213: Social Media’s Role in Political Hate, Trump Investigation Expands

Chris Spangle, Greg Lenz, Hannah Cook, and Cat Anagnos discuss social media’s role in the Congressional shooting, and the Mueller investigation expands to President Trump.

Show Notes

Republican Shooting

  • James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old man from Illinois, walked onto a baseball diamond Wednesday in Northern Virginia and shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Four others, including a congressional staffer, a lobbyist, and two members of the Capitol Police, were also wounded in the attack.
  • On Wednesday morning, Mr. Hodgkinson single opened fire on a practice session Congressional Republicans for their annual charity congressional baseball game against Congressional Democrats.
  • The shooter attacked near Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria. The game, a partisan match between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, had been scheduled for Thursday evening at 7 pm.
  • At approximately 7:09 a.m. on June 14, the Alexandria Police Department responded to the scene at 400 East Monroe Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. They arrived at 7:12 a.m. to shots fired in the vicinity of Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, where members of a congressional baseball team were practicing.
  • The subject was engaged by law enforcement and shot at approximately 7:14 a.m.
  • The first congressional baseball game was played in 1909, and Democrats roughed up the Republican team, 26-16.
  • At the heart of the game has long been charity. The 1917 game, in the midst of World War I, supported the Red Cross and during the Depression proceeds went to relief of the unemployed. In recent years, millions of dollars have been raised for a variety of organizations ranging from the Boys and Girls Club to the Washington Literacy Corps
  • The game brings families to Washington, a rarity; spouses meet and members of Congress spend time with each other away from the Capitol. In essence, the game offers a reprieve from the daily grind of politics.
  • The game, which remains on schedule for 7 p.m. Thursday.
  • House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others were treated at local hospitals Wednesday after a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday morning.
    • Scalise, 51, is a fifth-term congressman who serves as the top vote counter for House GOP leadership. He’s married with two children, and he hails from Louisiana. He’s known as a booster for his state, recommending restaurants to visiting staffers or reporters.
    • Scalise was a member of the College Republicans at Louisiana State University and volunteered for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign. As a child, he urged neighbors to vote, according to a “Politics in America” almanac profile.
    • On the Hill, he has been considered one of the more conservative members of the conference, backing spending cuts and gun rights. Scalise also used his perch to advocate for Louisiana in 2010 after the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. He sponsored legislation giving fines related to the spill to coastal states to rebuild.
    • In 2012, Scalise was elected head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers. In 2014, when then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) loss in a primary triggered a leadership shuffle, Scalise won his current spot as whip, buoyed by southern Republicans who wanted to see one of their own in leadership.
  • Congressional staffer Zack Barth
    • Barth has worked for Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) since last year. He’s the congressman’s “legislative correspondent.” He previously worked for former Rep. Randy Neugebauer as both a staff and policy assistant, before joining Williams’ office in September, according to legislative records.
  • Williams tweeted Wednesday that Barth was “receiving medical attention but is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.”
  • Lobbyist Matt Mika
    • Lobbyist for Tyson Foods, suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and was said to be in the intensive care unit at a Washington hospital, where friends were keeping vigil on Wednesday afternoon, several sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO. His family said he has been listed in critical condition.
  • Capitol Hill Police Officer David Bailey
    • Bailey, per his LinkedIn profile, has worked for the Capitol Police since 2008. He also worked a stint for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    • Bailey was treated and released after sustaining a minor injury during the incident, Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
  • Capitol Hill Police Officer Crystal Griner
    • Verderosa said Griner was in good condition in the hospital after being shot in the ankle Wednesday morning.
  • The gunman, identified by a law enforcement source as James T. Hodgkinson of Illinois, died.
    • Hodgkinson’s wife told ABC that he had been living in Alexandra for the past two months.
    • A Facebook page linked to Hodgkinson lists him as the owner of JTH Inspections. A Yelp page for JTH Inspections has pictures of Hodgkinson and locates the company in Belleville, IL.
    • Hodgkinson posted content favorable to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on his page and signed a Change.org petition for the removal of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” Hodgkinson wrote in a March 22 post.
    • The former mayor of Alexandria, Virginia Bill Euille, said he had spoken with the suspected congressional baseball practice shooter almost every morning for more than a month, and had discovered the man was living out of his gym bag.
    • The former mayor lost his reelection bid last year, but told the Washington Post he first met Hodgkinson during their morning workouts at the local YMCA. Euille said he frequently saw Hodgkins in the lobby using his laptop.
    • Euille said Hodgkinson approached him after hearing people greeting Euille as “mayor.”

      “After the first or second week, he asked about good places to eat … within walking distance,” Euille said. “He was a very friendly person.”

      “But what I did notice about this gentleman is he’d open up his gym bag and in it, he had everything he owned. He was living out of his gym bag. That, and he sat in the Y’s lobby for hours and hours. Outside of myself, I don’t think he knew anyone else is in town.”

