Sen. Jeff Flake plans to hold up President Trump’s judicial nominees until the Senate takes up a bill protecting Robert Mueller. The outgoing Arizona senator announced his new ultimatum on the Senate floor minutes after his attempt to pass the bill failed. The threat could block the Senate Judiciary Committee from approving any more judges this year. Flake and Democrat Sen. Chris Coons had worked together on the bill that would require good cause in order for Trump to fire Mueller, the special counsel running the Russia investigation.
MEANWHILE—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flat-out rejected Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill protecting Robert Mueller. While McConnell said he thinks the investigation should be allowed to be finished, he also said, “I don’t think any legislation’s necessary.”
A Department of Justice memo suggested that the appointment of Matthew Whitaker to temporarily replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general was appropriate. The memo from the Office of Legal Counsel reveals that the DOJ counseling President Trump on the Whitaker appointment and defends the president’s right to designate temporary office holders, per the 1998 Vacancies Reform Act. The Democrats have been trying to use that law to claim Whitaker is illegitimate—what they really want is to dispatch with Whitaker by any means possible, because before he joined the DOJ he was made comments critical of the Robert Mueller probe. Whitaker now has oversight of that probe.
—QUOTABLE: “This office has previously advised that the president could designate a senior Department of Justice official, such as Mr. Whitaker, as acting Attorney General, and this memorandum explains the basis for that conclusion.” -OLC memo
Robert Mueller’s probe is facing accusations of a conflict of interest. An associate of conservative operative Roger Stone who was called to testify says he was questioned prior to his testimony by a lawyer who once represented Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. The Stone associate, Tyler Nixon, said it’s “deeply troubling” that the lawyer, Jeannie Rhee, would be involved with the Mueller probe. Because of that conflict of interest, Nixon is calling for Rhee to be removed or to recuse herself from the investigation.
—QUOTABLE: “[Rhee’s involvement] was not disclosed to me prior to my testimony, and I find this to be deeply troubling and certainly Ms. Rhee should be recused or removed from the investigation.” -Nixon
Top Democrats pressed the Department of Justice ethics czar on Monday to disclose whether he’s advised Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Whitaker, the acting attorney general who took over after President Trump forced Jeff Sessions out last week, is under intense pressure from the Democrats to wash his hands of all things related to Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Dems claim that Whitaker’s comments critical of the probe before he started working at the DOJ are disqualifying.
—QUOTABLE: “[W]e request that you immediately notify us in writing regarding whether you, or any other ethics officials at the Justice Department, have advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse from supervision of the special counsel investigation, and the basis for that recommendation.” -Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in a letter to Lee J. Lofthus, DOJ ethics officer
Democrats are dialing up their push to force acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from anything to do with the Mueller probe. Whitaker took over after President Trump effectively fired Jeff Sessions last week, but Dems claim his comments critical of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation disqualify him from having any oversight over the 18-month probe into alleged Russian collusion during the 2016 election. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other leading Democrats insisted that past statements as chair of a conservative nonprofit, before his time at the Department of Justice, require Whitaker’s immediate recusal.
—QUOTABLE: “There are serious ethical considerations that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal from any involvement with the Special Counsel investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” -Pelosi, Schumer et al letter
Robert Mueller wants records from Trump Tower involving right-wing operative Roger Stone. The special counsel wants phone calls or visitor logs regarding Stone, a top Trump campaign advisor. The Mueller team is probing what Stone might have known about Wikileaks’ plans to release emails that had been stolen from Democrats. Stone, for his part, denies visiting Trump Tower after officially leaving the campaign in August of 2015.
—QUOTABLE: “No visits to Trump Tower from August 2015 until after the election when the President-elect asked me to visit…Occasional phone calls with Trump in 2016 all initiated by him and certainly never a discussion of Wikileaks whatsoever!” -Stone
Robert Mueller could kick his probe into high gear after the midterms. The special counsel, investigating alleged Russian conspiracies to alter the 2016 election, has stayed quiet in the run-up to today’s elections. But he’s also been working behind the scenes, grilling a slate of confidantes of President Trump—some of whom, like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, are helping the investigation. While Mueller has honored an unwritten code that investigators like him shouldn’t make any major moves within 60 days of an election, all the signals are that if he has new indictments to hand down, he will do it within days or weeks.
The Robert Mueller probe is turning its attention to a conspiracy theorist with ties to right-wing operative Roger Stone. They’re looking at Jerome Corsi, who recently sat down for a second round of interviews with the special counsel in the midst of his probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller is supposedly interested in whether the 72 year old Corsi, formerly a contributor to conspiracy theory website InfoWars, had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would release the emails of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
The Russia probe took a soap opera twist in recent days. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is demanding the FBI investigate an attempt to smear him with the charge that he committed rape years ago. Two women came forward alleging they were approached by a company run by a conspiracy theorist asking them to fabricate sexual misconduct allegations against Mueller. One of the women claims she was offered 20 grand to do it. It appears to be a botched attempt by a pro-Trump conspiracy nut to discredit Mueller.
—QUOTABLE: “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” -Mueller spokesman Peter Carr
Robert Mueller is in uncharted legal waters. That’s federal judge Dabney Friedrich said earlier this month in court transcripts now available. Mueller is trying to nail a firm called Concord Management with intentionally defrauding the Federal Elections Commission during the 2016 election, when the firm is alleged to have been running online ads that tried confusing voters about the facts of the election. But trying to trick voters about this story or that isn’t a crime—or else almost every politician would be behind bars. Defense attorney Eric Dubelier said Mueller has created a “make-believe crime” in the showcase trial of his 27-month investigation, and Judge Friedrich agreed that “this is an unprecedented case, for sure.”
—“There is no law or regulation requiring that any such speech be accurate or truthful or that any U.S. or foreign person truthfully or accurately identify herself or himself when engaging in such speech…When it comes to political speech, one is free to pretend to be whomever he or she wants to be and to say whatever he or she wants to say.” -Dubelier
The New York Times is giving ink to Trump assassination fantasies. The paper of record had previously asked novelists to think of possible outcomes to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. That enticed English novelist Zoë Sharp to write the short story, “How It Ends,” which is about a Russian assassin that colludes with the Secret Service to off President Trump—in the end, the assassin’s gun misfires, but a Secret Service agent says, “here, use mine.” The creepy story comes immediately on the heels of attempted bombings and bomb threats directed at nearly a dozen left-wing politicos.
Roger Stone built his career on being a “dirty trickster,” and Robert Mueller plans to exploit that. The special counsel’s team is combing through the track record of Stone, an early Trump supporter and longtime bare-knuckles GOP operative, as part of its investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Stone has described himself as the “dirty trickster,” and the new branch of the Mueller probe is looking into whether he might’ve crossed the line in political work prior to what he did for the Trump campaign. If Mueller digs up some dirt, he could use that to press charges unrelated to Trump OR Russian collusion in order to get Stone to start dishing on the president. Stone says he hasn’t yet been contacted by Mueller’s team.