Judge orders State Dept. to search state.gov accounts for Clinton aides’ Benghazi emails

A federal judge has ordered the State Department to search the “state.gov” email accounts of Hillary Clinton aides Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jacob Sullivan for records related to Benghazi, as part of a watchdog’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

 

U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbi

Trump Finds That Demolishing Obama’s Legacy Is Not So Simple

a Amit Mehta made the call Tuesday, describing the FOIA lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch in March 2015 as “a far cry from a typical FOIA case.”

He noted that “Secretary Clinton used a private e-mail server located in her home, to transmit and receive work-related communications during her tenure as Secretary of State.”

“The sole remaining dispute in this case is the adequacy of State’s search for responsive records,” Mehta wrote in his opinion and order, noting the State Department has argued the search through Clinton aides’ emails “is likely to be unfruitful.”

But Mehta wrote that the State Department “has not, however, searched the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov email server.”

FAVOR FACTORY? HUMA EMAILS REVEAL CLINTON ALLIES SEEKING JOBS, MEETINGS

“If Secretary Clinton sent an email about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov email address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an email,” Mehta wrote. “State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.”

The conservative watchdog group is engaged in numerous FOIA lawsuits seeking records pertaining to the actions of the last administration — including, in this case, records regarding the response to the 2012 terror attack in Libya.

The court ordered that the State Department conduct a “supplemental search” of Abedin, Mills and Sullivan state.gov email accounts, and set a deadline of Sept. 22 for the department to update the court on the status.

“This major court ruling may finally result in more answers about the Benghazi scandal—and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it –as we approach the attack’s fifth anniversary,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “It is remarkable that we had to battle both Obama and Trump administrations to break through the State Department’s Benghazi stonewall.”

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Legal Expert Says Trump’s Texts to Mueller Could Be Construed as Intimidation

 

<span style="font-size:13px;">[Screengrab via ABC]</span>Donald Trump‘s texts to Robert Mueller are not only unusual, but could be the basis of an obstruction of justice accusation. Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at Notre Dame University and a former U.S. Assistant Attorney General under the first president Bush, told LawNewz.com that the texts leave the president vulnerable, legally speaking, because these could be construed as intimidation.

Grand jury subpoenas issued in relation to Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. meeting

Trump chief counsel John Dowd told USA TODAY on Tuesday that POTUS “appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing. He asked me to share that with him and that’s what I’ve done.” Dowd described the messages as showing “appreciation and greetings,” and that texts were sent “back and forth.”

Bad idea.

Gurulé said that anything Trump tells him could be used against him in the Russia collusion investigation. Also, the texts themselves could be construed as an attempt to influence the probe.

“‘I’m watching you.’ How else could it be interpreted?” Gurulé said. ‘ Thank you for conducting an investigation into my campaign. Thank you for conducting an investigation into my son and my son-in-law.’”

If nothing else, this sort of thing leaves the president vulnerable.

“I can’t imagine he would do it again, and if so, he does it at his legal peril,” Gurulé said.

Joe Conason, the editor-in-chief at The National Memo, has also suggested this could play into an obstruction case against the president.

“You know and I do that the obstruction case is being built,” he told MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber in a panel Tuesday evening. “This is all part of the context of that case.”

George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley has a different take on this.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” he told LawNewz.com. “It is not common for a potential target to convey such words of appreciation, however, nothing about this commonplace. There appears to be an concerted effort to dampen down the rumors that Trump was considering a termination of Mueller.”

Nonetheless, he wasn’t convinced about a hypothetical obstruction allegation: “If sending ‘appreciation and greetings’ is potential criminal intimidation, Hallmark executives are virtual serial killers.”

Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign for alleged collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 election. The president has repeatedly, publicly called the Special Counsel’s probe a “witch hunt” pushed by Democrats.

LawNewz.com has predicted that Trump will soon terminate Mueller.

The president has draw criticism before for allegedly speaking with investigators. FBI Director James Comey claims the president asked him in February to drop a federal investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. In March, Comey revealed that the feds were investigating Russia collusion efforts. Trump fired Comey in May, ostensibly for doing a bad job.

Critics have accused Trump of obstruction of justice for allegedly telling Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, and for firing him during the Kremlin probe.

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Grand jury subpoenas issued in relation to Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. meeting

Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer, two sources told Reuters on Thursday, in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is gathering pace.

