Trump says investigation abused him, led to 'evil things'

March 26, 2019

            

President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Washington.

WASHINGTON House Democrats pressed the Justice Department to provide the full report from special counsel Robert Mueller even as Republicans gleefully called for them to "move on" from the Russia investigation . President Donald Trump accused those responsible for launching Mueller's probe of "treasonous things against our country" and said they "certainly will be looked into."

Trump said the release of Mueller's full report "wouldn't bother me at all," and Democrats quickly put that statement to the test, demanding that his administration hand over the entire document and not just Sunday's four-page summary from Attorney General William Barr.

Six House Democratic committee chairmen wrote to Barr that his summary is "not sufficient" and asked to be given Mueller's full report by April 2. They also want to begin receiving the underlying evidence the same day. The information is "urgently needed by our committees to perform their duties under the Constitution," they wrote, implying that the information would be subpoenaed if it is not turned over by the deadline.

Barr said in his letter to Congress that Mueller did not find that Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election knocking down arguments from Democrats who have long claimed there was evidence of such collusion.

But he also said Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the federal investigation, instead setting out "evidence on both sides" of the question and stating that "while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Absent a recommendation from Mueller, Barr stepped in and decided there wasn't sufficient evidence to establish that the president obstructed justice. Democrats said Barr's judgment is not the final word.

"All I'm interested in is them releasing the full report, the full Mueller report," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Despite Mueller's refusal to exonerate Trump, his spokesmen and leading congressional Republicans all claimed total vindication for the president anyway. Questioned by reporters, Trump said he welcomed Mueller's results but complained he had been abused by the investigation occurring at all and taking too long.

"We can never let this happen to another president again," he said. "There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country."

"Those people will certainly be looked at. I've been looking at them for a long time. And I'm saying, why haven't they been looked at? They lied to Congress. Many of them you know who they are."

He didn't name names, but Trump has spent months railing against former Justice Department officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, accusing them of an illegal witch hunt for the purpose of delegitimizing his presidency. He has also falsely claimed that the investigation was based on memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and even blamed former Sen. John McCain, who died last year, for passing the memos to the FBI.

The investigation began months before the FBI saw the dossier and the FBI already had a copy by the time McCain turned it in.

On Monday, after a series of evening strategy meetings, Democrats vowed to continue their multiple investigations into Trump, perhaps with shifted focus. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who has become a focus of Republicans' post-Mueller ire, said he is "circumspect about how much more we will be able to find on issues that he thoroughly investigated," but said Mueller's conclusion would not affect his own committee's counterintelligence probes.

"There may be other corrupt meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russians, there may be other profound financial conflicts of interest that are not mentioned in the Mueller report, and there may be unanswered questions even within what he did examine," Schiff said.

Democrats also signaled that they will curtail some public focus, at least, from their investigations of Trump and try to keep attention on their policy goals. Schiff postponed an open hearing with Felix Sater, a Russian-born former business adviser to Trump who helped him negotiate an ultimately unsuccessful deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, while the intelligence committee tries to get a look at Mueller's report.

Pelosi, meanwhile, was scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday on health care legislation, Democrats' top campaign issue.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a member of Democratic leadership, said he has been encouraging colleagues to talk about those policy issues like health care and infrastructure.

"We need to talk about the work we are doing on these really important economic issues that matter in people's lives," Cicilline said. "We're doing the work, but we need to be more effective about sharing that" and not just responding to questions about corruption and Mueller's investigation.

Democrats seem more likely to focus on those issues, and their ongoing investigations, than engaging in the talk of impeachment that has been amplified on Pelosi's left flank. As the release of Mueller's report loomed, she recently tried to scuttle that talk by saying she's not for impeachment, for now.

But Mueller's report hasn't dissuaded some of Trump's fiercest critics among the new Democratic lawmakers who helped flip the House from Republican control. By the end of the month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is still planning to introduce her resolution calling for the Judiciary Committee to investigate grounds for Trump's impeachment.

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers called for Congress to move on. "This is done with," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "It is time for the country to move forward."

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, said Democrats don't want facts, "They just want to change the outcome of the 2016 election."

At the same time, however, Republicans followed Trump's lead in looking into how the investigation began. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham promised to "unpack the other side of the story" of the Russia investigation.

Graham, who spent the weekend with Trump in Florida, said his committee will probe the actions of the Justice Department. Still, he said the investigation was legitimate and had to happen in order to answer questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The South Carolina Republican also had a warning for Trump using his pardon power to help those who were ensnared by Mueller's investigation.

"If President Trump pardoned anybody in his orbit, it would not play well," Graham said.

Among those whom Mueller charged during the course of his investigation were the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.


Avenatti charged with trying to extort millions from Nike

NEW YORK Michael Avenatti, the pugnacious attorney best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was arrested Monday on charges that included trying to shake down Nike for as much as $25 million by threatening the company with bad publicity.

