Posts Tagged ‘Adam Schiff’

Google Conducting Broad Investigation of Russian Influence

September 30, 2017

Google also talking with congressional officials who are investigating Russian interference in election

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Google is conducting a broad internal investigation to determine whether Russian-linked entities used its ads or services to try to manipulate voters ahead of the U.S. election, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move that comes after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said Russian actors used their sites.

Google, part of Alphabet Inc., is also talking with congressional officials who are investigating Russian efforts to influence the election, and plans to share its findings with them once completed, this person said.

Congressional leaders have scrutinized Facebook and Twitter for Russian activity on their sites—and criticized the tech companies for their lack of disclosure of such information.

Google, pending a potential meeting with lawmakers, has said little. Earlier this month, the company said it found no evidence that it sold election-related ads to Russian actors. But it didn’t say how deeply it was investigating the issue, or whether there was other types of Russian interference on its platform.

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On Friday, the company said, “We will of course cooperate with inquiries; we’re looking into how we can help with any relevant information.”

Google also hasn’t said whether it will accept an invitation this week from the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify publicly on Nov. 1 about Russian interference. The committee also invited Facebook and Twitter. Facebook said it hasn’t yet accepted the invitation. Twitter also hasn’t responded, a person familiar said.

It is unclear what sort of activity, if any, happened on Google’s sites. But Google runs the world’s largest advertising business and largest online-video site, YouTube, making it an obvious place for investigators to look.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian influence on the election, said that lawmakers want to speak to Google “given their dominant force online that has an advertising component.”

Google sells ads above its search results, before YouTube videos and on third-party websites and apps. Google even offers a specific ad tool for political campaigns that it says will help advertisers “win the moments that win elections.”

Google’s YouTube site is also one of the world’s largest social-media communities, with more than 1.5 billion monthly users, compared with more than 2 billion on Facebook and 328 million on Twitter.

The site is also a hotbed for highly partisan political videos, including misleading and false content. And it is a primary way Russian media with direct links to the Russian government reach viewers, particularly in the Western world.

House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-CA)Photo: jim bourg/Reuters

Russian state media RT, which a U.S. intelligence report said aimed to meddle in the election, has 2.2 million subscribers and 2.1 billion views on its English-language YouTube channel. The organization says it has more than 5 billion views across its YouTube channels, making it the site’s most watched news network.

Twitter on Thursday singled out RT as an advertiser that was part of Russian interference on its site. RT spent $274,100 to advertise on Twitter during the campaign, the company said.

RT couldn’t immediately be reached, but in a note sent earlier Friday, RT’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan said RT had been “spending money on our advertising campaigns, just like every media organization in the world.”

The Russian broadcaster has previously disputed the U.S. intelligence report.

Facebook said earlier this month that Russian entities paid $150,000 to run 5,200 divisive ads on its platform during the campaign. It identified roughly 450 Russian-linked accounts as having purchased ads—a list that it shared with Twitter and Google, according to people familiar with the matter.

Twitter said Thursday that it found 201 accounts on its service linked to the Russian actors identified by Facebook.

Google’s investigation, however, is much broader than the Facebook list, according to one of the people.

While outside researchers were able to get a picture of abuse on Facebook and Twitter by examining the likes, retweets and shares on those platforms, Google’s search-based business model makes it more difficult for outside parties to identify such activity, said Graham Brookie, deputy director with Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Given the sophistication of the Russian campaigns, Mr. Brookie said it is likely Google will uncover something. “If you’re running a messaging campaign that is as sophisticated as microtargeting demographics on Facebook, then there’s no way you’re going to sit there from a communication standpoint and say ‘Google doesn’t matter to us,’” he said.

The Russians “looked at a tool kit in a lot of the same ways that a political campaign would look at a tool kit,” Mr. Brookie said. “And the sophistication with which they used their tool kit was very similar to a lot of political campaigns in the U.S. Every single political campaign in the U.S. would not ignore Google.”

—Byron Tau contributed to this article

Write to Jack Nicas at jack.nicas@wsj.com and Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-conducting-broad-investigation-of-russian-influence-1506724811

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Russians posed as Muslim organization to sway US voters

September 28, 2017

By Chris Perez
The New York Post

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The Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election by masquerading as an authentic US Muslim organization on social media and posting incendiary memes about Hillary Clinton — while simultaneously using other accounts to send Islamophobic messages to right-wing users, a report says.

