Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.

Yates and other former intelligence officials had been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, a hearing that Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) abruptly canceled. Yates was the deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, and served as the acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration. [Continue reading…]

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Swalwell on Nunes: ‘This is what a cover-up to a crime looks like’

Politico reports: House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’ announcement last week that officials from the transition team of President Donald Trump had been inadvertently surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community came at the behest of the White House, Rep. Eric Swalwell said Tuesday morning.

Nunes (R-Calif.) confirmed Monday that he had traveled to the White House to meet with his still-unnamed source on the day before he made his announcement but denied that the public disclosure was coordinated in any way with Trump administration officials. The White House, Nunes said in a CNN interview, simply served as a secure location for reviewing classified information and “I’m quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.”

But Swalwell (D-Calif.), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed the chairman’s argument Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s not an internet cafe. You can’t just walk in and receive classified information,” Swalwell said of the White House, adding that when a member of Congress visits, “everyone in the building knows that you’re there in the building.”

“This is done because the White House wanted it to be done,” the California Democrat said. “And this is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.” [Continue reading…]

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White House evasive as House Intelligence Committee grinds to a halt

CNN reports: The Trump administration is refusing to provide details Tuesday to who signed House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes into offices on White House grounds, as the House investigation into Russia’s interference in the US elections is stalled, the victim of a partisan showdown.

All meetings of the House Russia investigators were canceled this week shortly before the top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said Nunes must recuse himself in order for the investigation to continue. Nunes, however, told CNN Tuesday morning he was “moving forward” with the investigation and said he won’t recuse himself.

“It moves forward just like it was before,” Nunes told reporters.

It’s a monumental shift from where House investigators planned to be Tuesday, interrogating a trio of former Obama administration officials in a public hearing. But last week’s hearing — the first and so far only public hearing of the House Russia investigation — sparked a wildfire of partisan fighting after FBI Director James Comey confirmed he is investigating possible coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign aides and Russian officials. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change-fueled jet stream linked to brutal floods and heatwaves, says study

InsideClimate News reports: When Michael Mann goes before Congress Wednesday to testify on global warming, he’ll be armed with one more piece of evidence that greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning are fundamentally altering the climate and leading to life-threatening and costly extreme weather.

Mann is the lead author of a new study showing that the greenhouse gas buildup is slowing down planetary atmospheric waves, which results in regional summer climate extremes. That includes a deadly 2003 European heat wave, as well as extensive wildfires in Siberia and severe flooding in Pakistan that took place simultaneously in 2010.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Mann said he and his fellow scientists discovered, by studying extensive climate data, “a particular type of jet stream pattern that is associated with many of the extreme events we’ve seen in recent years.” He added that there is every reason to expect “these persistent weather events to become more prominent over time…with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Mann is a high-profile scientist whose advocacy of climate action has made him a lightning rod for criticism from the right. He will testify Wednesday before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, led by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, in a hearing that is stacked with climate change skeptics.

The study, published March 27 in the journal Scientific Reports, examines temperature data related to the jet stream and winds that flow around the Northern Hemisphere from west to east and that loop from north to south between the tropics and the Arctic. The pattern is called Rossby waves.

“We identified particular temperature patterns that occur when these large planetary waves slow down, and we found that, in the course of the past 100 years, this pattern is becoming more frequent,” said study co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, a scientist with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Epshteyn named in July FISA application; did Nunes obstruct justice?

Louise Mensch writes: On November 7th, I reported at Heat Street that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant covering the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

I reported that the FISA warrant had been granted after an earlier, failed application to the court in the summer named Trump and “at least three other men, who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates“.

Those names, sources said, were Donald Trump, with Paul Manafort and Carter Page (two men that had formed part of Trump’s campaign) and Boris Epshteyn, who at the time I reported, the eve of the election itself, had only acted as Mr. Trump’s media surrogate.

Since that time, Mr. Epshteyn has become a part of government as a Transition Team official and now at the White House and I feel able to be explicit as to the names sources gave me as forming part of the summer application to the court. [Continue reading…]

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House Democrats ask Devin Nunes to recuse himself from Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: Top House Democrats on Monday called on the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, thrusting the entire inquiry into jeopardy amid what they described as mounting evidence he was too close to President Trump.

The calls by Representatives Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, and Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, came after revelations that the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, had met on the White House grounds with a source who showed him secret American intelligence reports. The next day he revealed Mr. Trump or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

Mr. Schiff suggested that Mr. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, was simply too close to the White House to run an independent and thorough inquiry. [Continue reading…]

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Devin Nunes’ clandestine operation at the White House

CNN reports: It has been something of a mystery, the whereabouts of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes on the day before his announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then-President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals.

