Sunday, March 24, 2019

Robert Mueller Once Again Fails As Federal Prosecutor

Did you hear the one about the Special Prosecutor who found no conclusive evidence of obstruction of justice? Yeah, I don't think it’s a funny joke, either. But it's definitely a joke.

As you undoubtedly know by now, Attorney General William Barr announced today that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have concluded that the evidence developed during Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump and Russia is "not sufficient" to establish that Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller did not exonerate Trump, but his refusal to find him guilty of obstruction is absurd. There is an abundance of evidence of obstruction.

Any prosecutor worth his or her salt could and should have brought a substantial obstruction of justice case against Trump.

But as I've been reporting for the last 18 years, Mueller has a tendency to choke when it comes to going after American Presidents. By all accounts courageous during his years in the military, Mueller has been far more weasley and self-serving as a federal prosecutor.

Mueller has no trouble going after the bottom feeders, the Paul Manaforts of the world, but he remains loathe to implicate the Big Fish. He refused to question the motives or actions of President George W. Bush during the 9/11 investigation.

Multiple sources have told me that Mueller gave the Saudis a pass after 9/11. Among other egregious mistakes during that investigation, Mueller let Omar Al-Bayoumi, a wealthy Saudi who brought the hijackers to San Diego and paid their rent and had links to the Saudi royals, go back to Saudi Arabia.

Fast forward a couple of decades to the Russian investigation, for which Mueller was once again unwilling to bring charges against Trump, who has brazenly and repeatedly obstructed justice for the last two years.

The evidence:

1) Trump waged multiple vicious public attacks on Mueller during the probe.

2) Trump requested that the FBI go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

3) Trump tried to have Mueller fired.

4) Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia probe and admitted it in an NBC interview with Lester Holt.

5) Trump publicly and privately dangled pardons during this investigation.

6) Trump relentlessly harassed then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling him "scared stiff and missing in action," retweeting a news report that referred to Sessions' recusal as "an unforced betrayal," and declaring that Sessions should un-recuse himself and stop this "rigged Witch Hunt right now.”

7) Trump asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to get US Attorney Geoffrey Berman to un-recuse himself and take over the Michael Cohen investigation.

8) Trump concocted an ambitious lie for Donald Trump Jr. about the reasons behind the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

Each of these examples is obstruction of justice, and when lumped together, it makes for a strong case that any decent prosecutor would have brought.

Now it’s up to Congress to do its job. The Southern District of New York and/or the Eastern District of Virginia, too, will hopefully get to the bottom of the wildly corrupt Trump organization.

Mueller once again refused to fulfill his duties as a federal prosecutor in a high-profile case with much at stake. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler is correct when he states that Trump obstructed justice.

"Regardless of the special counsel's findings, wrongdoing had already been made public," Nadler said this weekend. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Could Robert Mueller, Who Botched the 9/11 Investigation, Botch This One, Too?

The report is in. Robert Mueller, the special counsel charged with getting to the bottom of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and President Trump's possible involvement, has reportedly just forwarded his findings to Attorney General William Barr

Mueller has resided over a team that to date has announced  criminal charges against 34 people, including six of President Trump's associates. Five people close to the president have already pleaded guilty: Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn; former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates; former personal attorney Michael Cohen; and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Trump’s longtime pal Roger Stone was indicted in January and accused of lying to Congress. He's pleaded not guilty.

None of the Americans charged by Mueller is accused of conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election, which is the central question of Mueller’s investigation. 

Seemingly everyone who believes Trump was an asset for Russia believes Mueller is beyond reproach and that his report did get to the bottom of the alleged shenanigans between Trump and his minions and the Russians. But if past is prologue, there is reason to believe it did not.

Some critics insist Mueller botched the biggest and most important investigation he ever headed: the inquiry into the September 11 terror attacks, and whether there was any involvement by associates or agents of Saudi Arabia, which of course has been in the news again over the shockingly brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and American resident Jamal Kashoogie.

Bob Graham, the former Florida Senator who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee's 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, tells me that Mueller blew the FBI probe of the terrorist attacks, ignoring strands of evidence that pointed to possible complicity by Saudi agents in the U.S.

"Bob Mueller is not beyond reproach. Not in my experience as part of the of 9/11 investigation,” Graham says. “I use the term 'aggressive deception'. That's the narrative to describe the events surrounding 9/11 and the FBI. The executive agencies played a role in this, and Mueller carried out the orders.”

