Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

What Bruce Ohr Told the FBI — Raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty

January 18, 2019

The Justice Department official’s testimony raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty.

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Bruce Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general, arrives to testify behind closed doors in Washington, Aug. 28. PHOTO: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Everybody knew. Everybody of consequence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department understood fully in the middle of 2016—as the FBI embarked on its counterintelligence probe of Donald Trump—that it was doing so based on disinformation provided by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s the big revelation from the transcript of the testimony Justice Department official Bruce Ohr gave Congress in August. The transcripts haven’t been released, but parts were confirmed for me by congressional sources.

Mr. Ohr testified that he sat down with dossier author Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016, and received salacious information the opposition researcher had compiled on Mr. Trump. Mr. Ohr immediately took that to the FBI’s then-Deputy Director Andy McCabe and lawyer Lisa Page. In August he took it to Peter Strzok, the bureau’s lead investigator. In the same month, Mr. Ohr believes, he briefed senior personnel in the Justice Department’s criminal division: Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, lawyer Zainab Ahmad and fraud unit head Andrew Weissman. The last two now work for special counsel Robert Mueller.

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More important, Mr. Ohr told this team the information came from the Clinton camp and warned that it was likely biased, certainly unproven. “When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” he testified. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to—who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware.”

He said he told them that Mr. Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected,” and that his own wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier. He confirmed sounding all these warnings before the FBI filed its October application for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page. We broke some of this in August, though the transcript provides new detail.

The FBI and Justice Department have gone to extraordinary lengths to muddy these details, with cover from Democrats and friendly journalists. A January 2017 memo from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, flatly (and incorrectly) insisted “the FBI’s closely-held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.” A May 2018 New York Times report repeated that claim, saying Mr. Steele’s reports didn’t reach the “Crossfire Hurricane team,” which ran the counterintelligence investigation, until “mid-September.”

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Rep. Adam Schiff

This line was essential for upholding the claim that the dossier played no role in the unprecedented July 31, 2016, decision to investigate a presidential campaign. Former officials have insisted they rushed to take this dramatic step on the basis of a conversation involving a low-level campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, which took place in May, before the dossier officially came into the picture. And maybe that is the case. Yet now Mr. Ohr has testified that top personnel had dossier details around the time they opened the probe.

The Ohr testimony is also further evidence that the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in its Page warrant application. We already knew the bureau failed to inform the court it knew the dossier had come from a rival campaign. But the FISA application additionally claimed the FBI was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to Mr. Steele, that he was “reliable,” that his “reporting” in this case was “credible.” and that the FBI only “speculates” that Mr. Steele’s bosses “likely” wanted to “discredit” Mr. Trump.

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Speculates? Likely? Mr. Ohr makes clear FBI and Justice officials knew from the earliest days that Mr. Steele was working for the Clinton campaign, which had an obvious desire to discredit Mr. Trump. And Mr. Ohr specifically told investigators that they had every reason to worry Mr. Steele’s work product was tainted.

This testimony has two other implications. First, it further demonstrates the accuracy of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ memo of 2018—which noted Mr. Ohr’s role and pointed out that the FBI had not been honest about its knowledge of the dossier and failed to inform the court of Mrs. Ohr’s employment at Fusion GPS. The testimony also destroys any remaining credibility of the Democratic response, in which Mr. Schiff and his colleagues claimed Mr. Ohr hadn’t met with the FBI or told them anything about his wife or about Mr. Steele’s bias until after the election.

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Hillary Clinton

Second, the testimony raises new concerns about Mr. Mueller’s team. Critics have noted Mr. Weissman’s donations to Mrs. Clinton and his unseemly support of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s obstruction of Trump orders. It now turns out that senior Mueller players were central to the dossier scandal. The conflicts of interest boggle the mind.

The Ohr testimony is evidence the FBI itself knows how seriously it erred. The FBI has been hiding and twisting facts from the start.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Appeared in the January 18, 2019, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-bruce-ohr-told-the-fbi-11547770923

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Key Justice Department officials, including Mueller deputy, knew about Steele dossier

January 17, 2019

Testimony last year before a House task force investigating the Trump-Russia affair confirmed that top Justice Department officials knew about the Trump dossier earlier than first thought, and that among those who knew was Andrew Weissmann, who went on to become the top deputy of special counsel Robert Mueller.

