Michael Weiss writes: Not four months into 2017, and the director of America’s domestic intelligence agency let it be known that he is overseeing an investigation into whether the sitting U.S. president or his surrogates may have “coordinated” with the Russian government for the purpose of swaying an American election.
“As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” James Comey said, revealing that he is taking seriously the possibility that Donald Trump, his political advisers, or both have aided and abetted a hostile foreign power.
This doesn’t mean a brief encounter or 12 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It doesn’t mean a trip to Moscow to slam U.S. foreign policy and anti-Russia sanctions. And it doesn’t even mean working on behalf of pro-Putin political leaders in Europe. It means knowingly colluding with agents of the Russian government in order to spy on their behalf, to help them steal the correspondence of other Americans, or to feed them classified U.S. secrets. Former MI6 operative Christopher Steele suggested that all of the above were distinct possibilities in his dossier, which Comey believed was worth including in classified briefings of President Obama and then-President-elect Donald Trump.
We also learned that Comey began taking these allegations seriously in late July 2016. That was around the time WikiLeaks started publishing Democratic National Committee emails hacked by Russian cyberoperatives and Trump formally became the nominee of a Republican Party, which purposefully watered down its security commitments to Ukraine, almost certainly on orders from then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
I’m old enough to remember when the GOP thought putting any faith in Vladimir Putin was the height of geopolitical naivete. Now the GOP seems to have decided to represent Putin pro bono, while expressing more frustration with The New York Times’ sourcing than with the single most successful Russian infiltration of the U.S. political system since before, during, or after the Cold War. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.
But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick — colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.
At a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Democrats pressed James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I., for information on Mr. Stone. Asked by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, a Democrat, if he was familiar with Mr. Stone, Mr. Comey replied tersely, “Generally, yes,” before saying he could not discuss any specific person.
Mr. Stone, 64, is the best known of the Trump associates under scrutiny as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference in the election. John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks, accused him in October of having advance warning of the hacks, which the intelligence community has concluded were orchestrated by Russia. [Continue reading…]
Ryan Lizza writes: Early on Monday morning, a couple of hours before the start of the first House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s involvement in the Presidential election, one of Donald Trump’s closest White House advisers made a startling—and completely erroneous—prediction: James Comey, the F.B.I. director, would testify that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. “The Russian collusion thing has always been bullshit,” the official said. “I think Comey will come down and say there absolutely was no contact, collusion, or anything like that with the campaign.”
The official conceded that, in the early days of the Trump campaign, the candidate attracted some dubious figures. Sam Clovis, an Iowa talk-radio host who had been appointed as Trump’s senior policy adviser, strained to put together a serious team. Meanwhile, fringe political operatives, such as Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, and Stone’s good friend and former business partner Paul Manafort, who became the campaign chairman, had easy access to the candidate. The White House official described these camps as “two converging sets of marginalia.”
“You had Sam Clovis, God bless him, who tried to put together an advisory group of people,” the official said. “Then you have the whole Manafort-Ukraine thing and Roger Stone running around doing whatever Roger Stone is doing.” He added, “This campaign, early on, had a lot of marginalia associated with it. Guys like Carter Page, Roger Stone. I have no earthly idea what those guys have been up to, right?”
Manafort, a longtime political lobbyist, worked for years in Ukrainian politics as a paid adviser for a pro-Putin party, before surfacing back in the United States as a Trump campaign operative, and later, the campaign’s chairman. Stone, who has known Trump for decades, had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would release e-mails, later determined to have been stolen by Russian hackers, from the account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Page, an energy consultant and former Trump campaign adviser, travelled to Moscow last summer for a paid speech. Page, Manafort, and Stone, as well as Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser, are reportedly part of an F.B.I. investigation. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump.
He was wrong.
James B. Comey — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign.
Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.
But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.
Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.
Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.