The California Republican confirmed to CNN in a phone interview Monday he was on the White House grounds that day — but he said he was not in the White House itself. (Other buildings, including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, are on the same grounds.)

Nunes went to the building because he needed a secure area to view the information, he told CNN. He said he didn’t believe the President nor any of his West Wing team were aware he was there, and the White House said Monday it learned of Nunes’ visit through media reports and directed any questions to the congressman.

A former government intelligence official told CNN on Monday that members of Congress, like the general public, must be cleared and escorted into facilities on White House grounds.

“Every non-White House staffer must be cleared in by a current White House staffer,” the official said. “So it’s just not possible that the White House was unaware or uninvolved.”

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, refused to rule out Monday whether Nunes’ source came from the White House but did say during the daily press briefing that “it doesn’t really pass the smell test.”

“I did not sit in on that briefing,” Spicer said. “I’m not — it just doesn’t — so I don’t know why he would brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn’t really seem to make a ton of sense. So I’m not aware of it, but it doesn’t really pass the smell test.”

Nunes said he was there for additional meetings “to confirm what I already knew” but said he wouldn’t comment further so as to not “compromise sources and methods.” [Continue reading…]

The only smell test relevant here is the one that applies to Spicer’s statements. They emit a strong odor of bullshit.

Why would Nunes come down to the White House to brief Trump when the White House was in fact Nunes’ source? Precisely, as Spicer understands full well, in order to conceal the fact that the White House was instrumental in providing Nunes with his “revelations.”

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Senate committee to question Jared Kushner over meetings with Russians

The New York Times reports: Senate investigators plan to question Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a close adviser, as part of their broad inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin, according to administration and congressional officials.

The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, according to the government officials. The meetings, which took place during the transition, included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.

Until now, the White House had acknowledged only an early December meeting between Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Kushner, which occurred at Trump Tower and was also attended by Michael T. Flynn, who would briefly serve as the national security adviser.

Later that month, though, Mr. Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Mr. Kushner asked a deputy to attend in his stead, officials said. At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner later met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, which the United States placed on its sanctions list after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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Shell-shocked Mosul survivors tell of intense airstrikes

The Guardian reports: Covered in dust, their hands raw from digging, Ali Assad and his cousin made a desperate choice – to leave their family under the rubble of their west Mosul home and flee while they still could.

The two men were among hundreds to be evacuated on Sunday, during a lull in the fighting prompted by outrage over the high civilian toll caused by multiple airstrikes that have battered the city and its trapped population over the past eight days.

With the ground war now suspended as a result, families that have sheltered in ruins or taken their chances in what is left of their homes have been leaving Mosul in droves, many arriving shell shocked and starving at refugee processing centres on its southern outskirts, where they spoke of more than a week of terror.

“There are six of my family still under our house,” said Assad, 32, cupping his raw hands. “My father, I saw him die in front of me, my brother, two sisters and two cousins. My mother survived, but then she was hit by some other explosion and a concrete slab fell on her. She’s badly hurt.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration weighs deeper involvement in Yemen war

The Washington Post reports: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.

In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. ­McMaster, Mattis said that “limited support” for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port — would help combat a “common threat.”

Approval of the request would mark a significant policy shift. U.S. military activity in Yemen until now has been confined mainly to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there, with limited indirect backing for gulf state efforts in a two-year-old war that has yielded significant civilian casualties.

It would also be a clear signal of the administration’s intention to move more aggressively against Iran. The Trump White House, in far stronger terms than its predecessor, has echoed Saudi and Emirati charges that Iran is training, arming and directing the Shiite Houthis in a proxy war to increase its regional clout against the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies. [Continue reading…]

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Has Flynn made a deal with the FBI?

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Devin Nunes vanished the night before he made Trump surveillance claims

The Daily Beast reports: Hours before the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced his shocking claims about surveillance of the Trump transition team on Wednesday morning, he practically disappeared.

Rep. Devin Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.

By the next morning, Nunes hastily announced a press conference. His own aides, up to the most senior level, did not know what their boss planned to say next. Nunes’ choice to keep senior staff out of the loop was highly unusual. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. investigating Mosul strikes said to have killed up to 200 civilians

The New York Times reports: The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts. [Continue reading…]

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Following the Russian money

Tim Weiner writes: Counterintelligence is long, hard work. Investigators need time to string along suspects — seeking the who, what, when, where and why of the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tries to build 3-D chronologies of who did what to whom. Agents usually follow the money, the best evidence. That’s how the feds got Al Capone: for tax evasion.

