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U.S. lobbying probes persist though Mueller investigation over

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U.S. lobbying probes persist though Mueller investigation over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in U.S. politics is over, but prosecutors are investigating two prominent Washington lobbyists for their work for the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine, according to three sources close to the probe.

FILE PHOTO: Attorney Greg Craig speaks to reporters on the outcome of the courts’ decision regarding Elian Gonzalez, in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2000. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

In a sign that evidence from Mueller’s 22-month investigation may yet ensnare more prominent Washington figures, federal prosecutors in Washington cited a former U.S. congressman “working for the government of Ukraine” in charges filed Thursday against former Obama administration official Greg Craig.

Craig pleaded not guilty on Friday to lobbying violations and making false statements.

The former congressman is not named in Craig’s indictment, but other filings by his former law firm cite identical work done for the firm by Vin Weber, a lobbyist with Mercury Public Affairs, who was a U.S. representative from Minnesota from 1981 to 1993.

Weber disclosed his work for a Ukrainian think tank, but he did not register as a foreign agent for the government of Ukraine under a the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which would have required him to spell out his activity in detail, according to a Reuters review of lobbying records.

The Department of Justice is stepping up FARA enforcement after decades of inactivity. Mueller’s investigation has not led to criminal conspiracy charges against Trump or his former associates, but it has exposed previously hidden foreign lobbying activity by some of Washington’s most prominent lobbyists and prompted a flurry of new registrations since 2017. U.S. Attorney General William Barr is expected to release a redacted version of Mueller’s findings next week.

Three sources familiar with the investigation said federal prosecutors in Manhattan are examining work done for Ukraine by both Weber and Tony Podesta, brother of John Podesta, a top official of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign and a former White House adviser.

A spokesperson for Weber and for Mercury declined to comment. Tony Podesta also declined to comment.

The FARA crackdown has factored in cases against Craig, Craig’s former law firm Skadden Arps and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman now serving a 7-1/2 year prison sentence for lobbying and financial crimes.

Other lobbyists have rushed to comply with the law. As of April, 446 separate entities registered with the Justice Department, up from 387 at the end of 2016.

Tony Podesta disclosed his lobbying work for a Brussels-based think tank, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, to Congress. But he did not register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the government of Ukraine.

Podesta’s work for the Ukrainian government came to light in 2017 after Mueller’s team charged Manafort with lobbying violations. Those revelations prompted Podesta to step down in October 2017 from his Podesta Associates lobbying firm, which collapsed shortly after.

Sources familiar with the investigation said that investigations into Ukraine-related lobbying by Craig, Podesta and Weber were all initially being pursued by the Manhattan-based U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, but the probe related to Craig was transferred to federal prosecutors in Washington.

Craig denies misleading the Justice Department about his activity in Ukraine, saying in a statement on Thursday that the effort to prosecute him was “unprecedented and unjustified.”

According to the indictment, Craig was hired to write a report for the Ukrainian Justice Ministry about the prosecution of former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Prosecutors say Craig concealed the fact that the project was largely funded by Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who was close to Bill and Hillary Clinton but also donated to the Trump Foundation after Donald Trump made a September 2015 speech in Kiev.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman

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Ambassador Grenell: Mayor Buttigieg pushing ‘Jussie Smollett’ hate hoax against Pence

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Mike Pence hits back at Pete Buttigieg after criticism: 'He knows better'

The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, defended Vice President Mike Pence against accusations of homophobia alleged by Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and compared the claims to a “hate hoax along the lines of Jussie Smollett.”

“Mayor Pete has been pushing this hate hoax along the lines of Jussie Smollett for a very long time now, several weeks,” Grenell, who is openly gay, said Thursday on “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

Smollett, an actor, is accused of faking a hate crime and is currently being sued by the city of Chicago.

ROB SMITH: I’M GAY AND SUPPORT MIKE PENCE — DON’T BELIEVE PETE BUTTIGIEG’S CLAIM THAT PENCE IS ANTI-GAY

Buttigieg, who is openly gay and was once cordial with Pence, has boosted criticism of the vice president calling him anti-gay.

“This is someone who was against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ who felt it was too pro-gay.  He wanted to make sure even closeted of couldn’t serve,” Buttigieg said Tuesday about Pence on CNN.

Grenell, who called Pence a friend, accused the mayor of South Bend of drumming up accusations to boost fundraising and asked why he didn’t speak up while Pence was the governor of Indiana.

“It’s ironic that right about now when he’s starting his fund-raising apparatus to run for president that he comes up with this… idea and this attack,” Grenell said.

The ambassador defended Pence and his wife and cited their Christianity and said the couple “accepted” Grendell and his partner.

“Mike and Karen are great people, they’re godly people, they’re followers of Christ.  They don’t have hate in their heart for anyone. They know my partner, they have accepted us. You asked me do we agree philosophically on every single issue? No,” Grendell said adding that he disagrees with other people he respects.