By Byron York
Opinion

Washington Examiner

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Robert Mueller

Bruce Ohr, the fourth-ranking official in the Justice Department, told the House task force that he met with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier, at a Washington hotel on July 30, 2016. At that point, Steele, recruited for the job by Glenn Simpson of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, had completed a few installments of the dossier, including the salacious and never-verified sex allegation featuring Donald Trump and prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. Ohr testified that shortly after meeting with Steele, “I wanted to provide the information he had given me to the FBI.”

Ohr said he got in touch with Andrew McCabe, who was at the time the number-two man at the FBI. When Ohr went to McCabe’s office to talk, FBI lawyer Lisa Page was also there. “So I provided the information to them,” Ohr said. Ohr said he later talked to another top FBI official, Peter Strzok.

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Peter Strzok.  Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta

That was the FBI. But what about the Justice Department itself? “Who at the Department knew that you were talking to Chris Steele and Glenn Simpson?” asked Trey Gowdy, who last year was chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee.

“I spoke with some people in the Criminal Division, other career officials who dealt with some of these matters,” Ohr answered.

“Any of them have names?” Gowdy asked.

“Yes, so I was about to tell you,” replied Ohr. “One of them was Bruce Swartz, who is the counselor for international affairs in the Criminal Division; a person who was working with him at the time, working on similar matters in the Criminal Division, was Zainab Ahmad; and a third person who was working on some — some of these matters, I believe, was Andrew Weissmann.”

Gowdy wanted to make sure about the third name. “Who is that last one?” he asked

“He was head of the Fraud Section at the time,” said Ohr.

“I’ve heard his name somewhere before, I think,” said Gowdy. Weissmann has become widely known as Mueller’s hard-charging “pit bull.”

Ahmad was a prosecutor who worked on terrorism cases. She later joined Mueller’s team, as well.

It was not clear when, precisely, Ohr told the three Justice Department officials about Steele’s work, but it appears from the testimony that it was not long after Ohr’s July 30, 2016 meeting with Steele.

The Ohr testimony sheds new light on an old question about the dossier: Who knew about it, and when? It has long been known that Steele talked to an FBI official in early July 2016. It was also known that Ohr talked to Steele on July 30. But it was not known who else knew about the dossier at the time. Indeed, there have been many reports that knowledge of the dossier was tightly limited; the FBI agents working on Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, reportedly did not know about the dossier until September 2016.

The Ohr testimony suggests that not only did top FBI officials know about the dossier, but top Justice Department officials did, too. And two of them, Weissmann and Ahmad, went on to work for Mueller.

Finally, Ohr told the House that he took care to tell the FBI that Steele’s information might not be reliable. He said he told the bureau that Steele was deeply biased against Trump; that Fusion GPS was ultimately working for the Clinton campaign; and that his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion at the time.

“When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” Ohr said. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to — who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware — ”

“Did you tell the bureau that?” asked Gowdy.

“Oh, yes,” said Ohr.

“Why did you tell the bureau that?”

“I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias or, you know, as they evaluate the information, they need to know the circumstances.”

“So you specifically told the bureau that the information you were passing on came from someone who was employed by the DNC, albeit in a somewhat triangulated way?” asked Gowdy.

“I don’t believe I used — I didn’t know they were employed by the DNC,” Ohr answered. “But I certainly said yes, that — that they were working for — you know, they were somehow working, associated with the Clinton campaign. And I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS, or was a contractor for Fusion GPS.”

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/key-justice-department-officials-including-mueller-deputy-knew-about-dossier

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Why Trump’s America is rethinking engagement with China

January 15, 2019

The more aggressive US approach is part of a strategic shift that goes well beyond the trade war

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By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

When Donald Trump sat down to dinner with Xi Jinping last month at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the US president did not know about the diplomatic bomb that was about to explode. At about the same time, police in Canada arrested a Chinese telecoms executive after an extradition request from Washington.