Sources tell The Daily Beast that the Kremlin-backed internet trolls created a fake Facebook group called “United Muslims of America” and then used it to stir the proverbial pot for months.

While the Russians’ use of imposter accounts is well noted, this is one of the first known instances where they impersonated an actual organization.

The real “United Muslims of America” is a California-based nonprofit that claims to have promoted interfaith dialogue and political participation for more than 30 years. It is “not functional” at the moment, though, and is in the middle of an organizational rebuild.

The group has hosted events with numerous members of Congress in the past — including Democrats Andre Carson and Eric Swalwell. The lawmakers are both members of the House intelligence committee that is currently investigating President Trump’s ties to Russia.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the United Muslims of America is one of many organizations that was unfairly targeted by Russia in their attempt to influence the 2016 Presidential election,” Carson told the Daily Beast.

While using the imposter UMA account, the Russian trolls reportedly posted countless messages and memes aimed at smearing Clinton’s name, as well as other politicians.

One claimed that the Democratic nominee “created, funded and armed” al-Qaeda and ISIS, while another said John McCain was the true founder of the Islamic State.

The account also posted a photo showing a whitewashed, blood-drenched Moammar Gadhafi — which applauded him for not having a “Rothschild-owned central bank.”

Another post, which was watermarked with the UMA logo, falsely alleged that Osama bin Laden had been a “CIA agent.”

“Russia knows no ends and no limits to which groups they would masquerade as to carry out their objectives,” Swalwell told the Daily Beast.

Throughout the campaign, much of the content that was posted on the account remained apolitical — but the influx of fake news was likely enough to sway voters.

Positive portrayals of Islam were ultimately aimed at Muslim audiences, while the Islamophobic messages were meant for right-wing users.

One post from August 2016 promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho, saying: “We must stop taking in Muslim refugees!”

A message from June 2016, following the deadly Orlando nightclub massacre, asked people to attend an event titled, “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims!”

According to the Daily Beast, the fake UMA page wrote that Clinton was “the only presidential candidate who refuses to ‘demonize’ Islam after the Orlando nightclub shooting.” It added that “with such a person in White House (sic) America will easily reach the bright multicultural future.”

Sources told the outlet that the Russian government also used the account to buy Facebook advertisements to reach its target audiences.

In order to hide their operation, the trolls reportedly used the URL “Facebook.com/MuslimAmerica” — as opposed to the real UMA’s URL, which is “Facebook.com/UnitedMuslimsofAmericaUMA.”

They wound up amassing more than 260,000 followers before the account was eventually deactivated by Facebook last month as part of the company’s public acknowledgement of Russia’s network activity.

The Daily Beast managed to uncover some of its content, including a number of posts that were made on Instagram and Twitter.

The Russians reportedly used the handles “muslims_in_usa” and “muslim_voice” to promote political rallies for Muslims and post more inflammatory memes. The accounts have since been suspended, as well.

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Facebook, Twitter, Google called on to meet US intelligence committees — “Russia had a campaign to sow discord in the U.S.”

September 28, 2017

Three social media companies have been asked to testify at two US committees investigating Russian interference in the US election. The request has come as details emerge of an alleged campaign to sow discord in the US.

Symbolbild Soziale Netze (picture-alliance/dpa/Lei)

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, on Wednesday were invited to public hearings of the US House and Senate Intelligence committees as part of their investigations into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign that saw the election of US President Donald Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee plans to hold a hearing in October and the Senate Intelligence Committee on November 1. It was unclear whether the companies would accept the invitations.

Read more: Facebook reveals alleged Russia-funded political ad campaign in US

A joint statement from Democrats Representative Adam Schiff and Republican Representative Mike Conaway said the open hearing aimed “to better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election.”

“Congress and the American people need to hear this important information directly from these companies,” the lawmakers added.

Members of the Senate panel confirmed the invitations under the condition of anonymity.

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Fake news and propaganda

Read more: 21 US states targeted by Russian hackers, no votes changed

Both panels have investigated how Russian groups could have used social media platforms and online ads to influence the 2016 election by spreading fake news and propaganda, and whether they were aided by people in the United States.

