Senate Russia investigation now looking into Jill Stein

BuzzFeed reports: The top congressional committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has set its sights on the Green Party and its nominee, Jill Stein.

Dennis Trainor Jr., who worked for the Stein campaign from January to August of 2015, says Stein contacted him on Friday saying the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested that the campaign comply with a document search.

Trainor, who served as the campaign’s communications director and acting manager during that time, told BuzzFeed News that he was informed of the committee’s request because during his time on the campaign, his personal cell phone was “a primary point of contact” for those looking to reach Stein or the campaign. That included producers from RT News, the Russian state-funded media company that booked Stein for several appearances, Trainor said. [Continue reading…]


Doug Jones doesn’t believe that sexual harassment is a ‘real issue.’ If it concerned enough voters, he argues, Trump wouldn’t be president

BuzzFeed reports: In the wake of Democratic Sen. Al Franken announcing his resignation after being accused of sexual misconduct, several Senate Democrats have called on Trump to step down because of the allegations against him leveled by more than a dozen women.

On Sunday, Jones broke with some of his fellow Democrats, saying he didn’t believe the president should resign and that “we need to move on and not get distracted by those issues.”

Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, the Alabama senator-elect said, “Those allegations were made before the election, and so people had an opportunity to judge before that election.” [Continue reading…]


Trump’s nominee for U.S. District Court Judge can’t answer basic questions of law

CNN reports: A Trump judicial nominee struggled to answer basic legal questions posed to him by a Republican senator on Wednesday, including his lack of experience on trial work, the amount of depositions he’d worked on and more.

During his testimony, Matthew Spencer Petersen, who currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was asked a string of questions by GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana about his experience on trials, including how many depositions Petersen had worked on–the answer was less than five — and the last time he had read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — he said he couldn’t remember.

Petersen is up for a seat on the US District Court for the District of Columbia. [Continue reading…]


House intelligence panel is rushing to complete Russia probe

The New York Times reports: The House Intelligence Committee is racing to complete its investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, scheduling a host of witness interviews here and in New York for next week as Congress heads for its break, and, Democrats said, leaving other leads unfollowed.

Some of the most important witnesses are to be interviewed in New York by committee staff early next week, possibly leaving Democrats to choose between attending those depositions or voting on the massive tax bill coming before the House.

And in an indication that Republicans hope to wrap up their probe, the House committee has yet to schedule a single interview after the holidays, according to two committee officials familiar with the schedule. That has left Democrats fearful that the majority is trying to finish the investigative portion of its work by the end of next week, before the committee can connect the dots on one of the most serious efforts by a hostile foreign actor to hijack American democracy.

“I feel no need to apologize for concluding an investigation,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, one of the Republicans leading the investigation. [Continue reading…]


Lindsey Graham: There’s a 30 percent chance Trump attacks North Korea

The Atlantic reports: It’s become a grim ritual in Washington foreign-policy circles to assess the chances that the United States and North Korea stumble into war. But on Wednesday Lindsey Graham did something different: He estimated the odds that the Trump administration deliberately strikes North Korea first, to stop it from acquiring the capability to target the U.S. mainland with a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile. And the senator’s numbers were remarkably high.

“I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option,” Graham predicted in an interview. If the North Koreans conduct an additional test of a nuclear bomb—their seventh—“I would say 70 percent.”

Graham said that the issue of North Korea came up during a round of golf he played with the president on Sunday. “It comes up all the time,” he said.

“War with North Korea is an all-out war against the regime,” he said. “There is no surgical strike option. Their [nuclear-weapons] program is too redundant, it’s too hardened, and you gotta assume the worst, not the best. So if you ever use the military option, it’s not to just neutralize their nuclear facilities—you gotta be willing to take the regime completely down.” [Continue reading…]


Head of congressional ethics office sued for abusing position, accused of assaulting women

Foreign Policy reports: A top congressional ethics official who oversees investigations into misconduct by lawmakers is accused in a federal lawsuit of verbally abusing and physically assaulting women and using his federal position to influence local law enforcement, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in Pennsylvania last month.

The ongoing lawsuit against Omar Ashmawy, staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, stems from his involvement in a late-night brawl in 2015 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and includes a range of allegations relating to his behavior that evening and in the following two-and-half years.