The detention of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, was extraordinary because the US justice department had not told the White House about the warrant to arrest the daughter of the founder of the telecoms group, one of China’s most successful and influential companies.

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at a dinner meeting on Dec. 1 Photographer: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

But the importance of the arrest went well beyond the immediate circumstances. It is the most striking symbol yet of the dramatic deterioration in relations between China and a US that is increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s motives and actions. Reinforcing the rupture, the US several weeks later charged two Chinese nationals with conducting a global hacking campaign to assist the Chinese intelligence services.

While the trade war has received the most attention, the economic tussle is part of a much more profound shift in the US that has seen Washington reverse important elements of the strategy of engaging with its Asian rival that was first introduced more than 40 years ago by Richard Nixon.

East meets West.  Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

Support for this change in approach has a broad base in the US. Officials across the US government have become significantly more hawkish towards China— over everything from human rights, politics and business to national security. At the same time, US companies and academics who once acted as a buffer against the harshest views are now far less sanguine.

“China has for some time underestimated the extent to which the mood in the US has shifted,” says Hank Paulson, the former US Treasury secretary. “

The attitude that they would implement reforms at a timetable that made sense to them missed the fact that this was no longer sustainable if they wanted the US to keep its markets open to them. And the US business community now supports a harder line.”

Hank Paulson at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore on Nov. 7.
Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

 

While Mr Trump likes to describe China’s president Mr Xi as his friend, his White House signalled a major shift away from China when it labelled the nation a “revisionist power” in its December 2017 National Security Strategy.

In October, Mike Pence, vice-president, hammered home that message in a speech at the Hudson Institute that charged China with a litany of offences — from political repression at home to coercive diplomacy abroad. The rhetoric has been matched with action.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute,  October 4, 2018

In the South China Sea, the US Navy is now conducting frequent freedom of navigation operations to push back against Chinese sovereignty claims over disputed reefs and islands. Meanwhile, the justice department created a “China initiative” task force to crack down on espionage.

While Ms Meng was arrested for allegedly helping her telecoms company violate US sanctions on Iran, US officials have long worried that Huawei could help China spy on rivals.

Those concerns escalated last year, culminating in the US convincing its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners — Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain — that they needed to take a much tougher line on Huawei, according to one person familiar with the situation.

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While concerns about China have risen in parallel with its emergence as a rival to the US, Washington has concluded that it has underestimated the speed at which it has caught up with the US in terms of technology — particularly technology with military applications.

Dennis Wilder, former head of China analysis at the CIA, says that as the US war on terror has receded in urgency, intelligence and national security officials have now woken up to the fact that China was using a “whole-of-society” approach to collecting intelligence, and that the openness of the west to Chinese scientists, students and business people had become an “Achilles heel”.

“The Chinese intelligence operations were astoundingly successful in providing the military and other state-owned enterprises with the secrets to enable technological leaps that could only be possible with the theft of advanced critical technology from the US, Japan and Europe,” Mr Wilder says.

Mr Trump and his trade war have done a lot to change the mood but many experts say China would have faced a harsher climate regardless of whether he had won the 2016 election. One of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans are united is over the need to adopt a tougher stance towards Beijing.

Lindsey Ford, a former Pentagon official under Barack Obama, says US military officials started to become much more concerned about China in the second half of his administration, when it appeared that Mr Xi was abandoning the “hide and bide” low-profile approach espoused by former leader Deng Xiaoping.

This was most striking in the rapid land reclamation in the South China Sea, where it installed weapons systems on some islands despite Mr Xi having pledged to Mr Obama in 2015 that China had “no intention to militarise” them.

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U.S. President Donald Trump with his guest Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, April 2017

Ms Ford says the South China Sea activity was “the clearest signal that the game seemed to have shifted and that China’s own calculations about how much risk it was willing to accept . . . was no longer the same”.

At the same time that its navy has become more assertive, China has developed weapons-related technologies at a much faster pace than many US analysts once thought likely. Underscoring how the gap between the US and China has shrunk, General Paul Selva, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, warned in June that “if we sit back and don’t react, we will lose our technological superiority in 2020”.

