Posts Tagged ‘Adam Schiff’

White House official: House intel panel broke an agreement on limiting scope of questions for Bannon

January 17, 2018
  • The White House believed it had an agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to limit questions for Steve Bannon only to events on the presidential campaign, a White House official told CNBC.
  • According to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, staffers for the committee and the White House on Friday discussed the parameters of Bannon’s testimony.
  • Asked if negotiations over Bannon’s testimony are ongoing as of Wednesday morning, the official said: “There’s no negotiation now, they haven’t engaged with us.”
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Jacquelyn Martin | AP
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon leaves a House Intelligence Committee meeting where he was interviewed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, in Washington.

The White House believed it had an agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to limit questions for Steve Bannon only to events on the presidential campaign, and not during the ousted former chief strategist’s time in the Trump administration, a White House official told CNBC.

According to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, staffers for the committee and the White House on Friday discussed the parameters of Bannon’s testimony. The White House emerged from that conversation believing it had an agreement to limit the questioning of Bannon just to events during the campaign, and not during the transition period or his time in the White House.

Then, hours into Bannon’s closed door testimony, Bannon’s lawyers informed the White House from Capitol Hill that the questions would extend beyond the scope of what the White House understood the agreement to be. At that point, the White House told Bannon not to answer any further.

 Image result for adam schiff, photos
Adam Schiff

“We said ‘Hey, hey, pump the brakes,'” the official said. “We said to Bannon, ‘Don’t answer those questions because we haven’t agreed to that scope under the process.'”

The official declined to say who initiated the mid-testimony phone call or who took part on behalf of the White House.

At that point, House Intelligence Committee Republicans and Democrats joined forces to issue Bannon a subpoena on the spot to compel his testimony. It is not clear what, if any, questions Bannon answered after that. A Reuters report said the former top Trump aide refused to comply with the subpoena.

Bannon did not comment substantively Tuesday evening as he left Capitol Hill.

The House Intelligence Committee didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Despite the attempt to limit questioning of Bannon, the White House official insisted the administration is not asserting executive privilege. “We’re not asserting anything,” the official said. “They need to discuss it with us. There’s a process that’s existed for decades.”

The official would not say what the White House wants to discuss with House Intelligence or what questions about Bannon’s time on the transition or in the White House the administration would seek to block.

Still, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used the phrase “executive privileges” when asked Tuesday whether the White House was blocking Bannon from testifying fully.

“Look, we’ve been completely cooperative throughout this entire process,” Sanders said. “We’re going to continue to be cooperative. But we’re also going to maintain some of the executive privileges here at the White House.”

In essence, the White House is hoping to reap many of the benefits of executive privilege, without President Donald Trump officially asserting the privilege. Formally asserting executive privilege could be embarrassing for the White House, which has insisted it has nothing to hide in the ongoing Russia investigation and that it is cooperating fully.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., one of the Republicans leading the committee’s investigation, reacted with exasperation to Bannon and the White House’s claims.

“It is the most tortured analysis of executive privilege I have ever heard of,” Gowdy said on Fox News. “Executive privilege now covers things before you become the chief executive — which is just mind-numbing and there is no legal support for it.”

Democrats were also frustrated with the 10-hour Bannon meeting.

“This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration and many questions even after he left the administration,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.

The committee had earlier rebuffed a White House offer Friday to have a White House attorney sit in on the Bannon session to referee the questions surrounding scope of the interview. “The committee’s belief was it was not necessary,” the official said.

Asked if negotiations over Bannon’s testimony are ongoing as of Wednesday morning, the White House official said: “There’s no negotiation now, they haven’t engaged with us.”

But committee members say they still want to hear from Bannon.

“We have additional questions,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “The subpoena remains in effect. And we have additional questions we don’t have the answers to yet. We’re going to work to get those answers.”

