FBI Director Comey’s testimony on Huma Abedin forwarding Hillary Clinton’s emails was inaccurate

By Peter Elkind, special to ProPublica, May 8, 2017

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss. (Weiner’s laptop was seized after he came under criminal investigation for sex crimes, following a media report about his online relationship with a teenager.)

The New York Post plastered its story on the front page with a photo of an underwear-clad Weiner and the headline: “HARD COPY: Huma sent Weiner classified Hillary emails to print out.” The Daily News went with a similar front-page screamer: “HUMA ERROR: Sent classified emails to sext maniac Weiner.”

The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

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The mystery behind a Flynn associate’s quiet work for the Trump campaign

The Washington Post reports: Jon Iadonisi, a friend and business associate of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, had two under-the-radar projects underway in the fall of 2016.

One of his companies was helping Flynn with an investigative effort for an ally of the Turkish government — details of which Flynn revealed only after he was forced to step down from his White House post.

At the same time, Iadonisi was also doing work for the Trump campaign, although his role was not publicly reported, according to people familiar with his involvement.

The project Iadonisi was engaged in for Trump’s campaign focused on social media, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement. What that work consisted of — and why his company was not disclosed as a vendor in campaign finance reports — remains a mystery. [Continue reading…]

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Alex Jones will never stop being Alex Jones

Charlie Warzel reports: Jones has today found a place in a United States he helped create, led by a president he helped push into office. From the beginning, Donald Trump was a human distillation of Jones’ anti-establishment, anti-globalist, pro-libertarian, massively paranoid worldview; Jones, meanwhile, was an enthusiastic messenger for Trump’s campaign. There was Trump’s appearance on Jones’ show, in which he praised the host’s reputation as “amazing”; Infowars’ “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts, ubiquitous at campaign rallies; Jones’ championing of WikiLeaks’s emails dump and his characterization of Hillary Clinton as, among other things, “a complete wanton power-tripping self-worshipping devil worshipper”; and finally, in the earliest hours of November 9, a tearful Jones outlining Trump’s plan to “build a better world” while clinking champagne glasses with Trump adviser Roger Stone and listening to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

After 15 years of obscurity, Jones has the audience and the influence he always wanted. And yet he is, somehow, off his game. He spent the first 100 days of the Trump administration — what should have been the honeymoon period — apologizing for his role in promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, retracting his claims to stave off legal action, and, perhaps most unexpectedly, trying to convince a jury that some of his most salacious on-air diatribes were really just “performance art” all along.

Jones, an unwavering professional conspiracy theorist, is being interrogated about his true beliefs just as his golden age of conspiracy is ascendant. But conversations with 25 people in Jones’ orbit indicate that his troubles don’t stem from a split between the character and the human, but from the fact that Jones is eminently and unquestionably himself at all times. Jones has been this way since he was brawling among parked cars. It’s made him a fortune, but now that his moment is finally here, it could be his undoing. [Continue reading…]

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Comey letter probably cost Clinton the election. So why won’t the media admit as much?

Nate Silver writes: Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28. The letter, which said the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state, upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College.

The letter isn’t the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it’s up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.

But the effect of those factors — say, Clinton’s decision to give paid speeches to investment banks, or her messaging on pocket-book issues, or the role that her gender played in the campaign — is hard to measure. The impact of Comey’s letter is comparatively easy to quantify, by contrast. At a maximum, it might have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona. At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so. Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College.

And yet, from almost the moment that Trump won the White House, many mainstream journalists have been in denial about the impact of Comey’s letter. The article that led The New York Times’s website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or “FBI” even once — a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway. Books on the campaign have treated Comey’s letter as an incidental factor, meanwhile. And even though Clinton herself has repeatedly brought up the letter — including in comments she made at an event in New York on Tuesday — many pundits have preferred to change the conversation when the letter comes up, waving it away instead of debating the merits of the case.

