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New revelations about Mueller’s investigation raise serious questions about how and why Rosenstein shielded Trump

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Rod Rosenstein plays a key role in overseeing the probe into alleged collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, which the president calls a politically motivated "witch hunt". (AFP/File / Brendan SMIALOWSKI)

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David Cay Johnston
David Cay Johnston

Donald Trump was never investigated to determine if he is a Russian agent or asset, according to an explosive book published today by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter.

In Trump v. The United States, Michael S. Schmidt reports that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was barred from investigating whether Trump, who has many known connections to Russian criminals and who says he trusts Putin over American intelligence agencies, was a Russian agent.

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Mueller’s team was only allowed to look into obstruction of justice by Trump, Schmidt writes in the e-book that went on sale today. Team Mueller found numerous examples but was barred by Justice Department policy from indicting the president.

The Mueller team tried, unsuccessfully, to get Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to allow a counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s Kremlin dealings. Rosenstein refused, Schmidt reports.

“Trump had a profound insensitivity to how his actions would be perceived,” Schmidt writes, “and was often indifferent to law or precedent.”

An FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump as a possible Russian agent was ordered in spring 2017 by Andrew G. McCabe when he was acting FBI director.

McCabe told 60 Minutes that he ordered an investigation in May 2017 into whether Trump “had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” He also said he feared that without his written formal record in FBI files the case would be made to disappear.

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The FBI counterintelligence investigation was shut down before any substantial inquiry was made, Schmidt reports.

These and many more stunning revelations, along with new evidence indicating that Trump is a continuing threat to American national security, are based on extensive interviews with those involved and more than a thousand pages of government documents that reporter Schmidt says no one else outside of the government has read.

The book raises serious questions about how and why Rosenstein, as deputy attorney general, shielded Trump. Why did Rosenstein not want law enforcement and counterintelligence officials to know the full extent of Trump’s relationship with Russians, especially Vladimir Putin?

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It is a question Schmidt does not answer. If there is a benign answer it may lie in Rosenstein having a long career as a federal prosecutor, but not as a counterintelligence lawyer.

Moscow has courted Trump since at least 1987 and Trump has done numerous deals with Russian oligarchs that make no sense in business terms but make perfect sense when viewed as money laundering and payoffs.

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Russian money is suspected to be behind the massive loans which Deutsche Bank made to Trump when no other major bank would do business with him. Deutsche Bank has been fined more than $622 million for laundering money for Russians.

Schmidt paints a portrait of a president with no understanding of or regard for our Constitution, federal laws or limits on his authority, a portrait consistent with my own Trump books. Schmidt shows that in the Oval Office Trump often took the side of Russia against American interests.

Trump Insensitivity

“Trump had a profound insensitivity to how his actions would be perceived,” Schmidt writes, “and was often indifferent to law or precedent.”

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Candidate Trump said he didn’t trust American intelligence agencies.

As president, standing next to Putin in Helsinki in 2018, he declared that he takes Putin at his word.

One day later, in a formal White House statement, Trump walked back his remarks, though I and many other Trump watchers took that as only one of his many attempts to muddy clear waters so people would be unsure about his conduct.

That Trump has made clear that he believes there is nothing wrong with conspiring with a hostile foreign power if it helps keep him in office. That became clear in June this year. Trump told ABC News, in a lengthy interview, that he would accept help from the foreign governments such as Kremlin in the current election.

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Accepting election help of any kind from any foreign government or person is a criminal offense.

Author’s Background

Reporter Schmidt has solid credentials. He has broken numerous stories that relied on law enforcement, political and intelligence sources. While Team Trump denounced many of those stories when the broke, they have held up as future events unfolded.

In 2016 Schmidt broke the story that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal email account for official business (as did several of her predecessors).

He won a Pulitzer Prize for revealing that James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired in 2017 created contemporaneous memos of his one-on-one meetings with Trump. Comey’s memos include the story of Trump demanding a pledge of personal loyalty, which Comey refused.

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Schmidt also shared in a Pulitzer Prize for exposing sexual predator Harvey Weinstein and he broke major stories about sexual harassment and secret financial settlements with victims that resulted in Bill O’Reilly losing his job as a Fox News host.

