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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday that the economy would crash and no policy work could be done if lawmakers investigate his administration or stand in the way of his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria.

The lines, delivered early in his State of the Union address, were so clearly designed to draw cheers from his Republican allies that they even included a rhyme scheme.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” he said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

Instead of applause, Trump was met with steely silence.

Amid Trump’s nearly 5,200 words Tuesday night, that absence of sound spoke loudest. It represented a growing and increasingly fraught disconnect between the president and Congress on two issues that figure to factor prominently in his two-year quest for re-election. And, more broadly, it demonstrated again that the president no longer has the kind of command over GOP foot soldiers in Congress than he once enjoyed.

Just this week, the Senate voted 70-26 on a nonbinding amendment opposing a “precipitous withdrawal” from either Afghanistan or Syria — a reaction to Trump’s plans to bring troops home from both countries — and several Republicans have said they hope the president does not try to execute an end-run around Congress to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

While Trump promised Tuesday that “I’ll get it built,” Republicans chose not to fund the wall when they controlled the House and Senate in the last Congress.

And on the heels of Trump slamming top intelligence officials whose testimony on Capitol Hill has contradicted his claims about Iran cheating on the nuclear deal from which he withdrew the U.S., the appetite among lawmakers to heed his call to back down on their oversight role seems to be minimal.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Tuesday night that Trump is mixed up about Congress’ role.

“The president seems to believe that because Congress must legislate, we should not investigate,” Cummings said in a statement. “Of course, the Constitution requires us to do both. That is exactly how it works.”

For Trump, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Syria represents the delivery of a campaign promise — and a potentially powerful plank in his re-election platform.

“As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach,” he said. “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

That line, which reflects the sentiments of many voters, including many Democrats, drew mild applause in the chamber.

Of Afghanistan, he said, “We do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace … it’s time.”

In 2016 and again now, Trump has bet that the voting public is at odds with politicians in Washington about continued U.S. engagement in foreign wars. One data point that supports that theory: when the Senate voted this week to announce its opposition to hasty withdrawals, most of the Democrats running for president or considering bids voted against the amendment and, essentially, with Trump.

The amendment was nothing more than a policy statement — it didn’t restrict Trump in any way — but the fact that the Republican-led Senate chose to vote on it demonstrated an increased willingness among GOP lawmakers to make public their disagreements with the president.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, one of the Democrats weighing a bid for the presidency, criticized Trump’s methods but not his decision to move toward bringing troops home.

“The president’s decision-making process about troop levels in Afghanistan and Syria has been reckless and wildly inconsistent,” he said after the vote. “But the president’s failure to construct a coherent foreign policy doesn’t mean that the right answer is for U.S. troops to stay deployed overseas with no end in sight.”

The bigger issue for Trump could be the wide-ranging investigations into his administration taking place mostly on the Democratic-led House side of the Capitol — the ones he referenced high in his address.

Some Democrats want to impeach him. But even short of investigations by the House — or special counsel Robert Mueller finding impeachable offenses related to his campaign’s connections to Russia or obstruction of justice — probes into the conduct of executive branch agencies and the White House could hurt his re-election effort.

After two years of a raucous GOP defense of him in the House, the sound of silence Tuesday night was stunning.

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Sarah Sanders admitted she had no evidence for claims about FBI agents, Comey

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By Claire Atkinson

On May 10, 2017, Sarah Sanders, then the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters that “countless” FBI agents had told the White House that they had lost confidence in James Comey, who had been fired as FBI director the day before by President Donald Trump.

But special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released Thursday, says that she simply made the assertion up.

The report says Sanders, since promoted to press secretary, told investigators she had no evidence to make that claim.

Sanders, who was interviewed by Mueller’s team as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the claim was a “slip of the tongue.”

Sanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Mueller report underscored the extent to which the White House created an unreliable narrative about Comey’s firing, with Sanders’ statements deflecting questions about Trump’s justification for the move.

“She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything,” the report stated.

Sanders told reporters at the 2017 press conference “the President, the Department of Justice, and bipartisan members of Congress had lost confidence in Comey,” as did the rank and file of the FBI.

When a reporter indicated that the “vast majority” of FBI agents supported Comey, Sanders said, “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”

While Sanders’ claim was widely scrutinized at the time, the revelation in the Mueller report that she admitted to having no evidence for the claim sparked renewed criticism.

“They all lie. Lie. Lie,” tweeted Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, on Thursday.

The report also details how Jeff Sessions, then attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, expressed concern to then-White House counsel Don McGahn about the White House’s effort to push the narrative that Comey’s firing was Rosenstein’s decision.

McGahn later asked attorneys in the White House to work with the press to “correct the narrative.” During an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt the day after the Sanders news conference, Trump admitted that he had made the decision to fire Comey because “of this Russia thing with Trump.”



