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The weakest defense in Washington? Saying ‘I don’t recall’

Some of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants seem to be suffering from an affliction common in high-stakes White House investigations: memory loss.

In his recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning his role in the unfolding Russia saga, Attorney General Jeff Sessions answered questions with some variation of “I do not recall” more than 20 times.

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Amnesia is often a favorite response from witnesses in criminal and congressional investigations, and it’s often the most truthful reply—but people caught up in scandals can wind up facing perjury or other charges if prosecutors can later show they were intentionally trying to dodge tough questions.

“Simply repeating the words ‘I don’t recall’ is not a magical amulet to ward off any further trouble,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor.

Faulty memories have had a starring role in most major modern presidential scandals. Several top Richard Nixon White House aides went to prison in part for perjury after insisting they couldn’t recall details surrounding Watergate that later proved disingenuous. President Bill Clinton professed to memory lapses as he struggled to explain himself during grand jury testimony and a deposition covering his extramarital affairs that led to his impeachment in the House. And Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, tried unsuccessfully to use frail memory in his 2006 trial as part of his defense over why he misled investigators looking into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to reporters.

Few on Trump’s team have reached the point of giving testimony about the Russia investigation under oath, but current and former top aides have invoked memory lapses or made other omissions to defend their activities to their colleagues or the press.

Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser who Senate Democrats last week suggested is cooperating with federal investigators, was fired in February after giving “incomplete information” to Vice President Mike Pence concerning his calls with Russian officials during the transition. He’s since been dinged repeatedly for leaving relevant meetings and foreign government payments off his financial disclosure forms.

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Amid media reports that Trump son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner had at least three undisclosed contacts with Russian diplomats during and after the campaign, his lawyer responded that he had “no recollection” of the alleged exchanges.

“The ‘I don’t remember’ defense is very dangerous,” said John Dean, the former White House counsel under Nixon, whose 1973 Senate testimony recounting details on the Watergate cover-up earned him the nickname the “human tape recorder.”

If prosecutors decide to push perjury claims, Dean noted, ”You’ve got to convince a jury that you really don’t remember.”

Memory is a common point of discussion between attorneys and clients. One prominent white-collar defense attorney working for someone mired in the Russia


CIA director says intelligence leaks have 'accelerated'

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is pictured.

Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration is focused on "stopping leaks, of any kind, from any agency, and when they happen, pursuing them with incredible vigor." | AP Photo


Koch network ramps up political spending while trying to push Trump team

Vice President Mike Pence is pictured.

Charles Koch has been openly critical of Donald Trump since the early days of the Republican primary campaign. | Getty

Vice President Mike Pence met with Charles Koch the day before a Koch network summit.

By Kevin Robillard

06/24/2017 07:11 PM EDT

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The leadership of the Koch brothers' network is brushing off its occasionally chilly attitude toward President Donald Trump, trying to nudge the administration in its direction as the group's annual summit began Saturday just after Charles Koch met with Vice President Mike Pence.

The network of conservative donors announced Saturday it plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million on politics and policy during the 2018 cycle.

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“When we look at our budget for politics and policy, it’s our largest we’ve ever had,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, the network's grassroots organizing arm with chapters in dozens of states.

The Koch network, led by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, rivals the Republican National Committee in size, scope and budget. The alliance of conservative donors has worked for decades to move both electoral politics and the country at large in a libertarian direction with everything from political ad buys to donations to universities.

The millions from the Koch network and its wealthy allies will boost the Trump administration on some key priorities, especially tax reform and rolling back regulations. It also will help push back against others — especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ desire to implement tough-on-crime policies — and working to make Obamacare repeal efforts more conservative. And they could prove critical to Republican efforts to retain the House and expand a majority in the Senate.

“We’ve made tremendous progress on the federal level that we haven’t been able to make in the last ten years,” said Jeff Davis, a top network official.

Pence has longstanding ties to the Koch network, while Charles Koch has been openly critical of the vice president’s boss since the early days of the Republican primary campaign. Through Pence, the group’s allies have established a beachhead in the administration. Pence and Koch spoke Friday night for about 45 minutes about tax reform, legislation Trump signed on Friday to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs and other topics.

The meeting included Marc Short, Trump's director of legislative affairs and a former Koch network official, Pence staffer Marty Obst and several current top Koch officials, including Mark Holden and Phillips, the Americans for Prosperity president.

The Koch network’s annual seminar, as the group dubbed it, began Saturday at the Broadmoor Resort here and continues until Monday. Officials said the seminar included more donors than ever, and more new donors than ever.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens were set to speak to donors Saturday night, with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent Trump critic, scheduled to deliver a speech Sunday. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will discuss education policy on Monday, and another group of


Trump joins A-list crowd at Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's wedding

Trump joins A-list crowd at Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's wedding

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was set to marry the Scottish actress Louise Linton on Saturday. | Getty


Trump joins A-list crowd at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wedding

Trump joins A-list crowd at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wedding

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Scottish actress Louise Linton met in 2013 and got engaged two years later. | Getty

President Donald Trump has gained a reputation as a wedding crasher, but on Saturday he scored an invitation with other high-profile guests to celebrate the nuptials of one of his Cabinet members.

The president and first lady Melania Trump were part of the A-list crowd that gathered just blocks from the White House as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin married Louise Linton, a Scottish actress.

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While the White House and Treasury Department had been mum on details of Mnuchin’s Washington wedding, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke the news about the event earlier in the week during a business conference.

Mnuchin, 54, is a former Goldman Sachs executive and one of Trump’s wealthiest Cabinet members. This is his third marriage, and it’s the second for Linton, whose acting credits include a part in the 2007 film “Lions for Lambs,” with Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, and, more recently, as the lead character in the 2016 horror film “Intruder.” Linton told The New York Times earlier this week that there would be about 300 guests at the event, including a large number from the administration.

The short ceremony was officiated by Vice President Mike Pence, who returned to D.C. after a day traveling from Colorado to a Republican National Committee summer retreat in Chicago.

The Trump administration was out in force, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer.

The Cabinet was also well-represented: Ross, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Also in attendance: Don and Shannon McGahn, Woody Johnson, Lee Eisenberg, Tom Barrack, Eli and Jenna Miller, Stephen Miller, C. Boyden Gray, Brad and Candice Parscale, Tommy Hicks, Reed Cordish, Richard and Karen LeFrak and Harrison LeFrak, Bill Paxon and Susan Molinari, John Paulson, Mike Shields and Katie Walsh, Ken Duberstein and Anthony Scaramucci.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was there, as were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Jim Donovan, a Goldman Sachs banker who at one point was slated to be Mnuchin's deputy but withdrew his name from consideration, was also among those in attendance.

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A senior Republican Capitol Hill staffer described the list of attendees as "exclusive and closely guarded." The Treasury Department did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Trump’s wedding appearance is well within his normal weekend routine, which since he took office has included

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