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President Donald Trump attacked his attorney general on Twitter, blaming the nation’s top lawyer for bringing charges against two Republican lawmakers ahead of the midterm elections.
Trump claimed the investigations, which culminated recently in a pair of federal indictments, began during the presidency of his predecessor Barack Obama.
"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," Trump tweeted. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff."
Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
Trump did not identify the lawmakers by name. He didn’t have to. In the past several weeks, the department has issued indictments against Republican Reps. Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California.
The two men were among Trump’s earliest supporters on Capitol Hill during the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s tweet has been criticized as an attack on both the rule of law, as well as the Justice Department’s generally apolitical posture.
Here, we’re interested in whether the recent indictments stem from investigations that began under Obama, as Trump claimed. (We’re not examining the popularity of the congressmen in question.) The Justice Department does not typically confirm the timeline of grand juries, and the department declined our request for comment on this story.
Our research is limited to the indictments themselves, as well as public reporting. So far, the available evidence suggests one investigation began during Trump’s presidency. The timing of other is less clear.
All public evidence suggests Collins’ investigation began under Trump, not Obama. What’s more, the charges he faces stem from a phone call made in June 2017, months after Trump took office and his pick to lead the Justice Department, Sessions, was confirmed.
Collins is accused of insider trading. The charges stem from a phone call he made to his son Cameron to relay closely-held details about an Australian biotech company. Both men held stock in the firm.
As a board member of the company, Innate Immunotherapeutic, Chris Collins learned — before it was publicly known — that the company had failed a pivotal drug trial.
Had the drug passed the test, it would have offered a lucrative treatment for a certain form of multiple sclerosis. Instead, the public announcement of the negative results caused the stock price to plummet by 92 percent.
But before the results became public, Collins called his son, a shareholder, so that he could dump the stock, the indictment says. Timely trades by the father and son, along with a third defendant, allowed them to avoid losses totaling more than $768,000.
That phone call took place in June 2017 — months after Trump succeeded Obama.
The defendants were indicted Aug. 8 in the Southern District of New York. All three pleaded not guilty.
Preet Bharara, who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017, until he was fired by Trump, would almost certainly know if the Collins investigation started under the previous administration.
"Chris Collins was not an Obama era investigation," Bharara tweeted in response to Trump.
Chris Collins was not an Obama era investigation. FYI. https://t.co/IQqdpTvS60— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) September 4, 2018
The start date of Hunter’s investigation is a bit trickier.
Hunter and his wife have been charged with misusing $250,000 in campaign funds to finance personal expenses like family trips.
The couple also is alleged to have filed false campaign finance records.
Hunter’s behavior generated some attention prior to Trump taking the White House.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, a government watchdog established by the U.S. House of Representatives, asked the House Committee on Ethics to look into allegations about Hunter in August 2016. Some of the misconduct he’s since been indicted for also predates the 2016 election.
That said, the first news reports that Hunter was under criminal investigation appear to have surfaced in March 2017, during Trump’s presidency.
"The Hunter one has probably been pending longer (than the Collins investigation)," said Lisa Kern Griffin, a law professor at Duke University. "Though it’s hard to say whether DOJ ‘opened’ it before or after the election or transition."
Hunter’s charges indicate they were issued by a "September 2016 Grand Jury."
So is that when the grand jury began investigating Hunter’s case?
Not necessarily, say legal experts.
"A grand jury usually will work on a lot of matters, and even if this grand jury started in September 2016, it might have been working on other things until the last several months," said Andrew Leipold, a law professor at University of Illinois College of Law.
In other words, it’s possible the grand jury began working on Hunter’s case after the election.
"You just can’t tell from the indictment," Leipold said.
Trump said the investigations of two Republican congressmen began under Obama.
The jumping-off point for the Collins insider-trading investigation was a phone call that began months after Obama left office.
The start date of Hunter’s investigation is a bit trickier. A congressional watchdog looked into campaign finance allegations prior to Trump’s presidency, and some of the misconduct he’s since been indicted for also predates the 2016 presidential election.
But the first public reports that Hunter was under criminal investigation appear to have surfaced in March 2017, during Trump’s presidency.
We rate this Mostly False.
Tweet by President Donald Trump, Sept. 3, 2018
Email interview with FBI spokeswoman Samantha Shero, Sept. 4, 2018
Email interview with Lisa Kern Griffin, a law professor at Duke University, Sept. 4, 2018
Email interview with Andrew Leipold, law professor at University of Illinois College of Law, Sept. 4, 2018
Email interview with Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School, Sept. 4, 2018
Email interview with Douglas M. Spencer, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, Sept. 4, 2018
Email interview with Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, Sept. 4, 2018
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