The motivation for this seems fairly clear: If Comey’s letter altered the outcome of the election, the media may have some responsibility for the result. [Continue reading…]

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James Comey ‘mildly nauseous’ over idea he swayed the election

The New York Times reports: James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, sharply defended his rationale for notifying Congress about new emails related to the Hillary Clinton investigation less than two weeks before Election Day, saying Wednesday that any suggestion he affected the vote’s outcome made him “mildly nauseous.”

Mr. Comey’s comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing were his first public explanation for his actions, which roiled the presidential campaign in its final days and cast a harsh spotlight on the F.B.I. director.

Mr. Comey said he went public on Oct. 28 because he believed that the emails found by his agents might provide insight into Mrs. Clinton’s reasons for using a private server as secretary of state and might change the outcome of the investigation. Failing to inform Congress, Mr. Comey said, would have a required an “act of concealment.”

“Concealment, in my view, would have been catastrophic,” he said, adding later that he knew the decision would be “disastrous for me personally.”

What Mr. Comey viewed as concealing, Justice Department officials viewed simply as following the rules. The F.B.I. does not normally confirm ongoing investigations. Senior Justice Department officials urged him not to send a letter to Congress informing them that the bureau was examining the new emails. [Continue reading…]

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Russian election hacking ‘wildly successful’ in creating discord, says former U.S. lawmaker

Reuters reports: Russia succeeded in its goals of sowing discord in U.S. politics by meddling in the 2016 presidential election, which will likely inspire similar future efforts, two top former U.S. voices on intelligence said on Tuesday.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers agreed at a panel at Harvard University that Russia likely believed it had achieved its goals and could attempt to repeat its performance in elections in other countries.

“Their purpose was to sew discontent and mistrust in our elections they wanted us to be at each others’ throat when it was over,” Rogers said at the panel at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It’s influencing, I would say, legislative process today. That’s wildly successful.” [Continue reading…]

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UK was given details of alleged contacts between Trump campaign and Moscow

The Guardian reports: The UK government was given details last December of allegedly extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow, according to court papers.

Reports by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, on possible collusion between the the Trump camp and the Kremlin are at the centre of a political storm in the US over Moscow’s role in getting Donald Trump elected.

It was not previously known that the UK intelligence services had also received the dossier but Steele confirmed in a court filing earlier this month that he handed a memorandum compiled in December to a “senior UK government national security official acting in his official capacity, on a confidential basis in hard copy form”.

The court papers say Steele decided to pass on the information he had collected because it was “of considerable importance in relation to alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election”, that it “had implications for the national security of the US and the UK” and “needed to [be] analysed and further investigated/verified”.

The December memo alleged that four Trump representatives travelled to Prague in August or September in 2016 for “secret discussions with Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers”, about how to pay hackers secretly for penetrating Democratic party computer systems and “contingency plans for covering up operations”.

Between March and September, the December memo alleges, the hackers used botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs and steal data online from Democratic party leadership. Two of the hackers had been “recruited under duress by the FSB” the memo said. The hackers were paid by the Trump organisation, but were under the control of Vladimir Putin’s presidential administration. [Continue reading…]

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Russia gave to Citgo — and Citgo gave to Trump

Vanessa Neumann writes: The oil company’s half-million donation to Donald Trump’s Inaugural Committee wasn’t illegal. But it certainly wasn’t moral. And the cash may have come from the Kremlin, at least indirectly.

Recently released Federal Election Commission filings show that Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (known as PDVSA) gave Trump more money than Shell or Walmart. The donation is unusual for PDVSA: Citgo had not donated to previous presidential inaugural committees.

