Turning the tables
If nothing else, the Russia investigation launched by the FBI and led for 22 months by Robert Mueller erased doubts by anyone, or almost anyone, about the schemes hatched in Moscow to influence the 2016 elections. To Donald Trump, it's the collusion suspicions cast upon him and his campaign for two years that call most of all for a settling of scores.
“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, some bad things, I would say some treasonous things against our country,” the president told reporters Monday. “And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country — we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening — those people will certainly be looked at."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who spent the weekend playing golf with Trump in Florida, said he will do just that, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. The South Carolina Republican said his committee would conduct its own oversight investigation, and he also called Monday for the appointment of a special counsel like Mueller to investigate the origin of the probe.
“Whether or not it’s illegal, I don’t yet know,” Graham said. “What makes no sense to me is that all of the abuse by the Department of Justice and the FBI — the unprofessional conduct, the shady behavior — nobody seems to think that’s much important. Well, that’s going to change, I hope.”
Graham additionally urged an investigation into former FBI Director James Comey — whose firing by Trump led to the appointment of Mueller — and his decision not to charge Hillary Clinton for her emails and his decisions to announce that conclusion during the 2016 campaign.
While Trump didn't name names Monday, he has previously mentioned Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and Justice Department attorney Bruce Ohr for their roles in the probe. They have already been under investigation since last year by the Justice Department's inspector general in response to complaints about anti-Trump bias.
But Mueller seems to be off Trump's enemies list. Though the president has denounced him over the past two years as "conflicted," "disgraced" and a "liar" and claimed Mueller was seen "hugging and kissing" Comey, Trump was asked if he now believes the special counsel acted honorably. "Yes, he did," Trump said.
Schiff has questions beyond collusion
Capitol Hill Republicans took aim at Democratic counterparts who promoted collusion allegations. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to resign as chairman of the intelligence committee.
But the Democrats told CNN there is plenty more to examine in Trump's Russian relationships beyond the collusion allegation that Mueller's investigation didn't support. Schiff pointed to the attempted Trump Tower Moscow deal.
“We need to look at for example into the financial issues — was the president driven during the campaign and to this day by financial interests consummating a lucrative real estate deal … or any other illicit purpose?" Schiff said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said, "What I accept was there was apparently no criminal conspiracy … with the Russians … That doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of activity with the Russians that ranges from unsavory to treacherous."
Seesaw on seeing Mueller
Trump on Monday said the full disclosure of Mueller's probe "wouldn't bother me at all." But top aides and his legal team made it clear they plan to push back on calls by congressional Democrats for Attorney General William Barr to release all of Mueller's work, including evidence on obstruction of justice that the special counsel said neither proved a crime by Trump nor exonerated him.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, appearing on CNN, said it would be “very inappropriate” for Trump’s written responses to Mueller to be released to the public. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, appearing on Fox News, would not definitively answer when asked twice whether the White House was on board with releasing all of Mueller’s work.
"That decision is up to the attorney general,” Sanders said. “It’s not just about this president, but about the future as well, and making sure things like executive privilege, and sources and methods and things like that are protected.”
Janison: Some pal, that Putin
Throughout the Russia investigation, Trump complained how it hampered his aim to get along better with Russia. "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" he tweeted last July.
That's not all that has stood in the way, notes Newsday's Dan Janison. The latest of the episodic flare-ups with Moscow is the dispatch of two Russian military planes to Venezuela, where a journalist reported seeing about 100 troops and tons of equipment removed from the planes.
While the U.S. is trying to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to leave, Russia's Vladimir Putin regards him as enough of an ally to take provocative action in America's backyard. The move comes as a top Russian politician is urging Trump to "reset" relations following the conclusion of Mueller's probe.
Graham to Trump: Don't blame McCain
Trump's tirades last week against the late Sen. John McCain were set off in part by his belief that the Arizona senator stoked the intensity of the Russia investigation by passing to the FBI a dossier of unverified allegations collected by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Graham revealed a surprise twist to the story Monday: He's the one who recommended to his close friend McCain, who received the dossier from a former aide, that he hand it over to the feds.
"I told the president it was not John McCain," Graham said. "I know because John McCain showed me the dossier. And I told him the only thing I knew to do with it, it could be a bunch of garbage, it could be true, who knows? Turn it over to somebody whose job it is to find these things out and John McCain acted appropriately."
Basta la vista
Michael Avenatti, until recently America's most famous porn star lawyer, was arrested Monday on dual federal indictments. In New York, he was accused of threatening to use his ability to get publicity in an extortion scheme to collect more than $20 million from Nike, the sports apparel giant. In Los Angeles, he was charged with embezzling a client's money to cover personal and business expenses and debts.
Avenatti represented Stormy Daniels, who received a payment arranged by former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her story of a tryst with Trump. The resulting investigation has Cohen headed soon to prison for crimes including campaign finance violations, which has put the role of Trump and other associates under scrutiny by the Manhattan U.S. attorney.
Daniels parted with Avenatti last month. In a statement Monday, she said, "I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged," adding "he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly." The arrest of Avenatti, who once touted himself as a possible Democratic 2020 candidate, was met with glee in Trumpworld.
A tweet from Donald Trump Jr. mocked Avenatti's signature Twitter hashtag of "#basta" — Italian for "enough." "Good news for my friend @MichaelAvenatti, if you plead fast enough, you might just get to share a cell with Michael Cohen! #basta," wrote the president's son, whom Avenatti had taunted as jailbound.
What else is happening:
- Former CIA Director John Brennan, who had declared the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, breakfasted on some crow on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I don't know if I received bad information, but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was," said Brennan. He stood by the view that Russia contacts were "inappropriate" even if they didn't reach "the high bar of criminal conspiracy."
- The Mueller results reinforce for Democratic 2020 contenders that they'll have to beat Trump based on his performance in office and not how he got there, The New York Times writes. Most of them already knew that.
- With impeachment all but off the table for now, Democrats in Congress will be focusing on Barr's decision that Trump should not face obstruction-of-justice charges, The Washington Post reports.
- Rudy Giuliani told PBS he doesn't believe Trump will grant pardons to the defendants prosecuted by Mueller.
- Mueller succeeded in keeping a low profile during the investigation. He dined at an out-of-the-way neighborhood restaurant and was rarely spotted in public, though there were sightings at a 7-Eleven and an Apple store, The New York Times reports. People who know him don't expect him to seek a spotlight now.
- Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a tough re-election fight, put their bond on display in a White House meeting. Trump's big gift to Netanyahu was the formal signing of proclamation that the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war, belongs to Israel.
- Trump hosted the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at the White House. Three players skipped the visit, including Braden Holtby, who said he had to stay true to his values.