Mueller Names Russians in Charges: Trump Legal Update

(Bloomberg) -- A dozen Russian intelligence officers were indicted for conspiring to hack into Democrats’ computers, steal documents and interfere in the U.S. presidential election -- evidence taken to a grand jury by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The investigation will now be handled by the national security unit of the Justice Department, where concerns remain about possible interference in the upcoming midterm elections. The Russians’ case will be heard by the federal judge in Washington who is already overseeing the money-laundering trial of Paul Manafort, the first of two cases against him. It may be symbolic in some ways because the Russian defendants are at large and unlikely to be arrested. But they will presumably be limited in their travels, lest they wind up detained in a country other than Russia that could agree to extradite them.

Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, is trying to avoid a trial set for later this month on tax and bank fraud charges in Virginia -- with little luck so far. And the adult-film star who was paid to keep quiet about an alleged tryst with the president was back in the spotlight after an arrest at a strip club in Columbus, Ohio.

These are highlights from the past week in the myriad legal cases entangling people around Trump and foreigners who attempted to aid his election. Here’s a recap of where things stand and what to watch in the coming week:

New Charges

Two Russian units of the GRU, the Russian intelligence agency, are accused of stealing emails and documents, installing malicious software and planting information to the detriment of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an indictment unveiled in Washington on July 13. The Russians then disseminated stolen documents using online personas DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0., according to the indictment.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noted that no American was accused of a crime, but some Americans did communicate with Russian officials. The comments were interpreted to mean more developments are likely. According to the indictment, a candidate for U.S. Congress requested stolen documents from Guccifer in August 2016, and Guccifer transferred about 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to a registered lobbyist that same month.

Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki and suggested he may ask to have the 12 agents named in the indictment extradited to the U.S. But John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said Sunday it would be a “silly” request because Russia won’t do it -- and asking would put the president in a weak position.

Trump’s legal team continues to send contradictory signals about whether the president will consent to be interviewed by Mueller. While the president has said he’d be more than willing -- if given the OK by his lawyers -- Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has waffled. Giuliani told Fox News on July 9 that Trump would answer “narrow” questions from Mueller if he has assurance the investigation is drawing near a close. But three days later, Giuliani said a presidential interview was “probably further away” than before.

Giuliani appeared on Fox as FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was called to testify before Congress. Strzok, whose anti-Trump text messages have become a litmus test for those critical of the Russia investigation, defended his conduct through more than eight hours of congressional questioning and rancorous partisan infighting. Republicans threatened to hold him in contempt for declining to answer some questions on the advice of the FBI’s counsel, although they took no immediate action. Representative Ted Lieu of California called the hearing “stupid and ridiculous.”

The special counsel’s team has now indicted 32 people and three Russian companies and secured five guilty pleas -- with several of Trump’s former associates also agreeing to cooperate. Mueller appears to be far from finished.

Here are some of recent stories on Mueller’s investigation:

Manafort’s New Digs

Manafort had complained that he was jailed too far from his lawyers to prepare adequately for his July 25 trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on bank fraud and tax charges. After U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed to let him move to a jail in Alexandria from Warsaw, Virginia, Manafort again objected, saying he was concerned about his safety at the new facility. He also stood to lose the VIP status he had in Warsaw, with a private bathroom, shower, personal laptop and phone. The judge wasn’t impressed: “It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution.” Manafort was transferred to Alexandria on July 12. His bid for release from jail was rejected by an appeals court panel in Washington the same day.

Ellis will hear arguments this week on Manafort’s request to postpone the Alexandria trial, as well as his bid to move the trial to Roanoke or Richmond, Virginia, where his lawyers say press coverage has been less intense.

