News this week has focused primarily on President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip, yet we have not forgotten the mess he left here with us.
One mess that may have quieted down a bit but still lingers is the absence of a replacement for former FBI director James Comey, the third justice department official Trump fired for doing their jobs–which in this case happened to be investigating the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government.
Trump’s top pick to replace Comey remains former Conn. senator and 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman. However, like most things involving Trump, Lieberman comes with baggage. This baggage bears an all-too familiar word: Benghazi.
Since leaving the Senate in 2013, Joe Lieberman has worked as senior counsel at the Kasowitz, Benson, Torres law firm, which has defended Trump in myriad lawsuits. Last October, lawyer Marc Kasowitz threatened The New York Times with litigation after the newspaper published pages from Trump’s 1995 income tax return. Then Kasowitz wrote the Times a letter demanding an article about two women who alleged Trump “touched them inappropriately” be retracted, which The Times refused to do. In 2006, Trump pursued a suit against Timothy L. O’Brien, author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, which asserts Trump is worth less than $1 billion. The lawyer also reportedly helped keep Trump’s divorce records sealed, helped with a case against Trump University, and sued Hong Kong businessmen over property in New York City.
As a member of that law firm, Lieberman promoted and represented Libyan businessman and politician Basit Igtet, believed to be associated with an alleged terrorist accused of leading the 2012 attack on the embassy in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. That attack, if we recall, was the subject of one of the most specious and partisan assaults against former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In November 2013, Politico reported Lieberman’s law firm signed on as a foreign agent for Igtet, once a candidate for Libyan prime minister.
As part of his campaign, Igtet stressed his American connections, citing his wife was involved with the US-Libya Chamber of Commerce, and boasting he personally knew then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
However, in 2014 Foreign Policy reported Igtet also sought terrorist suspect Abu Khattala, wanted in the United States for orchestrating the Benghazi compound:
“Igtet not only has built ties with America’s friends, he’s also met with its enemies. He sat down last year with Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Benghazi militant charged by the Justice Department for his involvement in the 2012 attack on the American mission in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The State Department declared Abu Khattala a specially designated global terrorist in January.”
About this meeting with Khattala, Igtet said:
“Abu Khattala told me he is sure of his innocence. He said he has no problem to go to the court in Benghazi and face these issues there.”
Regarding Lieberman’s potential appointment, Democratic senators have expressed doubts due mostly to Lieberman’s dearth of relevant qualifications for FBI director. There is also the concern of a conflict of interest.
Some argue this is a non-issue since Lieberman did not work on any Trump-related cases, and the firm employs around 270 lawyers. However, Tuesday Trump created more cause for concern. According to the Washington Post, Trump appointed Marc Kasowitz as private council for the probe into the campaign’s alleged Russian involvement.
According to National Law Journal, hiring Kasowitz is a “characteristically unorthodox move” because of Kasowitz’s experience handling complex civil suits. Trump would probably have to recruit other attorneys more experienced in criminal defense and constitutional issues.
But, as is always the case with Trump, there is more.
Trump just named Kasowitz partner David Friedman the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Kasowitz also represents OJSC Sberbank of Russia, Russia’s largest bank, currently facing charges in U.S. federal court for allegedly conspiring with granite company executives to raid a competitor’s assets.
If Lieberman ends up with the job, he will set a precedent as the first FBI director who once was a foreign agent for an overseas politician who fraternized with an alleged terrorist accused of killing Americans.
“Under a normal president, Lieberman might be a fairly harmless figure. But the position of FBI director is a vital guardrail against democratic backsliding — at the moment, it is the most vital one…The Comey episode provides a guide to the qualities Trump is looking for in Comey’s successor. In Lieberman he has found his patsy.”
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