Republican Senator James Lankford, who received classified information about Russian meddling as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that Russia continued to sow discord in US domestic affairs.

Lankford said over the weekend Russian internet trolls stoked tensions on the issue of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

Read more: Donald Trump slams NFL kneeling protest as ‘disgraceful’

The Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources, reported on Wednesday that a fake Facebook group named “United Muslims of America” was linked to the Russian government and that it pushed false claims about US politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gestures during a speech with the Facebook logo in the background (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)Zuckerberg said Facebook did not favor candidates in elections

The group reportedly bought Facebook ads to reach targeted audiences, promoting political rallies aimed at Muslims.

After revelations earlier this month that Facebook sold $100,000 (€€85,000) worth of ads to Russian groups during the election campaign, CNN reported that at least one of those ads referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, citing unnamed sources.

 

On Wednesday, Facebook’s vice president of public policy, Richard Allan, said the company shutdown tens of thousands of fake accounts ahead of Germany’s election.

 

“Protecting the integrity of our platforms during elections is a huge focus for us and something we are committed to — particularly in the face of hostile and coordinated interventions,” Allan wrote in a Facebook post. “Staying ahead of those who are trying to misuse our service is a constant effort led by our security and integrity teams.”

Media are “anti-Trump,” says Trump

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will work to make political advertising on its platform more transparent. The social media giant has already met with both committees’ staff as part of their investigations and said it would turn over some 3,000 ads alleged to have been bought by Russian groups during the US election.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump accused Facebook, as well as major television networks and The New York Times and The Washington Post newspapers, of being “anti-Trump.”

It’s an accusation Zuckerberg rejected in a Facebook post, writing that the platform worked to ensure “free and fair elections” and did not favor particular candidates.

“Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”

aw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/facebook-twitter-google-called-on-to-meet-us-intelligence-committees/a-40717107

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Russian Little Green Men invaded Crimea and parts of the eastern Ukraine in 2014. How did the American intelligence community fail to warn us? Now it seems Facebook was part of a Russian plan to sow discord in the US. What does American intelligence know?

Senate Judiciary Committee withdraws subpoena for Manafort — Removes Donald Trump Jr. from the list of witnesses scheduled for Wednesday’s public hearing

July 26, 2017

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman will not be testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as originally scheduled, after the committee rescinded its subpoena.

The committee withdrew its subpoena for Paul Manafort late Tuesday after Manafort agreed to turn over documents and to continue negotiating about setting up an interview with the panel, according to Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman. The committee also removed Donald Trump Jr. from the list of witnesses scheduled for Wednesday’s public hearing.

The panel has sought to talk with Manafort about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, among other issues including his foreign political work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

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Paul Manafort

On Tuesday Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff, providing his recollection of the Veselnitskaya meeting and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, according to people familiar with the closed-door interview. Manafort “answered their questions fully,” said his spokesman, Jason Maloni.

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner was also on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a second day of private meetings, this time for a conversation with lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee.

Both Manafort and Kushner have been cooperating with the committees which, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Trump associates.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The two men have faced particular scrutiny about attending the Trump Tower meeting because it was flatly described in emails to Donald Trump Jr. as being part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign.

Manafort’s discussion with committee staff was limited to his recollection of the June 2016 meeting, according to two people familiar with the interview. Both demanded anonymity to discuss details because the interview occurred behind closed doors. Manafort had previously disclosed the meeting in documents he turned over to the committee. He has now provided the committee with notes he took at the time, one of the people said.

The other person said Manafort has also said he will participate in additional interviews with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff on other topics if necessary. Those meetings haven’t yet been scheduled.

Kushner spent about three hours behind closed doors Tuesday with the House intelligence panel. Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who is leading the committee’s Russia probe, said he found Kushner to be “straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had.” He said Kushner was willing to follow up with the committee if it has additional questions.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the questions touched on “a range of issues the committee had been concerned about.”

“We appreciate his voluntary willingness to come and testify today,” Schiff added.

On Monday, Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide.”