Neither Graham nor anyone else I talked to for this story believed Mueller, a lifelong Republican, would go easy on Trump. My sources generally agree that Mueller is a war hero whose life overall has been one of service and accomplishment. 

But there are some places he evidently just did not go in this investigation, and he clearly did not delve as deeply as many were hoping and expecting.

To understand what happened today, it is important to understand what happened almost two decades ago. 

Graham and others insist the Saudis were given a pass by Mueller’s FBI after 9/11, most likely because the idea that Saudis were behind the attack damaged President George W. Bush’s narrative that Iraq was to blame. And at that time Mueller could have been protecting the president and his party.

Although Bush and his top advisors frequently associated 9/11 and Iraq in speeches and comments, no one in his administration directly blamed Iraq for the terror attacks. But Graham says Mueller was fully committed to supporting what Graham believes was that false narrative by blocking Congress and the American people from information about the investigation.

"So much of what the FBI knows remains hidden from public view, and it is because of very aggressive actions by Bob Mueller to keep it hidden from public view,” Graham says. "The old Navy policy is if your captain and his ship go on the rocks, the captain is responsible.”

The role of the Saudi government, if any, in the 9/11 attack remains an issue of fierce dispute. The Saudi government has repeatedly denied any role. And although it was criticized at the time for not digging deep enough into the possible causes of the attacks, the 9/11 Commission did not find any evidence of Saudi government involvement in the attacks.

The Obama administration endorsed that view when it released the redacted 28 pages from the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002.

The Congressional investigation noted, “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support and assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.… At least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
The declassified 28 pages don’t provide any smoking guns in terms of Saudi government involvement. But critics continue to question those conclusions in part because, they believe, the full story of the 9/11 attacks has yet to be investigated or publicly revealed.

One example surrounds the events in Sarasota, Florida, where there are still efforts to get the FBI to release information about Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wealthy Saudi family, who mysteriously fled that city shortly before the attack.

The investigation focused on al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, whose upscale home was owned by Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an adviser to Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the nephew of Saudi King Fahd.
The al-Hijji family reportedly moved out of their Sarasota house and left the country abruptly in the weeks before 9/11, leaving behind three luxury cars and personal belongings including clothing, furniture and fresh food. They also left the swimming-pool water circulating.
Multiple press accounts reported that the gated community’s visitor logs and photos of license tags showed that vehicles driven by several of the future 9/11 hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home. 

Graham said the Sarasota case was covered up by Mueller’s FBI, and that many questions remain unanswered to this day.

Dan Christensen, a reporter with the Florida Bulldog, an online investigative news organization, is still trying to get the FBI to release to the public what it knows about the Sarasota-based Saudis who had connections to the terrorists.

The Bulldog has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests against the bureau.

Christensen reported that the FBI withheld from both Congress’s Joint Inquiry and the subsequent 9/11 Commission any information regarding its post-9/11 investigation of the Sarasota Saudis, which found that 9/11 pilot Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, other hijackers, as well as Al Qaeda figure Adnan Shukrijumah visited al-Hijji’s home.

Among the documentation that was not provided to Congress or the 9/11 Commission, Christensen says, was an April 2002 FBI report that says agents found “many connections” between those Saudis and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” 

The FBI released the document to the Florida Bulldog amid FOIA litigation in March 2013, while Mueller was still director. 

The following year, Christensen says, “The FBI sought to discredit its own memo, telling the 9/11 Review Commission that the agent who wrote it had no basis for doing so.” The FBI has not further explained or identified the agent.

Graham says his efforts to uncover the bureau’s secrets about 9/11  led to more than one confrontation with Mueller’s agents and Mueller himself.

In 2011, Mueller sent his deputy FBI chief Sean Joyce, along with an FBI agent and an attorney with the Department of Justice, to interrupt Graham at Dulles Airport during a family Thanksgiving trip.

Graham said the Feds took the Congressman into an FBI room nearby, where he was told to back off on his comments that the FBI was not doing its job with regard to investigating 9/11.

"My wife and I had flown up to Dulles to have Thanksgiving with our daughter, who lives in Northern Virginia, and her family," Graham recalled. "We got off the shuttle bus which used to be the means of transport from the aircraft to the main terminal, and we were met by two FBI agents. They said that officials in the bureau wanted to talk to me.”