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Mueller Probe Gets Employees’ Emails From Trump Campaign Data Operation

December 15, 2017

Special counsel asked Cambridge Analytica to hand over employees’ emails, in sign of investigators’ interest in campaign data operation

Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Alexander Nix, seen in this September photo, interviewed via videoconference with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Alexander Nix, seen in this September photo, interviewed via videoconference with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter. PHOTO: ALEX HOFFORD/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign, turn over documents as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller asked the firm in the fall to turn over the emails of any Cambridge Analytica employees who worked on the Trump campaign, in a sign that the special counsel is probing the Trump campaign’s data operation.

The special counsel’s request, which the firm complied with, wasn’t previously known. The emails had earlier been turned over to the House Intelligence Committee, the people said, adding that both requests were voluntary.

On Thursday, Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Alexander Nix interviewed via videoconference with the House Intelligence Committee, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller’s request for employee emails was made before media outlets reported in October that Mr. Nix had contacted WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Sweden-based WikiLeaks last year published a trove of Hillary Clinton -related emails that U.S. intelligence agencies later determined had been stolen by Russian intelligence and given to the website.

The special counsel declined to comment. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica didn’t immediately return a request to comment.

The House committee earlier this fall referred questions about its document request to the data firm. Cambridge Analytica at the time confirmed the House request and said the firm wasn’t under investigation for its activities in the 2016 campaign.

Mr. Mueller’s team and congressional investigators are probing whether Trump associates colluded in a Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump has denied collusion by him or his campaign, and Moscow has denied meddling in the election. The U.S. intelligence community in January concluded that Russia had sought to influence the election.

Mr. Nix, in a Lisbon speech in November, said he had asked the office that handles his speaking engagements to contact Mr. Assange in “early June 2016,” after reading a newspaper report that WikiLeaks planned to publish the Clinton-related emails. He asked if Mr. Assange “might share that information with us.” Mr. Assange has said he declined the request. Mr. Nix’s outreach to WikiLeaks came at the same time as his firm started working for Mr. Trump’s campaign, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Journal earlier this year that ties between Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks were of “deep interest” to the committee. The House panel also asked Cambridge Analytica to preserve its data on Trump voters and supporters, but it hasn’t asked that the firm turn the data over, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Two months after Mr. Nix directed his speaker’s bureau to contact Mr. Assange, top Trump donor Rebekah Mercer asked him whether Cambridge Analytica could help better organize the emails WikiLeaks was releasing, the Journal has reported. Ms. Mercer and her father, hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, are part owners of Cambridge Analytica.

Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix haven’t commented on the matter.

During the campaign, Cambridge Analytica provided data, polling and research services to the campaign. Steve Bannon had introduced Mr. Nix to the campaign in mid-May. Mr. Bannon became the campaign’s chief executive officer in August 2016 and later joined the White House as a top strategist. He left the administration in August of this year.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mueller-sought-emails-of-trump-campaign-data-firm-1513296899

Donald Trump Jr. Refuses to Discuss Father-Son Talk With Investigators

December 7, 2017

President’s son invoked attorney-client privilege when asked by congressional investigators about conversation held after revelations of a 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s eldest son on Wednesday refused to discuss with congressional investigators a father-son conversation earlier this year about how to handle fallout from revelations that he met with a Russian attorney during the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

During the more than seven-hour session with the House Intelligence Committee, Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege when asked for details about a telephone conversation he had with his father after news broke about his meeting with Russian attorney  Natalia Veselnitskaya, the people familiar with the matter said. The younger Mr. Trump has publicly said he met with the attorney to obtain negative information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Attorneys for both the president and his son were on the call, which took place sometime after a July 8, 2017 New York Times story about the meeting, according to the people familiar with the matter.

An attorney for the younger Mr. Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House lawyer declined to comment.

The House committee, as well as Senate investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are separately investigating Russia’s activities during the campaign and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. Russia has denied interfering in the campaign, and the president has said his team did nothing wrong.

