New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman could play huge role in Russia probe

  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just filed his 100th action against the Trump administration or congressional Republicans since the president's election victory last fall.
  • Some view him as a possible last resort in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.


New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently took his 100th legal or administrative action against President Donald Trump's administration or congressional Republicans since Trump's victory last fall — and some view him as a potential last resort in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling.

As The New York Times reported Tuesday, Schneiderman's recent suit against the Federal Communications Commission after the net neutrality repeal marked his 100th such move aimed at the Trump administration, a monumental total within the span on one year. Some of his other actions have included challenging each of Trump's travel bans, weakening of Environmental Protection Agency standards, and rollbacks in birth control coverage.

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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a press conference announcing new guidelines and testing standards that GNC will adhere to for their herbal supplements and extracts on March 30, 2015 in New York City. After testing hermal supplements and extracts from various retailers last year and finding false ingredients in their products, the attorney general's office subpoenaed GNC and other providers to further investigate their products. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
New York State governor Andrew Cuomo (L) and New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman attend a rally to celebrate the passage of the minimum wage for fast-food workers by the New York State Fast Food Wage Board in New York July 22, 2015. New York state moved on Wednesday to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 an hour in New York City by the end of 2018 and in the rest of the state by mid-2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
FILE PHOTO: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference to announce a state-based effort to combat climate change in New York, New York, U.S. March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (L) and Actress Mariska Hargitay attend the John Jay College 50th Anniversary Gala at John Jay College on May 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks during a press conference about a settlement announced against the Bank Of America in the Manhattan borough of New York August 21, 2014. The Attorney General announced a record breaking $16.65 billion settlement with the Bank of America. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW BUSINESS POLITICS HEADSHOT)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden attend the 2011 Game Changers Awards at Skylight SOHO on October 18, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 3: (L to R) New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks as Acting Brooklyn Attorney General Eric Gonzalez looks on during a press conference to call for an end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in New York state courts, August 3, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. During remarks, Attorney General Schneiderman stated that 'targeting immigrants at our courthouses undermines our criminal justice system and threatens public safety.' (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Savannah Guthrie and Eric Schneiderman appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 553 -- Pictured: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during an interview on July 18, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: John Lewis and Eric Schneiderman attend the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner & Auction at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Eric Schneiderman attends the 2013 Ripple of Hope awards dinner at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City. ?? LAN (Photo by Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 553 -- Pictured: (l-r) Attorney General Eric Schneiderman talks with host Seth Meyers during an interview on July 18, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Ronald O. Perelman and Eric Schneiderman attend the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner & Auction at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Schneiderman explained the concept of 'sanctuary cities' in the United States and discussed President Donald Trump's threat to cut funding for those cities to punish their stances on immigration. Photographer: Kholood Eid/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Christine Taylor and Eric Schneiderman attend the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner & Auction at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks during a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General, September 13, 2016 in New York City. Schneiderman announced the results of an 'Operation Child Tracker', ongoing investigation into illegal online tracking of children at dozens of the nation's 'most recognizable childrens' websites. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Sherry Bronfman and Eric Schneiderman attend the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner & Auction at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Dwayne Ashley, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Chairman Bob Appel attend the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2016 Gala 'Jazz and Broadway' honoring Diana and Joe Dimenna and Ahmad Jamal at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center)
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"We try and protect New Yorkers from those who would do them harm," Schneiderman told The Times. "The biggest threat to New Yorkers right now is the federal government, so we're responding to it."

Schneiderman's most prominent action against Trump, who before taking office lived in New York under the attorney general's jurisdiction, came in the form of a lawsuit against Trump University which resulted in Trump paying a $25 million settlement.

As that inquiry was playing out, Trump took aim at Schneiderman for the better part of three years — relentlessly bashing him on Twitter. In total, Trump tweeted about Schneiderman roughly 50 times from 2013 through 2015.

The future president attacked Schneiderman as "feckless and corrupt," a "total loser," a "shakedown artist," a "lightweight," "incompetent," "the least respected AG in the US," a "total joke," a "total crook," and "failing."

Trump even, without evidence, accused Schneiderman of being a "cokehead" and demanded he take a drug test. He also accused the attorney general of wearing "eyeliner" because of his dark eyelashes, which The Times reported has been attributed to side effects from glaucoma medication.