Ashmawy’s office conducts the preliminary investigations into allegations of misconduct in the House of Representatives, deciding which cases to pursue or refer to the Committee on Ethics. He is named in congressional documents as the official who presented one of the investigations into John Conyers, the Democratic lawmaker from Michigan accused of sexual harassment, to the ethics committee for further action.

Among other allegations, Ashmawy is accused in the lawsuit of “threatening to use his position as staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics to induce a criminal proceeding to be brought against Plaintiff and/or others,” according to the federal lawsuit filed against him.

In court filings and in statements to Foreign Policy, Ashmawy denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuit. [Continue reading…]


Trump attacks Gillibrand in tweet critics say is sexually suggestive and demeaning

The Washington Post reports: President Trump attacked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a sexually suggestive tweet Tuesday morning that implied Gillibrand would do just about anything for money, prompting a swift and immediate backlash.

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Charles E. Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump,” the president wrote. “Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

The tweet came as Trump is already facing negative publicity from renewed allegations from three women who had previously accused him of sexual harassment, which are coming amid the #MeToo movement that is roiling the nation and forcing powerful men accused of sexual misbehavior from their posts. [Continue reading…]


#MeToo spotlight increasingly pointed at past Trump conduct

The Associated Press reports: Donald Trump sailed past a raft of allegations of sexual misconduct in last year’s presidential election.

Now the national #MeToo spotlight is turning back to Trump and his past conduct. Several of his accusers are urging Congress to investigate his behavior, and a number of Democratic lawmakers are demanding his resignation.

With each day seeming to bring new headlines that force men from positions of power, the movement to expose sexual harassment has forced an unwelcome conversation on the White House. In a heated exchange with reporters in the White House briefing room on Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steadfastly dismissed accusations against the Republican president and suggested the issue had already been litigated in Trump’s favor on Election Day.

But to Trump’s accusers, the rising #MeToo movement is an occasion to ensure he is at last held accountable.

“It was heartbreaking last year. We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and how he views women, and for them to say, ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Samantha Holvey said Monday. The former beauty queen claimed that Trump ogled her and other Miss USA pageant contestants in their dressing room in 2006.

“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”

Holvey was one of four women to make her case against Trump on Monday, both in an NBC interview and then in a news conference. Rachel Crooks, a former Trump Tower receptionist who said the celebrity businessman kissed her on the mouth in 2006 without consent, called for Congress to “put aside party affiliations and investigate Trump’s history of sexual misconduct.”

“If they were willing to investigate Sen. Franken, it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump,” Crooks said. [Continue reading…]


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand calls on Trump to resign

CNN reports: Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told CNN on Monday that President Donald Trump should resign over allegations of sexual assault.

“President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign,” Gillibrand told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.

“These allegations are credible; they are numerous, ” said Gillibrand, a leading voice in Congress for combating sexual assault in the military. “I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

If he does not “immediately resign,” she said, Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.” [Continue reading…]


Roy Moore’s Alabama

Howell Raines writes: The hickory tree, which stood hard by the unpaved road at the northeast corner of my grandparents’ front yard, is gone. So is the bipartisan flexibility it symbolized in the alliance of an anti-Wallace Democrat like Mr. Elliott and my grandfather, a conservative populist Republican. Like much of Appalachia, Winston County had very few slaves, and black people now account for less than 1 percent of the residents. A visiting Canadian journalist wrote recently that folks here are tight-lipped around outside reporters. The Walker graves in the Baptist cemetery give me dirt-road cred, but I didn’t push too hard. These people fear being depicted as “total rednecks” and argue urgently that they do not fit the stereotype. Neat brick bungalows have replaced ramshackle farmhouses. The community center conducts weekly yoga and aerobics classes, and the literary society convenes once a month.

But if you scratch this hard North Alabama soil, you’ll find Native American arrowheads and a secret dissent, like the patriotism that led rampaging Confederate guerrillas to loot the farms of Winston men who joined the Union Army. Lost Cause historians at the University of Alabama watered down the radical nature of Winston’s devotion to the Union. A misleading statue in Double Springs, showing a soldier in a uniform that is half Union and half Confederate, disguises the fact that Winston provided more troops to the Union Army than to the Confederate. Records in the National Archives show that my great-great grandfather, Hial Abbott, who farmed near here, was a key figure in a local underground that sneaked mountain boys through the Confederate lines to enlist for the North.

