Jury Convicts Business Partner of Ex-Trump Adviser Flynn of Illegal Lobbying

(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — A jury on Tuesday convicted a one-time business partner of former national security adviser Michael Flynn on charges he illegally acted as a Turkish agent when he and Flynn undertook a project to discredit an exiled cleric wanted by Turkey’s government.

Bijan Kian, 67, was convicted on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent, according to Josh Stueve, a spokesman for the US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 18.

The convictions came despite comments by the judge made outside the jury’s presence that the government’s evidence was weak.

The jury concluded that Kian, whose full name is Bijan Rafiekian, worked to conceal Turkey’s involvement in the contract, which targeted Fethullah Gulen. The cleric is blamed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a failed coup there in 2016.

“Today’s verdict should stand as a deterrent to any malign foreign influence that undermines the integrity of our political processes,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a news release.

Prosecutors made their case without testimony from Flynn, who had initially been expected to be the government’s star witness.

Under federal law, individuals working on behalf of foreign governments are required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to provide a measure of transparency.

Prosecutors say Flynn and Kian received hundreds of thousands of dollars through their joint business venture, the Flynn Intel Group, to discredit Gulen. Those efforts included a November 2016 op-ed piece in The Hill newspaper in which Flynn compared Gulen to Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Prosecutors argued that Turkey’s involvement in the project was deliberately hidden when Flynn Intel Group received payment through a Dutch company run by a prominent Turkish businessman.

Defense lawyers, though, said the contract with the business was legitimate. They also presented testimony that Kian initially planned to register under FARA but was told he did not have to after consulting a lawyer. They argued it would be wrong to convict Kian of a crime when he received legal advice recommending the opposite.

The case against Kian spun off from special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians.

Flynn was a major foreign policy adviser to Trump during the campaign, and served briefly as his national security adviser. He has pleaded guilty to making false statements in a separate case, and admitted in that case that he …read more

Source:: Time – Politics

      

Mueller Is Set to Testify Before the House Tomorrow. Here’s Everything to Know

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election that he helmed for nearly two years. In his highly anticipated though reluctant appearance, Mueller will face questions about his office’s examination of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia and the obstruction-of-justice inquiry that investigated President Donald Trump’s efforts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation itself.

This will be the first time Mueller has publicly answered questions about the investigation. Mueller previously gave a statement to the press in May when he closed the special counsel’s office, but he did not take questions. Mueller said during the same press conference that if he was called to testify, he would not offer any information beyond the confines of the report. “The report is my testimony,” Mueller said.

The discrepancy between the topics Republicans and Democrats plan on broaching is indicative of the partisan tenor that will likely dominate the hearings. House Democrats have been preparing to ask questions about Trump’s moves to interfere with the Mueller investigation through former White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Congressional Democrats are also preparing to ask Mueller about the President’s alleged attempts at tampering with witnesses, including Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been preparing questions about Peter Strzok, the former FBI employee who texted anti-Trump text messages, and Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer whose opposition research dossier was a mixed bag. The Mueller report validated some of its claims, debunked one about Michael Cohen, and did not prove others. Republicans have criticized the DOJ’s citation of the Steele dossier in justifying a surveillance warrant in 2016 for Carter Page, who had already left his position as a campaign adviser. Steele was reportedly interviewed in June as a part of the DOJ inspector general’s inquiry into the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign.

The President continues to characterize the special counsel’s investigation as a “witch hunt” while maintaining that Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction.” (The report says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”) Trump said Monday he may or may not watch Mueller’s live testimony. “I’m not going to be …read more

Source:: Time – Politics

      

Mueller May Be Willing to Talk About Election Security—If Democrats Can Avoid Focusing on Collusion

While former Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made it clear he does not intend to go beyond what is laid out in his report when he testifies before Congress on Wednesday, he indicated one possible exception in May.

The threat to U.S. election security “deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller warned in his rare public remarks on May 29, the closest he got to giving an opinion on the content of his report. He closed by “reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our elections.”

But the main focus of Mueller’s report — foreign interference in a U.S. election and the vulnerabilities it exposed — is unlikely to take center stage when he testifies, even as U.S. national security officials warn that little is being done to prevent the same thing from happening in 2020. While Democrats on Tuesday used the upcoming hearing to slam Republicans’ unwillingness to advance election security legislation, it remains to be seen how many of them are planning to give up some of their limited time to ask Mueller to go deeper on the issue instead of using it to spotlight President Donald Trump’s actions.

If it was prioritized, Mueller could give significant weight to election security efforts that have floundered in Congress. Several Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have indicated that they hope he will use the high-profile hearings to talk about these ongoing threats, but demurred when asked whether they themselves would be using some of their valuable time — about five minutes each — to ask those questions. The hearings come as Congress remains deadlocked on legislation to counter the next attack on U.S. election infrastructure, three years after the Russian operation first came to light. Democrats are accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of refusing to allow the Senate to vote on bipartisan election security proposals.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to hear again directly from Bob Mueller about what these attacks on our democracy were and hopefully it will spike people’s interest in making sure that we can reinforce our election security,” Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, said on Tuesday. “Hopefully it will get Mitch McConnell interested in this fundamental enterprise to make sure that Americans’ democracy is secure and protected.”

This includes the “Securing Americans Federal Elections Act” (SAFE), which would require voting systems to use backup paper ballots in federal elections. …read more

Source:: Time – Politics