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The most significant Trump reversals of Obama orders in 2017
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The most significant Trump reversals of Obama orders in 2017

DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA)

Signed in 2012, Obama’s executive order offering legal protections from deportation to children brought into the country by undocumented immigrant parents offered a legal respite for nearly 800,000 people. While it was not a permanent solution, many Republicans in Congress sided with Democrats in the view that children protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should ultimately be granted U.S. citizenship. But on Sept. 5, 2017,  President Trump put that possibility in doubt. “Make no mistake, we are going to put the interest of AMERICAN CITIZENS FIRST!” Trump tweeted ahead of an announcement by his attorney general that he was rescinding Obama’s action. The matter now rests with Congress.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

TRANSFER OF SURPLUS MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO LOCAL POLICE

In 2015, in the wake of what some viewed as the outsize police response to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Obama issued an order banning the sale of surplus military equipment such as grenade launchers and armored vehicles to local police forces. On Aug. 28, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump was scrapping the restriction “to make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities.”

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH CUBA

Denouncing the Obama administration’s 2014 decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Trump announced on June 16, 2017, that he was putting travel and trade restrictions with the island nation back in place. “The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people — they only enrich the Cuban regime,” Trump said in a Florida speech.

(A vintage car drives past the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT

Trump has said he believes that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. His June 1, 2017, decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement signed by his predecessor ultimately left the United States isolated as the only country in the world not onboard.

(REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/File Photo)

OFFSHORE AND ARCTIC OIL DRILLING

Making good on the long-held Republican slogan “Drill, baby, drill,” Trump overturned a 2016 Obama executive order banning oil drilling in parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic.

“This is a great day for American workers and families,” Trump said at a signing ceremony on April 28, 2017. “And today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs.”

(Susanne Miller/US Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout via Reuters) 

NET NEUTRALITY 

Obama’s rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet — aka net neutrality — were enshrined in 2015 with a vote from the Federal Communications Commission. But new FCC commissioners are appointed by whichever president is serving, and when Trump took office he installed new leadership, which voted on Dec. 14 to scrap the policy, opening up the internet to what critics fear will result in a tiered system of information and entertainment.

REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

THE CLEAN WATER RULE

On Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump began his assault on Obama’s executive order that expanded federal oversight of pollution in the nation’s rivers, streams and lakes. Trump’s first step was to order the EPA to “review and reconsider” the restrictions. Then, in June, the administration officially rolled back the environmental protections for over half of the nation’s tributaries.

(Yellow mine waste water is seen at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken August 5, 2015. REUTERS/EPA/Handout/File Photo)

CAPS ON GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AT POWER PLANTS

Keeping a campaign promise to the coal industry, Trump signed an executive order on March 28, 2017, intended to begin dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Trump’s new “Energy Independence” order also reversed a ban on coal leasing on federal lands and loosened restrictions on methane emissions. Several states immediately filed a lawsuit against the administration, claiming the move endangered the health of citizens.

(The coal-fired Castle Gate Power Plant is pictured outside Helper, Utah November 27, 2012. REUTERS/George Frey)

SCOPE OF NATIONAL MONUMENTS

Applauded by industry and decried by environmentalists, Trump signed an executive order on April 26, 2017, that swept away Obama’s use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect federal lands from oil drilling, mining and other development. “Today we’re putting the states back in charge,” he said at the signing. In December, the administration announced it would reduce the size of the Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, and the Bill Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent.

(The moon glows over Indian Creek in the northern portion of Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, U.S., October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen)

BATHROOM PROTECTIONS FOR TRANSGENDER STUDENTS

One month into his term, Trump rescinded an Obama directive that allowed students to use school bathrooms that matched their self-identified gender. Trump’s rationale for the reversal was that states, rather than the federal government, should decide how to handle the question.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten decried the move, telling the Associated Press that it “tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

(Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

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"Before Lyin' Ted and Little Marco, I had my nickname,” Schneiderman told The Times. "I didn't have any reason to believe he would change" once in office.

Schneiderman said he did not expect Trump to become more presidential once he took the oath of office in January.

"I probably had more realistic expectations," he said. "I saw the scorched-earth approach. He sued me for $100 million. He filed phony ethics complaints. He set up a website to attack me."

We'll do 'whatever we can do to see that justice is done'

Schneiderman is now viewed by some, as The Times wrote, as "a possible backstop should the president exercise his pardon power" for some of his associates caught up in Mueller's probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Already, Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and others have been charged in the Mueller investigation.

Trump's pardon power does not apply to violations of state laws, and New York charges could be filed against those ensnared by the probe since many of the actions under scrutiny took place in the state, where the Trump campaign was headquartered.

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Overlooked stories from 2017
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Mike Pence prepares for Trump’s downfall — just in case

In public, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s staunchly evangelical No. 2, is the very picture of deference and loyalty; he has repeatedly demonstrated that he will defend the president no matter what he says or does.