In Arley, women are the rebels in the current election. “All those women who are coming forward, they’re not making it up,” a female civic leader told me over coffee within sight of the “liars’ table.” This gender division exists in the household of Mavinee and Odis Bishop. Mrs. Bishop greeted me at the door saying, “Your grandfather married us 72 years ago when my husband was home from the war.” Mr. Bishop, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, said he had drifted over to the Democrats when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal paid him and his jobless friends to work on the kind of infrastructure projects promised by candidate Trump. But he sees modern Democrats as detached from common folk. He’ll vote for Mr. Moore and intends to “sway” his wife from her plan to support Mr. Jones.

“No, he won’t,” Mrs. Bishop said in that firm Free State way as she stepped in from the kitchen.

There in a nutshell are the swing factors that will determine this election. Upper-income suburbs in the state’s major cities are covered with Doug Jones signs, foreshadowing a powerful Republican soccer-mom rejection of Mr. Moore’s purported predation. Older Republican women whisper about lobbying their female friends to do the unthinkable and vote for the Democrat. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Sunday that his home state “deserves better” than to be represented by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, including one as young as 14, when he was in his 30s.

Shelby, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, said he had already cast a ballot ahead of Tuesday’s special election and did not vote for Moore, opting instead for a write-in candidate that he declined to name in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’d rather see the Republican win, but I would hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name,” Shelby said. “I’d rather see another Republican in there, and I’m going to stay with that story. I’m not going to vote for the Democrat, I didn’t vote for the Democrat or advocate for the Democrat. But I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.

“The state of Alabama deserves better.” [Continue reading…]


In Franken’s wake, three senators call on President Trump to resign

The Washington Post reports: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and two of his Democratic colleagues have suggested that President Trump should consider resigning, after a run of sexual-harassment scandals has driven out some members of Congress.

Sen. Al Franken “felt it proper for him to resign,” Sanders said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, referring to the Democrat from Minnesota. “Here you have a president who has been accused by many women of assault, who says on a tape that he assaulted women. He might want to think about doing the same.”

Sanders’s comment, which built on a tweet he sent last week, came after Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) suggested that the “#MeToo moment” should prompt another look at the women who accused Trump of sexual harassment during the 2016 presidential campaign. [Continue reading…]


Private war: Erik Prince has his eye on Afghanistan’s rare metals

BuzzFeed reports: Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of “security contractors.” Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US.

Prince, who founded the Blackwater security firm and testified last week to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, has deep connections into the current White House: He’s friends with former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon, and he’s the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

Prince briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he’s pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain’s empire in India. “An East India Company approach,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support.”

But the details have never been made public. Here is the never-before-published slide presentation for his pitch, which a source familiar with the matter said was prepared for the Trump administration.

One surprising element is the commercial promise Prince envisions: that the US will get access to Afghanistan’s rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and “rare earth elements,” critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion. [Continue reading…]


Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents

CNN reports: Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton.

“WIKILEAKS: Hillary Clinton Sent THOUSANDS of Classified Cables Marked “(C)” for Confidential,” he tweeted, sharing a story from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative, pro-Trump website.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Congressional investigators are trying to ascertain whether the individual who sent the September email is legitimate and whether it shows additional efforts by WikiLeaks to connect with Trump’s son and others on the Trump campaign. The email also indicated that the Trump campaign could access records from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were made public by a Russian front group 10 days later. [Continue reading…]


Investigators probe European travel of Trump associates

Politico reports: Congressional investigators are scrutinizing trips to Europe taken last year by several associates of President Donald Trump, amid concern they may have met with Kremlin-linked operatives as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Several people close to then-candidate Trump visited Europe during and after the campaign, including his son Donald Trump Jr., Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and foreign policy advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Jeffrey Gordon. Their known destinations include London, Paris, Budapest and Athens.

But their explanations of those trips have not always been forthcoming, and some congressional investigators find their stories suspect.

When a House Intelligence Committee member asked Page last month about his end-of-summer 2016 visit to Budapest, for instance, Page initially said he “did a lot of sightseeing and went to a jazz club. Not much to report.”