      Mayor Euille said Hodgkinson had told him he was a home inspector and asked about available jobs, but said he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.
  • According to multiple outlets, after his suspected shoot out with law enforcement, Hodgkinson died of his injuries in hospital. In an interview with Hodgkinson’s wife, Suzanne, told ABC that he had taken a trip and had been living in Alexandria for the last two months. He is survived by his wife and brother Michael.
  • The FBI issued a joint statement according to which the shooter’s weapons recovered at the scene include a 9 mm handgun and a 7.62 caliber rifle, and more importantly, the:

“ATF has conducted traces on these weapons and has determined that both were purchased by the shooter from federal firearms licensees.” It also adds that “we currently have no evidence to suggest that the purchases were not lawful.”

  • Additionally, the FBI said it has processed the shooter’s vehicle, a white conversion van, which was parked in the parking lot of the YMCA directly adjacent to the park where the shooting took place. From that vehicle, the FBI has recovered and is processing a cell phone, a computer, and a camera.
  • In other words, not only was Hodgkinson a resident of Illinois, arguably the state with the most prohibitive gun laws, but his purchases were also legal.

Senate Intelligence Committee Testimony

  • In the run-up to the hearing, Sessions canceled a previously scheduled appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, where he was supposed to discuss the Trump administration’s multibillion-dollar budget request for the Justice Department.
  • Sessions explained his refusal to answer these questions by citing “long-standing department policy,” but ran into some difficulty when asked by Harris exactly what that policy was. He had not read the policy; nor had he asked that the policy be provided to him. He had “talked about it,” he said, although the “it” that was talked about may not have been a policy after all.
  • Instead, Sessions said, it was “the real principle” — that the Constitution guarantees what Sessions called the president’s “confidentiality of communications,” terms that appear in certain legal decisions but do not appear in the Constitution. “It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege,” Sessions said. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., took a different view, telling the attorney general, “You’re impeding this investigation.”
  • Sessions felt that he could not speak about anything that could conceivably fall under executive privilege in the future, whether or not that privilege had actually been invoked.
    • As a reminder, Article II of the Constitution charges the president — and no one else — with the duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”
    • All Article II says about the rest of the executive branch is that “The President…may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices…he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint…officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.”
    • It says nothing about an attorney general or a Department of Justice, both of which were created by Congress to help presidents carry out this core constitutional duty under the control of the president, including the role of providing the president with their “opinion, in writing”.
    • For the first 70 years under the Constitution, that was the chief role of the Attorney General: to advise the president about legal matters, sometimes confidentially, sometimes by formal written opinions that were intended to be part of the public record.
    • As the Justice Department grew in the years after the Civil War, the AG became more consumed with running the Justice Department, and eventually the role of confidential legal advisor to the president was mainly taken up in practice by the White House Counsel, and the role of providing written legal opinions to the executive branch was housed in the Office of Legal Counsel within DOJ. But nothing in the law prevented the AG from being called to advise the president in confidence, and presidents have continued to do so from time to time.
  • Sessions corroborated that the meeting between Trump and Comey had taken place, and that Comey approached him the following day with concerns. “I do recall being one of the last ones to leave,” Sessions said. “Did you decide to be one of the last to leave?” asked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “I don’t know how that occurred,” Sessions replied.
  • He did differ from Comey on two points. In Sessions’s version of events, it was Comey’s job, not Trump’s, to make sure that their conversations did not stray into active investigations.
  • Sessions denied remaining silent when Comey brought up his concerns about being left alone with the president. Instead, Sessions said, he told Comey that the FBI and Justice Department “needed to be careful” about following their own guidelines.
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declined to describe the scope of Sessions’s recusal Tuesday at his testimony before the Committee, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation:
    • “In matters in which he’s recused, I’m the attorney general, and therefore I know what we’re investigating — he does not,” Rosenstein said. “He actually does not know what we’re investigating and I’m not going to be talking about it publicly.”
    • The deputy attorney general also testified that he and the president have not discussed the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation.
    • He shot down reports of any involvement, on his part, of reported plans to remove Mueller from his post. “There is no secret plan that involves me,” he said.
    • Rosenstein was peppered with questions about the Russia investigation. In May, Rosenstein defended a memo he signed laying out his criticisms of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and, in doing so, noted that he had discussed with Sessions his negative view of Comey’s behavior last winter.
    • He repeated the claim on Tuesday. Yet while Rosenstein declined to say who directed him to write the document, Sessions, hours later, testified that the president requested assessments on Comey’s fitness to lead the FBI from both men.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for his part, said he hadn’t discussed removing Mueller with anyone. “I have known Mr. Mueller over the years and he served 12 years as FBI director. I knew him before that. I have confidence in Mr. Mueller,” Sessions said. “I know nothing about the investigation. I fully recuse myself.”
  • According to NBC, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will go back before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow to answer questions in a closed session.  This new hearing comes after Coats testified before the same committee in an open session last week but refused to discuss direct conversations with the President in a public session.
  • As we pointed out last week, Intel Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner didn’t get the response he had hoped for when he asked DNI Director Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers whether they had ever been pressured by the Trump administration to downplay the Russian investigation.
  • The Special Prosecutor Mueller led Investigation team is setting up interviews with the nation’s top intelligence officials to find out whether Trump had asked them to try to persuade Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Post. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Tuesday night that Mueller was also looking into possible money laundering by Trump campaign staffers and associates.
  • The fact that Mueller’s team can conduct such a broad probe — one apparently looking into every possible angle of the Trump-Russia scandal, from possible financial crimes to outright collusion with the Kremlin — is a reflection of just how much legal firepower he has assembled.
  • Former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s All Star Legal Team:
    • Michael Dreeben, an expert on criminal law who has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court
    • Andrew Weissmann, a seasoned prosecutor who’s spent his career going after organized crime
    • James Quarles, a former assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation
    • Jeannie Rhee, a former senior adviser to former Attorney General Eric Holder and a white-collar crime specialist
    • Aaron Zebley, a cybersecurity expert who spent decades in the FBI before joining a private practice
  • Trump’s team, by contrast, is led by Marc Kasowitz, a Wall Street lawyer with minimal experience in federal investigations:
    • Kasowitz, who will lead Trump’s defense and brags of being the toughest lawyer on Wall Street, has a longstanding relationship with the president.
    • He defended Trump in various high-profile cases, including the 2016 class-action lawsuits against Trump University for fraud and the 2006 defamation suit against biographer Timothy O’Brien for allegedly misrepresenting the real estate mogul’s net worth. The suit was later thrown out by a judge in New Jersey in 2009.
    • But even though Kasowitz has experience working with Trump, he doesn’t have an extensive background dealing with politically charged investigations like this one or navigating official Washington.
    • His top two partners so far, Michael Bowe and Jay Sekulow, are known more for their time on TV than their time in the courtroom, and don’t have anywhere near the background Mueller’s team boasts to take on this challenge.
    • There are two key team Trump players besides Kasowitz: Michael Bowe, a partner from Kasowitz’s law firm, and Jay Sekulow, a chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative, Christian-based social organization.
    • Bowe’s experience is in commercial and corporate litigation. The two lawyers have spent their careers building reputations on Wall Street, but it’s not clear how their prowess there will hold up during the Russia and obstruction case.
    • Sekulow, the ACLJ’s chief counsel, has slightly more relevant experience. He argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court, including hearings on abortion rights and religious freedom. It’s an impressive tally, but doesn’t compare with Dreeben, who has argued more than 100 cases in front of the country’s highest court.
    • It’s also not looking like Kasowitz’s team is going to get much stronger anytime soon. Prominent lawyers with investigative experience at four major law firms declined to represent the president, citing concerns about Kasowitz’s leadership and influence over Trump.
    • These lawyers include Brendan Sullivan of Williams & Connolly, a white-collar specialist who is consistently named as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in the country, and Ted Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who was the solicitor general under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004.
    • At least so far, Mueller’s team has a clear advantage. This edge will be important when Mueller squares off with Kasowitz over the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow, undisclosed meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, financial ties to Russia, and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