But behind the scenes, Pence is reportedly thinking ahead to a time when he may no longer have to play the good soldier. In May, Pence became the first sitting veep to form a national political action committee at the beginning of his term, a move that will make it easier to campaign for other Republicans now — and later, perhaps, for himself. (Pence’s PAC has gone on to raise more money than President Trump’s.) In July Pence installed Nick Ayers, a sharp-elbowed political operative, as his chief of staff. Pence has traveled to important political events in Iowa, the first caucus state, and opened the vice presidential residence to key conservative activists. Finally, “Multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not,” according to the New York Times.

Pence rarely surfaces in the headlines; his boss sucks up all the oxygen. But he’s worth watching. Earlier this month the Atlantic reported that after the “Access Hollywood” tape threatened to derail Trump’s presidential campaign, Pence was “contemplating a coup” — and he immediately “made it clear to the Republican National Committee that he was ready to take Trump’s place as the party’s nominee.”

As Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation digs into Trump’s finances and closest confidants — and as a potential Democratic wave builds in 2018’s House and Senate races — it’s easy to imagine Pence himself preparing for a post-Trump future that could come sooner than expected.

“It’s not a matter of when Republicans are ready to turn on Trump,” one senior GOP Senate aide told the Atlantic. “It’s about when they decide they’re ready for President Pence.”

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s campaign to reshape the courts

Amid all the punditry and prognostication about the administration’s fumbling attempts to advance its agenda on Capitol Hill, the press and the public largely overlooked how successful Trump has been at leaving his mark on a different branch of government: the judiciary.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, he had 54 judicial vacancies to fill; when Trump took office, he inherited twice that number, thanks in large part to Mitch McConnell’s strategy of halting the judicial-appointments process during Obama’s last two years in the White House. The new president has proceeded to fill these vacancies at an unprecedented rate, and his nominees have been “the youngest, whitest, male-est, and most conservative in modern memory,” as the New Yorker’s Jeff Shesol recently pointed out. As a result, Trump has brought about “a wholesale change among the federal judiciary” that will “have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades,” says Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. “This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration.”

And the president may only just be getting started. Last month, the founder of the influential Federalist Society unveiled a plan that would allow Trump to add “twice as many lifetime members to the federal judiciary in the next 12 months (650) as Barack Obama named in eight years (325)” — and would ultimately leave the courts evenly divided between judges appointed by Trump and those appointed by the previous nine presidents combined.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

All talk — and little action — on the opioid crisis

It was one of 2016’s signature campaign issues: the opioid addiction crisis ravaging small towns from New Hampshire to New Mexico. Every candidate, Republican and Democratic, vowed to do something about it once in office, including Donald Trump. “[T]he people that are in trouble, the people that are addicted, we’re going to work with them and try and make them better,” Trump said. “And we will make them better.”

As president, Trump issued an executive order to establish the Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, a five-member panel tasked with proposing solutions to the drug epidemic. But the commission missed its first deadline, in June, and its second one, in July, before finally releasing its report in August. Then, after insisting that “we’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump repeatedly promised that he would declare a national emergency “next week” — and repeatedly missed that deadline as well. When the president finally got around to making a declaration, in late October, it was as a public health emergency and not as national emergency — a distinction that meant no significant new federal funding, even though experts inside and outside of the administration argue than tens of billions of dollars would be needed to even begin to combat the epidemic.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The unprecedented surge of Democratic candidates

Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama have already gotten a ton of attention. Less noticed, however, is the fact that Democrats already have 400-plus candidates running for the House in 2018. That’s more than twice as many as either party has previously boasted at this point in the election cycle.

Political scientists say there’s a strong relationship between the number of candidates a party recruits and the party’s win-loss record on Election Day, as we’ve noted before.

In a recent analysis for the data-focused FiveThirtyEight website, Seth Masket of the University of Denver plotted the Democratic share of viable early House challengers — that is, candidates who raised more than $5,000 by June 30 of the year before the election — against the number of seats Democrats eventually gained or lost on Election Day.

He found that in every election since 2004 in which Democrats fielded more candidates than Republicans, they also wound up gaining seats — an additional 2.5 House members per each additional percentage-point advantage in early House candidates, on average. The most extreme example was 2006, when nearly 70 percent of the early House candidates were Democrats. That year, the party netted 31 seats on Election Day.

Apply the same formula to the 2018 cycle, Masket noted, and Democrats will be on track to pick up 93 House seats — the third-largest gain in U.S. history.

Will Democrats flip that many seats? Unlikely. But the party only needs to net 24 to retake the House. That’s much more plausible. The only way to lay the groundwork for a wave election is by fielding solid candidates for as many flippable seats as possible, then waiting for the national mood to turn in your favor. That’s exactly what Democrats have been doing.

REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

Trump’s behind-the-scenes effort to sabotage Obamacare

Republicans have made no secret of their desire to end Obamacare. They spent much of 2017 repeatedly trying — and repeatedly failing — to get repeal legislation through Congress. But while that drama was unfolding on Capitol Hill, the Trump administration was quietly doing everything in its power to set the system up for failure — regardless of whether or not it was ever officially repealed.

