White House spokeswoman: Justice Department ‘should certainly look at’ prosecuting Comey

The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department should consider prosecuting former FBI director James B. Comey for actions that “were improper and likely could have been illegal,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.

“I think if there’s ever a moment where we feel someone’s broken the law, particularly if they’re the head of the FBI, I think that’s something that certainly should be looked at,” Sanders said.

She said that recommending such a prosecution is “not the president’s role,” and that the White House is not encouraging it.

“That’s the job of the Department of Justice, and something they should certainly look at,” Sanders said. [Continue reading…]

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Russia probes pose loyalty test for Team Trump

Politico reports: Lawyers representing Donald Trump’s current and former aides are giving their clients one simple piece of advice: don’t lie to protect the president.

As special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators prepare to question high-ranking aides — including Hope Hicks, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer — in the coming weeks, Trump’s long history of demanding his employees’ complete loyalty are being put to the test.

But Trump stalwarts know the president is closely following the media coverage of the Russia case – and the last thing they want is to be deemed a turncoat whose answers end up becoming further fuel for investigators.

Several of the lawyers representing current and former aides told POLITICO they’re actively warning their clients that any bonds connecting them to Trump won’t protect them from criminal charges if federal prosecutors can nail them for perjury, making false statements or obstruction of justice.

“What I always tell clients is you can’t protect anybody. You can only hurt yourself,” said a lawyer representing a client involved in the Russia probe. The attorney added that any overt attempts to protect Trump will raise wider suspicions of a cover-up, making matters “worse for everybody.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.

Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.

Another issue was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain a security clearance. He later updated the form several times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with foreign officials.

The president’s lawyers were not united in the view that Mr. Kushner should step down. [Continue reading…]

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Sputnik, the Russian news agency, is under investigation by the FBI

Yahoo News reports: The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

As part of the probe, Yahoo News has learned, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.

The emails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office.

Feinberg said the interview was focused on Sputnik’s “internal structure, editorial processes and funding.” [Continue reading…]

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The myth of Deep Throat

Max Holland writes: Columnists, talking heads and op-ed writers are holding open auditions for a role that presumably needs to be filled if we are ever going to get to the bottom of what seems fated to be dubbed, for better or worse, Russiagate: a new Deep Throat.

I get it. In the years since Watergate, the Washington Post’s famous golden source—later revealed to be former FBI No. 2 executive W. Mark Felt—has become practically synonymous with the ideal of the noble leaker. The original Deep Throat “was instrumental in thwarting the conspiracy and bringing [President Richard] Nixon down,” Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, approvingly wrote in the Los Angeles Times in May. “Was it wrong for Deep Throat, as FBI official Mark Felt was then known, to guide the investigation?” Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan asked in June, in the midst of a column praising leaks and anonymous sources, and inviting more. New York magazine columnist Frank Rich has gone a step further and already announced his casting choice: James Comey is today’s Deep Throat.

The unarticulated presumption, which Sullivan, Litman and Rich are not alone in making, is that Felt—the FBI’s deputy director in June 1972, and subsequently the parking-garage interlocutor who steered Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to reportorial heights—was an honorable, selfless whistleblower intent on exposing the lawlessness rampant in the Nixon White House. Or, as David Remnick spelled out in the New Yorker—echoing Deep Throat’s original hagiographers, Woodward and Bernstein—Felt “believed that the Nixon administration was corrupt, paranoid and trying to infringe on the independence of the bureau.” The president and his top aides ran, Felt believed, “a criminal operation out of the White House, and [Felt] risked everything to guide” the Post reporters. A new biopic about Felt, starring Liam Neeson, is due out on September 29 and shows every sign of continuing to portray Deep Throat as a profound patriot and dedicated FBI lifer.

But here’s a heretical thought: Mark Felt was no hero. Getting rid of Nixon was the last thing Felt ever wanted to accomplish; indeed, he was banking on Nixon’s continuation in office to achieve his one and only aim: to reach the top of the FBI pyramid and become director. Felt didn’t help the media for the good of the country, he used the media in service of his own ambition. Things just didn’t turn out anywhere close to the way he wanted. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller gives White House names of 6 aides he expects to question in Russia probe

The Washington Post reports: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the request.

Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and the White House’s initial inaction following warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had withheld information from the public about his private discussions in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, according to people familiar with the probe. [Continue reading…]

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Notes from meeting with Russians said not to be damaging to Trump family

Politico reports: Notes from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on a meeting he attended last year with a Russian lobbyist and Donald Trump Jr. are not seen as damaging to the Trump family or campaign officials, according to government officials and others who have looked at the notes.

The Trump Tower meeting has come under scrutiny because Trump Jr. wrote in an email that he agreed to the encounter in order to find “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and it has since become a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller has sought to interview White House officials about the fallout, and the Russian lobbyist has testified in front of a grand jury.

The notes from the meeting do not contain any damaging information about Clinton or references to promises of damaging information about her, nor do they indicate that officials on the campaign were promising favors or seeking them in return for money, the people who’ve seen them said. [Continue reading…]

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House Intelligence Committee subpoenas DOJ, FBI for dossier documents

The Washington Post reports: The House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed records from the Justice Department and the FBI pertaining to a salacious but unverified dossier over objections from the committee’s minority members, the panel’s ranking Democrat said Tuesday.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) confirmed the details of the subpoenas, initially reported in the Washington Examiner, during an appearance Tuesday evening on MSNBC. But he also complained that the subpoenas were “uncalled for,” accusing Republicans of attempting to “discredit” the author of the dossier “rather than looking into how many of the allegations he wrote about were true.”

“What we should be most concerned about is whether those sources of the information in the report are true, not in discrediting the author of that report,” Schiff said. [Continue reading…]

John Sipher, former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, writes: I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents. At heart, this is what Orbis did [when compiling what has come to be known as the Steele dossier]. They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions. The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand. When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or subsources. Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/subsources claim has happened. The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre. In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what its identified insiders said was accurate. This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.

In this sense, the so-called Steele dossier is not a dossier at all. A dossier suggests a summary or case history. Mr. Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation. Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight. Among the unnamed sources are “a senior Russian foreign ministry official,” “a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” and “a close associate of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.” Thus, the reports are not an attempt to connect the dots, but instead an effort to uncover new and potentially relevant dots in the first place. [Continue reading…]

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Russia probes kick into high gear

Politico reports: The congressional Russia investigations are entering a new and more serious phase as lawmakers return from the August recess amid fresh revelations about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In the coming weeks, both intelligence committees are expected to conduct closed-door interviews with high-ranking members of the Trump campaign, and potential witnesses could include Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr.

The two panels are also looking at possibly holding public hearings this fall.

In addition, Trump Jr. is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting its own parallel investigation into President Donald Trump and his associates’ alleged ties to Moscow.

The return of the congressional Russia probes also means the return of a phenomenon that has reportedly enraged Trump and caused him to lash out at GOP leaders: constant headlines about the latest incremental developments in these sprawling and unwieldy investigations. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel subpoenas Manafort’s former attorney and spokesman

CNN reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued subpoenas to a former lawyer for Paul Manafort and to Manafort’s current spokesman, an aggressive tactic that suggests an effort to add pressure on the former Trump campaign chairman.

The subpoenas seeking documents and testimony were sent to Melissa Laurenza, an attorney with the Akin Gump law firm who until recently represented Manafort, and to Jason Maloni, who is Manafort’s spokesman, according to people familiar with the matter.
Manafort is under investigation for possible tax and financial crimes, according to US officials briefed on the investigation. The allegations under investigation largely center on Manafort’s work for the former ruling party in Ukraine, which was ousted amid street protests over its pro-Russian policies.

