Day 378: Trump-Russia Connections and Cover-Ups Impossibly Ramping Up

5 min readFeb 1, 2018

Meanwhile, GOP conspiracy theories are crumbling.

No longer are Donald Trump-Russia stories dripping out once a week or twice a month, which at one point seemed quite frequent. Now, random Wednesdays can reshape what the American public knows about the level of involvement of Trump and his team in dealing with and covering-up Russian connections.

First, news broke that Trump asked yet another Justice Department official for loyalty. This time the lucky individual was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who just so happens to be overseeing the Robert Mueller-led investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump’s help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump’s support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was “on my team.”

Rosenstein should not be on any individual person’s team; he has sworn to defend and protect the United States as a whole. For Trump, however, this is at least the third high-ranking person in the DOJ with whom he has inquired about loyalty. In January 2017, Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey for loyalty and in May 2017 Trump asked then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for.

Ordinarily, such a breach of protocol would grab the headlines for days. But not to be outdone, The New York Times broke the biggest bombshell of the week: Mueller is focused on the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a cache of Russian nationals. Mueller is not only looking at the meeting, but also on Senior’s actions after the meeting.

Aboard Air Force One on a flight home from Europe in July, President Trump and his advisers raced to cobble together a news release about a mysterious meeting at Trump Tower the previous summer between Russians and top Trump campaign officials. Rather than acknowledge the meeting’s intended purpose — to obtain political dirt about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government — the statement instead described the meeting as being about an obscure Russian adoption policy.

The statement, released in response to questions from The New York Times about the meeting, has become a focus of the inquiry by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors working for Mueller in recent months have questioned numerous White House officials about how the release came together — and about how directly Trump oversaw the process. Mueller’s team recently notified Trump’s lawyers that the Air Force One statement is one of about a dozen subjects that prosecutors want to discuss in a face-to-face interview of Trump that is still being negotiated.

The bigger takeaway is that longtime Trump aide and current White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, in a conference call with Trump, told him that the emails between his son and the Russians wouldn’t get out. Not only was there no attorney on the call— meaning Trump can never claim the conversation was protected by attorney-client privilege — but another White House aide on the call was rattled to the point that he thought Hicks was contemplating obstruction of justice and left the White House shortly thereafter.

The latest witness to be called for an interview about the episode was Mark Corallo, who served as a spokesman for Trump’s legal team before resigning in July. Corallo received an interview request last week from the special counsel and has agreed to it, according to three people with knowledge of the request.

Corallo is planning to tell Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Hicks said during the call that e-mails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Corallo with concerns that Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.

For what has been characterized as an innocuous meeting by the Trump team, there was an awfully lot of scrambling to get a story straight and bury documents. Now, the Trump-Hicks conference call appears to add yet another layer to potential obstruction of justice claims.

Meanwhile, Republicans are basically pretending that none of the news reports matter and are continuing on with their own conspiracy theories and memoranda.

For instance, the echo chamber has categorized FBI agent Peter Strzok as being a deep state agent hellbent on bringing down Trump via a secret society based on text messages to his lover.

The text messages, when released to the public, turned out to be obvious jokes. And now it’s been revealed that Strzok wanted to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation in the weeks before the election.

As that conspiracy theory falls by the wayside, Republicans are pushing forward on seeking to release a slanted, disjointed memorandum that is likely to cast additional blame on the FBI while simultaneously cherry-picking facts about the FISA court system.

As it relates to the memo, it appears as though House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes is working with the White House on it. (Nunes famously grandstanded last year in a serious breach of protocol by running to the White House to meet with the Trump team about the Russia investigation.) When asked directly about whether he was working with the Trump team on the memo, Nunes refused to answer.

During Monday’s contentious closed-door committee meeting, Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat, asked Nunes point-blank if his staffers had been talking with the White House as they compiled a four-page memo alleging FBI and Justice Department abuses over surveillance of President Trump’s allies in the Russia probe.

According to sources familiar with the exchange, Nunes made a few comments that didn’t answer the question — initially saying that “as far as I know,” he did not collaborate with the White House on the memo — before finally responding that he wouldn’t answer it.

Finally, late yesterday, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA), accused Nunes of altering the memo after the committee reviewed it, but before sending it to the White House.

Nunes later admitted changing the memo, but called them mere “minor edits.”

Meanwhile, the FBI has strongly urged Trump and Congress not to release the memo, categorizing it as wrong, misleading and dangerous.

As the Trump-Russia connections and subsequent fall out grow deeper, the GOP clings to discrediting the FBI with conspiracies that fade away with stubborn things like facts.

378 days in, 1084 to go

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