At first, Graham was actually pleased. “I thought maybe they were going to release more information,” says Graham, who after being driven to the office, spent an hour and a half with deputy director Sean Joyce, a female FBI agent and a male attorney from the DOJ.

When his wife was sent to a separate room, Graham said, she asked them for some reading material and was given the FBI training manual.

"The message from the FBI that day was that I should forget about this and get a life,” Graham says. “The FBI said they had uncovered everything worth knowing and found nothing out of order in terms of the Saudi actions. Well, what Mr. Joyce did not know was that a few weeks prior to that meeting at Dulles, I had been in the office of the Senate Intelligence Committee that we shared during the 9/11 investigation, where I was given two files to review. Both were written by the same person, the special agent in charge in the Sarasota investigation.”

Graham says he was interested in the files because in early September, shortly after news had become public, the FBI said it had conducted a complete investigation and found no connection between the hijackers and the Saudi family.

“They also said that all the information they had gathered was given to both congressional committee and to citizens 9/11 commission,” Graham says. “I was co-chair of that investigative committee. I was never informed that there was a Sarasota chapter in the story."

Graham notes that neither was Porter Goss, the Republican who chaired the House Intelligence Committee and worked with Graham on the Joint Inquiry and had retired from Congress to become CIA director, or Lee Hamilton, the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission.

"No one knew about it. The FBI didn't share it with anyone,” Graham says, adding that the two files written by the special agent that took place from mid-September 2001 to spring of 2002 were essentially the agent's conclusions and they were detailed and seemed credible.

"One conclusion was that the investigation was not complete, there were important errors not covered," he says. "The second was that there were many connections between the family and the three hijackers. The agent listed those connections. The statement that they informed the investigative committees was not true.”

During the Dulles encounter, Graham asked Joyce about the files that concluded there were no Saudi links.

“He was taken aback that I knew,” Graham says. “I asked if I could read those other documents. Mr. Joyce said I could read them shortly after Thanksgiving.”

A meeting was scheduled after the holiday, but when Graham visited the FBI office in DC, “Mr. Joyce told me the meeting was canceled. That was the last official meeting I have had with the FBI."

FBI Whistleblower Agrees With Graham

Coleen Rowley, the retired FBI special agent and division legal counsel in Minneapolis who became a whistleblower after becoming disillusioned with the how the FBI handled information about terrorism, agrees with Graham’s assessment that Mueller’s bureau withheld information about 9/11 from the public.

Rowley says that on Halloween, 2001, lass than three weeks after 9/11, a secret meeting involving FBI staff in the Phoenix and Minnesota offices was held "to get their stories straight” about how to handle the investigation and characterize it to the public.

"They were pressuring the Minnesota office to not tell the truth that they had probable cause in the Zacarais Moussaoui case,” Rowley says.

Moussaoui, who was once dubbed the 20th hijacker on 9/11, was detained before the terrorist attack by agents in Minnesota and was known before 9/11 to have ties to Osama bin Laden.

"I didn't go to the Halloween meeting, but I know what took place. It was a secret meeting to pressure agents to cover up what we knew,” Rowley says. “They almost let Richard Reid down a plane because they stuck with this plan. Reid almost took down another plane because of what Mueller was doing after 9/11. They told us we could not interview Moussaoui. They wanted the death penalty.”

In a personal meeting with Mueller in June, 2002 the night before they both testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rowley says she wanted to believe Mueller when he expressed regret about how some things at the bureau were handled under his watch.

"He told me he was seeking improvements and that I should not hesitate to contact him if I ever witnessed a situation as that behind the FBI’s pre 9-11 failures," Rowley recalls.

"A few months later, when it appeared he was acceding to Bush-Cheney’s ginning up intelligence to launch the unjustified, counterproductive and illegal war on Iraq, I took Mueller up on his offer," she says. "I emailed him my concerns in late February 2003. He didn’t respond. Mueller knew, for instance, that Cheney’s claims connecting 9-11 to Iraq were bogus yet he remained quiet. He also never responded to my email."

In the aftermath of the attacks, Rowley says, Mueller directed the post 9-11 round-up of approximately 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially PR purposes.

“Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI progress in fighting terrorism,” she says. “Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists."

Mueller Drops the Ball on San Diego Links to Terrorists

Meanwhile, In San Diego, allegations of links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers revolved around two enigmatic Saudi men: Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, both of whom have long since left the United States.