Over the past 12 months, Trump & Co. have cut the open enrollment period in half, from 12 weeks to six weeks. They have slashed funding for Obamacare advertising by 90 percent, from $100 million to $10 million. They cut funding for in-person assistance by 40 percent — then let the budget run out entirely. And at the last minute they pulled out of state-level open-enrollment events and stopped federal payments to insurers, driving up premiums by as much as 30 percent for some plans. All of this while hinting that the individual mandate — the fine on people who don’t have insurance — would not be enforced.

Despite these efforts, 2017 Obamacare enrollment proceeded at a faster pace than in previous years. And even with less time to sign up, the total number of HEATHCARE.GOV enrollees — 8.8 million, according to figures released by the White House on Thursday — nearly matched the figure for 2016. For now, that unexpected result seems likely to stave off the  self-perpetuating cycle of falling enrollment and price increases known as a “death spiral.”

But Republicans are still in the hunt. The party’s new tax bill eliminates the individual mandate altogether, which could wreak further havoc on the otherwise stable system in 2018. So  the next time Republicans claim Obamacare is failing, it’s worth remembering why — and who’s responsible.

(Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

America’s neglect of Puerto Rico

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, whose residents are American citizens, was devastated earlier this year by Hurricane Maria. This didn’t exactly go unnoticed at the time. When President Trump traveled to San Juan and threw paper towels to survivors, or got in a Twitter war with the city’s mayor, or accused Puerto Ricans who criticized the federal response of “want[ing] everything to be done for them,” the mainland press paid attention.

But since then, the spotlight has moved on — while the island continues to suffer. The official death toll is 64, and Trump has bragged about how it’s not “in the thousands.” But a recent New York Times investigation has found that it very well may be. According to the Times, 1,052 more people than usual died on the island during the 42 days after Maria made landfall on Sept. 20. Many of these additional deaths are likely attributable to delayed medical treatment or poor conditions in homes and hospitals — consequences of the power outages and water shortages that have afflicted Puerto Rico since the hurricane.

Even now, three months later, only 64 percent of the power grid has been restored; clean water is still scarcer than it should be. At the same time, the U.S. House has included a 20 percent import tax on products manufactured in foreign jurisdictions in its tax-reform bill — a tax that could cost the “foreign jurisdiction” of Puerto Rico tens or even hundreds of thousands of jobs. The island still receives only a fraction of the Medicaid funding for which it would qualify if it were a state. And so far Congress has approved a mere $5 billion in aid — far less than the $94 billion the Puerto Rican government says it needs to recover.

(Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Defeating ISIS — but backtracking in Syria

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump famously pledged to “bomb the s*** out of [ISIS].” That’s largely what his administration has been doing. Then again, it’s largely what the Obama administration was doing before Trump.

Trump has made some changes, loosening the “rules of engagement” and allowing war planners at the Department of Defense more autonomy. But those are tactical shifts. In 2017, under Trump, the United States’ overarching anti-ISIS strategy continued to work — to the point that the Islamic State has basically been defeated, at least for the time being.

This welcome progress on one of the world’s most dangerous situations has gotten lost amid headlines about ISIS-inspired attacks, whether in London, New York or elsewhere, which lone wolves continue to carry out. The operation to take back Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the place where ISIS had first declared its “caliphate,” began in October 2016  and concluded in July; in October, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured Raqqa, the Syrian city that had become the caliphate’s de facto capital. These successes followed earlier wins across Iraq and Syria, and have led Iraq, Iran and Russia to declare victory over ISIS in recent weeks.

U.S. military officials warn that the jihadi group is resilient and could always stage a comeback. But with ISIS on the run, the question now turns to the larger Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 and displaced more than 10 million. Under Obama, the U.S. supported the Syrian rebels in their efforts to oust dictator Bashar Assad. But the Trump administration has backed away from that commitment, allowing Russia to fill the void. It now looks as if the war will end on Vladimir Putin’s terms — with Assad still in power.

(REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo)
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Already, Schneiderman has begun an investigation into Manafort focused on money laundering allegations. But he has taken a back seat as Mueller carries out his probe.

"I have a lot of respect for the work the special counsel's doing," Schneiderman said. "They've put together a terrific team. ... Just watching it from the outside, like everybody else, it seems like they're doing a very thorough and serious job. I hope there's not going to be any effort to derail them or shut them down."

“If that happens, we'll do — as I think would be a genuine sentiment around the country — we'll do whatever we can do to see that justice is done," he continued. "But I hope we don't have to face a problem like that."

NOW WATCH: Former White House photographer describes what is was like to capture Obama on the worst day of his presidency

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