Here is an exposition and analysis of some of this week’s national security-related threads authored by Just Security Editorial Board member and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.


Trump Policy Preference for Rolling Back Russia Sanctions and Mueller’s Investigation

Renato responds in this thread to President Trump’s recent comments describing Russia as “very, very heavily sanctioned” and emphasizing the need for getting back to “healing a world that is shattered and broken.” He notes that Trump’s comments suggest impropriety, given the ongoing investigation and controversy into Trump-Russia ties. In particular, Mueller is likely looking into whether any Trump campaign officials promised to relieve sanctions when in power, in exchange for Russia assisting in some what in the election or in individuals’ financial interests. In that context, Renato notes that Trump’s comments would invite additional scrutiny.


Mueller Investigating Michael Flynn’s Pre-Election Conversation with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)

Renato analyzes the news report that Special Counsel Mueller is looking into Michael Flynn’s alleged conversation with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in Sept. 2016. He notes that this news should not necessarily be understood to mean that Mueller is looking to charge Rohrabacher criminally or as the suspect of a probe. Rather, the investigation could merely be looking at Rohrabacher to provide evidence in relation to Flynn.


Washington Post Timeline of Trump Campaign Contacts with Russia

Here, Renato points out that the Washington Post‘s timeline of Trump-Russia contacts rebuts the assertion that there were only minimal contacts between the campaign and Russia.

At the same time, he notes that the mere fact of a contact in and of itself is not necessarily a crime. A meeting with a foreign official may be a normal part of an electoral campaign. As former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul noted in a March 2017 interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, it would not be unusual for a foreign Ambassador like Sergei Kislyak to try to meet with a campaign official like Jeff Sessions; that would be a standard part of their job. Thus, FBI investigators working on the Trump-Russia inquiry must look to the surrounding context and content of each meeting to determine whether a crime or some foreign intelligence activity may have occurred.


Sessions Letter on Appointing a Second Special Counsel for Clinton, Comey Controversies

Renato analyzes Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ letter (actually written by Assistant AG Boyd) about the potential appointment of a second Special Counsel to look into controversies related to Hillary Clinton and James Comey. His take on the issue differs in part from that of Ben Wittes, quoted below, in that Renato believes Sessions’ letter illustrates he may be taking some of Congress’ concerns seriously. Renato does not view the letter as necessarily being a polite rejection of Congressional Republicans’ requests for Sessions to investigate these issues.


Senate Judiciary Committee Sends Letter to Jared Kushner’s Lawyer for Withholding Documents

Here, Renato notes that on Nov. 16, two Democratic Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter requesting that Jared Kushner produce two emails relating to the Russia investigation he had failed to provide Congress. Because the matter involves an informal request by the Senate Committee rather than a subpoena, Renato believes that Kushner is unlikely to be reprimanded for this. For a similar line of reasoning and more, see Andy Wright’s analysis at Just Security on Friday.