James Comey’s scathing new account of his dealings with President Trump lands at a pivotal time in the Russia investigation that Comey once led as FBI director.
Trump’s Russia legal team appears in disarray and last week’s disclosure of a separate federal investigation into the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen so surprised the White House that negotiations with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller for an possible interview with Trump have been effectively placed on hold.
Yet nearly a year after Comey’s dismissal and the appointment of Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor at the FBI, the Russia investigation has advanced on multiple fronts.
Nineteen people are known to be charged so far. They include 13 Russians, associated with three businesses including an Internet company tied to the Kremlin.
The case represents the most detailed account so far of the effort to undermine the 2016 presidential election, and the actions aimed at boosting the candidacy of then-candidate Trump.
At the same time, Mueller has managed to pierce Trump’s inner circle. Of the 19 charged, four are former administration or Trump campaign advisers.
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been indicted in two separate federal districts–in Washington and neighboring Alexandria, Va.
He faces a July 10 trial in Virginia on charges of fraudulently funneling millions of dollars in income from his work in Ukraine into foreign bank accounts, which he then concealed from the Internal Revenue Service. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A separate Sept. 17 trial has been set in Washington where Manafort is charged with money laundering and fraud related to his work for a pro-Russia political faction in the Ukraine. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to those charges too.
Manafort was originally charged along with campaign deputy Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. As part of his plea, Gates has promised to cooperate with the ongoing inquiry.
Gates was the fifth person to plead guilty to a federal crime in Mueller’s wide-ranging probe.
Chief among those was former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, who in December pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inaugural contacts with Russia ambassador Sergey Kislayk.
Flynn, one of Trump’s most vocal campaign surrogates, also agreed to cooperate withe Mueller’s investigators.
Trump, himself, is a subject in Mueller’s inquiry which also includes whether the president sought to obstruct the investigation when he abruptly fired Comey last year.
In a subsequent interview with NBC News, Trump said he fired the director in part because of his handling of the Russia investigation.
Comey is a central witness in that part of the investigation, having documented several troubling encounters with Trump before his dismissal in which the president allegedly demanded his “loyalty,” urged him to drop the Flynn investigation and to publicly assert that the investigation did not involve Trump.
“I never bought the stuff that I was being fired because of the Hillary Clinton investigations,” Comey said in an interview with USA TODAY, referring to the president’s earlier claim that he was dissatisfied with Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of private email server while secretary of State.
“It always struck me as a pretext, from the first moment that I saw it. But I took him at his word from what he said in the days thereafter, that in some respect, I was fired because of the Russia investigation…”
That investigation, however, could be threatened if Trump moves to dismiss Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s work at the Justice Department.
Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly criticized both for their roles in the inquiry, most recently following last week’s raid on Cohen’s office in New York.
Rosenstein has offered unwavering support for Mueller’s work, most recently in an interview last month with USA TODAY. “The special counsel is not an unguided missile,” Rosenstein said then. “I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.”
“If the president can fire a independent prosecutor whose working within the chain of command in the Justice Department because he doesn’t like the result they may be headed toward, that is a fundamental attack on the rule of law.”
Source: USA Today (Kevin Johnson)
Photo Credit: Politics & Policy
Photo Credit: Patch