Avenatti, who was also accused of embezzling a client's money to pay his own expenses, was charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud in separate cases in New York and California. He was arrested at a New York law firm where he had gone to meet with Nike executives. It was just minutes after he tweeted that he planned to hold a news conference Tuesday to "disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered."

"When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals," said Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in New York.

California investigators had been building a case against Avenatti for more than a year, but prosecutors in New York said their investigation began only last week and was completed in days.

In the California case, Avenatti allegedly misused a client's money to pay his debts and those of his coffee business and law firm. Federal prosecutors said he also defrauded a Mississippi bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

The allegations "paint an ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed," said Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. Avenatti describes himself on Twitter as an attorney and advocate, but the accusations describe "a corrupt lawyer who instead fights for his own selfish interests."

Avenatti appeared briefly in court Monday evening in New York and was ordered released on $300,000 bond. He did not enter a plea. Emerging from the courthouse, he thanked the federal agents who arrested him for being courteous and professional.

"As all of you know, for the entirety of my career I have fought against the powerful. Powerful people and powerful corporations. I will never stop fighting that good fight," he said. "I am highly confident that when all the evidence is laid bare in connection with these cases, when it is all known, when due process occurs, that I will be fully exonerated and justice will be done."

The arrest was a sharp reversal of fortune for the 48-year-old lawyer, who, less than a year ago, emerged as a leading figure in the anti-Trump movement, with relentless cable news appearances, a hard-punching style and a knack for obtaining information about others' wrongdoing. At one point, he even flirted with a presidential run.

Donald Trump Jr. gloated over the arrest on Twitter.

"Good news for my friend @MichaelAvenatti, if you plead fast enough, you might just get to share a cell with Michael Cohen!" he wrote, referring to the former Trump lawyer set to go to prison next month for crimes that include orchestrating hush-money payments to Daniels. Trump mocked Avenatti by ending with the lawyer's trademark hashtag #basta, an Italian word meaning "enough."

Prosecutors said Avenatti and another attorney, whom they called a co-conspirator, initially approached Nike on behalf of a client who coached a Nike-sponsored Amateur Athletic Union basketball program in California.

They claimed to have evidence of misconduct by Nike employees and threatened to hold a news conference last week on the eve of a company's quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament. Avenatti told Nike the company could either pay them $15 million to $25 million to investigate the allegations, or pay him more than $22 million for his silence, the criminal complaint said.

Two people familiar with the investigation confirmed that the unidentified co-conspirator was Mark Geragos, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer known for his work with celebrities. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not made public by prosecutors.

Geragos, a CNN contributor, has a client list that has included Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, Scott Peterson and most recently Jussie Smollett, the actor accused of fabricating a racist, anti-gay attack in Chicago. Geragos did not respond to messages seeking comment. Within hours, CNN cut ties with him.

While lawyers sometimes make demands to seek out-of-court settlements, they cannot threaten to go public with damaging information to get something of value or gain leverage in a civil dispute, attorney Neama Rahmani said.

"The Department of Justice historically has been very cautious when charging attorneys, so they likely have evidence that Avenatti seriously crossed this line," said Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor.

Nike officials told investigators Avenatti claimed to know of rules violations by an amateur basketball team sponsored by Nike. Executives immediately reported the threats to federal authorities.

The company "firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports, and will continue to assist the prosecutors," Nike said in a statement.

He rose to national prominence by representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement to speak about her alleged affair with Trump. He also made headlines in recent weeks for representing two women who accused R&B star R. Kelly of sexual abuse.

Daniels said she was "saddened but not shocked" by the arrest. She issued a statement Monday on Twitter saying she fired Avenatti a month ago after "discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly." She said she would not elaborate.

While Avenatti's lawsuit effectively tore up the gag order that threatened financial penalties if Daniels spoke about the case, a defamation lawsuit filed on her behalf against Trump backfired, and a court ordered her to pay the president's $293,000 in legal fees.

Avenatti himself has been dogged with tax and financial troubles in recent years.

A U.S. bankruptcy court ordered his former firm to pay $10 million to a lawyer who claimed it had misstated its profits. The Justice Department also alleged Avenatti made "misrepresentations" in the bankruptcy case and said his former firm still owed more than $440,000 in unpaid federal taxes, which Avenatti dismissed as "part of a smear campaign." He said he did not personally owe any of the money, and another lawyer later said the matter had been resolved.

The bank fraud case involved $4 million in loans he got from Peoples Bank in Biloxi, which prosecutors said he obtained by filing fraudulent tax returns claiming $14 million in income over three years. However, he never filed tax returns those years, nor paid the $2.8 million he reported on the forms. In fact, he still owed more than $850,000 to the IRS at the time for previous income.

Mark Pearson, the assistant agent in charge of the IRS office in LA, said Avenatti's crimes supported a $200,000-a-month lifestyle, a car racing venture and pricey homes in the wealthy Orange County communities of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

 

 

Associated Press

 

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