It’s unclear what specific information the Mueller investigators believe Laurenza and Maloni may have. But issuing subpoenas to a lawyer of someone under investigation is unusual, in part because it raises potential attorney-client privilege issues that prosecutors tend to try to avoid. Maloni, as a public relations representative, doesn’t have the same attorney-client privilege protections. [Continue reading…]

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Republican floats measure to kill Mueller probe after 6 months

Politico reports: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is pushing an amendment to severely curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign.

The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.

In a statement, DeSantis said the order appointing Mueller as special counsel “didn’t identify a crime to be investigated and practically invites a fishing expedition.”

“Congress should use its spending power to clarify the scope and limit the duration of this investigation,” he explained. Deputy Attorney General Rod “Rosenstein has said that the DOJ doesn’t conduct fishing expeditions; the corollary to this admonition should be that Congress will not fund a fishing expedition.” [Continue reading…]

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Mueller team asking if Trump tried to hide purpose of Trump Tower meeting

NBC News reports: Federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are keenly focused on President Donald Trump’s role in crafting a response to a published article about a meeting between Russians and his son Donald Jr., three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The sources told NBC News that prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose.

The meeting occurred at Trump Tower in June 2016 and was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times, also involved Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin.

At the time, the White House confirmed that Trump had “weighed in” as the response to the Times report was drafted aboard Air Force One on July 8 as the president returned to the U.S. from Germany. The Washington Post reported that Trump had “dictated” the response. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s business sought deal on a Trump Tower in Moscow while he ran for president

The Washington Post reports: While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.

As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested that he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating — both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 6 and grew up in Brooklyn. [Continue reading…]

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Trump asked Sessions about closing case against Arpaio, an ally since ‘birtherism’

The Washington Post reports: As Joseph Arpaio’s federal case headed toward trial this past spring, President Trump wanted to act to help the former Arizona county sheriff who had become a campaign-trail companion and a partner in their crusade against illegal immigration.

The president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but was advised that would be inappropriate, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.

After talking with Sessions, Trump decided to let the case go to trial, and if Arpaio was convicted, he could grant clemency.

So the president waited, all the while planning to issue a pardon if Arpaio was found in contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people merely because he suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. Trump was, in the words of one associate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come,” said one White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the action. [Continue reading…]

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Washington lobbying firms receive subpoenas as part of Russia probe

The Washington Post reports: Lawyers for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, have issued subpoenas to several prominent Washington lobbying firms as the probe examines the finances of two former Trump campaign advisers, according to people with knowledge of the requests.

The subpoenas asked the firms to answer questions and provide records regarding their interactions with the consulting firms led by Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Trump, and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, these people said.

The requests suggest that Mueller’s investigators are looking closely at Manafort and Flynn, both of whom face possible legal jeopardy for allegedly failing to disclose that foreign governments or parties may have been the beneficiaries of their consulting and lobbying work, as they seek potential links between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

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CIA director viewed with suspicion inside the agency

The Washington Post reports: As CIA director, Mike Pompeo has taken a special interest in an agency unit that is closely tied to the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, requiring the Counterintelligence Mission Center to report directly to him.

Officials at the center have, in turn, kept a watchful eye on Pompeo, who has repeatedly played down Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and demonstrated a willingness to engage in political skirmishes for President Trump.

Current and former officials said that the arrangement has been a source of apprehension among the CIA’s upper ranks and that they could not recall a time in the agency’s history when a director faced a comparable conflict.

“Pompeo is in a delicate situation unlike any other director has faced, certainly in my memory,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a CIA official for 23 years who served in Russia and held high-level positions at headquarters, “because of his duty to protect and provide the truth to an independent investigation while maintaining his role with the president.”

The Russia issue has complicated Pompeo’s effort to manage a badly strained relationship between the agency and a president who has disparaged its work and compared U.S. intelligence officials to Nazis. Amid that tension, Pompeo’s interactions with the counterintelligence center have come under particular scrutiny.

The unit helped trigger the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia by serving as a conduit to the FBI last year for information the CIA developed on contacts between Russian individuals and Trump campaign associates, officials said.