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, is running the most explosive counterintelligence case since Soviet spies stole the secrets of the atom bomb more than 70 years ago. Some of those atomic spies didn’t speak Russian: They were Americans. We now know that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia attacked American democracy by meddling in the 2016 election. Did he enlist American mercenaries?

A tantalizing clue came at the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday.

First, Democrats named names: the former Trump campaign director, Paul Manafort, dismissed shortly after the F.B.I.’s investigation started in late July; then the former Trump national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who lost his job last month. Both appear to have had pecuniary ties to Mr. Putin’s allies — in Mr. Manafort’s case, a politician and an oligarch; in Mr. Flynn’s case, RT, the news and propaganda network.

Then Mr. Comey was asked to explain the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“Sure,” the director said.

The act, known as FARA, is intended to prevent espionage or illicit foreign influence on American public opinion, policy and laws. It requires Americans acting as agents of a foreign government to register with the Justice Department. A willful failure to register can be a crime. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson’s ‘new approach’ to North Korea sounds a lot like the old approach

Jeffrey Lewis writes: When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson showed up in Asia this month, he announced that the United States would take a “new approach” to North Korea. Tillerson avoided any specifics of how he planned to get a different result, but he was well armed with platitudes — he spoke of decades of failed “diplomatic and other efforts,” joined the Japanese foreign minister in calling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs “totally unacceptable,” and urged the North’s leaders “to change your path.” Shortly after Tillerson departed, North Korea attempted yet another missile launch.

Poor Tillerson. Someone forgot to tell him that a new administration promising a new approach it can’t quite articulate is, in fact, the old approach. Previous administrations even used the same words, calling North Korea’s actions “unacceptable” and pointing to a different “path.” And yet, even though President Barack Obama pledged to “break that pattern” of North Korea getting away with belligerent behavior, and President George W. Bush compared the country’s dictatorship to a toddler who throws food on the floor, the sad truth is that promising to break the pattern is part of the pattern, and we always pick up the food. We, too, could choose a different path. But we don’t. [Continue reading…]

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Calling for an independent commission to investigate Trump could be a terrible mistake

Philip Shenon writes: The drumbeat is heard—again. After every national tragedy, or in the wake of a major political scandal or economic crisis, there are calls across Washington for creation of an independent, blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to investigate. After Pearl Harbor, there was the Roberts Commission, named for its chairman, Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. After the Kennedy assassination, there was the Warren Commission, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. After the 2001 terror attacks, the 9/11 Commission. After the 2008 financial meltdown, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Now, Democratic leaders in Congress—and a handful of Republicans—are urging creation of an independent commission to investigate Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election and, more specifically and explosively, whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. The prospects of an independent investigation seemed to grow after this week’s announcement by FBI Director James Comey that the bureau has opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump aides for their possible ties to the Russian hacking operation that targeted Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The calls for an outside inquiry were louder still after House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’s stunning claim on Wednesday that some on the Trump transition team had been swept up in government surveillance of other targets.

In welcoming Comey’s disclosure, Adam Schiff of California, the House panel’s ranking Democrat, said that, beyond the inquiries in Congress and the FBI, it was time for creation of “an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations.” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly called for creation of a “9/11-style commission” to deal with allegations involving the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Having written histories of both the 9/11 Commission and the Warren Commission and after spending years poring over their long-secret archives, I think I speak with confidence in warning the Democrats to be careful what they wish for. Neither of those blue-ribbon investigations—especially the 9/11 Commission, most often cited by Schiff, Pelosi and their colleagues as a model for a Trump-Russia inquiry—offers much hope that an independent commission would accomplish the Democrats’ goals, at least not if those goals include getting to the bottom of this mess in a timely fashion and holding individuals accountable for their wrongdoing.

The 10-member 9/11 Commission, which was created by Congress over the initially fierce opposition of the Bush administration, is—accurately or not—held out as a gold standard for independent federal investigations. With its membership equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, it produced an elegantly written, unanimous report that documented the terrorist conspiracy behind the 2001 attacks and the larger history of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

But it is worth remembering that the 9/11 Commission got started late and took a long time to finish—the investigation lasted 20 months, with its final report not issued until July 2004, more than two and a half years after the Twin Towers fell. The logistics of actually setting up that commission were akin to organizing a small federal agency from scratch, albeit one that required a staff of dozens of experts with the highest-level security clearances.

And the 9/11 Commission achieved bipartisan agreement only because the panel abandoned any attempt at individual accountability. [Continue reading…]

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