Under further questioning, Page admitted to meeting with a Hungarian government official who some congressional investigators suspect is an intelligence officer and cryptically offered that “there may have been one Russian person passing through there.”

Trump Jr. flew to Paris late in the campaign to meet with and speak before a foreign policy group with ties to Russian officials. Cohen traveled three times to Europe last year, though he strongly denies the claim in a controversial dossier on Donald Trump’s Russia connections that he met secretly with a Russian official in Prague.

Such trips have raised concerns about whether the Trump associates were approached by Russian intelligence agents as part of the Kremlin’s election meddling or even sought face-to-face meetings themselves, possibly to discuss acquiring incriminating information on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to two congressional officials familiar with the probes. [Continue reading…]


The Jerusalem Embassy Act was only meant to be a piece of political theater

Yoav Fromer writes: In light of the Clinton administration’s firm objection and threats to veto the law, an unusual compromise was born [in 1995]: Congress would pass the law, but would include a provision under which the president may suspend the law’s implementation according to his own discretion. In other words, Congress passed the law assuming it would never see the light of day. That way, everyone stood to gain: The lawmakers raked in voters and donations for supporting Israel; and the administration, on the one hand, didn’t prevent pro-Israel legislation, and the other hand, alleviated Arab states’ fears by indicating that it had no intention of allowing its implementation.

In a perfect reflection of a political theater, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was a symbolic, empty and superficial move, which wasn’t actually aimed at changing reality on the ground. And that is essentially what President Trump is likely about to do: Instead of providing the “historic deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, as he promised to do, he has apparently given up the hard and challenging work involved in diplomatic negotiations for the sake of empty declarations. And instead of using the momentum he gained following his successful visit to the Middle East and advancing a creative and bold solution to the conflict, Trump is once against settling for words at the expense of action.

We must not forget there is a good reason why the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was enacted 22 years ago, was never implemented: Because it harms the US, and it harms Israel too indirectly. Trump’s predecessors—and quite a few Israeli leaders—objected to the embassy’s relocation because they understood the cost would be greater than the benefit: Not only would the US give up its status as a decent mediator in the conflict, which would only hurt Israel, but the president would waste the little sympathy he had left in Arab capitals, inflame the Arab street and divert the attention from the real regional threat—Iran’s growing power.

So before opening champagne bottles and celebrating the declaration, it’s important to remember that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was born by mistake. The attempt to execute it or change Jerusalem’s diplomatic status quo could end in a disaster. [Continue reading…]


Twelve Senate Democrats call on Franken to resign amid further allegations of sexual harassment

The Washington Post reports: A dozen Senate Democrats called Wednesday for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment, raising the possibility he will become the second lawmaker to step aside over recent accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Franken’s office said he would make an announcement about his political future on Thursday. No other details were provided.

In a campaign started by Democratic women, nearly a dozen senators said Franken should leave Capitol Hill. Franken faces multiple accusations of inappropriate touching and unwanted advances. He has denied intentional wrongdoing and has apologized.

“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told reporters at a news conference. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay, none of it is acceptable. We as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. That is where this debate has to go.” [Continue reading…]


Flynn said Russian sanctions would be ‘ripped up,’ whistle-blower says

The New York Times reports: Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistle-blower made public on Wednesday.

Mr. Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistle-blower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.

Mr. Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, as he sat behind the president listening to the inaugural address, Mr. Flynn, according to the whistle-blower, texted the former business associate to say that the project was “good to go.”

The account is detailed in a letter written by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Mr. Cummings said that the whistle-blower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistle-blower. [Continue reading…]


Trump Jr. cites attorney-client privilege in not answering panel’s questions about discussions with his father

Politico reports: Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday cited attorney-client privilege to avoid telling lawmakers about a conversation he had with his father, President Donald Trump, after news broke this summer that the younger Trump — and top campaign brass — had met with Russia-connected individuals in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

Though neither Trump Jr. nor the president is an attorney, Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee that there was a lawyer in the room during the discussion, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff said he didn’t think it was a legitimate invocation of attorney-client privilege.

“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” he said, after the committee’s lengthy interview with Trump Jr. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.” [Continue reading…]