BUTTIGIEG, ONCE CORDIAL TO PENCE, NOW CRITICAL AMID CAMPAIGN

Grendell chastised the gay community for shifting from a group about tolerance to a group that demands “we all think alike” before noting that Pence has always supported Buttigieg.

“When Mayor Pete came out, the vice president complimented him and said he holds him in high regard. The vice president or then governor has said nothing but positive things about Mayor Pete. I think this is a total hate hoax and I think it’s outrageous,” Grenell said.

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Trump’s written — at times snarky — answers to Mueller’s questions revealed

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Why the Mueller report could turn into a never-ending story on the Hill

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump communicated directly at one point during the long-running investigation into Russian election interference, when the president’s legal team submitted written testimony in response to Mueller’s questions on a variety of topics in November 2018.

And in some cases, Trump and his attorneys brought the sass.

One of Mueller’s questions referred to a July 2016 campaign rally, when Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That was a reference to the slew of documents deleted from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server — one that prompted numerous accusations that Trump was improperly sending a signal to Russian hackers. Mueller’s report noted that hours after Trump’s remarks, a Russian-led attempt to access some Clinton-linked email accounts was launched, although there was no evidence Trump or his team directed or coordinated with that effort.

“Why did you make that request of Russia, as opposed to any other country, entity or individual?” Mueller’s prosecutors asked.

Mueller’s report noted that after Trump’s statement, future National Security Adviser Flynn contacted operatives in hopes of uncovering the documents, and another GOP consultant started a company to look for the emails.

“I made the statement quoted in Question II (d) in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer,” Trump’s attorneys shot back. “The context of the statement is evident in the full reading or viewing of the July 27, 2016, press conference, and I refer you to the publicly available transcript and video of that press conference.”

Separately, Mueller asked Trump why he previewed a speech in June 2016 by promising to discuss “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” and what specifically he’d planned to talk about.

Trump didn’t hold back.

“In general, l expected to give a speech referencing the publicly available, negative information about the Clintons, including, for example, Mrs. Clinton’s failed policies, the Clintons’ use of the State Department to further their interests and the interests of the Clinton Foundation, Mrs. Clinton’s improper use of a private server for State Department business, the destruction of 33,000 emails on that server, and Mrs. Clinton’s temperamental unsuitability for the office of the president,” Trump responded.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE ‘BOMBSHELLS’ THAT FIZZLED? BUZZFEED’S COHEN TESTIMONY SCOOP, THE GOP PLATFORM SWITCH, ETC?

After discussing other events, Trump concluded his reply: “I continued to speak about Mrs. Clinton’s failings throughout the campaign, using the information prepared for inclusion in the speech to which I referred on June 7, 2016.”

In all, Mueller’s 448-page report included 23 unredacted pages of Mueller’s written questions and Trump’s written responses. The special counsel’s team wrote that it tried to interview the president for more than a year before relenting and permitting the written responses alone.

An introductory note included in the report said the special counsel’s office found the responses indicative of “the inadequacy of the written format,” especially given the office’s inability to ask follow-up questions.

Click here for the full exchange between Mueller’s team and Trump.

Citing dozens of answers that Mueller’s team considered incomplete, imprecise or not provided because of the president’s lack of recollection — for instance, the president gave no response at all to the final set of questions — the special counsel’s office again sought an in-person interview with Trump, and he once again declined.

Mueller’s team said it considered seeking a subpoena to compel Trump’s in-person testimony, but decided the legally aggressive move would only serve to delay the investigation.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mueller report has held America ‘hostage’ for 2 years, Federalist editor says

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Mueller report has held America 'hostage' for 2 years, Federalist editor says

While many analysts are advising Democrats to move on from Mueller report and the issue of collusion, The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway said Thursday it will be hard for America to move on because it’s been “held hostage” by the idea of President Trump colluding with Russia.

“The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory, a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. This undermined the administration of our government. It totally sidelined the Department of Justice, it hampered our ability to do foreign policy. It was a very negative thing,” Hemingway told “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

MUELLER REPORT SHOWS PROBE DID NOT FIND COLLUSION EVIDENCE, REVEALS TRUMP EFFORTS TO SIDELINE KEY PLAYERS

“There needs to be accountability. We are being given indications there will be accountability for this.”

After two years, a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released Thursday showing investigators did not find proof of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia but revealed an array of controversial actions by the president that were examined as part of the investigation’s obstruction probe.

Democrats criticized Barr and demanded an unredacted version of the report while Republicans demanded an investigation into how the Russia collusion narrative began.

RUDY GIULIANI ON THE RELEASE OF THE MUELLER REPORT: ‘THIS PRESIDENT HAS BEEN TREATED TOTALLY UNFAIRLY’

Hemingway said the idea that people would just “move on” was “absurd.”

“The American people tolerated this investigation because they were told there was reason to believe the president was a traitor. The idea that we are just going to quickly move on from this like ‘OK, I guess it was our bad, there was no collusion,’ but now we’re trying to go on obstruction is patently absurd,” Hemingway said.

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