“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A Gallup poll released Monday found Mr. Trump with an abysmal 37 percent approval rating; other recent polls place his popularity in the mid-40s, but even that level is among the lowest ever recorded for a president this early in his first term.
Over the past several weeks, Republicans in Congress and members of their staffs have privately complained that Mr. Trump’s Twitter comment on March 4 — the one where he called Barack Obama “sick” and suggested that the former president had ordered a “tapp” on his phone — had done more to undermine anything he’s done as president because it called into question his seriousness about governing.
The problem, from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s beleaguered political fire brigade, is that the president insists on dealing with crises by creating new ones — so surrogates, repeating talking points the president himself ignores, say they often feel like human shields. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election has spawned a tangle of inquiries with competing agendas and timetables, and with little agreement on the most important things that should be investigated.
Staff members for the Senate Intelligence Committee have spent weeks poring over raw intelligence that led the Obama administration to conclude that Russia meddled in the election, but they have yet to be given any access to far more politically charged information — evidence of contacts between Russians and associates of President Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation of issues surrounding Mr. Trump and Russia, but the committee’s Republican chairman has said a top priority is to unmask whoever is speaking to journalists about classified information. Democrats on the committee hope the investigation can force a disclosure of the president’s tax returns.
The progress of these congressional inquiries depends at least in part on a third investigation by the F.B.I., in which counterintelligence agents have been scrutinizing past contacts between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s aides. Officials say the F.B.I. effort will probably take many months or even years, however eager Congress might be for quick answers.
And, while the F.B.I. conducts its investigation in secrecy, the White House insists publicly that there is nothing to investigate. [Continue reading…]
Intelligence chairman: Justice report shows no evidence for Trump’s claims of wiretapping during campaign
The Washington Post reports: The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that new documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department provided no proof to support President Trump’s claim that his predecessor had ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower.
“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He added, “There was no FISA warrant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower” — a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a federal law that governs the issuance of search warrants in U.S. intelligence gathering. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Allegations from the United States that British spy agency GCHQ snooped on Donald Trump during his election campaign are “arrant nonsense”, the deputy head of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) said in an interview on Saturday.
President Trump has stood by unproven claims that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the 2016 White House race. On Thursday his spokesman cited a media report that Britain’s GCHQ was behind the surveillance.
Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the NSA, told BBC News the idea that Britain had a hand in spying on Trump was “just crazy”. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to President Trump, has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to preserve any records he may have in connection to a broader inquiry into Russian attempts to interfere with United States elections.
The letter sent to Mr. Stone, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, represents the first public indication of the scope of the committee’s inquiry, and possible connections to Mr. Trump’s campaign.
The Senate committee asked Mr. Stone, who is also under scrutiny from other federal investigators, to “preserve and retain all hard copies and electronically stored information as specified below in furtherance of the committee’s ongoing investigation into Russian actions targeting the 2016 U.S. elections and democratic processes globally.”
Mr. Stone confirmed the existence of the letter, which was dated Feb. 17. However, he said he had received it only on Friday, by email. Mr. Stone has acknowledged trading messages over Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona that officials believe was actually Russian intelligence officers.
The letter to Mr. Stone was signed by the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and its ranking Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Press officers for Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner declined to comment on the letter.
Democrats and some investigators, as well as some Republicans, have been watching Mr. Stone, a Richard M. Nixon acolyte and self-described “dirty trickster,” more closely since he posted on Twitter in August 2016 about John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, whose private emails were hacked and provided to WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]
Louise Mensch writes: On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee holds its first hearing on Russia’s hacking of the election. (No date has yet been set for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s parallel investigation.) The list of initial witnesses does not inspire confidence in the House committee’s effectiveness.
It should be relatively easy to get at the truth of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia over the hacking. I have some relevant experience. When I was a member of Parliament in Britain, I took part in a select committee investigating allegations of phone hacking by the News Corporation. Today, as a New York-based journalist (who, in fact, now works at News Corp.), I have followed the Russian hacking story closely. In November, I broke the story that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court had issued a warrant that enabled the F.B.I. to examine communications between “U.S. persons” in the Trump campaign relating to Russia-linked banks.