Emails released this month show that Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, accepted a June 2016 meeting with Veselnitskaya with the understanding that he would receive damaging information on Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, Kushner said he hadn’t read those emails until being recently shown them by his lawyers.

Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defense from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency.

Kushner called the meeting with Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.

“No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign; there was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of; I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” he said.

Kushner on Monday confirmed earlier media reports that he had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to set up secure communications between Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and Russian officials. But he disputed that it was an effort to establish a “secret back channel.”

His statement describes a December meeting with Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Kushner and Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republicans Blast Trump Idea for Cyber Security Unit With Russia — “It’s not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it’s pretty close.”

July 9, 2017

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he and Russia’s president had discussed forming a cyber security unit, an idea harshly criticized by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted after its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Tweeting after his first meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Trump said now was the time to work constructively with Moscow, pointing to a ceasefire deal in southwest Syria that came into effect on Sunday.

“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” he said following their talks at a summit of the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg, Germany.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, an influential South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Marco Rubio of Florida, who opposed Trump for their party’s presidential nomination, blasted the idea.

“It’s not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it’s pretty close,” Graham told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, saying that Trump’s apparent willingness to “forgive and forget” stiffened his resolve to pass legislation imposing sanctions on Russia.

Rubio, on Twitter, said: “While reality & pragmatism requires that we engage Vladimir Putin, he will never be a trusted ally or a reliable constructive partner.

“Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’,” he added.

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg. (AP Photo by Evan Vucci)

Trump argued for rapprochement with Moscow in his campaign but has been unable to deliver because his administration has been dogged by investigations into the allegations of Russian interference in the election and ties with his campaign.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter, including whether there may have been any collusion on the part of Trump campaign officials, as are congressional committees including both the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Those probes are focused almost exclusively on Moscow’s actions, lawmakers and intelligence officials say, and no evidence has surfaced publicly implicating other countries despite Trump’s suggestion that others could have been involved.

Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.

“I don’t think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of a credible partner in some kind of cyber security unit,”

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“If that’s our best election defense. We might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff added.

Separately, U.S. government officials said that a recent hack into business systems of U.S. nuclear power and other energy companies was carried out by Russian government hackers, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

The post said government officials and U.S. industry officials confirmed this was the first time Russian hackers were known to have breached U.S. nuclear power company networks.

Trump said he had raised allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with Putin.

“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..”

He added: “We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”

The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” for southwestern Syria on Friday, as Trump’s administration made its first attempt at peacemaking in the country’s six-year-old civil war.

The ceasefire was holding hours after it took effect on Sunday, a monitor and two rebel officials said.

(Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by James Dalgleish)

All eyes on Trump and Putin’s first face-to-face meeting at G20

July 7, 2017

AFP and Reuters

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© Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP | Picture shows traditional Russian wooden nesting dolls depicting US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at a gift shop in Moscow in July 2017

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-07-07

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to size each other up in person for the first time on Friday in what promises to be the most highly-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Trump has said he wants to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

That means every facial expression and physical gesture will be analyzed as much as any words the two leaders utter as the world tries to read how well Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality television star, gets along with Putin, a former spy.

The fear is that the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, will be less prepared than Putin, who has dealt with the past two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.

“There’s nothing … the Kremlin would like to see more than a (U.S.) president who will settle for a grip and a grin and walk away saying that he had this fabulous meeting with the Kremlin autocrat,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on MSNBC.

As investigations at home continue into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia the U.S. president has come under pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.

Moscow has denied any interference and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.

On Thursday, Trump won praise from at least one Republican hawk in the U.S. Congress after his speech in Warsaw in which he urged Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.

‘NOT MUCH TO AGREE ON’

“This is a great start to an important week of American foreign policy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump on security issues.

But earlier in the day, Trump declined to say definitively whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials who have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said at a news conference, before slamming Democratic former President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop hacking.

Senators’ concerns

Ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin, three U.S. senators wrote to Trump to express “deep concern” about reports that his administration planned to discuss the return to Russia of diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration last year in response to alleged Russian election meddling.

Republican Senators Johnny Isakson and Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said returning the facilities would “embolden” Putin and encourage further efforts by Russia to interfere in Western elections. All three are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The White House declined to offer details on what Trump would request of Putin and what he might offer in exchange for cooperation.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump wanted to talk about how the two countries can work together to stabilize war-ravaged Syria.

