Sunday, March 31, 2019

The President's Lawyers Speak

With Team Mueller shut down and the Barr summary public, President Trump's lawyers have been speaking out: John Dowd, Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow (but not Emmett Flood, who I don't expect to speak publicly in the near future). John Dowd, Trump's first lawyer has spoken on a number of forums, perhaps most notably an hour long interview with Byron York.

Dowd's interview with York is a somewhat rambling affair, although it has its definite points of interest. Personally, I grew a bit impatient with Dowd's repeated protestations of respect for "Bob" (Mueller) and how "polite" and "considerate" everyone on Team Mueller was. I guess I know where Dowd is coming from, but I found it frankly tiresome--especially in view of some of what he revealed.

According to Dowd, Trump's first lawyer, the whole thing began with Rosenstein's announcement of the Special Counsel with no warning, no head's up. Sessions was actually speaking with Trump when the announcement came down, and Sessions immediately offered to resign. But, really, what was Trump supposed to do at that point? Dowd says that Rosenstein was a guy he "just didn't get."

Of course, the whole Russia Hoax was and is a political operation as much as--or maybe more than--a legal operation. From that standpoint, Dowd's strategy--approved by Trump at the time--of total cooperation and transparency can be said to have made sense. Dowd states that this strategy was based on discussions with "Bob" and the understanding that "Bob" would seek to wrap the whole thing up within a year. Right.

As it developed, by December, 2017, if not earlier, Dowd was completely convinced that Mueller had nothing on Trump, but "Bob" just kept working away. By early 2018 Dowd wrote a letter to Rosenstein asking for an explanation for why Team Mueller wasn't wrapping things up, given that there was no collusion. In response, says Dowd, Rosenstein simply "blew me off." At which point Dowd says he lost all respect for Rosenstein. But that, apparently, made no difference in Rosenstein's life, either.

Later, when "Bob" came to Dowd demanding that Trump submit to an interview or be subpoenaed, Dowd exploded. "Bob" acknowledged that Trump had "no exposure" (no prospect of criminal charges) but claimed he "needed to know what was in the president's mind". That told Dowd that it was really all about "obstruction." At that point he basically invited "Bob" to bring the subpoena on--the president's lawyers would welcome the opportunity to take it to court. "Bob" dropped it.

This episode, and the footdragging, really irked Dowd. He recounts that he repeatedly told "Bob" that the president needed to get this over with, because in negotiations with foreign leaders Trump would be asked: "But, Donald, will you still be here?" Somehow, considerations like that appear not to have impressed "Bob".

One other minor point. Dowd says there were two guys he "just didn't get." One, of course, was Rosenstein. The other was Comey. It's clear that Dowd regarded Comey as simply a very strange guy, possibly not fully in touch with reality. That would be one explanation. Another might be that Comey is a peculiarly malevolent and narcissistic personality.

Overall, and in hindsight, it's easy enough to see the possible benefits to Dowd's strategy, despite the obvious frustrations over the past years. Those benefits may become especially apparent when Barr releases the longer report, because Barr will probably find ways to emphasize the extreme cooperation and transparency of Trump to blunt the liberal PR offensive.

That said, however, you have to wonder whether it would have been better to have pursued a more legal and less political strategy. I've maintained for the past two years and more that there never was a basis for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation to start with--as Devin Nunes has recently stated. Andy McCarthy, NeverTrumper that he is, seems to agree. Would it not have been better--arguably--to have challenged the Special Counsel appointment in court for legal insufficiency, lack of authority, based on the clear lack of probable cause? That I think, is where the legal debate will go in the future.

Finally, a few excerpts from a Dowd interview with Brian Kilmeade:

DOWD [Re Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff]: He is just a complete counterfeit. He doesn't know what he's talking about. And he just makes stuff up, Brian, every single day. We put up with this for two years ever since the president was elected. They just make it up. 
And I saw Schiff on television the same way. They're a disgrace. There was a time when if someone eon the house talked the way some of these people did, they'd all be before the ethics committee. 
... They know it's false. They know what they said is false. I mean look what Mueller did, 500 search warrants, Brian? Give me a break. ... 
... Blumenthal in the senate, Nadler, Schiff, I mean they're just reckless -- they're bomb throwers for Nancy and Chuck. 

[Trump's Current State of Mind]: He is very happy with Bill Barr, which was nice to hear that he's happy with the Department of Justice which is a place that I love. ... and to have the president once again happy with the department and happy with the attorney general is a great day for America, but he sounded as good as I've every heard him, and he sounded happy which was terrific.

By contrast, Rudy Giuliani, in two interviews, strikes his typically combative, but cogent, tone. First, speaking with Sean Hannity, and I'll simply offer my transcript of some of Giuliani's comments:

Rudy Giuliani: ... the whole obstruction theory is a creation of Andrew Weissmann, who's created crimes before and been reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States for finding crimes out of the thin air ... this is a guy who's a Hillary Clinton partisan, this is a guy who worked with Peter Strzok  
Rudy Giuliani: This is about as big of an exoneration that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in the prosecution business since the 1970s. And to try to reverse it, I think they look foolish and look pathetic. I haven’t read the report. I haven’t seen it. They can put out every part of it. It is not going to show, either one, otherwise they couldn’t come to the conclusions they came to. And secondly, if they happen to have a few nasty facts in there I’m ready to slam it down their throat because we have an 87 page report that we will use. And there’s some things the special counsel did that I don’t think they want people to hear. They acted in ways that outrage me as a person who cares about justice. 
Hannity: How does someone like Weissmann get chosen [for a Special Counsel team]? 
You should have a problem with that, Sean. It should never happen again. ... You don't pick a counsel to the Clinton Foundation to investigate Donald Trump any more than if I were investigating Hillary I'd pick counsel to the Trump Foundation. If I did that the NYT, the WaPo and all those characters would go nuts. So that was the first giveaway. Weissmann was probably the most notorious federal prosecutor that you could find. Everything done wrong in this investigation he's done wrong before. ... He's charged people with things that were not crimes. Well, he's done that in this case. ... The prosecution of Cohen for campaign fraud--he made it up.

