Saturday News: It's Mueller time


TRUMP-RUSSIA PROBE HAS CONCLUDED WITH NO ADDITIONAL INDICTMENTS: With no details released at this point, it's not known whether Mueller's report answers the core questions of his investigation: Did Trump's campaign collude with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of the celebrity businessman? Also, did Trump take steps later, including by firing his FBI director, to obstruct the probe? All told, Mueller charged 34 people, including the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet. Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS THREATEN LEGAL ACTION IF THEY ARE DENIED ACCESS TO MUELLER'S FINDINGS: Within minutes of receiving notification that special counsel Robert Mueller had turned over his report on the Russia investigation, congressional Democrats were calling for the report to be fully released, including the underlying evidence. They have threatened subpoenas if it is not. The demands are setting up a potential tug of war between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump's administration that federal judges might eventually have to referee. "If the AG plays any games, we will subpoena the report, ask Mr. Mueller to testify, and take it all to court if necessary," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. "The people deserve to know." House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told CNN on Friday that he's willing to subpoena Mueller and Barr, if needed, to push for disclosure. Though Trump himself has said the report should be made public, it's not clear whether the administration would fight subpoenas for testimony or block the transmission of grand jury material.

IN ADDITION TO MUELLER PROBE, TRUMP FACES OTHER LEGAL THREATS: Federal prosecutors in Manhattan continue to pursue at least two known criminal inquiries involving Trump or people in his orbit, one involving his inaugural committee and another focused on the hush-money scandal that led his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last year to campaign finance violations. The president also faces inquiries from New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, who recently opened a civil inquiry into Cohen’s claims that Trump exaggerated his wealth when seeking loans for real estate projects and a failed bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, a state regulatory entity is looking into whether Trump gave false information to insurance companies. Cohen told Congress in testimony last month he is in “constant contact” with prosecutors involving ongoing investigations. Trump has dismissed the New York investigations as politically motivated. “These investigations could pose a danger to everybody in Trump’s inner circle,” said Patrick J. Cotter, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. “They are very real and very significant. If you’re Trump, this has got to feel, in some ways, like an even greater threat than the Russia probe.”

THE AURA OF "EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE" LOOMS AS ATTORNEY GENERAL SCRUTINIZES REPORT: Barr spent several hours reading the Mueller report in his office after the special counsel handed it over just before 5 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon. Now he must decide whether there are sufficient grounds to share parts of it with White House lawyers in anticipation of executive privilege assertions -- a move that could give Trump and his team the chance to mount a pre-emptive defense. A constitutional showdown still seems likely. Evidence gathered by Mueller about the firing of Comey, the President's conversations about Russia with his fired national security adviser Mike Flynn and his conversations with aides about the Trump Tower meeting once he was President could all be subject to executive privilege assertions. Democrats with subpoena powers could then launch a court battle that could drag on for months. And Democrats are already threatening action if the whole of the report, and all of its supporting evidence is not quickly released. They also may call on the special counsel to explain himself in person.

TRUMP TRIES TO DEFLECT FROM MUELLER PROBE BY HELPING NORTH KOREA: President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program. “It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”