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The younger Mr. Trump had initially said in public that the June 2016 meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya was about Russian adoptions. Days later he acknowledged to reporters that he had agreed to the session in part because he was promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

The meeting was brokered by a British publicist named Rob Goldstone, who was working at the time for Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. The meeting was also attended by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, who was then serving as campaign chairman.

In emails exchanged by the meetings’ participants, the younger Mr. Trump was told that the incriminating information would be provided as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. The emails were publicly released by the younger Mr. Trump in July.

Mr. Goldstone’s initial email to him said a Russian government representative met with Mr. Agalarov and wanted to provide the Trump campaign with “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He added: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

That government representative Mr. Goldstone was referring to was the attorney, Ms. Veselnitskaya, although she has denied any connection to the Russian government, describing herself as an attorney in private practice.

The meeting, according to its participants, ultimately involved a discussion of Russian objections to U.S. sanctions, specifically a 2012 U.S. law that punishes Russian officials accused of human-rights violations. Moscow banned Americans from adopting Russian children in response to the U.S. law’s passage. Ms. Veselnitskaya has long advocated against the law.

Attendees of the meeting, including the younger Mr. Trump, have said the Russians didn’t provide material that could be used to attack Mrs. Clinton.

Democrats on Wednesday argued that the younger Mr. Trump’s invocation of attorney-client privilege wasn’t a proper assertion of the prerogative.

“In my view, there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son. This particular discussion revolves around a pivotal meeting,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee. “We will be following up with his counsel. They asked for more time to deliberate on the claim of privilege.”

One legal expert appeared to side with Mr. Trump. David Schultz, who teaches law at the University of Minnesota, said that the conversation appeared to be privileged based on the basic facts about it.

“I would tell be telling my students right now in my professional responsibility class that Congress can’t break privilege in this situation,” said Mr. Schultz, adding that the younger Mr. Trump could waive privilege if he desired, but that it was unlikely that Congress could force him to testify about the call.

Attorney-client privilege is a longtime legal concept that protects the confidentiality of conversations between lawyer and client and has long been recognized by U.S. law. Democrats argued that the invocation of privilege between the Trumps wasn’t a proper assertion of the prerogative, however.

There are some exceptions to privilege, Mr. Schultz said, including if either Trump was conspiring to commit a crime. In that case, a judge could decide whether to force a witness to break privilege and testify, depending on the jurisdiction and the situation.

Separately, the rules for privilege in a court of law and for Congress are different. A 1995 analysis prepared by the Congressional Research Service says that assertions of attorney-client privilege “rests in the sound discretion of a congressional committee regardless of whether a court would uphold the claim.”

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-jr-refuses-to-discuss-father-son-talk-with-investigators-1512612451

The Media’s Flynn-sanity — “The crime of having diplomatic relations with Russia”

December 2, 2017

Diplomacy after the election is not the same as collusion before the election.

Let’s recall a couple of things. For president, the American people elected a reality TV star and brand manager who came with a bundle of impulses but not deep knowledge of anything other than building large structures.

Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn at a White House news conference, Feb. 1.
Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn at a White House news conference, Feb. 1. PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn on Friday pleaded guilty to lying about a non-crime. Even Adam Schiff, the House Democrat most determined to ride the Russia collusion story to bigger and better things, acknowledged that conferring with a representative of Russia about the incoming administration’s Russia policy is not illegal or improper.

These discussions concerned a United Nations Security Council vote on Israel (in effect the Trump team was asking Moscow for a favor on behalf of a U.S. ally, Israel). The discussions concerned Russia’s response to President Obama’s lame-duck sanctions for Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Such talks, we learn from Robert Mueller’s investigation, were directed by a “very senior member” of the transition team. Why shouldn’t that be President-elect Donald Trump or somebody directly conversant with his views—a k a Jared Kushner ? Voters may remember Mr. Trump saying during the campaign that he wanted improved relations with Russia. He would be doing nothing illegal here.