  • Tucker Carlson segment going off on the Deep State
  • According to anonymous sources, the Washington Post is reporting a new revelation marking a “major turning point” in the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration and whether he obstructed justice in interactions with former FBI Director James Comey. Mueller’s investigation will get underway with interviews of numerous “senior intelligence officials” as early as this week. Text from WaPo’s story:
  • “The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

    The move by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s own conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

    Five people briefed on the requests, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’ recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy and it’s unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.”
  • To summarize, for anyone who has managed to ignore all the mass hysteria of the past 6 months, the intelligence community basically forced Trump’s hand by slowly leaking out damaging innuendos and accusations over the past several months, all while refusing to confirm that he, himself, was never actually under investigation.
  • In the end, those damaging leaks, combined with Comey’s refusal to confirm publicly that Trump was not under investigation, resulted in Comey’s sudden dismissal on May 9th.  And now, even though he was never a target of any investigation, leaks from the intelligence community have forced a situation where Trump may be under investigation by the intelligence community, a rather confounding, if perhaps well-orchestrated, outcome.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee is launching a wide-ranging probe into the circumstances behind James Comey’s firing as FBI director, as well as any attempts to influence FBI investigations under the Obama administration.
  • In the letter, Grassley also stressed that the committee is obligated to look into the Justice Department’s handling last year of the probe surrounding Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail use, citing Comey’s testimony last week that he was concerned DOJ “could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the justice system.”
  • Grassley and Feinstein met late Tuesday to discuss the Russia matter following testimony from Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a Grassley spokesman. The Judiciary Committee has oversight of the Justice Department and the FBI.

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