsel Mueller is significantly more popular than President Trump. Mueller has an approval rating of 58%, while the President’s is only 39%. And Mueller’s disapproval is 28%, while the President’s is 57%–more than double.

How do you predict American voters will perceive your Committee members’ attempts to stop Mueller? According to a CNN poll in September, the Republican Party dropped to an approval rating of 29%, its lowest since the poll began in 1992 when you were first taking office. You have literally never been less popular than you are right now. Do you think these Republican resolutions from your Committee are going to raise your approval or drop it still further?

Email #330: “who exactly was helping them”?

Press Secretary Sanders said Monday:

“There’s clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election.”

The lie is exceptional not simply because Sanders was responding to questions about the special counsel indictments of Trump campaign members on Monday, but also because of Monday’s congressional hearings on the role of internet companies in Russia’s interference in the election.

The Clinton campaign hired a U.S. firm that employed a former British intelligence agent to investigate Donald Trump’s activities in Russia, producing a dossier of unsubstantiated claims that was not made public until after election and so influenced no voters. But simultaneously, Russia was successfully exploiting U.S. internet companies to reach a wide range of American voters. As of this week, we now know:

126 million Facebook users saw 80,000 pieces of Russian propaganda, including over $100,000 worth of ads.

2,752 Russian-owned Twitter accounts posted 131,000 tweets, and 36,000 Russian bots posted 1.4 million tweets, receiving 288 million views.

Russia’s 1,108 YouTube videos received 309,000 views.

Russia created 170 Instagram accounts and 120,000 posts.

When asked whether the Russian content influenced the election, a Facebook lawyer answered:  “Senator, we’re not well positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did.” The corporations’ lawyers also did not know how Russia targeted their propaganda, some of which reached precise subsets of voters in small swing districts.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said previously:

“I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware [of] really raises some questions.… How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions? The Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play.”

Former Obama administration assistant secretary of defense Mike Carpenter told Vanity Fair:

“Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible. But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

Presumably special counsel Mueller is investigating Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm employed by the Trump campaign which has worked directly with multiple Russian businesses in the past. Jared Kushner coordinated with Cambridge Analytica while managing the Trump campaign’s voter-targeting data operations with Brad Parscale.

But regardless of any further outcomes from the special counsel investigation, Senators Warner, Klobuchar, and McCain have introduced the bipartisan “Honest Ads Act,” which would require internet companies to disclose who pays for political ads distributed on their platforms. The information–including the purchaser’s contact information, ad price, target audience, and number of views—would be available on a public database.

When asked at the hearings, none of the executives said they supported the bill. Republican Senator Collins reminded them during yesterday’s hearing:

“You have a special obligation here given your reach in American society.”

Senator Feinstein agreed:

“You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms. And now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”

Republican Senator and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Burr agreed too:

“This is about national security. This is about corporate responsibility. And this is about the deliberate and multi-faceted manipulation of the American people by agents of a hostile foreign power.”

Since Facebook is one of the largest contributors to your election campaign, does that mean you will oppose the Honest Ads Act?

Email #328: “NO COLLUSION”?

President Trump tweeted yesterday morning in response to special counsel Mueller’s indictment of three Trump campaign members:

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? ….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

The President seemed remarkably pleased to learn that his former campaign manager is a multi-million-dollar money launderer and foreign agent who repeatedly lied to the Justice Department. After joining the President’s campaign in March 2016, Manafort managed it from May until August when he stepped down after his involvement with pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians became public. Manafort also attended the June meeting with the Russian lawyer who offered Donald Trump, Jr. damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Rick Gates, Manafort’s junior party who is facing the same criminal charges, remained with the campaign and later helped to direct the inauguration.

Although Manafort and Gates’ money laundering and tax fraud pre-dates their involvement in the Trump campaign, the special counsel also indicted the President’s former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about meeting with Russian contacts. A London professor connected to the Kremlin told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russian government wished to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton with the Trump campaign:

“During this meeting, the Professor told defendant that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The professor told defendant that on that trip he (the professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The professor told defendant Papadopoulos, as Papadopoulos later described to the FBI, that ‘they have dirt on her’; ‘the Russians had emails on Clinton’; ‘they have thousands of emails.'”