Here are some of recent stories on the Manafort case and a link to the Special Counsel site:

Cohen’s Lobbying

Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time fixer and lawyer, is waiting to see whether New York prosecutors charge him with anything related to his businesses. Senate Democrats stepped into the gap with a report showing he had more involvement with a pharmaceutical company than previously reported. Among other things, Cohen pressed the company -- Novartis AG -- to invest in a startup company working on an autism medication. The startup, Yamo Pharmaceuticals, is “closely tied” to the firm Columbus Nova, according to the Democrats’ report. Columbus Nova is another one of Cohen’s clients and has been described in federal regulatory filings as an affiliate of the Renova Group, founded by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is under U.S. sanctions. Vekselberg is the largest investor in funds managed by Columbus Nova.

Novartis said it paid Cohen $1.2 million over one year, and that it stopped using him shortly after signing a contract once it determined that he couldn’t deliver the desired services. The drugmaker’s relationship with Cohen actually lasted about six months longer, according to the report, as then-Chief Executive officer Joe Jimenez corresponded and had phone conversations with Cohen on “substantive issues” such as the administration’s drug-pricing proposals. The company termed those conversations outside the scope of the contract. The Swiss drugmaker also noted that it declined to invest in Yamo.

Here are some of the most recent stories on Cohen’s travails:

Columbus Storm

The most sensational case against Trump was brought by Stephanie Clifford, an adult-film actress who performs as Stormy Daniels. She says she had a tryst with Trump in 2006 and was threatened and tricked into signing a hush agreement that awarded her $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election.

While she battles Trump in court to exit the deal, Daniels has been touring the U.S. performing in strip clubs. She ran into trouble in Columbus, Ohio, where police arrested her last week for allegedly touching club patrons in violation of state law. Less than 24 hours after the arrest, prosecutors dropped the charges. “Can’t stop the storm,” Daniels wrote on Twitter.

Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, found himself drawn into another sex scandal. This time it was courtesy of Shera Bechard, a former Playboy model who allegedly had an affair with Elliott Broidy. She has not received all the money she was promised to remain quiet as they dispute whether there was a breach of her nondisclosure pact. Broidy was a top Republican fundraiser at the Republican National Committee along with Cohen, who negotiated the deal for Broidy and used the same aliases that he used for Trump and Clifford’s hush deal. Bechard sued Avenatti, Broidy and Keith Davidson, the lawyer who originally represented Bechard as well as Clifford. The reasons for her suit and Avenatti’s role aren’t clear: The case was sealed as soon as it was filed.

A California state judge in Los Angeles on July 10 denied Avenatti’s request to immediately unseal the complaint.

Here are some of recent stories on Clifford and Avenatti:

Flynn’s Sentence

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, says he’s eager to be sentenced for having lied to the FBI about contacts he had with Russians. But he’ll have to wait.

Flynn showed up in federal court on July 10 for the first time since pleading guilty last year. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who took over after the judge who heard Flynn’s plea stepped aside, told lawyers for both sides he had “a level of discomfort,” with the notion of imposing a sentence before engaging with them. The judge asked to be updated on the status of the case by Aug. 24. Flynn was jeered by a small group of protesters as he arrived at the courthouse in Washington, some chanting, “Lock him up!” -- a dig at calls of “Lock her up” that crowds chanted about Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Under his plea agreement, Flynn faces up to six months once his sentencing date is set.

His lawyers dismissed a statement made by a new global consulting firm that said he joined, Stonington Global LLC, calling it a “result of a misunderstanding.”

Flynn, who was fired for having lied to the FBI and the vice president about his contacts with Russians, is a key cooperating witness. (Former Trump campaign advisers Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.) Among other matters, Mueller’s investigation is examining whether Trump was trying to impede the Russia inquiry when he fired FBI Director Jim Comey in May 2017 after asking him to let go of the matter against Flynn.

Here are some of recent stories on Flynn:

The Limo Driver

Trump’s personal driver for more than 25 years says the billionaire real estate developer didn’t pay him overtime and raised his salary only twice in 15 years, clawing back the second raise by cutting off his health benefits. The driver, Noel Cintron, sued the Trump Organization for about 3,300 hours of overtime for the past six years.

