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September 21, 2018

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," has spent hours talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about Trump's dealings with Russia and whether he had offered Cohen a pardon, which could amount to obstruction of justice.

The ABC News report cited "sources" for its scoop, but ABC's Meridith McGraw captured a tweet from Cohen's account, quickly deleted, seeming to confirm (in the third person) that Cohen had volunteered "critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement."

Journalist Yashar Ali suggested that Cohen had been test-writing a tweet for someone else, and he appeared to be right, when Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis posted the tweet from his own account.

But Davis had a different explanation:

The bottom line would seem to be firsthand confirmation that Cohen is cooperating with Mueller. And that's potentially bad news for Trump. Peter Weber

September 5, 2018
AFP contributor/Getty Images

In a letter to President Trump's legal team on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that he would allow Trump to submit some answers in writing about whether his campaign conspired with Russia, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Mueller's letter did not address a second main focus of Mueller's inquiry, whether Trump tried to obstruct justice. On that issue, a person familiar with Mueller's letter told the Post, "he said he'd assess it down the road. ... They're essentially saying, 'We'll deal with this at a later date.'"

Trump's lawyers have spent months trying to avert a Trump interview with Mueller's prosecutors, saying they are concerned the president might inadvertently perjure himself, or at least limit its scope. The letter did not say that Mueller has given up on interviewing Trump. Peter Weber

August 27, 2018
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., will hear a case about the 1956 disappearance and presumed murder of a Columbia University professor, Jesus Galindez, and through happenstance and possibly misaligned stars, the case could prevent Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings on President Trump, Russia, collusion, and obstruction of justice from being released or even sent to Congress.

"It is a sleeper case," Harvard Law professor Alex Whiting told Politico. "If the D.C. Circuit were to accept the Department of Justice's arguments ... that would have potentially enormous implications for the future of the information from the Mueller investigation. That could close out a path by which that information becomes public." The case pits the Justice Department against Stuart McKeever, a lawyer and author who has extensively researched Galindez's disappearance and possible murder in the Dominican Republic. He wants a judge to unseal a D.C. grand jury's report on Galindez's disappearance, and the Justice Department is arguing that judges don't have "inherent authority" to release most grand jury reports, including, potentially, Mueller's final report.

Hearing the case will be two Republican-appointed judges, including the sole Trump appointee on the D.C. appellate court, and one judge appointed by former President Barack Obama. Its verdict will be mostly irrelevant if Democrats win control of the House in November and can subpoena Mueller's report, Politico explains, but if Republicans keep control and the judges side with the Justice Department, there may be no avenue for Mueller to release his findings, hampering any push for impeachment. You can read more about the case at Politico. Peter Weber

August 1, 2018
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has referred three investigations involving Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, apparently after determining the foreign lobbying cases fell outside of his mandate, CNN and The New York Times report. The three powerful lobbyists now being scrutinized by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York — Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) at Mercury Public Affairs, and former Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — allegedly failed to register as foreign agents for work on behalf of Ukraine contracted through Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. Unlike Manafort, none of the three have been charged with any crimes, and its not clear the investigations will lead to any indictments.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, "anyone who lobbies or conducts public relations on behalf of a foreign interest in the United States must register with the Justice Department," the Times explains. "The law carries stiff penalties, including up to five years in prison. But it had rarely been enforced, and thus widely ignored, until recently. Now, it appears to have become a weapon for prosecutors."

Podesta — the brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta — and Weber were hired to advocate for Ukraine by the Brussels-based nonprofit European Center for a Modern Ukraine, controlled by Manafort. Their firms were each paid more than $1.1 million for the work, but they only registered with the Justice Department as foreign lobbyists retroactively, in 2017. The team led by Craig, who left Skadden in April, was hired directly by Ukraine's previous government. Peter Weber

July 30, 2018
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The first trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort starts Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, with jury selection. The selected jurors will hear a lot about the $30 million from Ukrainian political consulting that prosecutors say Manafort laundered illegally to avoid paying U.S. taxes. They won't hear anything about Russia or collusion with Moscow, even though the case is being prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. On Sunday, Trump attacked Mueller's investigation on Twitter, insisting there was "No Collusion!" and calling Mueller's investigation a "Rigged Witch Hunt" and "an illegal Scam!" led by alleged "Angry Dems." Trump also alleged that Mueller has "conflicts of interest" because he quit Trump's golf club once, continued to serve as FBI director under former President Barack Obama, and was a candidate Trump considered for FBI director.

Manafort's role as head of Trump's campaign is relevant to the case, The Associated Press notes, but not central. Manafort faces a second trial in Washington, D.C., on Mueller's accusation that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent, working with a Russian with alleged ties to Russian intelligence, and lied to the government. Manafort is the only American Mueller has charged who opted to fight his cases in court instead of cooperating with the government; five people cooperating with Mueller are among the 35 potential witnesses Mueller's team might call in the trial. Peter Weber

July 5, 2018
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing political pressure from President Trump and his allies to wrap up his year-old investigation of Trump's campaign and Russian election interference, and he and "his team of 17 federal prosecutors are coping with a higher-than-expected volume of court challenges that has added complexity in recent months," Bloomberg News reports. But Mueller's not slowing down, he's expanding the investigation — and outsourcing.

"As Mueller pursues his probe, he's making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents — a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually," Bloomberg reports, citing several current and former U.S. officials. "There's no political appetite at this time to increase the size of his staff," but he has called in help from investigators in New York, Pittsburgh, and Alexandria, Virginia, and he has shown a willingness to spin off parts of his investigation, as he did with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's case in Manhattan.

The most pressing legal challenge is from Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, but Russia's Internet Research Agency and a former aide to Trump confidante Roger Stone are also fighting Mueller's team in court. "I don't think he's getting in over his head," Solomon Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, tells Bloomberg "These things have a tendency to balloon. Yes, it may be taxing on them. No, it's not that unusual." You can read more at Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

June 27, 2018
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U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III raised the hopes of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in May by aggressively questioning whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller had the authority to prosecute him for bank fraud, tax evasion, and other alleged financial crimes, saying he saw no connection between the Manfort case and "anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate." Ellis dashed those hopes Tuesday, finding that "upon further review," Mueller's team had properly "followed the money paid by pro-Russian officials" to Manafort, and the case could go to trial in Virginia next month.

This is bad news for Manafort, the only one of four Trump campaign officials who chose to fight Mueller's charges rather than cooperate. But "it also hobbles a favored talking point of Trump and his legal team as they repeatedly attack Mueller's investigation as overly broad and seek to undermine its legitimacy," The Associated Press notes. In his 31-page ruling, Ellis reiterated his concerns about the broad scope of special prosecutors generally, warning that "those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions." But he said "no interpretive gymnastics are necessary to determine that the investigation at issue here falls within" Mueller's mandate.

Mueller is also prosecuting Manafort for money-laundering conspiracy, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and other alleged crimes in federal court in Washington, D.C., and the judge in that case, Amy Berman Jackson, affirmed Mueller's authority to pursue the charges last month. Peter Weber