So, I have some ideas for how the House committee members should proceed. If I were Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the committee, I would demand to see the following witnesses: Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Richard Burt, Erik Prince, Dan Scavino, Brad Parscale, Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Boris Epshteyn, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr., Felix Sater, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Michael Cohen, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Anton, Julia Hahn and Stephen Miller, along with executives from Cambridge Analytica, Alfa Bank, Silicon Valley Bank and Spectrum Health.
There are many more who need to be called, but these would be a first step. As to lines of questioning, here are some suggestions. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The House Intelligence Committee did not reveal on Friday night the answer to the question of whether Justice Department documents substantiate President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration.
The committee had asked for copies of any warrants, applications or court orders relating to a wiretap of Trump or his surrogates and affiliates in advance of a Monday hearing at which the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency are expected to testify about alleged connections between the Trump team and Russian authorities.
Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) avoided the big question by releasing a statement late Friday that said his panel is “satisfied” that Justice “has fully complied” with its request related to “possible surveillance” of Trump and his associates.
Nunes said the CIA and FBI had not yet provided information that was requested “that is necessary to determine whether information collected on U.S. persons was mishandled and leaked.”
He added that the NSA had “partially met our request” and pledged to fully meet it by the end of next week. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: British intelligence officials have denied an allegation that the UK helped former president Barack Obama “wiretap” Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
The claim was repeated by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, on Thursday and dismissed as “utterly ridiculous” by a GCHQ spokesperson.
The spokesperson added in a statement: “Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
This week, Napolitano, Fox News judicial analyst, claimed during an interview on the network that three intelligence sources confirmed to him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Trump so that there would be “no American fingerprints on this”.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, quoted Napolitano’s allegation in an effort to validate Trump’s unfounded claim that Obama tapped his phones last year. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee have rubbished Donald Trump’s incendiary claim that Barack Obama placed Trump Tower under surveillance.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after election day 2016,” the Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina and the Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Burr and Warner helm one of the congressional committees investigating ties to Russia by Trump’s associates. Those unfolding inquiries have expanded their focus to include Trump’s evidence-free accusation, made on Twitter on 4 March, that Obama ordered surveillance of his eventual successor.
Their counterparts on the House intelligence committee, the Republican Devin Nunes and the Democrat Adam Schiff, both of California, announced the same conclusion on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: The White House has apologized to the British government after alleging that a UK intelligence agency spied on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke with his British counterpart on Thursday about press secretary Sean Spicer’s comment from the White House podium about a Fox News report that said British intelligence helped wiretap Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, a White House official said Friday.
The official described the conversation as “cordial” where McMaster described Spicer’s comment as “unintentional.”
McMaster also told his counterpart that “their concerns were understood and heard and it would be relayed to the White House.”
The official said there were “at least two calls” from British officials on Thursday and that the British ambassador to the United States called Spicer to discuss the comment.
“Sean was pointing to the breadth of reporting, not endorsing any specific story,” the official said.
A senior administration official told CNN that Spicer and McMaster offered what amounted to an apology to the British government.
Earlier Friday, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said senior UK officials had protested to the Trump administration after the claims were repeated by Spicer. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Thursday will unveil a budget plan that calls for a sharp increase in military spending and stark cuts across much of the rest of the government including the elimination of dozens of long-standing federal programs that assist the poor, fund scientific research and aid America’s allies abroad.
Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.
It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.
The cuts could represent the widest swath of reductions in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II, probably leading to a sizable cutback in the federal non-military workforce, something White House officials said was one of their goals. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A deep fear came to pass for many artists, museums, and cultural organizations nationwide early Thursday morning when President Trump, in his first federal budget plan, proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
President Trump also proposed scrapping the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a key revenue source for PBS and National Public Radio stations, as well as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
It was the first time a president has called for ending the endowments. They were created in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation declaring that any “advanced civilization” must fully value the arts, the humanities, and cultural activity.
