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This Week: Putin Praises Mueller, Barr Goes Full Trump

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May 17, 2019 4:06 p.m.

Special counsel Robert Mueller earned an unlikely defender this week: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Putin referred to Mueller’s work as “exotic” and “very objective” — a far-cry from how President Trump himself characterized the probe this week. The President unilaterally concluded Friday that the investigation began as an attempt to spy on his campaign. Those behind the supposed spying deserved “long jail sentences,” he added.

Meanwhile, the “TREASON”-touter’s eldest son is still required to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The decision to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. last week was bipartisan, but sparked outrage from some of Trump’s most ardent defenders.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that the only reason the committee opted to subpoena Trump Jr. was because he backed out of voluntary appearances as least twice in recent months.

The two parties reached an agreement on the conditions of his testimony on Tuesday, but not before Trump golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave the president’s son some unsavory legal advice: Ignore the subpoena.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee is having a more difficult time making arrangements to question Mueller. While Attorney General William Barr claims the decision is all up to “Bob,” further reporting shows that Barr himself might be the main hindrance to Mueller’s testimony.

Last week, Barr urged Trump to invoke executive privilege over the unredacted report to avoid complying with subpoenas for the full document. Trump happily obliged. Negotiations between the Justice Department and the committee have stalled while DOJ lawyers examine whether invoking executive privilege bars Mueller from discussing anything beyond the contents of the redacted version of the report.

The White House is making House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s life hell on another front. In a letter to Nadler earlier this week, the White House flatly rejected all of Nadler’s requests for documents and interviews with witnesses relevant to potential obstruction. The White House argued that Congress’ effort is “duplicative” of Mueller’s probe and that lawmakers’ requests have no legislative relevance.

A furious Nadler called the rejection “outrageous” and suggested he’d consider imposing “very large” fines on subpoena defiers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacted similarly and called the White House’s bluff: Democrats’ legislative purpose for the subpoenas could very easily be the initiation of impeachment proceedings.

Back at the DOJ, Barr made good on his promise to review the origins of the Russia probe, appointing Connecticut’s U.S. attorney to investigate the claims about FBI “spying” on the Trump campaign. During an interview with Fox News, Barr leaned hard into the “investigate the investigators” narrative, telling Trump’s favorite network that he was probing if “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale.” 

Meanwhile, a document on Michael Flynn’s case unsealed Thursday revealed portions of what the former national security adviser shared with federal investigators. We now know that Flynn told prosecutors that senior campaign officials discussed contacting WikiLeaks to obtain damaging intel on the Clinton campaign in October 2016.

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