The Pentagon is also concerned about the vulnerability of its military supply chains because of components made in China. Washington is raising red flags about activities aimed at stealing US technology — whether via Chinese nationals working in American university labs or cyber espionage.

One person familiar with the situation says US officials realised how much more vigilant they needed to become when they discovered just how much similarity there was between the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jet and the American F-35. To tackle the threat, the US has significantly stepped up the vetting of Chinese nationals who apply to study sensitive subjects in America.

Christopher Wray, FBI director, last year warned Congress that US universities were naive about the potential for Chinese nationals to collect intelligence on their campuses.

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John Demers, assistant attorney-general for national security at the justice department, says 90% of economic espionage cases against the US in the past seven years have involved China © Bloomberg

John Demers, head of the justice department’s China Initiative, recently told the Senate judiciary committee that 90 per cent of economic espionage cases over the past seven years involved China. When the US charged the hackers in December, it said Beijing had breached a 2015 deal that neither nation would steal intellectual property for commercial advantages.

The US is also concerned about China trying to recruit American spies. In his testimony, Mr Demers said the justice department had an “unprecedented” three cases against former US intelligence officers accused of spying for China. In May, the US charged a former CIA operative named Jerry Lee with illegally possessing secret information.

The CIA believes he provided Beijing with details about its spying operation in China. One person familiar with the situation says his actions dealt a catastrophic blow to the CIA’s network — as many spies were arrested or executed.

Mike Pence, US vice-president, has hammered home the American message that China is a ‘revisionist power’ © AP The US also believes that two suspected Chinese cyber attacks — one in 2015 on the Office of Personnel Management which maintains government employee records, and another later on the Marriott hotel group — were part of an operation designed to help China identify covert US intelligence operatives in the country.

As the US strikes a tougher tone, China is losing constituencies that once helped balance the more hawkish views in security circles. US academics who were seen as friendly to China are becoming warier as Beijing cracks down on human rights — such as the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, failures to follow through on economic pledges, pressures on US scholars to toe the party line and moves backwards in terms of political reform.

“People I’ve known for decades have given up on China,” says Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st century China Center at the University of California San Diego.

“There’s a widespread view in the academic community that the overreaching China has done both domestically and internationally is hard-baked into the system and that there’s no hope of getting them to adjust their behaviour to our interests and values.”

A turning point that alarmed Washington came in late 2017 when Mr Xi did not name a successor at the Communist party’s 19th congress. He also pledged that China would become a fully modern economy by 2035 — picking a date that some saw as another sign that he intended to remain in power following his second five-year term. In a further sign of centralising power, the National People’s Congress approved last March a change in the constitution to remove the two-term limit on the presidency.

More recently, Mr Xi reignited concerns that he was moving backwards on promised reforms when he used a speech commemorating China’s economic opening 40 years ago to stress the primacy of the party. “No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done,” he said in December. One senior US administration official says China has misread the change of mood in the US, adding that “even more disturbingly, they just don’t care”.

The official says the fact that Mr Xi’s speech had focused on “the growing role of the Communist party in every aspect of economic, political and personal life in China” suggested that Beijing was not taking the US concerns seriously.

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F-35B stealth fighter

“I don’t see signs of a course shift by the top leadership,” says the official. “I never thought China would aspire to be a Jeffersonian democracy or espouse the western liberal order,” says Mr Paulson.

“I always thought the Communist party would be paramount, but I didn’t see the clock being turned back.” Ms Shirk says a major reason for the growing US backlash is that the business community has “really soured on China”. “Right now, it is totally out of balance because the national security concerns are completely dominating the process and the business community isn’t resisting,” she says.

Ryan Hass, a former White House official now at the Brookings Institution, says many US companies had “promise fatigue”. While many did not agree with the approach Mr Trump was taking on trade, they wanted him to be tough on China on market access and were “trying to use Trump’s instincts for disruption [to] their advantage”.

“The Chinese leadership has promised for years that reform was around the bend and then you see things like President Xi’s speech where he emphasised the central role of the party,” says Mr Hass. “Members of the business community see the Trump administration as an opportunity for the US to rattle the cage in Beijing.”