The sources added that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington to help investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Russia has loomed large over the first six months of the Trump presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to tilt the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, is leading the probe, which also examines potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, while regularly denouncing the investigations as political witch hunts.

Mueller’s use of a grand jury could give him expansive tools to pursue evidence, including issuing subpoenas and compelling witnesses to testify. The impaneling of the grand jury was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesman for Mueller declined comment.

A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, considers evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decides whether charges should be brought.

“This is a serious development in the Mueller investigation,” said Paul Callan, a former prosecutor.

FILE PHOTO: Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013.© REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst FILE PHOTO: Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013.Given that Mueller inherited an investigation that began months ago, it would suggest that he has uncovered information pointing in the direction of criminal charges. But against whom is the real question.”

U.S. stocks and the dollar weakened following the news, while U.S. Treasury securities gained.

DAMAGING INFORMATION

News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father’s presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign’s dealings with Moscow.

The Republican president has defended his son’s behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.

Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he was not aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said: “With respect to the news of the grand jury, I can tell you President Trump is not under investigation.”

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.

Lawyers for Trump Jr. and Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One source briefed on the matter said Mueller was investigating whether, either at the meeting or afterward, anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign since March 2016.

Another source familiar with the inquiry said that while the president himself was not now under investigation, Mueller’s investigation was seeking to determine whether he knew of the June 9 meeting in advance or was briefed on it afterward.

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7 things the Trump team denied, and then later confirmed

President Trump.

The White House directly contradicted President Trump’s own attorney on Tuesday. It confirmed that the president was involved in that misleading Donald Trump Jr. statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer after Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, had issued two unmistakable comments asserting Trump wasn’t.

But this was hardly the first time that the Trump team has appeared to confirm something it previously denied. Below are seven examples.

1. That Trump was involved in Donald Trump Jr.’s Russia statement

The denials

“I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.” — Sekulow on NBC News on July 16

“The president didn’t sign off on anything. … The president wasn’t involved in that.” — Sekulow on ABC News on July 12

The confirmation

“The president weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.” — White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, after The Washington Post reported that Trump had changed the statement at the last minute to be more misleading.

2. That Trump is thinking about pardons

The denial

“Pardons are not being discussed and are not on the table.” — Sekulow on July 21

The confirmation

President Trump.

3. That Trump decided unilaterally to fire FBI Director James B. Comey

The denials

“No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” — Sean Spicer on May 9

Asked whether Trump had already decided to fire Comey and asked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and the Justice Department to craft a justification for it: “No.” — Huckabee Sanders on May 10

“He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director. … He has lost confidence in the FBI director, and he took the recommendation of Rod J. Rosenstein.” — Kellyanne Conway on May 10

The confirmations

“I was going to fire Comey … Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” — Trump on NBC News on May 11

“On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input.” — Rosenstein on May 19

4. That Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation

The denials

“That’s not what — let me be clear with you — that was not what this is about. That’s not what this is about.” — Vice President Pence on May 10

Rosenstein’s memo contained no mention of the Russia investigation and instead focused on Comey’s unusual announcements about the Hillary Clinton investigation during the 2016 campaign: “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.” — Rosenstein on May 9

“Based on my evaluation, and for the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum, I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.” — Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter May 9

The confirmation

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” — Trump to NBC on May 11

5. That Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador

The denial

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia. … What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” — Pence on Jan. 15

The confirmations

Asked whether Flynn discussed sanctions related to Russia’s alleged 2016 election interference: “Right.” — Spicer on Feb. 14

“So just to be clear, the acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, ‘a heads-up’ to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what he had said to the vice president in particular. … The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust, and the president concluded that he no longer had the trust of his national security adviser.” — Spicer on Feb. 14

“What I would tell you is that the vice president became aware of incomplete information that he’d received on February 9, last Thursday night, based on media accounts.” — Pence spokesman Marc Lotter

6. That Trump’s navy secretary nominee was going to withdraw

The denial

After CBS’s Major Garrett reported that Navy secretary nominee Philip Bilden was likely to withdraw, Spicer tweeted on Feb. 18:

The confirmation

“Mr. Philip Bilden has informed me that he has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of the Navy.” — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Feb. 26

7. That Trump shared classified information with Russian leaders in the Oval Office

The denial

“The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false.” — national security adviser H.R. McMaster on May 15

The confirmations

“It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.” — McMaster on May 16

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Republicans are in full control of government — but losing control of their party

President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), right, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), talked about health care at a lunch with GOP senators at the White House on Wednesday.

