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Why Mueller’s report might be a letdown for Trump critics

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Why Mueller's report might be a letdown for Trump critics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A lavishly detailed 445-page report by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr released by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 concluded that President Bill Clinton “committed acts that may constitute grounds for an impeachment” and paved the way for an unsuccessful attempt in Congress to remove him from office.

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s impending report on the findings of his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election may far fall short of the searing and voluminous Starr report, legal experts said, in part due to constraints on Mueller that did not exist when Starr produced his report.

The Starr report presented explicit details about Clinton’s sexual encounters with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky and accused Clinton of specific crimes including perjury, attempted obstruction of justice, witness tampering and “a pattern of conduct that was inconsistent with his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws.”

Starr operated under an independent counsel law that has since lapsed. Mueller’s powers differ from those of Starr, and Justice Department regulations place limits on him that Starr did not face. Mueller since May 2017 has looked into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with Russia and whether the president unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference.

Here is an explanation of some of the factors that may limit what ends up in Mueller’s report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and what ultimately may be released to the public.

WHAT DO JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REGULATIONS CALL FOR?

Congress let the independent counsel law expire in part because of concern among some lawmakers that Starr had exceeded his mandate. The Justice Department then crafted regulations to create the job of special counsel in 1999, with certain limits on powers.

The department’s No. 2 official, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Mueller to take over the Russia investigation after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, whose agency had led the probe, and directed Mueller to abide by the special counsel regulations.

But the regulations provide only limited guidance on the parameters of Mueller’s final report, stating that at the conclusion of his work he should provide the U.S. attorney general, the nation’s top law enforcement official, with a “confidential report” explaining his “prosecution or declination decisions.” The term “declination decisions” refers to judgments that Mueller made not to bring criminal charges against a given individual. Mueller already has brought charges against 34 people – including the former chairman of Trump’s campaign Paul Manafort and other campaign figures, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn – and three Russian companies.

The regulations require Barr to notify the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that Mueller’s investigation has concluded. The Justice Department’s policy calls for Barr to summarize the confidential report for Congress with “an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” According to the regulations, Barr “may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.”

WHAT HAS BARR SAID ABOUT WHAT HE WILL RELEASE?

In his January Senate confirmation hearing, Barr provided some insight into his thinking. He said that “it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel’s work.” Barr added, “For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.”

House Democrats have vowed to subpoena the report and go to court if necessary to win its full release.

WHAT WILL MUELLER’S REPORT LOOK LIKE?

Some legal experts said the text of the 1999 regulations and the context under which they were written in the aftermath of the Starr report signal that Mueller should not write a lengthy narrative like Starr did, but rather deliver straightforward and concise findings. The regulations were intended to give a special counsel some independence while ensuring a degree of accountability and oversight by the Justice Department.

But some experts said Mueller would be well within his power to provide Congress with information it can use to conduct further investigations. Leon Jaworski, who served as a special prosecutor during President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, adopted this approach when he finished his investigation. Jaworski’s “road map” document, which helped prompt Nixon’s resignation, remained secret until 2018.

Comey, in a Washington Post opinion piece on Tuesday, urged Barr to make an expansive release, saying “a straightforward report of what facts have been learned and how judgment has been exercised may be the only way to advance the public interest.”

PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

There is a tension between a decades-old Justice Department policy against public comment on decisions not to bring criminal charges and the requirement in the special counsel regulations that Mueller explain which criminal cases he brought and which ones he declined to bring. Rosenstein in February said, “If we aren’t prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court, then we have no business making allegations against American citizens.”

This policy might lead Mueller to keep his explanations of his declination decisions brief, legal experts said, and Barr subsequently could opt not to disclose those parts of the confidential report. Department policy, presented in a 1973 Nixon-era memo and reaffirmed in a 2000 Clinton-era memo, is that a sitting president cannot face a criminal indictment.

Some lawyers have said this policy, combined with the practice of generally not explaining decisions not to prosecute someone, limits what Mueller can put in the report about Trump’s conduct. Other lawyers have said Jaworski, who had an analogous role, set a precedent that Mueller would be within his power to lay out a case for removing Trump from office through impeachment, as Starr did with Clinton in 1998.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham

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Bernie Sanders’ hiring of non-American campaign advisers may violate federal election laws, complaint says

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New spokeswoman for Bernie Sanders won't be able to vote for him in 2020 -- she's an illegal immigrant

Bernie Sanders was hit a complaint this week, claiming his presidential campaign violated federal election laws by employing non-Americans in advisery positions.