While the combined annual budgets of both endowments — about $300 million — are a tiny fraction of the $1.1 trillion of total annual discretionary spending, grants from these agencies have been deeply valued financial lifelines and highly coveted honors for artists, musicians, writers and scholars for decades. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: In a striking repudiation, Republicans on Wednesday threatened subpoenas and vented openly about the lack of evidence behind President Trump’s tweet that President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes of California, told reporters on Capitol Hill that “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower” and that Mr. Trump, if taken literally, is simply “wrong.”
Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said he had provided no information to Mr. Trump that might have formed the basis for the president’s claim.
And two Republican senators threatened to block Mr. Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general until they get clarity from the F.B.I. about the accuracy of the president’s assertions. One of them vowed to issue subpoenas, if needed.
But Mr. Trump appeared defiant. In a Fox News interview, he hinted at a broader meaning to his Twitter messages and suggested that his online assertions would eventually be vindicated, saying that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.”
Mr. Trump added, “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.” [Continue reading…]
Jack Goldsmith writes: In the second month of a new presidency, several bodies in a Congress controlled by the president’s party are conducting high-profile, politically fraught and hard-to-control investigations that potentially implicate current and former administration officials and former campaign officials.
All of these actors and institutions are holding the Trump presidency to account. They are endeavoring to uncover the truth about the manifold Russian mysteries. And they can, if they see fit, take action with effects ranging from publicity and embarrassment to political damage with electoral consequences to criminal prosecution to impeachment if appropriate.
It’s true that the process of accountability is halting and frustratingly slow. But this is as it should be. The stakes could not be higher for our democracy. Ascertaining the truth is vital, and respect for the innocent is as important as identification of wrongdoing. It is thus crucial that the complex and elusive facts be sorted out in a fair and procedurally rigorous manner, and that the law be applied with deliberation and good judgment.
Justice seems elusive here because it is so plodding. But plodding justice is our best chance for a legitimate resolution to this mess. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Tensions between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are rising over Russia, as lawmakers probing alleged ties between the president’s team and the Kremlin accuse officials of trying to stymie their efforts.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), whose committee is one of several whose investigations are now fully underway, accused Justice Department officials Wednesday of lying outright when they promised to share information about ongoing department probes with lawmakers conducting oversight.
“Every time they come up here for their nomination hearing . . . I ask them: ‘Are you going to answer phone calls and our letters, and are you going to give us the documents we want?’ And every time we get a real positive ‘yes!’ And then they end up being liars!” Grassley said, screaming into the phone during an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s not if they’re treating us differently than another committee. It’s if they’re responding at all.”
Grassley, who spoke as he awaited a meeting with FBI Director James B. Comey to determine whether the bureau is investigating alleged Russia interference in last year’s presidential elections, threatened this week to block the nomination of Rod J. Rosenstein as the No. 2 man at the Justice Department until his full committee received an FBI briefing.
And he is not alone in voicing frustrations at how the administration is interacting with members trying to investigate allegations of links between the Trump team and Russia. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: The long-simmering war between Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul boiled over on Wednesday when the Arizona lawmaker directly accused his colleague of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While speaking from the Senate floor in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), McCain noted objection from his Kentucky colleague, saying that if you oppose the measure, “You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin… trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject an attempted coup.”
McCain continued: “If they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin and I do not say that lightly.”
Several moments later, after the 80-year-old senator asked for unanimous consent to move the bill forward, Paul took the mic to raise his objection before dramatically exiting the room.
In response, McCain began railing against Paul, his voice trembling with anger: “I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken. That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number—perhaps 98, at least, of his colleagues—would come to the floor and object and walk away.”
He then directly connected Paul to the Russian government: “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians.
“So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” [Continue reading…]