Six months after seizing complete control of the federal government, the Republican Party stands divided as ever — plunged into a messy war among its factions that has escalated in recent weeks to crisis levels.

Frustrated lawmakers are increasingly sounding off at a White House awash in turmoil and struggling to accomplish its legislative agenda. President Trump is scolding Republican senators over health care and even threatening electoral retribution. Congressional leaders are losing the confidence of their rank-and-file. And some major GOP donors are considering using their wealth to try to force out recalcitrant incumbents.

“It’s a lot of tribes within one party, with many agendas, trying to do what they want to do,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said in an interview.

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The intensifying fights threaten to derail efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax laws and other major initiatives that GOP leaders hope will put them back on track. The party is still bogged down by a months-long health-care endeavor that lacks the support to become law, even as Senate GOP leaders plan to vote on it this week.

With his agenda stalled and Trump consumed by staff changes and investigations into Russian interference to help win election, Republicans are adding fuel to a political fire that is showing no signs of burning out. The conflict also heralds a potentially messy 2018 midterm campaign with fierce intra-party clashes that could draw resources away from fending off Democrats.

“It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President,” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon, marking the latest sign of the president’s uneasy relationship with his own party.

Winning control of both chambers and the White House has done little to fill in the deep and politically damaging ideological fault lines that plagued the GOP during Barack Obama’s presidency and ripped the party apart during the 2016 presidential primary. Now, Republicans have even more to lose.

“In the 50 years I’ve been involved, Republicans have yet to figure out how to support each other,” said R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the founder of the American Spectator, a conservative magazine.

On Capitol Hill, many Republicans are increasingly concerned that Trump has shown no signs of being able to calm the party. What Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) called the “daily drama” at the White House flared again last week when Trump shook up his communications staff and told the New York Times that he regretted picking Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general.

“This week was supposed to be ‘Made in America Week’ and we were talking about Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Dent grumbled in a telephone interview Thursday, citing White House messaging efforts that were overshadowed by the controversies.

As Trump dealt with continued conflicts among his staff — which culminated Friday in press secretary Sean Spicer resigning in protest after wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci was named communications director — he set out to try to resolve the Senate Republican impasse over health care.

President Trump claps with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House members after passage of a health-care bill in May. The legislation is now stalled in the Senate.

The president had a small group of Republican senators over for dinner last Monday night to talk about the issue. But the discussion veered to other subjects, including Trump’s trip to Paris and the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not end. That didn’t stop Trump from wondering aloud about its usefulness.

“He asked the question, ‘why should we keep it’?” recalled Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who attended the dinner.

Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation

Two days later, some Republican senators left a White House lunch confused about what Trump was asking them to do on health care. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the next day that while the president “made very clear” that “he wants to see a bill pass, I’m unclear, having heard the president and read his tweets, exactly which bill he wants to pass.”

The White House says the president prefers to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. McConnell has also raised the prospect of moving to only repeal the law. Neither option has enough votes. Nevertheless, McConnell plans to hold a vote early this week and bring the push to fulfill a seven-year campaign promise to its conclusion, one way or the other.

“One of the things that united our party has been the pledge to repeal Obamacare since the 2010 election cycle,” said White House legislative affairs director Marc Short. “So when we complete that, I think that will help to unite” the party.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have described the dynamic between the White House and GOP lawmakers as a “disconnect” between Republicans who are still finding it difficult to accept that he is the leader of the party that they have long controlled.

“The disconnect is between a president who was elected from outside the Washington bubble and people in Congress who are of the Washington bubble,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who works closely with the White House. “I don’t think some people in the Senate understand the mandate that Donald Trump’s election represented.”

Trump issued a threat at the Wednesday lunch against Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has not embraced McConnell’s health-care bill. “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said in front of a pack of reporters as Heller, sitting directly to his right, grinned through the uncomfortable moment.

Heller is up for reelection in a state that Trump lost to Hillary Clinton and where Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) was the first Republican to expanded Medicaid under the ACA. He later brushed the moment off as “President Trump being President Trump.”

But some donors say they are weighing whether to financially back primary challengers against Republican lawmakers unwilling to support Trump’s agenda.

“Absolutely we should be thinking about that,” said Frank VanderSloot, a billionaire chief executive of an Idaho nutritional-supplement company. He bemoaned the “lack of courage” some lawmakers have shown and wished representatives would “have the guts” to vote the way they said they would on the campaign trail.

