The Russian Connection: We Get Notes And Letters

It was reported last night by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had asked the FBI’s general council, Dana Boente, to testify in the investigation of the Russian connection to the Trump campaign.

The letter from Boente to Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools is dated Jan. 2, when Boente was still acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division. In the letter, Boente requests legal representation or reimbursement of his legal fees and says he doesn’t believe that he is either a target or a subject of Mueller’s inquiry.

Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government. [..]

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, citing inaccurate testimony that Comey made before Congress about the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Trump told NBC News at the time that the Russia investigation played no role in his decision to dismiss Comey, who at the time was in charge of the inquiry.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he informed Boente — who at the time was his boss — about two discussions he had with Trump about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, one of them the March 30 conversation and the other occurring on April 11.

Comey testified that in the March 30 conversation, Trump complained that the Russia investigation was “a cloud” that was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country” and asked whether Comey could “lift the cloud” by declaring publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation.

Boente, a holdover from the Obama administration, was briefly acting attorney general early last year, succeeding Sally Yates, whom Trump fired for refusing to enforce his immigration-related travel restrictions.

After Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general in February 2017, Boente became acting deputy attorney general, eventually overseeing the Russia investigation when Sessions recused himself. Boente, who remained U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, stepped down from the Justice Department in October after he was asked to make way for a successor chosen by Trump.

The Washington Post confirmed that Boente has been interviewed by the special counsel’s office and turned over handwritten notes that could be evidence in the ongoing investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice.

The interview is significant, because it shows how Mueller is exploring whether the president obstructed justice and keying in on conversations Trump had with his former FBI director about the probe involving his presidential campaign. It also shows the extent to which Mueller has gone to corroborate Comey’s account. [..]

Trump has accused Comey of lying about their conversations, although Comey has said he kept contemporaneous memos documenting the interactions. [..]

Boente, though, is not an eyewitness to Trump and Comey’s interaction. He can only corroborate that what Comey told him lines up with what the former FBI director wrote in his memos and later told Congress.

Comey has said publicly that he relayed to Boente a March 30, 2017, conversation in which Trump complained to him that the “cloud” of the investigation into whether his campaign coordinated with Russia was interfering with his ability to govern, and that he hoped they could publicize the fact that he was not personally under investigation.

At that time, Mueller had yet to be appointed, though the FBI was investigating the matter. Boente was then the acting deputy attorney general and was overseeing the investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself. In that role, he signed a controversial, secret court application to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser. [..]

The people familiar with the matter said Boente also gave to Mueller notes he had made about his own conversation with Comey.

Jed Shugerman, Fordham University law professor, talks with Rachel about what conclusions can be drawn from exclusive documents obtained by TRMS.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel about new reports about Donald Trump’s desire to fire his way out of the Russia investigation, and the significance of new TRMS reporting that Boente had been summoned to speak to Robert Mueller’s investigators.