“The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on-the-ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Tillerson said before leaving the United States to join Trump in Germany.

Trump was also grappling with a response to North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say had a long enough range to reach Alaska.

Tillerson—has known Putin since the 90s—will join Trump-Putin meeting

Comey was fired within a month of Tillerson’s last huddle with Putin

Curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions has been Trump’s most pressing foreign policy priority, and he met with leaders from Japan and South Korea on Thursday evening to discuss it. He is also slated to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20.

“I’d like to see the president figure out how to engage Russia on North Korea,” said Representative Francis Rooney, a Republican from Florida who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“What I suggested to the president here a while back was that since we have all these conflicting issues about Russia right now and we’re still reeling from the fact that they took Crimea, maybe this is an opportunity to reset the Russia relationship in a positive manner,” Rooney said in an interview.

(REUTERS)

 

Trump Denies Obstructing FBI Probe, Says Has No Tapes of Talks With Comey

June 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had not obstructed the FBI’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and had not recorded his conversations with former FBI chief James Comey.

Comey was leading the investigation into allegations Russia tried to sway the election towards Trump and the possibility Trump associates colluded with Moscow when the president fired him on May 9, sparking a political firestorm.

“Look there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview set to air on Friday. Fox released a partial transcript of the interview on Thursday.

The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified before a Senate committee that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Russia.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not make and does not possess any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after suggesting last month he might have recordings that could undercut Comey’s description of events.

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Then FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

“I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election had asked the White House for any such recordings.

Shortly after dismissing Comey, Trump mentioned the possibility of tapes in a Twitter post.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted on May 12.

Allegations of ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the U.S. healthcare and tax systems.

Trump has privately told aides that the threat of the existence of tapes forced Comey to tell the truth in his recent testimony, a source familiar with the situation said.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump still had questions to answer about possible tapes.

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Adam Schiff

“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?” Schiff said in a statement.

CNN reported on Thursday that two top U.S. intelligence officials told investigators Trump suggested they publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, but that they did not feel he had ordered them to do so.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers met separately last week with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

The two officials said they were surprised at Trump’s suggestion and found their interactions with him odd and uncomfortable, but they did not act on the president’s requests, CNN reported, citing sources familiar with their accounts.

Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.

In his interview with Fox, Trump expressed concern about what he described as the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, who was appointed to take over the investigation after Comey was fired.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by
J. Scott Applewhite AP

“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said, according to the Fox transcript.

The Kremlin has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

Mueller’s Expanding Probe Raises Stakes for Trump Presidency

June 16, 2017

By Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg

June 14, 2017, 8:36 PM EDT June 15, 2017, 8:55 PM EDT
  • Trump decries ‘witch hunt’ led by ‘bad and conflicted people’
  • Senate Intelligence panel hosts DNI Coats behind closed doors
Mueller’s Expanded Probe Eyes Trump on Flynn

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s move to investigate whether Donald Trump sought to get the FBI to back off from a probe of his former national security adviser has angered the president and raised the stakes in the inquiry of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning. He decried a “witch hunt” that he said is being “led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Although White House officials tried earlier this week to tamp down speculation that Trump might try to fire Mueller, the escalating conflict led members of Congress of both parties to warn Trump Thursday against the temptation to do so.

“It would be a catastrophic mistake, but he doesn’t have the authority to do it,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters. She noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, told senators this week that only he could dismiss the special counsel.

‘Confidence’ in Mueller

Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who met with the special counsel a day earlier, said, “I have a lot of confidence in Mueller.”

Rosenstein named Mueller as special counsel last month to lead the inquiry into Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in that effort. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last month, citing the Russia investigation as the reason.

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Former FBI Director James Comey

Tensions escalated with Mueller’s latest moves. He is planning to interview two top U.S. intelligence officials about whether Trump sought their help to get the FBI to back off a related probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to three people familiar with the inquiry.

That suggests Mueller is examining the president’s own conduct, which may include whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

The Washington Post late Thursday reported that Mueller also is looking into the finances and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner as part of the Russian investigation. The paper cited unidentified officials familiar with the matter.