It’s not just the gulf between Trump and Republican senators that has strained relations during the health-care debate. The way McConnell and his top deputies have handled the effort has drawn sharp criticism from some GOP senators.

“No,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), when asked last week whether he was happy with the way leadership has navigated the talks.

As he stepped into a Senate office building elevator the same day, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) would not respond to reporter questions about how good a job McConnell has done managing the health-care push. He flashed a smile as the door closed.

McConnell has defended his strategy, saying the process has been open to Republican senators, who have discussed it in many lunches and smaller meetings. Still, when it came time to write the bill, it was only McConnell and a small group of aides who did it. There was no outreach at all to Democrats, who have been united in their opposition.

In the House, the prospect of passing a 2018 budget this summer and a spending bill with funding for the Mexican border wall that Trump has called for remain uncertain, even though Republicans have a sizeable majority in the chamber. GOP disagreements have continued to flare during Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tenure. There are also challenges in both chambers to achieving tax reform, which is expected to be among the next major GOP legislative undertakings.

Trump critics said the ongoing controversies over Russian interference in the 2016 election and probes into potential coordination with the president’s associates would make any improvement in relations all but impossible in the coming months, with many Republicans unsure whether Trump’s presidency will survive.

“The Russia stories never stop coming,” said Rick Wilson, a vocal anti-Trump consultant and GOP operative. “For Republicans, the stories never get better, either. There is no moment of clarity or admission.”

Wilson said Republicans are also starting to doubt whether “the bargain they made — that they can endure Trump in order to pass X or Y” can hold. “After a while, nothing really works and it becomes a train wreck.”

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, said Trump’s battles with Republicans are unlikely to end and are entirely predictable, based on what Trump’s victory signified.

“His nomination and election were a hostile takeover of the vehicle of the Republican Party,” Stone said. He added, “When you talk to some Republicans who oppose Trump, they say they will keep opposing him but can’t openly say it.”

Many Republican lawmakers have struggled to talk about the president publicly, fearful of aggressively challenging their party leader but also wary of aligning too closely with some of his controversial statements or policy positions. Instead, they often attempt to focus on areas where they agree.

“On foreign policy, I think he very much is involved in a direction that’s far more in alignment since he’s been elected with a bulk of the United States Senate than during the campaign,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Amid the discord, there are some signs of collaboration. The Republican National Committee has worked to build ties to Trump and his family. In recent weeks, Trump’s son Eric, his wife Lara, and RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, among other RNC officials, met at the Trump International Hotel in Washington to discuss upcoming races and strategy.

That meeting followed a similar gathering weeks earlier at the RNC where Trump family members were welcomed to share their suggestions, according two people familiar with the sessions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Nevertheless, the friction is building. Even among Trump’s defenders, like VanderSloot, who said the president is “trying to move the ball forward,” there are concerns he is picking too many fights with too many people. “I think he’s trying to swat too many flies,” VanderSloot said.

The broader challenge, some Republicans say, is to overcome a dynamic of disunity in the party that predates Trump and the current Congress. During the Obama years, it took the form of tea party-versus-establishment struggles, which in some cases cost Republicans seats or led them to wage risky political fights.

“There was a separation between Republicanism and conservatism long before he won the White House,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “The glue has been coming apart since Reagan.”

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Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

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Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, said in an interview Thursday that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mueller if necessary.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

The president has long called the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with the Russians a “witch hunt.” But now, Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe — including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.

“This is Ken Starr times 1,000,” said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. “Of course, it’s going to go into his finances.”

Following Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey — in part because of his displeasure with the FBI’s Russia investigation — Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in a written order. That order gave Mueller broad authority to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” and any crimes committed in response to the investigation, such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s probe has already expanded to include an examination of whether Trump obstructed justice in his dealings with Comey, as well as the business activities of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

Trump’s team could potentially challenge whether a broad probe of Trump’s finances prior to his candidacy could be considered a matter that arose “directly” from an inquiry into possible collusion with a foreign government.

The president’s legal representatives have also identified what they allege are several conflicts of interest facing Mueller, such as donations to Democrats by some of his prosecutors.

Another potential conflict claim is an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011, two White House advisers said. A spokesman for Mueller said there was no dispute when Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, left the club.

Trump also took public aim on Wednesday at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein, whose actions led to Mueller’s appointment. In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, the president said he never would have nominated Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the case.

