It's Mueller time
The Department of Justice has appointed a special prosecutor to lead the agency’s probe into Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was tapped by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to serve as a special counsel tasked with overseeing the ongoing Russia investigation, which includes looking at possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives.
Rosenstein, in a statement, said “a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the Public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly.”
Staying the course
The independent-counsel move comes as Trump faces mounting questions over allegations that he asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into his former adviser Michael Flynn’s possible ties with Russia.
The White House has denied that Trump made such a demand of Comey, as first reported by The New York Times on Tuesday.
Trump issued a statement after Mueller’s appointment that said: “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity.
"I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
Staying in touch
During the last seven months of the campaign, Michael Flynn and other Trump advisers were in contact with "Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties" in at least 18 calls and emails, Reuters reports, quoting current and former administration officials.
What that may mean remains for federal officials to determine.
Meanwhile, "people familiar with the case" say Flynn told the Trump campaign weeks before the inauguration that he was under investigation with regard to his role as a paid lobbyist for Turkey, according to the Times.
‘Fight, fight, fight’
Trump, reeling from a string of controversies that have surfaced since Monday, urged U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates to “fight, fight, fight.”
In a commencement address, Trump also took aim at one of his favorite targets — the media — saying reporters have treated him worse than any other “politician in history,” reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” he said in his speech, delivered in New London, Connecticut. “No politician in history — and I say this with great assurity — has been treated worse or more unfair. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
But what about them?
Trump's early Thursday tweets: "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel (sic) appointed!"
"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"
Not letting go
The previously scheduled appearance was Trump’s first public outing since news reports surfaced Tuesday night that Comey kept notes of his conversations with the president — including noting in a memo that Trump said of the Flynn case, "I hope you can let this go."
Trump has not spoken publicly about the allegations that he asked Comey to halt the Flynn probe, but on Wednesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that “the president has been very clear that the account that was published is not an accurate description ... of how the event occurred.”
Comey’s paper trail
Two Senate committees have requested Comey’s memos and notes related to his conversations with the president and White House officials on the Russia probe.
The Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the FBI to provide copies of Comey’s memos, and the Intelligence Committee invited Comey to speak before the panel.
“I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Wall Street Journal.
Read Ngo’s recap from D.C. for Newsday.
Putin his two cents
As lawmakers call on the White House to release transcripts or recordings of Trump’s meeting with Russian officials last week, that country’s president, Vladimir Putin, offered to provide a “record of the conversation.”
Putin, speaking at a news conference in Sochi, Russia, denied allegations that Trump shared sensitive intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
“If the U.S. administration finds it necessary, we are ready to provide the record of the conversation between Trump and Lavrov to the Senate and Congress,” Putin said.
Putin also took some shots at the U.S., saying Americans were “rocking the internal political situation in the U.S. under anti-Russian slogans.”
“They either don’t understand that they are harming their country — which makes them just dumb — or they understand, which makes them dangerous and dirty.”
Talk of impeachment proceedings continued to float throughout Capitol Hill.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) called for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor Wednesday, as two Republican congressmen who have been critical of the president raised the possibility of impeachment hearings should the allegations that Trump asked Comey to end the FBI probe into Flynn prove true.
“I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice,” Green said from the House floor.
Who you gonna believe?
Meanwhile, Rep. George Amash (R-Mich.), a frequent Trump critic, responding to questions from reporters, said if details in Comey’s memo were true, they would merit impeachment.
“But everybody gets a fair trial in this country,” Amash told reporters.
When asked whether he trusted Comey’s word over Trump’s, Amash replied: “I think it’s pretty clear I have more confidence in Director Comey.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), in a Tuesday night interview with CNN, said the allegations that Trump pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation were comparable to the obstruction of justice cases that led to impeachment investigations against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
“Obstruction of justice in the case of Nixon, in the case of Clinton in the late ’90s, has been considered an impeachable offense,” Curbelo said.
Curbelo, in an interview with The Miami Herald, said he was surprised to learn he was the first House Republican to mention the possibility of impeachment.
“It was news to me that I was the first to say it publicly, because many members have said it privately,” Curbelo told the Herald.
Tale of another tape
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy once told other GOP lawmakers that he believed then-presidential candidate Trump was on Putin’s payroll, according to a Washington Post report.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a June 15, 2016, recording obtained by The Washington Post and reported on Wednesday.
McCarthy was referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who the Post notes is “known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was in the room, quickly put an end to the conversation and urged Republicans present to not disclose McCarthy’s remarks, according to the tape.
More on the report here.
The take-away: No love for leaks
Trump has gone from loving leaks as a candidate to denouncing leaks as commander in chief.
“Four months into his presidency, Trump’s professed love for leaks has vanished. Other presidents, including predecessor Barack Obama, promised openness and delivered secrecy, but this incumbent turned around at lightning speed,” writes Newsday columnist Dan Janison.
What else is happening
- Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is among the four potential candidates Trump is interviewing to serve as the next FBI director. Other names include former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official.
- Trump is set to embark on his first foreign trip as president on Friday, a 10-day voyage the White House is hoping will serve as a reset button, reports Politico. The region is
- Trump campaign surrogate John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk GOP chairman, is leasing a $625 per month Porsche for business purposes, reports Newsday’s Rick Brand.
- Morale at the White House may even be lower than the president's approval ratings, this Washington Post story suggests.
- Budget documents indicate that under Trump's schools plan, funds for college work-study programs would be cut in half.