“We do not know what this report refers to,” Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick said in a statement provided by Kushner’s office. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Trump has hired one of his longtime lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, to represent him in the multiple inquiries. Vice President Mike Pence, who has mostly been on the sidelines of the investigations, has hired his own outside legal counsel, veteran Washington lawyer Richard Cullen, his spokesman said Thursday.

Mueller wants to interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Separately, Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session Thursday that lasted for three-and-a-half hours.

Burr said they discussed questions that Coats told lawmakers he couldn’t answer in public last week at a hearing, as well as the budget for intelligence for the next fiscal year.

“We worked through all of that,” Burr told reporters.

Avoiding Conflicts

The special counsel is also set to meet with a leading Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee as Mueller and lawmakers seek to avoid conflicts over their parallel investigations.

“We’ll be meeting with him in the next few days. It will be a closed hearing,” Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters.

A spokesman for Trump’s outside lawyer reacted angrily to the reports of an expanding probe by Mueller, accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation of breaking the law by disclosing the information.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said in an email on Wednesday.

Corallo didn’t elaborate on why he singled out the FBI as the source of information. Mueller’s decision to talk with the two officials was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

“Current and former leaders in the intelligence community have repeatedly said there’s been no effort to impede the investigation in any way,” Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “The continued illegal leaks are the only crime here.”

Refusing to Say

At a hearing last week of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats and Rogers refused to say whether they were asked by Trump to help impede an FBI investigation and suggested any response in a closed hearing would require consultations with White House lawyers on whether executive privilege should be invoked.

“To the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers said at the hearing, without answering whether he was asked — but not directed — to back off.

Mueller’s plans emerged just a week after Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump pressed him in February to ease up on an investigation into Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign for misleading administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.

Comey also said Trump repeatedly sought assurances that he wasn’t a target of the Russia investigation. Comey said he told the president on three occasions that he wasn’t personally under investigation.

But Comey suggested he expected Mueller would look into whether Trump’s efforts to intervene in the FBI inquiry amounted to obstruction of justice.

Read more: Why ‘Obstruction of Justice’ Is Echoing in D.C.

Trump’s spokesman said when he dismissed Comey on May 9 that the reason was the former FBI chief’s handling of the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. He cited the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia inquiry, and his deputy Rosenstein.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions

But days later, Trump said in an NBC interview that he had decided to fire Comey before getting their input and he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did it.

“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News in an interview broadcast May 11. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

Comey told senators on June 8 that Trump’s shifting explanations for dismissing him were “lies, plain and simple.” Trump and the White House disputed Comey’s description of the events.

Mueller has been building a team of investigators for a wide-ranging inquiry into Russia’s meddling.

Includes videos:

https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-06-15/mueller-said-to-examine-whether-trump-sought-to-slow-flynn-probe

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Putin ‘ready to provide recording’ of Lavrov-Trump exchange — But he’s not helping the U.S. with North Korea, Increases trade

May 17, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP / by Yuri KADOBNOV with Maria ANTONOVA in Moscow | Vladimir Putin joked that Lavrov hadn’t passed on the information

SOCHI (RUSSIA) (AFP) – 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow could provide a recording of a controversial exchange between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US President Donald Trump that has plunged the White House into turmoil.

His comments were the first since Trump was hit with accusations that he shared secrets while meeting Lavrov in Washington, the latest crisis to hit the White house amid existing investigations into whether Trump’s aides colluded with Moscow during the campaign.

Putin said he was pleased with Lavrov’s visit to Washington last week but mocked the idea that Trump had shared secrets during the meeting, calling the allegations “political schizophrenia” and saying people spreading them are either “dumb” or “corrupt.”

“We can see that political schizophrenia is developing in the United States,” Putin told reporters after talks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the southern Russian city of Sochi.

“I cannot otherwise explain the accusations of the president that he handed Lavrov some sort of secrets,” Putin added.

“If the US administration finds it possible, we are ready to provide a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump to the US Congress and Senate,” Putin said.

Although Putin used the Russian word for audio recording at the press conference, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that “audio is not made” at such meetings.

“There is a recording kept by a special person present at conversations,” Ushakov clarified to Russian news agencies.

Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared intelligence with Lavrov regarding an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes.