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”

Law enforcement officials described Sessions as increasingly distant from the White House and the FBI because of the strains of the Russia investigation.

Traditionally, Justice Department leaders have sought to maintain a certain degree of autonomy from the White House as a means of ensuring prosecutorial independence.

But Sessions’s situation is more unusual, law enforcement officials said, because he has angered the president for apparently being too independent while also angering many at the FBI for his role in the president’s firing of Comey.

As a result, there is far less communication among those three key parts of the government than in years past, several officials said.

Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

“There is no predicting what would happen,” said Kalt, author of the book, “Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies.” It includes chapters on the ongoing debate over whether presidents can be prosecuted while in office and on whether a president can issue a pardon to himself.

Other White House advisers have tried to temper Trump, urging him to simply cooperate with the probe and stay silent on his feelings about the investigation.

On Monday, lawyer Ty Cobb, newly brought into the White House to handle responses to the Russian probe, convened a meeting with the president and his team of lawyers, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Cobb, who is not yet on the White House payroll, was described as attempting to instill some discipline in how the White House handles queries about the case. But Trump surprised many of his aides by speaking at length about the probe to the New York Times two days later. Cobb, who officially joins the White House team at the end of the month, declined to comment for this article.

Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else. There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. “For example, we would not allow a judge to preside over his or her own trial,” Kalt said.

A president can pardon an individual at any point, including before the person is charged with a crime, and the scope of a presidential pardon can be very broad. President Gerald Ford pardoned former president Richard M. Nixon preemptively for offenses he “committed or may have committed” while in office.

Devlin Barrett and  Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.

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Trump Finds That Demolishing Obama’s Legacy Is Not So Simple

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence inspected a front loader at a “Made in America” showcase at the White House on Monday.

Determined to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy, Mr. Trump in the space of a couple of hours on Monday night reluctantly agreed to preserve President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and failed in his effort to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program.

The back-to-back events underscored the challenge for a career developer whose main goal since taking office six months ago has been to raze what he sees as the poorly constructed edifices he inherited. Mr. Trump has gone a long way toward that objective through executive action, but as Tuesday dawned, he faced the reality that Mr. Obama’s most prominent domestic and international accomplishments both remained intact.

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In neither case has Mr. Trump given up. He instructed his national security team to keep rethinking the approach to Iran with a view toward either revising or scrapping the nuclear agreement. And he publicly called on Congress to simply repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program without trying to immediately pass a replacement.

“We will return!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning about the collapse of his health care effort.

Yet there is little appetite among America’s partners to revisit the Iran deal, nor much eagerness among lawmakers to cancel the existing health care program without a new system to install in its stead.

Indeed, the latter notion seemed to die almost immediately on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, leaving the president to throw up his hands and say he would simply let Mr. Obama’s program die of its own weight. “I’m not going to own it,” he told reporters. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Nearly every president arrives in office promising a new direction, especially those succeeding someone from the other party. But few if any have spent as much of their early months focused on undoing what the last president did rather than promoting their own proactive ideas, as Mr. Trump has.

Where the president has succeeded so far, it has largely been in cases where he could act on his own authority. He approved the Keystone XL pipeline that Mr. Obama had rejected. He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate change accord that his predecessor had negotiated. And he began repealing environmental and business regulations that were imposed during the last administration.

But reversing the Iran and health care initiatives both require building support among other political players at home and abroad, a task for which Mr. Trump has yet to show much proclivity. At home in the worlds of real estate and entertainment, Mr. Trump is accustomed to giving orders and proclaiming, “You’re fired!” But the art-of-the-deal negotiating skills he boasted about on the campaign trail last year have not closed the deal with fellow world leaders or with fellow Republicans.

“The problem in Washington, besides every piece of legislation having its own special interest group, is that bills are purposely written to be complicated,” said Michael Dubke, who served as White House communications director under Mr. Trump. “And complicated is hard to unwind.”

Mr. Trump could, of course, simply abandon the Iran deal as he did with the trade and climate agreements, and he may yet. But while that may be satisfying, he has been told by advisers that the United States would find it harder to pressure the clerical regime in Tehran without allies, and so he has not risked alienating them with a unilateral move.

John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and strong critic of the nuclear deal, said time is on Iran’s side and Mr. Trump should find a way to convince the allies. “We need to explain this to the Europeans,” he said. “They may find it hard to accept, but plain speaking is still an American virtue, occasionally even in diplomacy.”

