Nothing to see here, Congress. Move along.

by Tom Sullivan

An overwhelming amount of news broke Monday night.

Attorney General Bill Barr reprises his pre-release distortions of the Muller report, this time with the Justice Department’s inspector general findings about FBI’s Russia investigation. Barr reportedly disputes the conclusion that the FBI’s investigation was “adequately predicated” on Trump campaign aid George Papadopoulos’s besotted blabbing to an Australian diplomat that Moscow had thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.

Democrats are considering broadening the scope of possible articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to include obstruction of justice offenses chronicled in the Mueller report. The House Judiciary Committee begins its impeachment hearings on Wednesday. With Republicans falling in line behind the president, some Democrats want to move beyond a narrow focus on Trump’s abuses of power with Ukraine.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) believes demonstrating a pattern of abuse is in order. “If you show that this is not only real in what’s happening with Ukraine, but it’s the exact same pattern that Mueller documented … to me, that just strengthens the case.”

Regarding patterns of abuse, BuzzFeed News received another tranche of FOIA documents from the Mueller probe Monday evening. Jason Leopold dumped them online and invited crowd-sourcing of news from nearly 300 pages of FBI interview summaries (“302 documents”).

One of the first items to surface is from an interview with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (now serving a prison sentence for lying to Congress, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations). From page 37 of the PDF, BuzzFeed’s team reports:

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, told FBI agents about negotiations to build a gleaming Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, about how much Trump, who was then in the midst of a presidential campaign, knew about the negotiations, and about the false statement that Cohen later made to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about it all.

Cohen said that during the presidential campaign, he informed Trump that he had a discussion with a “woman from the Kremlin” about the plan to build the tower, according to a Nov. 20, 2018, summary of his interview with FBI agents and prosecutors from Mueller’s team. “Cohen told Trump he spoke with a woman from the Kremlin who had asked specific and great questions about Trump Tower Moscow, and that he wished Trump Organization had assistants that were that good and competent,” the FBI summary says. He also said that in his letter to Congress about the development, he initially wrote that he had “limited contact with Russian officials.” But that line was struck from the letter. Cohen said he did not know who specifically struck it.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told Cohen not to elaborate on details of the Moscow project so as not to “muddy the water.” Sekulow told the Associated Press Monday night (NYT story) Cohen never told him anything about any call with a woman from Russia. He did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment. That is: Nothing to see here, Congress; move along.

Now might be a good time to remind readers that members of Team Trump feel “no obligation to be honest with the media.”

Josh Gerstein, legal affairs contributor for Politico, believes many of the redactions in the FOIA documents relate to conversations with the president. Marcy Wheeler guesses that’s right:

Wheeler also responds to the Republicans’ prebuttal of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report in a tweet thread here. That report is scheduled for public release today.

Finally, Natasha Bertrand reports for Politico that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the Ukraine conspiracy allegations and, “according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.” Not that that will stop Republicans from publicly claiming (for Trump’s benefit) that this Moscow-inspired conspiracy theory is not a dead issue.

Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina told Frank Thorp of NBC, “I don’t think there’s any question that elected officials in Ukraine had a favorite in the election.” Asked whether having a preference amounted to election interference, Burr challenged the news media to look into it and refused to answer if he had.

Even if Ukrainian officials preferred Clinton over Trump in 2016 and publicly said so, disliking Trump does not an election interference conspiracy make, as Burr well knows. But he’s got a liege lord to serve.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.