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Former state department official Susan Thornton says the wider relationship with China is being ignored inside the administration © Bloomberg

Susan Thornton, the top Asia official at the state department until last summer, says many of the grievances had existed for years but Mr Trump was giving them impetus because there was no one inside his administration who was weighing those concerns against the broader China relationship.

“There is no one imposing discipline right now. Everybody has now got a hunting licence. It is open season on China,” says Ms Thornton. One reason the Chinese may have been blindsided by the changing US approach is that Mr Trump rarely raises security issues.

“Trump never brings up any of that stuff in meetings with the Chinese,” she says. “He won’t bring up Taiwan or the South China Sea, or nuclear missiles or arms control, or espionage.”

Recommended Global Insight Edward Luce

The new era of US-China decoupling Just before New Year,

Mr Trump tweeted that he had spoken to his Chinese counterpart and that there had been “big progress” on trade.

But the landscape has changed so dramatically that most China experts believe the relationship will become much more rocky even if there is an agreement on trade. “I am cautiously optimistic that President Trump will be able to declare a trade victory and end the tariff war,” says Mr Paulson.

“But there will still be so many intractable economic and security issues that this will continue to be a very fraught relationship.”

https://www.ft.com/content/f882b7c2-1339-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e

‘The most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked’: Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro asks Trump if he’s ever worked for Russia

January 13, 2019

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked President Trump on Saturday if he has ever worked for Russia, prompting the commander in chief to say it was “the most insulting” question he’s ever been asked.

During the late Saturday phone interview, Trump was asked to respond to a bombshell New York Times report that said the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into him the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey in the spring of 2017.

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Jeanine Pirro

“I’m going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Pirro asked.

Trump replied: “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.

Trump went on to his defend the firing of “liar” Comey and lob a number of insults at the “failing” New York Times.

The Times report, published Friday, said Trump was secretly investigated by the FBI on the suspicion that he may have been working for Russia knowingly or unwittingly. The counterintelligence inquiry was wrapped into the FBI’s broader Russia investigation which special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead after Comey’s ouster.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the report “absurd” and said Comey was fired “because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.”

Pirro, an outspoken supporter of the president, was receptive when Trump called the report a “shame” and a “waste of time.”

“It is a shame. It is a waste of time,” she echoed. “It’s a waste of energy, and, you know, some people have to say to themselves, how can you deal with all of this?”

Pressed on how he’s able to cope with the bad press, Trump suggested it was his “good genes.”

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/fox-news-jeanine-pirro-asks-trump-if-hes-ever-worked-for-russia-he-calls-it-the-most-insulting-thing-ive-ever-been-asked

Sarah Sanders Responds To New York Times Report on Trump Working for Russia

January 12, 2019

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded quickly to a Friday New York Times report claiming that President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey led officials to begin investigating “whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.”


White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks to reporters about the government shutdown outside the White House on Friday in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

From the report:

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The FBI eventually handed the inquiry over to Robert Mueller after his appointment, and it’s not clear whether or not the same avenue of investigation is being pursued by the special counsel, according to the Times.

In a statement to press, Sanders called Comey a “disgraced partisan hack” and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe a “known liar.” (RELATED: White House Reinforces Counsel’s Office As Subpoenas, Mueller Report Loom)

“James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI,” the statement reads. “Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”

Geoff Bennett

@GeoffRBennett

.@PressSec responds to @nytimes report that the FBI opened an inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia:

3,557 people are talking about this

The Times also reported that “some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped” in opening an investigation into that angle.

The report acknowledged that “no evidence” has come to light showing that the president had communication or acted upon the instruction of Russian officials. It also quoted Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani reasoning that since “nothing came out of” the report in a year and a half “that showed a breach of national security,” the investigation “found nothing.”

https://dailycaller.com/2019/01/12/sarah-sanders-new-york-times-report/

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NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/us/politics/fbi-trump-russia-inquiry.html

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After Comey firing, FBI probed whether Trump was Russian agent

January 12, 2019

Sources tell NY Times that officials were so alarmed by Trump’s actions they began checking whether — wittingly or not — he was singing to Moscow’s tune; unclear if probe closed

US President Donald Trump attends a roundtable discussion on border security with local leaders, Friday Jan. 11, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US President Donald Trump attends a roundtable discussion on border security with local leaders, Friday Jan. 11, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US law enforcement officials became so alarmed by President Donald Trump’s behavior in the days after he fired FBI Director James Comey that they began probing whether he had been working for Russia against US interests, the New York Times reported Friday night.