Next, Giuliani went on with Judge Jeanine Pirro. Asked for details from his 87-page report, Giuliani confined himself to the litany of horrors perpetrated against Paul Manafort, while noting that there was plenty more. Describing some of the careerists who perpetrated the Russia Hoax, Giuliani pulls no punches. He describes Comey and McCabe as the typical bureaucrats who want to "suck up to whoever's in power" and Adam Schiff as a "moron."

"These are suckup politicians." "We're gonna find out that what they did was criminal." "Sombebody made this up. ... We've gotta find out who did this. There are four or five possibilities, I think we'll find them. ... We need a Justice Department investigation of who tried to perpetrate a fraud on the American people."
"You would be shocked if I told you the things they did to people to try to get them to lie about Donald Trump. They wouldn't lie. They had more character than the prosecutors who investigated them."

Finally, Jay Sekulow appeared on CBS. Sekulow is knowledgeable, articulate, and unflappable when he has his facts.

Sekulow was grilled on Mueller's "no exoneration" on "obstruction." He took a more irenic tack than Dowd and Giuliani. Rather than attack Mueller, as many have done, for failing to give an opinion, Sekulow chose to take Mueller at his word. If, indeed, there were "difficult questions of law and fact" that made it impossible for Team Mueller to conclude that there was a violation of law regarding obstruction, then they followed the proper course of action: you don't bring prosecution on that, you get it reviewed by DoJ first--and DoJ at the highest and most authoritative levels concluded that there was simply NO BASIS at all for an obstruction prosecution.

Sekulow did a particularly good job in stating clearly that the basis for the Special Counsel was NOT the firing of Comey; the basis for the Special Counsel--as we've repeated tirelessly--was the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which was based on Steele dossier. When the host tried to challenge Sekulow

the Steele dossier was not the initiating event, it was the Papadopoulos comments

Sekulow calmly shut him down:

Actually that is not correct. What is correct is--and Bruce Ohr has testified to this--the dossier was the motivating factor to start this inquiry.

I expect more such interviews while we await whatever further documentation Barr decides to release. However, I also expect that the big guns--including Giuliani's 87-page report--will be held for use after Barr's final release.


  1. I think since Trump knew Russiagate was a hoax, treating it like a legitimate legal investigation would have given it undue credibility, and would have been a mistake.
    The best strategy was to be completely transparent with the hoaxsters and be publicly contemptuous of them.
    Trump isn't intimidated by lawyers, thank God.

    1. As a political matter it may well work out for the best. As a lawyer, I hate to see this kind of thing.

    2. Dowd said, at 4:30 of the Byron York interview that:
      "It was terrible ruse. The whole investigation and the allegations were without basis."
      "It's probably the greatest fraud ever committed against the people of the United States."
      If that's what Trump's lawyer thought, no wonder they didn't fold like typical "please like me" Republicans would have.

    3. Credit where it's due. First, credit has to go to Trump, as you said earlier. Somewhere in the interview Dowd says to the effect, almost literal recollection: I can't think of anyone else who could have borne this the way he did. Of course credit goes to the lawyers, too, but let's not forget the guys in the House like Nunes, Jordan, Meadows, Gowdy, Ratcliffe and others. They showed their mettle, without effective support from Ryan. In spite of Ryan and the vilification they had to put up with.

  2. Russiagate was, quite simply, a coup against an elected US president. History is very clear about coup attempts. They are deadly serious things and, as they say in the Games of Thrones, you win or you die. At some point, either Trump or Barr is going to have to address the seriousness of this coup episode and push it into a real accountability phase or history will begin repeating itself in future presidential campaigns. Barr's allegiance should therefore be the future integrity of the political process (which will require serious prosecutions as a disincentive to future recurrences). Should he choose to continue a coverup in order to whitewash the reputation of DOJ/FBI, he will be laying to groundwork for a future disaster of much greater magnitude. I hope he chooses wisely.

    1. To be really precise, you might want to put it like this ...

      The Russia Hoax was part of the ongoing progressive effort to institute One Party rule in the US, with the Constitution being the voice of that One Party. Several moments can be distinguished in that effort, beginning before World War One. The Russia Hoax itself has two moments. The first was the attempt to institutionalize Obama's progressive rule by assuring the election of Hillary by means of co-opted Deep State and, especially, Intel Community actors. That effort failed. It was continued in the second moment of the Russia Hoax with the appointment of a Special Counsel without probable cause of a crime in order to oust the actually elected president. We're still trying to discern the full outcome of that.

      Barr, of course, is key. So far he's done well and I see no reason why he shouldn't continue. I note in particular that Lindsey Graham says that in his conversations with Barr, Barr is very upset with the FBI handling of the Hillary investigations.

      VDH today points to those who should be among obvious targets The Tables Turn in Russian Collusion Hunt