Then why make Mr. Flynn plead guilty to a crime related to a non-crime, unless Bob Mueller thinks he’s enlisting Mr. Flynn’s cooperation in pursuit of real crimes? Well, Mr. Mueller’s job is to get to the bottom of the Russia question, and it doesn’t help to have people lying about even things that are non-crimes. What’s more, as Mr. Flynn would have known better than most, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was a prime target for U.S. surveillance. American voters will remember that Obama officials illegally leaked contents of some of these conversations to the press during the transition. Lying about these very same conversations to the FBI wouldn’t seem to have made much sense for Mr. Flynn. But if a key witness and former high-ranking official persists in a disproven and unnecessary lie, how do you not charge him?

Let’s recall a couple of things. For president, the American people elected a reality TV star and brand manager who came with a bundle of impulses but not deep knowledge of anything other than building large structures.

His plans/hopes with respect to Russia may have been unrealistic, but an incoming administration is elected to follow its own policies, not those of its predecessor. Second, unless he was completely unconversant with political reality, Mr. Trump understood by then that Democrats had settled on a story of Russia collusion to excuse Hillary Clinton’s loss and to discredit the incoming president.

Unfortunately, what we learned on Friday about all this was microscopic in relation to the magnitude of air time devoted to hyping events. The scandal has reached “inside the gates of the White House,” blared multiple news outlets. Uh-huh. Mr. Flynn worked there for 24 days, and none of this is evidence of any presumed conspiracy between the Kremlin and the campaign to put Mr. Trump in the White House. Wasn’t that the original question? The crime the media are trying to make out of these events is the crime of having diplomatic relations with Russia.

The talents that outfit somebody to be on TV are not necessarily talents that lend themselves to instantaneous dissection of breaking news. Inevitably, time is filled up with prejudices and tropes because, you know, time must be filled up.

This is sad but par for the course. Take James Comey, the retired FBI head. He could fill in a great deal of important information. He knows a lot about a lot of things that would be useful to hear, including about the Trump dossier and a Russian role in sparking his intervention in the Hillary Clinton email matter. Instead of shedding light, he drops Bible verses on Twitter. A man who knows so many vital truths and won’t tell them might do better to say nothing at all.

Anything is possible, including some conspiratorial quid pro quo between somebody in the Trump campaign and somebody representing Vladimir Putin. If Mr. Putin really wanted Mr. Trump’s election, then the two were certainly working toward compatible ends—at least to the extent that Mr. Trump, in some part of his brain, really did want to be president. When it comes to working toward compatible ends, though, this also appears to be true of Russian intelligence and the Clinton campaign and, quite possibly, Russian intelligence and the FBI in some instances.

At the same time, we would be stupid not to understand that other countries have a stake in the outcome of our elections and, by omission or commission, try to advance their interests. This is reality. After the Trump election, the direction of causation in the ensuing Russia scandal in my judgment seems fairly clear. The media and bureaucracy reject Mr. Trump not because they got wind of Russia. They were determined to reject Mr. Trump and Russia was handy.

Appeared in the December 2, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-medias-flynn-sanity-1512171386

Justice Dept. to Weigh Inquiry Into Clinton Foundation — Should a special counsel should be appointed?

November 14, 2017
The Shootaring Canyon uranium mill in the desert outside Ticaboo, Utah, last month. Credit George Frey/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate political rivals President Trump has singled out for scrutiny, including Hillary Clinton.

The department, in a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee, said the prosecutors would examine allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States, and other issues.

The letter appeared to be a direct response to Mr. Trump’s statement on Nov. 3, when he said he was disappointed with his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and that longstanding unproven allegations about the Clintons and the Obama administration should be investigated.

Any such investigation would raise questions about the independence of federal investigations under Mr. Trump. Since Watergate, the Justice Department has largely operated independently of political influence on cases related to the president’s opponents.

Mr. Trump’s statement galvanized conservative news outlets — like Fox News and Breitbart News — which have since beaten the drum for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

People close to the White House said there might be another issue at play: Mr. Sessions might be able to forestall the president’s firing him by appointing a special counsel to investigate the uranium deal.

