Impeachment: Week in Review

Minneapolis 4/23/18 Edition –  This week’s impeachment news was superficially mostly aftermath from previous weeks – however, one significant new theme is emerging.  In A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI Director James Comey brings to front-and-center of our national discourse the idea of  President Trump as a kind of organized crime boss speaking to both his character and his Administration.  We are now starting to hear more about potential legal problems associated with what may be literally organized-crime activity, especially regarding money received from Russians for both real estate development projects and individual condo purchases at properties owned and/or managed by the Trump Organization.  This financial activity -- widely reported to have gone on for decades -- could implicate the Trump Organization and/or President Trump personally in violations of both anti-money-laundering laws, and a 1977 Federal law – passed during the post-Watergate reform era – called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Meanwhile, President Trump has added three new lawyers to his unstable legal stable – former New York Mayor Rudy Giulaini is the most well known, and is likely to function as the main media/TV spokesperson for Trump.  How this “TV-sharing” arrangement will work out between two such rabid TV publicity hounds remains to be seen – it could test their historically comfortable relationship, which spans decades.  Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, former Congressman and current CIA Director Mike Pompeo appears heading for Senate Confirmation, although it’s likely he won’t receive a favorable vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Meanwhile, national and world events continue, including the prospect of a summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Comey interview/book/tour

Time reports James Comey's new book, A Higher Loyalty, was already at #1 on Amazon's best seller list by March 13th, 2018, more than a month before the scheduled April 17th release date.  The initial print run has been reported to be 850,000.  The editor of this Feature picked up a copy at the Minnesota Mall of America Barnes and Noble book store -- it was of course featured at the front of the store, but was also advertised as "30% off" -- putting the price point only a little above the Amazon purchase price.  Evidently, the current marketing theory for this book is something like “instant-gratification-is-worth-a-Latte” -- since so many people coming into bookstores later buy the books they see on Amazon, store sales can be jolted by ensuring there isn't much savings from waiting and buying on Amazon.  That store reported they received an initial shipment of 200 books… and were almost out after four days.  Comey was reportedly paid a $2 million advance, and the book appears to be heading for blockbuster sales.

Mueller Investigation / Trump’s Legal Team

NPR reports President Trump has added Rudy Giulaini to his unstable legal stable, along with Marty and Jane Raskin, a husband-and-wife team of less flashy but "very experienced white-collar defense lawyers."  Trump has not had a criminal lawyer on his legal team since John Dowd left in March.  Areas of potentially significant expertise for the Raskins include challenging search warrants and defending attorney-client privilege.  As a former Manhattan U.S. District Attorney and successful prosecutor, Giulaini brings with him knowledge and understanding of criminal law, and the ability to act as President Trump's media and television spokesman on legal issues.  Trump and Giulaini are also known to be comfortable with each other, potentially a missing element with earlier attorneys like Dowd.

In a NY Times op-ed, Fusion GPS founders Peter Fritsch and Glenn R. Simpson comment on so of their findings – they managed the "Steele Dossier" – which received financing from the Democrats after Republican Trump opponents stopped their original funding of it during the 2016 election's presidential nominating process.   Regarding recent investigative developments, they write: “Put aside Russian collusion for a moment. Press pause on possible presidential obstruction of justice. Forget Stormy Daniels. The most significant recent development involving the president may be that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed Trump Organization business records as part of his inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election. ¶ Those documents — and records recently seized by the F.B.I. from the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen — might answer a question raised by the president’s critics: Have certain real estate investors used Trump-branded properties to launder the proceeds of criminal activity around the world?”  Fritsch and Simpson claim to have found extensive evidence of investments in Trump condominiums and projects by Russian nationals, including some who may be laundering money obtained by corrupt means in Russia and other former Soviet Union states; other news sources have also reported on this.  Fritsch and Simpson suggest the Trump organization and/or President Trump may run afoul of anti-money-laundering laws and/or the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA") of 1977.  In April of 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions assured a legal ethics conference that the Justice Department would continue to enforce the FCPA, although President Trump is reported to have said it is a "horrible" law.

AP reports the Justice Department's Inspector General has made a referral to Federal prosecutors in Washington, and that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe may face criminal charges if prosecutors conclude that beyond a reasonable doubt he intentionally lied to the FBI about media disclosures shortly before the 2016 Presidential election. McCabe was fired based on an Inspector General's report that he lacked candor when the FBI later investigated those disclosures – a lower standard than required for a criminal conviction.

A recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll shows a net 11 point drop in American favorable views of Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel investigating President Trump for possible collusion with Russians.  Currently, 32 percent hold a favorable view of Mueller, 30 percent view him unfavorably, and 38 percent have no opinion.  The biggest change is among Republicans -- 49% now view him unfavorably, up from 30% a month ago.  Among Democrats and Independents, 19% and 30% view Mueller unfavorably.

Trump’s Pardon of Scooter Libby -- Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief David Corn comments on the significance of President Trump's recent pardon of Scooter Libby, once the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.  Libby was convicted of lying to the FBI in a case triggered by an investigation into whether the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plume had been improperly disclosed.  Earlier, President Bush had refused to pardon Libby, angering his Vice President, but Bush did commute Libby's prison sentence.  The main issue being raised with President Trump's issue of a pardon is the implicit suggestion that obstruction of justice is ok.  It is unclear how much President Trump knows understands, or cares about the earlier conviction of Libby.

The Cohen Investigation -- Reuters reports that FOX News broadcaster Sean Hannity was a client of President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen.  According to Reuters: "Hannity, 56, said on Monday [April 16th] that he had never paid for Cohen’s services or been represented by him, but had sought confidential legal advice from him. The conservative host often uses his weeknight broadcast on FOX News to defend the president..."  The relationship, which could be characterized as a conflict since Hannity frequently and vigorously defends fellow Cohen client President Trump, was previously not disclosed.

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