Lawyers checking out possibility of pardons as Russia investigation closes in on Trump

Developments on Day 182 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: Can Trump Pardon Himself?

Trump Looks for Pardon to Block Inquiry

Further betraying concerns over the Trump-Russian investigation, lawyers for Donald Trump — frustrated that he cannot fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller — are exploring the President’s power to pardon himself, his family, and his aides.

“People familiar with the effort” said Trump had asked his advisors about the power of pardon, although one advisor tried to pull back the claims: “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself.’”

The only precedent for a pre-emptive pardon appears to be a memorandum from the White House Office of Legal Counsel in August 1974, four days before Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal.


The Fight to Block the Special Counsel

The examination of pre-emptive pardons is one of a series of steps being pursued in the latest effort to block the inquiry as it closes on Trump and his relatives and top advisors, including Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, and Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In May, Trump dismissed FBI Director James Comey in an attempt to halt the investigation, only for Mueller — Comey’s predecessor at the FBI from 2001 to 2013 — to be named days later.

White House staff and Trump’s lawyers are now hoping to cite the potential conflicts of interests of Mueller and his team to check the gathering of evidence, as reports indicated that the Special Counsel is now examining possible financial links between Russian interests and the Trump family.

The White House-Trump effort includes “scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates”, looking at former clients of the investigators, and examining Mueller’s relationship with Comey. They are even considering an alleged dispute over membership fees between Mueller and Trump’s Virginia golf club.

Trump warned, in an interview published Wednesday, that investigation of his business interests and those of his family are a “red line” that Mueller cannot cross. Trump has told aides that he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns, according to sources.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public, both as a candidate and as President, claiming he could not do so because he was under audit.

Reports yesterday indicate that Mueller’s team is already looking into transactions including “Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008″.

The investigation is also reviewing possible money laundering by Trump’s campaign manager Manafort.

Trump’s advisors and legal team insisted on Thursday that the review of financial and business links is improper because it is outside the parameters of the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election. Jay 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.”

Manafort is scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on July 26, with Donald Trump Jr. appearing the next day.

The latest clashes between Trump and Mueller follow almost two weeks of revelations about a June 2016 meeting between Russian envoys and Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort.

The discussion in Trump Tower was brokered by Trump business associate and real estate billionaire Aras Agalarov, with the promise of material damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Former Attorney General & Ex-US Attorney Challenge Trump Criticism of Sessions

Donald Trump’s turn against his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not overseeing and thus limiting or halting the Russia investigation has been criticized by the Administration former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and by the former US Attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara.

Trump declared on Wednesday that Sessions should not have recused himself from overseeing the inquiry in early March, even though the Attorney General’s position was untenable because of his role in the Trump campaign and his failure to reveal meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak: “It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the President.”

See As Russia Net Closes, Trump Turns Against His Attorney General

Yates, dismissed by Trump in late January after she warned of the Administration’s possible vulnerability to Russian blackmail and said its “Muslim Ban” was legally indefensible, responded on Twitter:

Bharara, abruptly dismissed in March after earlier assurances that he would be retained, wrote of Trump’s turn against Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein:

He continued with a series of questions around “if Mueller is fired”, concluding with an allusion to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra:

Jeff Sessions insisting on Thursday that he can still do his job, “I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate”:

US and Foreign Officials: Foreign Policy Advisors Falling Out with Trump Over Russia

Foreign policy advisors are falling out with Donald Trump over his approaches to Russia, according to two US officials and three top foreign officials.

The three foreign officials, who have spoken with top Trump advisors, described a disconnect or “mixed signals” between Trump and his team, amid Trump’s disclosure of top-secret intelligence — and his description of former FBI director James Comey as “crazy” and a “nut job” — to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in May and his two meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 at the G20 summit in Germany.

The two US officials reinforced that summary, with one saying diplomats and intelligence officials were “dumbfounded” by Trump’s approach.

The sources said National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster expressed to foreign officials his disapproval of Trump’s methods, during the lead-up to the G20 summit. The general specifically said he disagreed with Trump’s decision to hold the Oval Office meeting in May with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with Trump’s general reluctance to speak out against Russian aggression in Europe.

McMaster and other national security aides advised Trump against holding an official bilateral meeting with Putin in Germany.

Tillerson’s Exxon Fined $2 Million for Violating Russia Sanctions

Exxon Mobil has been fined $2 million for violating US sanctions on Russia at a time when Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, was the company’s chief executive.

The Treasury fined Exxon for “reckless disregard” of US sanctions in a 2014 joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft. Exxon said it is suing the US Government over the “unlawful” and “capricious” punishment.

Between May 14 and May 23, 2014 — soon after Russia annexed Crimea — top US-based Exxon executives signed eight documents with Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, who had been blacklisted weeks earlier.

In its 21-page complaint, Exxon argued that Sechin “was subject to sanctions only in his individual capacity” and that guidance from the Obama administration at the time made clear that the sanctions “applied only to the ‘personal assets’ of the sanctioned individuals and emphasized that the sanctions did not restrict business with the companies those individuals managed”.

Trump Apparently Confuses Health Insurance With Life Insurance: “$12 Per Year”

Trying to explain the GOP healthcare bill to The New York Times, Donald Trump apparently confuses health insurance with life insurance.

In a garbled answer about coverage — which will be lost by 22 million Americans under the troubled GOP bill in the Senate, with others facing reduced provision and increased premiums — Trump said:

So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.

According to Zane Benefits, the average premium for an individual at the start of 2017 was $393/year — more than 30 times Trump’s estimate.

Trump said on Monday that, following the failure of the GOP bill in the Senate, he was happy to let ObamaCare collapse. However, by Wednesday Trump was insisting that GOP Senators pursue passage of the measure to replace ObamaCare, despite the slim chance of progress.

See TrumpWatch, Day 181: Trump Changes Mind on Healthcare