“Mr. Cintron was at all times paid generously and in accordance with the law,” Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said in a statement. “Once the facts come out we expect to be fully vindicated in court.”

Russian Trolls and Fake News

Mueller is still fighting over how much evidence prosecutors must disclose to Concord Management, a company led by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, sometimes called Putin’s chef. It’s one of three entities and 13 Russians accused of distributing false information from a St. Petersburg location during the 2016 campaign.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in Washington said the government has made a good case to keep some evidence under wraps. It wants to protect the identities of cooperating witnesses who may be helping with the broader Russia investigation, among other items.

On June 29, the judge gave prosecutors some support. Friedrich issued an order barring him and any other foreign national from seeing, sharing or discussing sensitive material without her approval. She also forbade Concord Management’s lawyers from taking that information out of the U.S. or leaving it unattended. Russians spent a couple of years collecting intelligence on U.S. elections, then got directly engaged in the 2016 race -- reaching out to unwitting Trump supporters to promote the candidate, according to Mueller. The next hearing is set for Aug. 3.

Separately, the Democratic National Committee sued Russia, the campaign, WikiLeaks and Trump’s associates claiming widespread election interference. Its case in Manhattan could force campaign staffers to answer questions under oath. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Apprentice Contestant’s Claims

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” claims Trump groped her in 2005. She sued the president for defamation after he labeled her and other women accusing him of sexual misconduct as liars.

A New York judge rejected Trump’s claim that the Constitution bars the president from being dragged into court. “No one is above the law,” the judge wrote. Trump has lost several efforts to derail the suit. Trial preparations continue. Zervos wants to depose Trump and is seeking documents related to claims by other women. The deadline for depositions is Jan. 31, but there hasn’t been a decision on whether Trump must face questioning.

Tax Returns, Trump Foundation

The president is fighting claims he’s using his office to boost his businesses. Trump is accused in several lawsuits of violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause by taking payments from foreign governments at his Washington hotel, golf courses and elsewhere, as well as the domestic clause that bars payments from federal or state governments.

A lawsuit has been brought by about 200 Democrats in Congress and another by some state attorneys general. A third case, by an ethics watchdog group and restaurant competitors of the Trump Organization, is on appeal after a Manhattan federal judge tossed it out. The cases could force Trump to divest his holdings or put them in a blind trust. At a minimum, the plaintiffs will seek Trump’s tax returns.

New York state sued to dissolve Trump’s charitable foundation, claiming it persistently broke state and federal laws through improper political activity and self-dealing. In response, Trump tweeted that “sleazy New York Democrats” are attacking a charity. After bringing the civil case, Barbara Underwood, the state’s attorney general, referred the findings to the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service.

The Case Files:

  • The Flynn case is U.S. v. Flynn, 17-cr-232, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
  • The Cohen case is In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, 18-mj-3161, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
  • The Manafort cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington), and 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
  • The Clifford cases are Clifford v. Trump, 18-cv-2217, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles); Clifford v. Trump, 18-cv-3842, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); and Clifford v. Davidson, 18-cv-5052, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
  • The Denson case: Denson v. Trump, 18-cv-2690, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
  • The hacking indictment is U.S. v. Concord Management, 18-cr-00032, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The DNC case is Democratic National Committee v. the Russian Federation, 18-cv-3501, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
  • The Apprentice case is Zervos v. Trump, 150522/2017, New York Supreme Court, New York County.
  • The emoluments cases are Blumenthal v. Trump, 17-cv-1154, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington); District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt); Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, 17-cv-00458, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
  • The Trump Foundation case is People of the State of New York v. Trump, 451130/2018, New York Supreme Court, New York County.
  • The driver’s case is Cintron v. Trump Organization LLC, 653424/2018, Supreme Court, State of New York (Manhattan).
  • The Russian hackers case is U.S. v. Netyksho, 18-cr-215, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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