The meeting, which also included a Russian ambassador and Putin’s niece, occurred after Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign and two months before it was known that Russia had hacked DNC emails. Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying about the meeting, establishing the first official verification that a member of the Trump campaign was involved in Russia’s interference in the election. Moreover, Papadopoulos made his Russian connections known to “high-ranking campaign officials,” a “campaign supervisor,” and even to Donald Trump himself. Papadopoulos attended a national security meeting with Donald Trump on March 31, 2016, offering to “help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

Press Secretary Sanders said yesterday afternoon: “I’m not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting.” She also acknowledged that Gates and President Trump had “some initial contact after the president was sworn in.” But, like the President, she insisted the indictments were insignificant: “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity. We’ve been saying from Day 1 there’s been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all.”

While the Papadopoulos indictment is not itself evidence of collusion, it significantly widens the possibility and justifies the continuation of the special counsel investigation. Because of prior concerns that President Trump could fire the special counsel as he fired FBI Director Comey last spring, Republican Senator Graham is co-sponsoring a bill that would require any President to obtain a judge’s approval first. Republican Senator Tillis is also co-sponsoring another bipartisan bill that would provide special counsels a means to challenge a dismissal in court. Graham said yesterday afternoon: “We’re talking with the other sponsors and seeing if it’s the sort of thing that can get support.”

Will you support either of these bills or do you think President Trump should be free to fire special counsels?

Email #327: “evil politics”?

The President tweeted on Friday:

“It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”

Ignoring the extraordinarily false statement that any of the ongoing investigations have concluded that there was no collusion, Press Secretary Sanders made the same accusation against Hillary Clinton:

“if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election look no further than the Clintons and the DNC. Hypocrisy at the highest level and a new low in politics. Everything the Clinton campaign and DNC were falsely accusing the president of doing the past year they were doing it themselves.”

The issue revolves around the dossier of 17 memos produced by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele between June and October 2016. Steele worked for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm contracted by an as-yet-unnamed GOP donor during the primaries. The Clinton campaign hired the firm in June. Steele collected a range of unsubstantiated information regarding Donald Trump’s connections to Russia, including that he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail for having sex with prostitutes while in Moscow and that he was colluding with Russia to influence the election. The memos do not identify Steel’s sources nor provide any evidence for their claims.

Michael Cohen, the President’s attorney, said in January when the dossier was made public: “It’s so ridiculous on so many levels. Clearly, the person who created this did so from their imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have.” But the Washington Post, an alleged leader of the liberal media, dismissed the dossier too, calling it “high-grade gossip.”

When subpoenaed to testify earlier this month before the House Intelligence Committee—which, unlike you House Judiciary Committee, is investigating these matters—two Fusion GPS executives invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than self-incriminate. President Trump responded by tweet:

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?”

The dossier was paid for by the Clinton campaign. That’s not in question. It’s literally how Fusion GPS stays in business. If the information in the dossier is “fake,” then Fusion GPS cheated the Clinton campaign.

So then on what grounds do the President and Press Secretary Sanders accuse Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia? Where is the “hypocrisy”? What “new low” do they mean? The White House’s counter accusation–“Everything the Clinton campaign and DNC were falsely accusing the president of doing the past year they were doing it themselves”–is at best illogical and at worst an act of deliberate misinformation to distract from other investigations.

Yesterday morning the President expanded his accusations on Twitter:

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

Is it coincidental that the President’s rhetoric reaches its newest low mark–he’s not accused Democrats of “evil” before–just as news sources are reporting that special counsel Mueller is about to make his first criminal indictments as early as today?

In contrast to the President Trump, Republican Senator Portman, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday: “We ought to instead focus on the outrage that the Russians meddled in our elections.”

Do you agree with the Senator or with the President?

Email #311: “protecting our electoral system”?

Do you know who your Friends are?

Your Facebook page has 14,098 likes and 15,549 followers. Your Twitter account @bobgoodlatte6 has 1,758 followers. I would have assumed they were all legitimate supporters, the vast majority of them constituents living right here in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. But the Senate Intelligence Committee warns otherwise.

Though its full report will not be completed for months, the Committee reinforced the federal intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia did attempt to sway last year’s election—and that they will continue to do in this coming election and next year’s too.

Republican co-chair Senator Burr said last week: “The Russian intelligence service is determined — clever — and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously. You can’t walk away from this and believe that Russia’s not currently active.”