The center works more closely with the FBI than almost any other CIA department does, officials said, and continues to pursue leads on Moscow’s election interference operation that could factor in the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a former FBI director.

Pompeo has not impeded that work, officials said. But several officials said there is concern about what he might do if the CIA uncovered new information potentially damaging to Trump and Pompeo were forced to choose between protecting the agency or the president. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel examines possible role Flynn played in seeking Clinton emails from hackers

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining what role, if any, former national security adviser Mike Flynn may have played in a private effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The effort to seek out hackers who were believed to have stolen Mrs. Clinton’s emails, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was led by a longtime Republican activist, Peter W. Smith. In correspondence and conversations with his colleagues, Mr. Smith portrayed Mr. Flynn as an ally in those efforts and implied that other senior Trump campaign officials were coordinating with him, which they have denied. He also named Mr. Flynn’s consulting firm and his son in the correspondence and conversations.

The special counsel is investigating potential coordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

Mr. Smith believed that some 33,000 emails that Mrs. Clinton said were personal and had been deleted had been obtained by hackers. Last year, in the final months of the presidential campaign, he made contact with what he said were five groups of hackers, two of which he believed were comprised of Russians, who claimed to have obtained the emails.

“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Mr. Smith told the Journal in an interview in May. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller seeks grand jury testimony from PR execs who worked with Manafort

NBC News reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas in recent days seeking testimony from public relations executives who worked on an international campaign organized by Paul Manafort, people directly familiar with the matter told NBC News.

This is the first public indication that Mueller’s investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony before the grand jury — a significant milestone in an inquiry that is examining the conduct of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, among others.

It is also further indication that Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, could be in serious legal jeopardy. [Continue reading…]

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Pressure on Manafort grows as feds track more income, possible money laundering

McClatchy reports: Paul Manafort’s place in the crosshairs of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Kremlin’s attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election seems to be growing more uncomfortable.

Two sources familiar with the inquiry tell McClatchy that investigators are working to confirm information indicating that Manafort and the consulting firms he led earned between $80 million and $100 million over a decade from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients.

Mueller’s expanded focus on Manafort’s complicated financial picture is zeroing in on whether he may have evaded taxes or engaged in any money laundering schemes, the sources say, and the hunt for his financial records through a labyrinth of offshore bank and business accounts has become an important prong of the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Lobbyist at Trump campaign meeting has a web of Russian connections

The New York Times reports: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant who met last summer with senior Trump campaign officials, has often struck colleagues as a classic Washington mercenary — loyal to his wife, his daughter and his bank account. He avoided work that would antagonize Moscow, they suggested, only because he profited from his reputation as a man with valuable connections there.

But interviews with his associates and documents reviewed by The New York Times indicate that Mr. Akhmetshin, who is under scrutiny by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, has much deeper ties to the Russian government and Kremlin-backed oligarchs than previously known.

He has an association with a former deputy head of a Russian spy service, the F.S.B., and a history of working for close allies of President Vladimir V. Putin. Twice, he has worked on legal battles for Russian tycoons whose opponents suffered sophisticated hacking attacks, arousing allegations of computer espionage. He helped federal prosecutors bring corruption charges against an American businessman in the former Soviet Union who turned out to be working for the C.I.A.

He also helped expose possible corruption in government contracting that complicated American efforts to keep troops at an air base in Kyrgyzstan — an American presence that the Russians fiercely opposed.

In short, Mr. Akhmetshin’s projects over two decades in Washington routinely advanced the Kremlin’s interests, especially after he became an American citizen in 2009. American counterintelligence agents took notice of his activities, but drew no conclusions about where his allegiances lay, according to a former law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing government secrecy rules.

Mr. Akhmetshin’s meeting with Trump campaign officials is of keen interest to Mr. Mueller, who is investigating the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Of all the visitors who attended the June 2016 session at the Trump Tower, he appears to have the most direct ties to Russian intelligence. The session was arranged by a Russian businessman close to Mr. Putin whose emissary promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” [Continue reading…]

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