The report cited unnamed former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

It said officials considered both the possibility that the president was knowingly assisting Moscow and that he had unknowingly come under its influence.

The sources noted that Trump’s own admission that he fired Comey in May 2017 over his refusal to end the investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia was one of the motivations for the probe into the president’s personal ties to Moscow.

They were also motivated by his reported statements during a May White House meeting with visiting Russian officials that he had fired Comey because “he was crazy, a real nut job.”

In this image released by ABC News, former FBI director James Comey appears at an interview with George Stephanopoulos set to air during a prime time “20/20” special on April 15, 2018 on the ABC Television Network. (Ralph Alswang/ABC via AP)

Special counsel Robert Mueller took over the personal investigation of Trump when he was appointed soon after Comey’s firing. The Times said it was unclear whether Mueller was still pursuing it.

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FBI agent Peter Strzok Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Times that he had no knowledge of the inquiry but said that since it was opened a year and a half ago and they hadn’t heard anything, apparently “they found nothing.”

Mueller is believed to be investigating whether Comey’s firing and other actions amount to obstruction of justice by the president.

Comey recently attacked the president for telling “lies” and undermining the FBI’s reputation and the rule of law.

Comey spoke after a spurt of anti-FBI tweets from the president in December alleged that the investigative body abused its powers in probing his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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Cohen and Flynn have both been convicted for various crimes as part of the Russia probe and have both offered evidence potentially damaging to their former boss.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller at an installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington, October 28, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

“The FBI’s reputation has as taken a big hit because the president of the United States, with his acolytes, has lied about it constantly. In the face of those lies, a whole lot of good people… believe that nonsense,” Comey told reporters in the halls of the US Senate on December 17.

“People who know better, including Republican members of this body, have to have the courage to stand up and speak the truth.”

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, called the Times’ report “absurd” and said Comey was fired for being “a disgraced partisan hack.” She also disputed that Trump had ever been soft on Russia.

“Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia,” Sanders said.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/after-comey-firing-fbi-probed-whether-president-was-russian-agent-report/

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China hushes up scheme to recruit overseas scientists

January 10, 2019

US has become increasingly suspicious of China’s Thousand Talents Programme

China’s ‘Thousand Talents Programme’ is made up of several different schemes and has recruited some 6,000 scientists

By Yuan Yang and Nian Liu in Beijing

China has asked officials to stop mentioning its premier programme to recruit the brightest tech talent from overseas, after growing suspicions over the scheme from the US. Late last year, the government ordered civil servants and recruiters not to discuss by name the “Thousand Talents Programme”, under which thousands of scientists and experts have been attracted to China with lavish grants.

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The plan, which began in 2008 to boost the standard of Chinese research, and which was instrumental in bringing back a large number of scientists born in China who had grown up or studied overseas, is still active, according to a number of recent applicants and civil servants. The last application round occurred in December. But an order to hush up the programme came after US investigators turned their attention to the scientists who have taken part, especially those who previously worked in the US or who had returned to the US after spending time in China.

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In December, Bill Priestap, assistant director of the counter-intelligence division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned a US Senate committee that China’s “talent recruitment and “brain gain” programmes . . . also encourage theft of intellectual property from US institutions”.

The US is trying to suppress China all-round, the Thousand Talents plan is not the problem Rao Yi, professor of neurobiology at Peking University Last September, Texas Tech University warned faculty in a letter that the US Congress saw the Thousand Talents programme as “part of a broader strategy to build technological superiority” and that the State Department and Congress believed elements of the plan to be “closely allied to the Chinese military”.