According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a US ally who had not authorised Washington to pass it on to Moscow.

– ‘Simply dumb’ –

The fresh US crisis sank the dollar early Wednesday as well as Hong Kong stocks amid worries that Trump’s economy-boosting and tax-cutting agenda could be derailed, with some experts mentioning possible impeachment.

As news emerged that Israel was the initial source of the intel, it attempted to contain the fallout from the scandal, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying security ties would continue to be “unprecedented” in scope.

A US administration official confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity that the original intelligence came from Israel, which was initially reported by the New York Times.

British PM Theresa May meanwhile said Trump is free to decide what to discuss with White House visitors, while stressing that London’s relationship with Washington was “the most important defence and security relationship” around the world.

Putin mocked the idea that Trump went off-script to share secrets with the Russians, saying he could issue a “reprimand” to Lavrov since the minister hadn’t passed on the information.

“(Lavrov) didn’t share these secrets with us — neither with me nor with the representatives of the Russian security services. That is very bad of him,” Putin said to sniggers from the audience including Lavrov himself.

– ‘Absolute right’ –

The visit had already generated its share of scandal after Moscow released pictures of the closed-door Oval Office meeting showing Trump and Lavrov grinning after White House officials presumed they would not be made public.

Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster denied the president caused any security lapses while Trump himself insisted he had the “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining… to terrorism and airline flight safety” with Russia.

Adding to the confusion, Russian senator Alexei Pushkov on Wednesday tweeted that “US media were hysterical with Trump because he told us about IS plans to detonate our passenger plane.”

Putin on Wednesday also slammed critics who spread allegations about Trump’s ties with Russia.

“What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?” he said. “They are shaking up their internal politics while using anti-Russian slogans.”

“They either don’t understand that they are hurting their own country, and then they are simply dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and corrupt people,” Putin added.

by Yuri KADOBNOV with Maria ANTONOVA in Moscow
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Putin ‘ready to provide recording’ of Lavrov-Trump exchange in White House

May 17, 2017

AFP

© RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY/AFP/File | US President Donald J. Trump (left) poses with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC on May 10, 2017

SOCHI (RUSSIA) (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow could provide a recording of the exchange between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US President Donald Trump, who is accused of sharing classified intelligence.

“If the US administration finds it possible, we are ready to provide a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump to the US Congress and Senate,” Putin said during a press conference.

He mocked the idea that Trump went off-script to share secrets with the Russians, saying he could issue a “reprimand” to Lavrov since he hasn’t passed on the information.

Putin said on Wednesday that  Trump had not passed any secrets onto Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Washington last week and that he could prove it

Putin said on Wednesday that Trump had not passed any secrets onto Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Washington last week and that he could prove it

It isn’t at all clear that the Russians would be able to produce a document that would disprove a bombshell Washington Post report that said President Trump passed on highly classified information to Lavrov during the meeting.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4514632/Vladimir-Putin-says-prove-Trump-did-not-pass-Russia-secrets.html#ixzz4hLYiBZL4
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“(Lavrov) didn’t share these secrets with us — neither with me nor with the representatives of the Russian security services. That is very bad of him,” Putin said to sniggers from the audience as he answered questions after talks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the southern Russian city of Sochi.

Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported that Trump had shared intelligence with Lavrov regarding an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes.

According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a US ally who had not authorised Washington to pass it on to Moscow.

Putin slammed critics who spread allegations about Trump’s ties with Russia.

“What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?” he said. “They are shaking up their internal politics while using anti-Russian slogans.”

“They either don’t understand that they are hurting their own country, and then they are simply dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and corrupt,” Putin added.

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Republicans reject Putin’s offer to share transcripts of Trump’s meeting with Russian officials

Both Republicans and Democrats have dismissed Putin’s offer to help US politicians  ascertain whether Mr Trump did share highly classified intelligence with Moscow.

“The idea that we would accept any evidence from President Putin is absurd,”  Susan Collins a Republican senator from Maine told CNN.

“Its credibility would be less than zero,” Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS.

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman was even more passionate:  “I don’t talk to murderous dictators,” he said on CBS.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/17/vladimir-putin-ready-provide-record-donald-trumps-meeting-russian/