As for health care, Mr. Trump chastised Democrats on Tuesday for not going along — “Dems totally obstruct,” he wrote on Twitter — but he made no serious effort to reach out to them, nor might it be realistic to expect them to join a drive to repeal what they consider to be one of their proudest achievements. While he did lobby Republicans, some said he did not make a serious enough effort to do so. The White House devoted its public message this week to buy-America themes rather than health care.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that lawmakers should either repeal Mr. Obama’s program outright or return to the legislation that has now failed. “Either way, inaction is not an option,” he said in a speech to members of the National Retail Federation in Washington. “Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job and Congress needs to do their job now.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed weariness of the health care debate and seemed ready to turn to other priorities, like cutting taxes. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, vowed to hold a vote to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program without a replacement, but it was quickly clear there were not the votes for that. In the House, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin on Tuesday focused on tax cuts, energy production and budget balancing.

At the White House, that Rose Garden rally when Mr. Trump prematurely celebrated the passage of a health care bill in the House before it had gone to the Senate now seems long ago.

Mr. Trump has been left to contemplate his next move. He could try to find another way to get the bulldozer to work. Or he could move on to another property.

President Trump’s demolition project just got shut down, at least for now.

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Senator wants more information on Trump’s ‘digital’ activities during campaign

US Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. gestures during his debate with Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, in Richmond, Va., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.  Steve Helber/AP The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for more investigation into the digital activities of Donald Trump’s campaign, amid concerns about Russian-directed misinformation efforts to influence the election, even as the president’s lawyer vigorously defended his client.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said he wants to look into the activities of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that advised Trump’s campaign, as well as Trump’s digital efforts during the election because of the way false election stories about Hillary Clinton were circulated and targeted online.

Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probe

“The ability to manipulate these search engines and some of these social media platforms is real, it’s out there,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We need information from the companies, as well as we need to look into the activities of some of the Trump digital campaign activities.’’

Separately, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Warner said there was a series of “trolls” or paid individuals who worked for Russian services that tried to interfere in the election and disseminate fake news.

The comments came as FBI and congressional committees continue to investigate Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and whether members of Trump’s campaign cooperated. Questions intensified after revelations last week that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer whom Trump Jr. believed to have information damaging to Clinton. Also at the meeting was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

No Violation

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, appeared on multiple Sunday talk shows to say the meeting didn’t violate the law and that the president wasn’t aware of the meeting and didn’t participate.

“I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”

On CNN, Warner pointed to what he called a “convenient pattern” of Kushner, now a senior White House adviser, and other members associated with the Trump administration having to amend disclosure forms to add meetings with Russians that they had neglected to report earlier.

“I’m not sure why we take anybody in the senior level of the Trump administration at their word,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we’re going to get a chance to question these individuals and try to actually nail down the truth.’’

Warner has said Trump Jr. is likely to be called to testify, and he said on CNN that he would also like to hear from Kushner and others.

Ty Cobb

After the younger Trump published emails related to the meeting on Twitter, preempting their release by The New York Times, a former Russian counterintelligence officer also said he was present at the meeting. The emails contradicted months of White House contentions that investigations of possible campaign collusion with Russia were nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

As Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller deepens his probe into campaign activities, the White House on Saturday confirmed it had hired Ty Cobb, a veteran Washington lawyer, as a special counsel. Cobb is expected to oversee the White House’s legal and media response to investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Attention to the unfolding scandal has diverted attention from other issues, including health care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Saturday that he’s delaying plans to begin debating a controversial health-care bill after Republican Senator John McCain said he’ll be home in Arizona recovering from unexpected surgery.

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Pressure builds on Trump at home over pledge for closer Moscow ties

In this June 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

During his presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “strong leader” with whom he would like to reset tense U.S.-Russian relations.

But as Trump heads to his first face-to-face meeting as president with Putin on Friday at the G20 summit in Germany, he is under pressure at home to take a tough line with the Kremlin.

Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election have alarmed both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who are pushing to extend tough sanctions placed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula belonging to Ukraine.

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Lawmakers including Republican Senator Cory Gardner are also concerned Russia has prolonged the civil war in Syria by backing its President Bashar al-Assad, a strongman whose forces have used chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians. The chaos has fueled instability in the region and a flood of migrants to Europe.