The revelations in Schmidt’s book completely recast the 418-page Mueller report and destroy Trump’s already noxious claims that the Mueller report vindicated him. It also helps explain the mendacious declaration by Attorney General William Barr in March 2019 that the Mueller report cleared Trump. Barr also wrote a four page memo that turned out to be highly misleading, guiding people away from understanding the serious wrongdoing Mueller’s team uncovered, especially in obstructing justice.

A Question Never Asked

A significant theme of the Schmidt book is that investigators were not only blocked from investigating whether Trump is disloyal to America, but that at times the Mueller investigators didn’t ask the right questions of witnesses.

One example involves John Kelly, the retired general who became Trump’s second White House chief of staff.

The president asked Kelly to pledge personal loyalty to Trump, Schmidt reveals. Kelly said he would be loyal to our Constitution, pretty much what Comey also said, Schmidt writes.

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Mueller’s team, never learned of this, Schmidt writes, because they didn’t ask.

That such an obvious question – were you asked to pledge personal loyalty to Donald Trump the way FBI Director Comey was? – was not posed raises questions about what else within the restricted purview of the Mueller team was also missed.

Did Team Mueller ask Rosenstein, whose actions shielded Trump, whether he was asked for a pledge of personal loyalty? Who else was asked to pledge personal loyalty, something we expect of dictators but never in American presidents? Who did pledge to Trump? Who refused? We don’t know.

These are questions that should now be pursued by the House Intelligence Committee, which you can be sure will inquire about many things in the Schmidt book.

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Kremlin Interests  

There was reason aplenty for the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation of Trump and those around him, extraordinary as that would be.

One reason was the retention of Michael Flynn, another retired general, after Trump was warned by Sally Yates, who briefly served as acting attorney general, that he was subject to blackmail and unfit to know sensitive secrets. Trump fired Yates, a career federal prosecutor with a distinguished record.

Another concern involved the Trump campaign enthusiastically accepted a written offer of help from the Kremlin in June 2016. For the next 13 months Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., who received the emailed offer, lied and denied. He said, falsely, that no help was ever offered or provided by Moscow. Why did Don Jr. lie then and, when The New York Times got the emails forcing his hand, did he mischaracterize their nature?

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The emails resulted, just days later, in a Trump Tower meeting between Kremlin agents, at least one with deep ties to Russian intelligence agencies, and Don Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort. The Mueller Team was never able to learn exactly what happened in part because Don Jr.’s lawyers indicated that the president’s son would assert his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying because he might incriminate himself.

Just the fact that Manafort, now a convicted felon, was paid tens of millions of dollars by a Kremlin-friendly Ukraine leader and that Manafort managed the Trump campaign for free at a time when he was in serious financial trouble, would have justified a major FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump and his campaign.

 

McGahn Role

Schmidt devotes a lot of words to Don McGahn, who as White House counsel was there to serve the Office of the President, not the man himself. McGahn, either directly or through intermediaries, appears to be a key Schmidt source.

Schmidt writes that McGahn apparently knows a secret that could “drive Trump from the White House.” McGahn is trying to avoid testifying before Congress about what went on behind closed doors at the White House.

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McGahn, Schmidt writes, was “one of the few Trump advisers… who regularly stood up to the president, telling him when his ideas were harebrained and screaming back at him when he unloaded nasty digs on senior staff.”

Schmidt makes clear that it was what was not in the Mueller report about Trump and Russia sparked his interest. He writes that people who have seen full report – the public version is heavily redacted – told him there is nothing about Trump’s possible allegiance to Russia or other improper associations. That knowledge made Schmidt even more curious about the lack of a counterintelligence investigation when there was abundant reason to undertake one.

The Trump attacks on McCabe, Comey’s deputy at the FBI, raise questions about what the White House knew and when about McCabe initiating an intelligence inquiry. That is an issue sure to be investigated by the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff of California.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe two days short of eligibility for a full pension. That was seen by many as a sign that anyone in government who crossed Trump was fair game and crossing Trump could be costly. It came out later that McCabe had also ordered a criminal investigation into whether Sessions lied during his Senate confirmation hearing, which may also have influenced Sessions in such a petty action of firing McCabe on a day that would deny him his full pension.

Getting rid of McCabe, and dirtying him up in public on specious grounds, takes on new significance with the publication of the Schmidt book. Only by neutralizing McCabe, removing him, and discrediting him could Trump evade the greatest risk he faced — a counterintelligence investigation into his Russian dealings.

That truncated FBI investigation that needs to be resumed immediately.

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