A new complaint by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) notes that three members of the Sanders campaign are foreign nationals, which appears to be a violation of federal election laws that prohibit foreign interference.

NEW SPOKESWOMAN FOR BERNIE SANDERS WON’T BE ABLE TO VOTE FOR HIM IN 2020 — SHE’S AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT

Maria Belén Sisa, Sanders’ deputy national press secretary who joined the campaign last month, was among the staffers named in the complaint, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Sisa claims to be an illegal immigrant whose residency is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program for assisting illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Sisa recently caused an uproar after invoking an anti-Semitic “dual allegiance” trope of Jewish Americans while defending Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and questioning whether American Jews, including Sanders, were loyal to the United States.

The complaint notes that Sisa not only got a salary from Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, she also contributed money to it and is now serving in “an advisory position” in the 2020 campaign – all of which are “direct and serious violations” of federal election laws.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations,” the complaint reads.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations.”

— The complaint

BERNIE SANDERS AIDE DEFENDS OMAR WITH TERM SEEN AS ANTI-SEMITIC, APOLOGIZES

According to the FEC rules, foreign nationals, who aren’t lawfully admitted permanent residents, cannot directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns. Such individuals are also barred from making political contributions.

The complaint also names two other foreign nationals on the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, immigration activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, who worked as the campaign’s national Latino outreach strategist and press secretary for Latino outreach, respectively.

“Due to the high profile of Cesar Vargas, Erika Andiola, and Maria Belén Sisa as leading activists in the undocumented community, there is reason to believe that respondents are ‘foreign nationals’ within the meaning of 52 U.S.C. § 301219b)(2), and in violation of 11 C.F.R. § 110.20 (i) and A.O. 2004-26, directly or indirectly participated in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2016,” the complaint continued.

“There is reason to believe, having previously employed Ms. Sisa, that Bernie 2020 is currently, and knowingly, permitting a ‘foreign national’ … to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2020.”

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The complaint calls on the FEC to investigate both the 2016 and the current presidential campaigns and take action to curb the violations.

“The Commission should determine and impose appropriate sanctions for any and all violations,” the complaint read. “Further, the Commission should enjoin respondents from any future violations and impose any necessary and appropriate remedies to ensure respondents’ future compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

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Democrats vow to keep investigating Trump despite Mueller's conclusions, no new indictments

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Congressional Democrats vowed Friday to keep investigating President Trump, his family, and associates despite Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapping up his Russia investigation with no new indictments.

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‘There needs to be a reckoning’ for those who spread Russia collusion narrative: Mollie Hemingway

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MSNBC’s Chris Matthews livid over Mueller report: ‘How could they let Trump off the hook?’

Those who spent the last two years pushing the narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election need to be held accountable, the Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway argued Friday.

Earlier in the day, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed in its report on the Russia investigation to the Department of Justice and it was announced that no new indictments would be forthcoming.

During Friday’s All-Star panel segment on Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier,” Hemingway — along with Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Matthew Continetti and Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason — weighed in on the breaking news that reverberated throughout Washington.

MUELLER SUBMITS LONG-AWAITED RUSSIA PROBE REPORT TO JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Hemingway began by noting that the “Russia narrative” predates the Mueller probe, having begun circulating during the 2016 election after the creation of the infamous Clinton campaign-funded Steele dossier, which pushed the theory that then-Republican candidate Donald Trump was a “Russian agent.”

“We have, for the last three years … frequently [witnessed] hysteria about treasonous collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election,” Hemingway told the panel. “The fact [is] that there are no more indictments coming and the fact [is] that all of the indictments that we’ve seen thus far have been for process crimes or things unrelated to what we were told by so many people in the media was ‘treasonous collusion’ to steal the 2016 election.”

“If there is nothing there that matches what we’ve heard from the media for many years, there needs to be a reckoning and the people who spread this theory both inside and outside the government who were not critical and who did not behave appropriately need to be held accountable,” she added.

“The people who spread this theory both inside and outside the government … and who did not behave appropriately need to be held accountable.”

— Mollie Hemingway, senior editor, the Federalist

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Mason told the panel that there’s likely “some relief” in the White House, particularly from Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser. And while he insisted it was “too early” to draw major conclusions, he later added that those who attacked Mueller’s credibility throughout his investigation will have to walk back their hostility if he concludes that there was no collusion, including President Trump.

Meanwhile, Continetti suggested that the Mueller report could be the “greatest anticlimax in American history,” and that the entire investigation could be “for nothing” because it was “an investigation without a crime.” He did, however, insist that the “battle will continue” as the White House will fight Congress on transparency of the Mueller findings.

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