Virginia Senator and co-chair Warner added: “There needs to be a more aggressive whole-of-government approach in terms of protecting our electoral system. Remember, to make a change even in a national election doesn’t require penetration into 50 states. You could pick two or three states in two or three jurisdictions and alter an election.”

This is why Russia focused its Facebook ads so aggressively in Wisconsin and Michigan, two of the three upset states that elected President Trump by margins of 0.7 (22,748 votes) and 0.2 points (10,704 votes). You, in contrast, defeated your Democrat challenger with a total of 225,471 votes to his 112,170. If you add in the votes from the third upset state of Pennsylvania, the President’s margin of victory was still only 77,000 votes. Yours was 113,301. You took your single district by more votes than the President took the forty districts in the top three battleground states combined. That’s how close the election was and how vulnerable future elections remain.

There is now conclusive evidence that Russia used Facebook and Twitter through ads and fake user accounts. The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining over 3,000 Facebook ads purchased at a cost of $100,000 by Russian agents disguised as U.S. citizens to influence the election. After creating fake news websites to disseminate anti-Clinton propaganda, Russians then used social media to promote them. Their fake U.S. identities included Facebook user “Melvin Redick,” an apparent father in Harrisburg, PA who posted: “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US. Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!” Other Russian agents targeted Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page with comments like: “Those who voted for Bernie, will not vote for corrupt Hillary! The Revolution must continue! #NeverHillary.” Twitter is even more vulnerable with hundreds of fake accounts, including automated bots that drove the Russian propaganda hashtag “#HillaryDown” into a trending Twitter topic.

The Senate Intelligence Committee warns that many fake accounts are still active and new accounts are spreading across multiple social media platforms. What steps are you taking to ensure that your own Facebook pages and Twitter posts are not being used by foreign agents to heighten political discord? What steps are you taking to verify the legitimacy of your 15,549 followers? Facebook has removed “Melvin Redick” and dozens of other fakes. It’s a simple process. You look at the user’s homepage and if there’s something suspicious about it, you inform Facebook who sends a request to verify their identity. If the user ignores the request, as fake-identity users do, the account is closed. And, more importantly, our country is one more degree safer from foreign influences trying to profit from our political polarization.

Or are you disregarding the Committee’s warning because fake users would aid your election prospects as they aided the President’s last year?

Email #243: “a speech about Hillary”?

I am concerned that President Trump is not being honest about whether he was informed of his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton acquired through the Russian government. Donald Trump Jr. responded to Rob Goldstone’s request for the meeting on June 3:

“Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?”

At 5:19 on Tuesday June 7, Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting for Thursday:

“How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.”

Later that same evening Donald Trump announced at a campaign rally:

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend. Who knows?”

The New York Times recently asked the President about his announcement in light of what we now know about his son’s planned meeting: “Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?”

TRUMP: No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting…. It must have been a very important — must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.

NYT: No one told you a word, nothing?

TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn’t know noth—— It’s a very unimportant — sounded like a very unimportant meeting.

NYT: But on the date you clinched the nominations with New Jersey and California and the primaries, when you give the speech that night, saying you’re going to give a speech about Hillary Clinton’s corrupt dealings with Russia and other countries, and that comes just three hours after Don Jr. —

TRUMP: Number one, remember, I made many of those speeches.

NYT: People wondered about the timing.

TRUMP: Many of those speeches. I’d go after her all the time.

NYT: Yeah, I know, but—

TRUMP: But there was something about the book, “Clinton Cash,” came out.

NYT: Yeah, a year earlier, though. But you were talking about—

TRUMP: But we were developing a whole thing. There was something about “Clinton Cash.”

Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” was published in May 2015. It wouldn’t be reprinted until July 2016, and the paperback edition included no new material for a “major speech” on the Clintons. When Trump gave the speech, he cited some passages but then focused on Secretary Clinton’s emails:

“Her server was easily hacked by foreign governments … While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be President of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the Presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

While the statement does suggest that the President knew that Clinton’s “deepest, darkest secrets” were in the hands of Russia, like the timing of his “major speech” announcement, it is only circumstantial. If so, the coincidence is merely surprising. If not, then the President was personally involved in Russian collusion.

What’s your opinion? And, more importantly, what are you doing to verify it?