As I reported for The Daily Beast, Al-Bayoumi had previously worked for the Saudi government in civil aviation (a part of the Saudi defense department), and was alleged by many San Diego Muslims I interviewed at the time to be an agent for the Saudi government who reported on the activities of Saudi-born students living in Southern California.

In early 2000, al-Bayoumi invited two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to San Diego from Los Angeles. He told authorities he met the two men by chance when he sat next to them at a restaurant.

As Newsweek reported in 2002, al-Bayoumi’s invitation was coincidentally extended on the same day that he visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles for a private meeting.

Al-Bayoumi arranged for the two future 9/11 hijackers to live in an apartment near the San Diego Islamic Center mosque and paid $1,500 to cover their first two months of rent.

When asked not long after the 9/11 attacks about al-Bayoumi’s possible involvement, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, then the San Diego head of the FBI, told me that there was no evidence al-Bayoumi played a role. But to this day Gore has not explained how he could possibly know that alleged fact.

Another former top FBI official later told Newsweek, “We firmly believed that [al-Bayoumi] had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot].”

After 9/11, al-Bayoumi was detained by New Scotland Yard while living in the U.K. Gore told me that the FBI sent agents to London to interview him, but he was released a week later and allowed to return to Saudi Arabia.

Newsweek reported that classified sections of the congressional 9/11 inquiry indicated that the Saudi Embassy in London pushed for al-Bayoumi’s release.

Where is al-Bayoumi now? “I can’t say too much, but what I can tell you is that he is still alive and living in Saudi Arabia,” Graham told me last year.

As for Basnan, the other mysterious Saudi who Graham calls “Bayoumi’s successor,” Newsweek reported that he received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal.

The checks were sent because Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, needed thyroid surgery, Newsweek and other media outlets reported. But Dweikat inexplicably signed many of the checks over to al-Bayoumi’s wife, Manal Bajadr. This money allegedly made its way into the hands of hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi, according to the congressional report.

At a post-9/11 gathering in San Diego, Basnan allegedly called the attack “a wonderful, glorious day” and celebrated the hijackers’ “heroism,” a law-enforcement official told Newsweek.

Despite all this, he was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan. “I am not aware of [Basnan’s] current whereabouts,” Graham toldme last year.

Another man who might have helped investigators get to the bottom of this mystery is Abdussattar Shaikh, a longtime FBI asset in San Diego who was friends with al-Bayoumi and invited two of the San Diego-based hijackers to live in his home.

However, Shaikh was inexplicably not allowed by the FBI or the Bush administration to testify before the 9/11 Commission or the JICI.

“For me, that was the low point of the [JICI] investigation,” says Graham. “Bayoumi introduced the hijackers to Shaikh, who clearly knew a lot, but the FBI, who had Shaikh in protective custody, seemed to care more about protecting their asset than allowing us to find out what he knew about 9/11.”

During roughly the same period after the 9/11 attacks, San Diego FBI agent Steven Butler alerted his superiors about a flow of money from Saudi government officials that had made its way into the hands of two of the San Diego-based hijackers, according to U.S. News & World Report

But the warning was ignored.

“Butler is claiming that people [in the FBI] didn’t follow up,” a congressional source told U.S. News  Another congressional source told U.S. News: “Butler saw a pattern, a trail, and he told his supervisors, but it ended there.”

The investigation into the Saudi government’s alleged connections to the hijackers seemed to end there. 

Arguably the greatest crime mystery of our time, whose investigation, was led by Mueller, has become a cold case.

“I can’t believe the American public has let this go,” says Randall Hamud, the attorney who represented several of the San Diego-based hijackers’ non-Saudi friends as well as the family of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Hamud insists the Saudis were “given a pass by [President] Bush” throughout the 9/11 investigation. “There was overwhelming evidence that the Saudi government was connected to 9/11, but we still let Bayoumi return to Saudi Arabia,” he says. “What more do you need to know?”

Graham, who also believes the Bush administration protected the Saudis during the 9/11 inquiry and Mueller followed that lead, wonders if the world will ever get to the bottom of 9/11. 

"Someday, I do believe we will get to the bottom of 9/11 and the Saudi government connections," Graham says.

Will Mueller get it right this time? Will he actually get to the bottom of Trump's possible collusion with Russia? We may soon find out.