Citgo’s donation to the Trump Inaugural Committee and the horrifying images emerging from Venezuela’s weeks of brutally repressed protests (26 killed, 437 injured, and 1,289 arrested—according to Venezuela’s attorney general; Venezuelan prisoner rights NGO Foro Penal says 1,536 have been “detained” as of April 25) are connected: Russian money and influence is behind both of them. Some of those detained are tortured in Venezuela’s equivalent of CIA headquarters, known as “The Tomb,” for its subterranean torture chambers. The Inaugural Committee donation came days after Citgo (a Delaware-incorporated company with operational headquarters in Houston) mortgaged 49.9 percent of its holdings to Rosneft, an oil company controlled by the Kremlin. That enabled Citgo’s parent company PDVSA to make its bond payments. Rosneft is sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. So is its CEO, Igor Sechin, “Russia’s Darth Vader.” One of the most feared men in Russia, Sechin is close to Vladimir Putin and is one of Putin’s key instruments of geopolitical power. Net net: If Venezuela defaults on its bond payments, Rosneft (i.e., Putin & Co.) could own several refineries, nine pipelines, and distribution terminals all across the Eastern U.S., from Texas to Maine, without any government oversight. If the Russians end up owning Citgo, they will be using American consumers to fund their autocracy and Assad’s brutality in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Top Pentagon watchdog launches investigation into foreign payments Michael Flynn received

The Washington Post reports: The Pentagon’s top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups and whether he failed to obtain proper approval to do so, lawmakers and defense officials said Thursday.

The Pentagon has in the past advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they are subject to the Constitution’s rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.

On Thursday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, released an Oct. 8, 2014, letter in which a Defense Department lawyer warned Flynn upon his retirement from military service that he was forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.

Flynn received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for a Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company $530,000 in the fall. [Continue reading…]

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House Russia investigators optimistic under Conaway’s leadership

Politico reports: Rep. Mike Conaway, the House’s new top Russia investigator, is telling lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee that they should expect to be in Washington more than usual as the beleaguered probe gets a reboot, panel members said after a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

Committee Democrats welcomed Conaway’s remarks, describing the Texas Republican as a “straight-shooter” who was committed to a thorough, bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, including the possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign.

“Mike Conaway told us this morning, expect to be in D.C. a little more than you might’ve anticipated,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told reporters, adding that Republicans and Democrats had agreed to a witness list “in the neighborhood of three or four dozen.” He and other committee members declined to say who would be interviewed. [Continue reading…]

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Senate confirms Rosenstein as deputy attorney general

Politico reports: Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the second-ranking official at the Justice Department on Tuesday, giving him the reins of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal last month.

The Senate backed the veteran federal prosecutor as the nation’s deputy attorney general with a 94-6 vote. The chief complaint among the small group of Democrats who opposed Rosenstein was his reluctance to promise to appoint an independent prosecutor to lead the Russia probe.

“He is, in some senses, what we value in the Department of Justice: someone committed to the rule of law,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the most vocal critic of Rosenstein’s nomination. “That’s why I have been surprised and disappointed that he has failed to heed my request.”

Though the duties of the deputy attorney general are broad, Rosenstein was catapulted into the spotlight after Sessions — a top ally of President Donald Trump — stepped aside from any federal probe of Trump’s campaign. Sessions had not disclosed previous communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak despite testifying that he “did not have communications with the Russians” during his confirmation hearing in January. [Continue reading…]

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Senate Trump-Russia probe has no full-time staff, no key witnesses

The Daily Beast reports: The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russia’s election interference is supposedly the best hope for getting the public credible answers about whether there was any coordination between the Kremlin and Trump Tower.

But there are serious reasons to doubt that it can accomplish this task, as currently configured.

More than three months after the committee announced that it had agreed on the scope of the investigation, the panel has not begun substantially investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, three individuals with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast.

The investigation does not have a single staffer dedicated to it full-time, and those staff members working on it part-time do not have significant investigative experience. The probe currently appears to be moving at a pace slower than prior Senate Intelligence Committee investigations, such as the CIA torture inquiry, which took years to accomplish.

