Time to check in with the Mueller team again, and we've got news that the investigation is expanding into new areas. First, Mueller's interviews with Trump regime aides in the White House continue, this week moving closer to Trump himself by focusing on Trump speechwriter and white supremacist cheerleader Stephen Miller and his role in Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey.
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump's inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators.
Miller's role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources.
Special counsel investigators have also shown interest in talking to attendees of a March 2016 meeting where foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that he could arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin through his connections. Miller was also at the meeting, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Papadopoulos was recently charged with lying to the FBI about Russian contacts he had during the campaign.
Earlier this year, Miller assisted Trump in writing a memo that explained why Trump planned to fire Comey, according to sources familiar with the matter. Eventually that memo was scrapped because of opposition by White House counsel Don McGahn, who said its contents were problematic, according to The New York Times. The Comey dismissal letter -- drafted during a May weekend at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey -- has also drawn interest from the Mueller team. Sources tell CNN that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who was also in New Jersey that weekend, did not oppose the decision to fire Comey. CNN has reported the special counsel's team is asking questions in interviews with witnesses about Kushner's role in Comey's firing.
The Times reported in September that the Justice Department had turned over a copy of the letter, which was never sent, to special counsel Robert Mueller. That memo, according to a source, was very similar to a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that was cited as the reason for firing Comey. Rosenstein's letter criticized Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server.
But just days after the firing, Trump said he considered the Russia probe in his decision to fire Comey.
We know Miller was involved in Trump's now infamous May memo outlining his reasons to fire Comey, and now we know Mueller is definitely interested in that memo and Miller's role in it. If Trump fired Comey in order to protect himself from the Russia investigation, that's obstruction of justice. Comey interviewing Miller over this specifically is further evidence that possible obstruction charges are coming.
And speaking of coming charges, that brings us to story two this week: Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn's lobbying for Turkey and President Erdogan may have turned into a channel to order the US to round up and extradite Erdogan's political foes in the states to Turkey.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's alleged plan to forcibly extradite a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania is now a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
Why it matters: Flynn had previously done consulting work on behalf of the Turkish government, which he failed to disclose before joining the Trump administration. This meeting would have taken place during the transition and after he had accepted his position as Trump's national security advisor, which occurred on November 18.
The details: Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn, Jr., reportedly met with Turkish representatives in New York in December to discuss delivering cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living legally in the United States in exile, to Turkey in exchange for as much as $15 million. The plan would have involved transporting Gulen to a Turkish island prison via a private jet. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of fomenting 2016's failed coup attempt against him.
And it's not the first time this plan came up as Flynn held a similar meeting with high-level Turks, including Turkey's foreign minister and Erdogan's son-in-law last September. Former CIA Director James Woolsey attended that meeting, telling the WSJ that the plan then involved "a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away." Woolsey later turned down his consulting fee for the meeting and alerted then-Vice President Joe Biden about its content.
Remember, Erdogan has been blaming last year's coup attempt on Gulen and his followers since it happened, and he kind of needs Gulen in order to crush the very real rumors that Erdogan planned the whole thing himself so he could crack heads.
The Flynn "kidnap and rendition" story we've known about since March and again, we now know that Mueller is looking into this as well.
But Flynn is in trouble on more than one front. It's not just Erdogan, but his contact with other suspected Russian-influenced politicians like GOP Rep. Dana Rorhabacher.
Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are questioning witnesses about an alleged September 2016 meeting between Mike Flynn, who later briefly served as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch advocate of policies that would help Russia, two sources with knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.
The meeting allegedly took place in Washington the evening of Sept. 20, while Flynn was working as an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign. It was arranged by his lobbying firm, the Flynn Intel Group. Also in attendance were Flynn’s business partners, Bijan Kian and Brian McCauley, and Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked closely with his father, the sources said.
Mueller is reviewing emails sent from Flynn Intel Group to Rohrabacher’s congressional staff thanking them for the meeting, according to one of the sources, as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Rohrabacher, a California Republican, has pushed for better relations with Russia, traveled to Moscow to meet with officials and advocated to overturn the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 bill that froze assets of Russian investigators and prosecutors. The sources could not confirm whether Rohrabacher and Flynn discussed U.S. policy towards Russia in the alleged meeting.
The Washington Post reported in May that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also a California Republican, was secretly recorded telling other party members, in what seemed to be a joke, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rohrabacher offered Trump a deal that to protect Julian Assange, creator of WikiLeaks, which released emails damaging to Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 election, from legal peril. In return for not prosecuting him for his group's 2010 leak of State Department emails, Assange would allegedly provide proof that Russia was not the source of the hacked Democratic emails. The intelligence community has pointed to Russia as the secret provider of the email trove to WikiLeaks.
Rohrabacher's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As I keep saying, expect more charges as the dominoes fall and things get closer to Donald Trump. We're coming up on the one year in office mark and there's already talk of reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic again.
The White House is bracing for another staff shakeup upon President Donald Trump’s return from Asia, with senior-level staff moves that could further consolidate chief of staff John Kelly’s power in the West Wing.
Deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn — a former top aide to Jeff Sessions in the Senate who played a central role during the presidential transition — is expected to be reassigned to the Commerce Department or another federal agency, according to multiple administration officials and outside advisers familiar with plans for the staff change.
Dearborn’s portfolio over the past year has covered high-level assignments, including helping to organize the president’s schedule. But that job has since been passed to another deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, while Dearborn has become increasingly marginalized internally since Kelly’s arrival in late July.
Dearborn’s departure would make him the latest in a growing conga line of West Wing aides who started on Inauguration Day but failed to last a full year. It would help Kelly clear the ranks of staffers he inherited from his predecessor Reince Priebus, whose tenure was marked by infighting and competition between loyalists brought in from the Republican National Committee and alumni of Trump’s renegade campaign.
Keep in mind Mueller is talking to many of these departed aides. Don't be surprised if Dearborn's name comes up in Mueller's hunt either. He's a direct link between Trump and Sessions during the 2016 campaign, and he would have had access to both during the March-June 2016 timeframe that Mueller is concentrating on.