Mr. Trump blames Mr. Sessions for the cloud of the Russia investigation that has hovered over his 10-month presidency, saying that if Mr. Sessions had never recused himself from the inquiry this year, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, would never have been appointed.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sessions is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, where he is expected to be questioned sharply by both Republicans and Democrats. The letter was a reply to formal requests from congressional Republicans for a Justice Department inquiry into various Clinton-related issues.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month in New York. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Although Mr. Sessions has recused himself from all matters related to the election, he and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, will oversee the prosecutors’ decision to appoint the special counsel, the letter said.

“These senior prosecutors will report directly to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit a special counsel,” Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, said in the letter to the House Judiciary Committee.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, criticized the Justice Department’s letter.

Republicans have long tried to link Mrs. Clinton to the uranium deal, which was revealed in the run-up to her 2016 presidential campaign. The deal was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama and had a voting seat on the panel.

Conservative news outlets have kept the story line alive and pushed the allegations as part of a continuing narrative that the Clintons are corrupt. They claim Mrs. Clinton was part of a quid pro quo in which the Clinton Foundation received large donations in exchange for support of the deal.

As the special counsel’s investigation into Mr. Trump and his associates has intensified in recent weeks, Mr. Trump has asked allies and advisers why Mr. Mueller is not investigating the Uranium One case, according to a person familiar with the president’s discussions on the matter.

The allies and advisers have told Mr. Trump that Mr. Mueller’s purview is only to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the person said. In response, Mr. Trump has protested that Uranium One also relates to Russia.

However, White House officials in recent days have played down questions about whether the president or his immediate advisers were seeking a new special counsel.

It was before leaving for a 12-day trip to Asia this month that Mr. Trump publicly vented about how the Justice Department had operated under Mr. Sessions.

“I’m really not involved with the Justice Department,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I’d like to let it run itself.”

Document: The Justice Department Letter

“But, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.”

Mr. Trump has been repeatedly criticized for trying to intervene in the Justice Department’s investigations since he took office.

In May, it was revealed that Mr. Trump had asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to end the investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser — a disclosure that led to the appointment of Mr. Mueller. Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized Mr. Mueller’s investigation — which has intensified in recent weeks as three Trump campaign members were charged — as a witch hunt.

During his Senate confirmation hearing this year, Mr. Sessions said he would not name a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs. Clinton even if ordered to do so by the president.

“This country does not punish its political enemies,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Trump, who closely monitors the conservative news media ecosystem for ideas on how to attack his opponents, has cited reports from those outlets to aides and friends as examples for why a special counsel should be appointed.

One commentator in particular, the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro — who is a friend of Mr. Trump’s and whose show he rarely misses — has aggressively denounced Mr. Sessions as weak for not investigating the uranium deal. In addition to making scathing critiques on her show, Ms. Pirro — who had interviewed to be the deputy attorney general, according to three transition officials — recently met with the president to excoriate the attorney general.

In an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 1, Ms. Pirro said that a special counsel needed to be appointed, according to two people briefed on the discussion. Through a Fox News spokeswoman, Ms. Pirro said, “Everything I said to President Trump is exactly what I’ve vocalized on my show, ‘Justice with Jeanine.’”

After his victory last November, Mr. Trump struck a far different tone on prosecuting Mrs. Clinton.

“Look, I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The New York Times. “And I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t.”

“She went through a lot. And suffered greatly in many different ways. And I am not looking to hurt them at all,” he said. “The campaign was vicious. They say it was the most vicious primary and the most vicious campaign. I guess, added together, it was definitely the most vicious; probably, I assume you sold a lot of newspapers.”

The Trump Dossier Dam Is Breaking — Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign funded Fusion GPS?

October 29, 2017

A U.S. political party applied to a hostile power for lurid stories about a domestic opponent.

Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid campaigns for Hillary Clinton in North Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 23, 2016.
Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid campaigns for Hillary Clinton in North Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 23, 2016. PHOTO: ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES

’Tis the season of tossing out nondisclosure agreements. Victims and employees of Harvey Weinstein clamor to be released from their NDAs so they can talk about his abuse. Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign, showed the way by voluntarily releasing Fusion GPS from its duty to remain mum on Democrats who funded the notorious Trump dossier.

May the example catch on.

Journalists who investigated the Trump dossier now say their Democratic sources lied to them. That’s already a start. Please, Democrats, release journalists from their confidentiality agreements so they can tell us more about your lying.

The revelations provide new context for Harry Reid’s “October surprise,” his attempt 10 days before Election Day to lever the dossier’s allegations into the press with a public letter to then-FBI Director James Comey accusing him of withholding “explosive information.”

Mr. Reid knows how the responsible press works. Implausible, scurrilous and unsupported allegations are not reportable, but a government official making public reference to such allegations is reportable.

Mr. Reid, though, failed to mention his party’s role in concocting the allegations, much less that the manner of its doing so left him no reason to suppose the charges were anything but tall tales spun by Russian intelligence officials in response to danglings of Democratic money.

This is a completely novel tactic in U.S. politics, applying to a hostile foreign power for lurid stories about a domestic opponent. Mr. Reid, please tell us more about your role.

Let’s also hear from Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

He claimed on TV to have “circumstantial” and “more than circumstantial” evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. In the event, what he delivered in a committee hearing was a litany of routine, innocuous business and diplomatic contacts between Trump associates and Russian citizens, interspersed with claims from the Trump dossier.

He failed to mention, though, that the Trump dossier was manufactured by Democrats paying a D.C. law firm to pay a D.C. “research” firm to pay a retired British spook to pay unknown, unidentified Russians to tell stories about Mr. Trump, in reckless disregard for whether the stories were true.

Mr. Schiff, a Harvard Law graduate, will know the phrase is not our coinage. “Reckless disregard” is the standard by which the Supreme Court says, even in a country that bends over backward to protect the press at the expense of public figures, the press can be held liable for defamatory untruths about a public figure.

Even so, journalists are presumed to know their sources, not to have paid a long chain of surrogates to elicit sensational claims from perfect strangers, let alone anonymous agents of a foreign regime with a known habit of disinformation. It is impossible to exaggerate how reckless Democrats have been under this standard. If they found the Trump dossier on the sidewalk, they’d be in a better ethical position now. Let’s hear what Mr. Schiff knew and when he knew it.

Finally, let us hear from James Comey.

The Trump dossier was reckless and irresponsible in the extreme, but only consequential after Election Day. It didn’t prevent Mr. Trump from becoming president.

In the new spirit of non-non-disclosure, it’s time for Mr. Comey to tell us about the Russian intelligence scam that may really have changed the election outcome.

In closed hearings, he reportedly acknowledged that his intervention in the Hillary Clinton email case was prompted by what is now understood to have been planted, fake Russian intelligence. The fake Russian intelligence purported to discuss a nonexistent email between then-DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz and George Soros-employed activist Leonard Benardo.

This led directly to Mr. Comey’s second intervention, reopening the case 11 days before Election Day, a shocking development that appears now to have moved enough votes into Mr. Trump’s column to account for his win.

At the time, the press was all too happy to blame Bill Clinton for his wife’s loss when Mr. Comey, for nonclassified consumption, cited Mr. Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the reason for his intervention.

The press is silent now. The new story satisfies nobody’s agenda, and only makes the FBI look foolish. Mr. Trump is not eager to hear his victory portrayed as an FBI-precipitated accident. Democrats cling to their increasingly washed-out theory of Trump-Russia collusion.

And yet, if Mr. Comey’s antic intervention in response to Russian disinformation inadvertently led to Mr. Trump becoming president, this was the most consequential outcome by far.

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-trump-dossier-dam-is-breaking-1509143847

Google Conducting Broad Investigation of Russian Influence

September 30, 2017

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

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

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