No interviews have been conducted with key individuals suspected of being in the Trump-Russia orbit: not Michael Flynn, not Roger Stone, not Carter Page, not Paul Manafort, and not Jared Kushner, according to two sources familiar with the committee’s procedures. [Continue reading…]

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When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange

Carole Cadwalladr writes: On 9 March 2017, an ordinary Thursday morning, Ian Stubbings, a 35-year-old Londoner, was walking down the street near his office in South Kensington when he spotted a familiar face. He turned and saw a man entering the redbrick terrace which houses the Ecuadorian embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up since 2012. And the familiar face? It was Nigel Farage, the man who spearheaded Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“I thought ‘hang on a moment’,” Stubbings says. “‘That looks a bit dodgy.’ I knew the building was the embassy because I often see camera crews outside. But there was no one else around. I was the only person who’d seen him. And I didn’t know what the significance was – and I still don’t actually – but I thought: that’s got to be worth telling and I was the only person who’d witnessed it.”

So, at 11.22am, he tweeted it. His handle is @custardgannet and he wrote: “Genuine scoop: just saw Nigel Farage enter the Ecuadorian embassy.” Moments later, a reporter from BuzzFeed, who happened to follow him on Twitter, picked it up and tweeted him back, and Stubbings told her: “No press or cameras around.”

No press or cameras around, that is, until BuzzFeed turned up just in time to catch Farage leaving, 40 minutes later. “Nigel Farage Just Visited the Ecuadorian Embassy in London,” the headline said. “Asked by BuzzFeed News if he’d been visiting Julian Assange, the former Ukip leader said he could not remember what he had been doing in the building.”

And that was how the world found out, by accident, that the founder of WikiLeaks, the organisation which published Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails – a decisive advantage for Donald Trump’s campaign – and Farage, a friend of Donald Trump, were mutually acquainted. [Continue reading…]

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Comey tried to shield the FBI from politics. Then he shaped an election

The New York Times reports: The day before he upended the 2016 election, James B. Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, summoned agents and lawyers to his conference room. They had been debating all day, and it was time for a decision.

Mr. Comey’s plan was to tell Congress that the F.B.I. had received new evidence and was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton, the presidential front-runner. The move would violate the policies of an agency that does not reveal its investigations or do anything that may influence an election. But Mr. Comey had declared the case closed, and he believed he was obligated to tell Congress that had changed.

“Should you consider what you’re about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” an adviser asked him, Mr. Comey recalled recently at a closed meeting with F.B.I. agents.

He could not let politics affect his decision, he replied. “If we ever start considering who might be affected, and in what way, by what we do, we’re done,” he told the agents.

But with polls showing Mrs. Clinton holding a comfortable lead, Mr. Comey ended up plunging the F.B.I. into the molten center of a bitter election. Fearing the backlash that would come if it were revealed after the election that the F.B.I. had been investigating the next president and had kept it a secret, Mr. Comey sent a letter informing Congress that the case was reopened.

What he did not say was that the F.B.I. was also investigating the campaign of Donald J. Trump. Just weeks before, Mr. Comey had declined to answer a question from Congress about whether there was such an investigation. Only in March, long after the election, did Mr. Comey confirm that there was one. [Continue reading…]

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Russia tried to use Trump advisers to infiltrate campaign

CNN reports: The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials.

The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.

These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.

Page disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying he helped the US intelligence community. “My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past.”

But the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say. [Continue reading…]

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The Trump-Russia investigation is about to face a new challenge

Business Insider reports: A high-level official at the Department of Justice tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has announced that she will leave the DOJ in May, leaving a key position in the department’s National Security Division unfilled as President Donald Trump’s political appointees await confirmation in the Senate.

Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general of the division, did not provide a reason when she told her staff that she would be leaving in May, according to NPR. She said “the time is now right for me to pursue new career opportunities.”

McCord’s departure has raised questions about the future of the Trump-Russia investigation, which will be in the hands of Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, if and when he is confirmed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Trump-campaign-related investigations last month amid revelations that he failed to disclose two meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.

“This just highlights how important it is that the Russia investigation be handled by an independent prosecutor,” said Matt Miller, a DOJ spokesman under the Obama administration. “Once Rod Rosenstein is confirmed, the investigation will be in the hands of someone who interacts with people in the White House on a daily basis, and that’s just not tenable. It’s even harder with the career official who has been handling it leaving the department.” [Continue reading…]

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