“President (Trump) needs to make it clear that the continued aggression by Russia around the globe … is unacceptable, and that they will be held accountable,” said Gardner, who was among six lawmakers invited by the White House last month to discuss foreign policy with Trump over dinner.

Meanwhile, the appointment of a special counsel who is investigating potential links between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign has weakened the president’s ability to maneuver with Russia, foreign policy experts say.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia sponsored hacking of Democratic Party groups last year to benefit Trump over his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied those allegations while Trump has repeatedly dismissed the idea of any coordination between his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Still, just the optics of Trump meeting with Putin, a former KGB agent, are fraught with risk, foreign policy experts say.

“If (Trump) smiles, if he wraps his arm around Putin, if he says, ‘I’m honored to meet you, we’re going to find a way forward,’ … I think Congress is going to react extremely negatively to that,” said Julie Smith, a former national security aide in the Obama administration.

EVOLVING U.S. POLICY

Trump has signaled an interest in cooperating with Russia to defeat Islamic State in Syria and to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

The White House has been mum on what Trump would be willing to give Russia in exchange for that help. But there has been speculation he could ratchet down sanctions, or even return two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and Long Island. President Barack Obama seized those facilities and expelled 35 Russian diplomats just before he left office as punishment for the election hacks.

While some administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also support engagement, others, such as Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have taken a hawkish line on Russia.

The lack of a unified strategy has left U.S. allies anxious. And it has lowered expectations for American leadership to help resolve crises in Syria and Ukraine, where Russian cooperation would be critical.

“Trump is like a horse with his front legs tied,” said a German diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He can’t make any big leaps forward on Russia. If he tried people would immediately suspect it was all part of some big conspiracy.”

Trump’s administration is still reviewing its Russia policy, a process that may not be wrapped up for a couple of months, a U.S. official said.

Speaking with reporters last week about Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said his boss would like “the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia. But he’s also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”

THIRD TRY AT A RESET

Trump is just the latest president to grapple with the complicated U.S.-Russia dynamic.

George W. Bush and Obama sought to improve the U.S. relationship with Russia early in their administrations only to see relations deteriorate later.

Among the concerns for this president is Trump’s apparent lack of interest in policy details and his tendency to wing it with foreign leaders.

McMaster told reporters that Trump has “no specific agenda” for his meeting with Putin and that topics would consist of “whatever the president wants to talk about.”

Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, said he feared Trump might be headed to the meeting without clear objectives.

“I hope that he would think about first: what is our objective in Ukraine? What is our objective in Syria? And secondarily, how do I go about achieving that in my meeting with Putin?” McFaul said.

Other Washington veterans say Trump won’t be able to make meaningful progress with Russia on anything until he confronts Putin about the suspected election meddling.

“(Trump) really has to raise the Russian election hacking last year, and has to say something like, ‘Vladimir, don’t do this again. There will be consequences,'” said Steve Pifer, a long-time State Department official focused on U.S.-Russia relations.

So far Trump has shown little inclination to do so, a situation that has heightened speculation about the potential impact from his coming encounter with the Russian leader.

“The shadow of all these investigations hangs over this,” said Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University and former National Intelligence Officer for Russia.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Arshad Mohammed, Warren Strobel, Richard Cowan, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott in Washington; John Irish in Paris; Noah Barkin in Berlin; Christian Lowe in Moscow; Editing by Caren Bohan and Marla Dickerson)

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Special prosecutor to meet Senate committee leaders

In an Aug. 21, 2013 file photo, outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller speaks during an interview at FBI headquarters, in Washington.Special prosecutor Robert Mueller will hold talks this week with senior Senate Judiciary Committee members to ensure that there is no conflict between his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and the panel’s probe, two congressional aides said on Monday.Mueller, a former FBI director, will meet on Wednesday with the committee’s Republican chairman, Charles Grassley, and its top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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They will be joined by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon White house, the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, they added. The subcommittee is examining what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian campaign of influence was intended to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

The discussions will focus on ensuring that the subcommittee’s investigation is not interfering with Mueller’s probe, one source said.

Spokesmen for the committee and for Mueller declined to comment.

Mueller also was expected to meet sometime during the week with top members of the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee for a similar discussion.

A spokesman and a spokeswoman for the panel also declined to discuss the matter.

The special prosecutor met last week with the Republican chairman and the top Democrat overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of what U.S. intelligence agencies say

Russia denies that it conducted such a campaign, and Trump denies there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. (Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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