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Mueller didn’t charge Trump — but his report is a brutal indictment

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By Jonathan Allen

President Donald Trump has evaded criminal charges — but special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a brutal indictment of his campaign and his presidency.

The first volume of the two-part, 448-page report details how Trump and his allies solicited, encouraged, accepted and benefited from the assistance provided by America’s most storied foreign adversary as part of a multi-front assault on American democracy.

The other lays out comprehensive evidence that the president may have obstructed justice through what Mueller described as a “pattern of conduct” that included firing FBI Director Jim Comey, trying to remove Mueller, publicly praising and condemning witnesses, and seeking to limit the scope of the probe.

Taken in sum, Mueller’s findings reveal three years of actions by Trump and his subordinates that critics say rattle the very foundations of the American system of governance, from the sacrosanct nature of democratic elections to the idea that no man, not even the president, is above the law.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Mueller report

The story, in even its most sympathetic telling, is one of a president who used nearly every power vested in his office and his persona — including hiring and firing, the bully pulpit, party loyalty, private intimidation, and disinformation — to cover up ties between his campaign and Russia so that he could spare himself the public humiliation of having won an election that wasn’t entirely on the level.

Of the marquee reports written for Congress over the decades about presidential scandals, the Mueller report will stand out for the brazenness of the chief executive — and for the degree to which insubordination among his underlings reined him in, if only at the margins.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Only an hour or so before the report was rolled out, Attorney General William Barr, who was picked for his job after writing that a president cannot obstruct justice, said that the report found “no collusion” between Trump and Russia — an expression that Mueller painstakingly explained in the report is of no legal consequence. It is, however, a favorite term of art of one Donald J. Trump.

Some of Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill were satisfied, without reading the report, that Trump came out a clear winner — exonerated because he was not prosecuted.

“We know the conclusions of the #MuellerReport: No collusion, no further indictments,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tweeted. “It’s over. We also know the spin, and we know that many people will still claim the President is guilty. I’ll be reading the report in its entirety. No spin, just facts.”

But Democrats saw in Mueller’s report a delineation between the powers afforded the executive and legislative branches when it comes to judging the actions of a president.

Trump’s own employees, including Barr and Mueller, did not move forward with a prosecution — indeed, Mueller wrote that he determined Justice Department guidance precluded him from doing so. But he also noted that Congress, which does not report to the president, has its own set of powers.

“The acts of obstruction of justice, whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Thursday. “And it’s clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Mueller had laid out a “roadmap” for Congress.

It’s hard to fathom how a lengthy report in the public domain is better for Trump than the top-line declaration of a clean bill of health he got from Attorney General William Barr a few weeks ago. And there will be plenty more public discussion of the details of Mueller’s findings. Already, the special counsel has been invited to Capitol Hill to testify about his conclusions.

Democrats will no doubt use their power in the House to extract as much political pain from Trump as possible and do so while making the case that they are simply standing up for small-“d” democratic values.

And while the political bar for removing Trump is likely insurmountable — it would take 20 Republicans and all 47 Senate Democrats to oust him — the behavior chronicled by Mueller towers over that of the standard set by the House for impeachment of President Bill Clinton on obstruction articles, according to experts.

Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who investigated Clinton as part of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s team, said beyond that the Trump case is “infinitely more serious” than the one she worked on.

“Here we’ve got a hostile foreign power and the evidence is overwhelming that their objective was to attack our free and fair process,” she said.

Frank O. Bowman III, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and author of the forthcoming book “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump” said the Mueller report suggests the president committed impeachable offenses.

“The issue for impeachment is not whether a criminal statute was violated but whether a president engaged in a pattern of activity inconsistent with his obligation to take care that the law be faithfully executed and instead sought to use his authority to undercut the institutions and norms of the justice system to benefit himself,” he said. “The second half of the Mueller report strongly supports such a conclusion as to Trump.”

Bowman said Trump’s conduct tracked with that of President Richard Nixon, but that the refusal of Trump’s subordinates to follow his orders — very likely with the Nixon example in mind — may end up saving the president politically.

“The fact that they refused doesn’t change the constitutional impeachment calculus at all,” he said. “Still, the fact that he was so often restrained will make it easy for Republicans in Congress to wave off his otherwise impeachable behavior.”

If that’s the case, the question of whether Mueller’s findings render Trump unfit for office will rest with the jury he’s always wanted: the voters. But the special counsel’s report is an indelible testament to the president’s weakness in seeking Russian aid and in deceiving the nation about it.



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No proof in Mueller’s report of Russian meddling, Kremlin says

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By Associated Press

MOSCOW — The Kremlin argued Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report has not offered any credible evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The redacted report presented on Thursday said that there was no collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian officials but it did document Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential vote.

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