The letter contained a warning: that recipients of Thousand Talents awards could be barred from Department of Defense grants, and in future possibly federal research grants, a significant disincentive for researchers. Han Lifeng, the chief executive of a talent agency that has worked with about 30 “Thousand Talents” experts, has noticed the mood shift.

“Technology competition between the US and China is fierce now. The US sets obstacles for scientists who want to come back, so China doesn’t mention the name ‘Thousand Talents Plan’ in documents or meetings any more.”

One academic at a top Chinese university was told to remove the “Thousand Talents” awards from the websites of some faculty members, in order to “protect them from suspicion”.

Others have warned against US government concerns turning into a broad-brush, racial attack against Chinese scholars, following a shortlived White House proposal to halt student visas for Chinese nationals.

“The US is trying to suppress China all-round, the Thousand Talents plan is not the problem,” said Rao Yi, a professor of neurobiology at Peking University who gave up his US citizenship after 22 years of living there in order to return to China.

Mr Rao said he had been denied visas to the US several times. At the Shenzhen Innovation Park, a tour guide skipped past the Thousand Talents slogan painted on to one wall. “We don’t mention that scheme by name any more,” she explained. I think this program has done a lot to attract talented Chinese from abroad who otherwise would’ve stayed abroad Foreign academic The national Thousand Talents programme is made up of several different schemes and has recruited some 6,000 scientists.

One major branch targets academics with job offers from a Chinese university, either to teach full-time or for a shorter summer placement. Academics usually receive about Rmb1m ($146,670) in a personal “setting-up” grant, and then up to Rmb5m extra for a research grant to be spent as they wish. Experts can receive even more from local governments and add-on grants. According to the Chinese media, some “outstanding” researchers have been awarded as much as Rmb100m.

The plan helps Chinese universities compete with their better-funded international counterparts, and has played an important role in reversing some of the brain drain of talented families who left China to seek their fortune elsewhere.

“I think this program has done a lot to attract talented Chinese from abroad who otherwise would’ve stayed abroad. I think that’s their main goal, really, to build the system back up with talent which is native to the country. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” added a foreign academic who wished to remain anonymous.

Tim Byrnes, assistant professor of physics at New York university’s Shanghai campus, and a Thousand Talents recruit, said the Chinese government had not interfered with his research or directly investigated what he was doing. “I’ve not had to give reports of my research for the Thousand Talents, and I don’t see any plans to do so,” he said.

The system can be highly opaque: Mr Han admits that the application process can be bureaucratic and require “connections” or “special channels” to make sure one is successful. As a result, although “the intention is good”, a lot of experts who are recruited are not necessarily world-class, said one professor, a recent Thousand Talents applicant.

“Some of them are reaping benefits from confusion,” the professor added.

https://www.ft.com/content/a06f414c-0e6e-11e9-a3aa-118c761d2745

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Manafort filing reveals ‘collusion’ — Democrats think they have finally hit pay dirt.

January 10, 2019

Democrats and intelligence experts from both political parties believe information that was accidentally revealed in a court filing from Paul Manafort’s lawyers could be the biggest link yet to President Trump and Russia.

Manafort, while serving as the campaign manager for President Trump’s campaign, shared political polling data with a business associate who also had ties to Russian intelligence. The disclosure occurred by accident after the court filing, which was in response to accusations that Manafort lied during his plea deal agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, was not properly formatted to block out information meant to be redacted.

After a year of lobbing accusations against Trump that he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, Democrats think they have finally hit pay dirt.

“Internal polling data is precious. It reveals your strengths — & your weaknesses. Why share such valuable information with a foreign adversary — unless that adversary was really a friend?” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

In this photo from June 15, 2018 Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Mike McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 under President Barack Obama and is now a professor at Stanford University, said on Twitter: “If proven, then call it by whatever c word that you want — collusion, cooperation, conspiracy — but this is serous.”

It is unclear what data Manafort shared, but the failed redactions show he allegedly gave the information to Konstantin Kilimnik, who has also been charged by the special counsel. It is also unclear how Kilimnik might have used the information.

Image result for Robert Mueller, photos

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation

The New York Times reported this week that Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Kilimnik in spring 2016, around the time Trump clinched the presidential nomination.

Most of the data was public, according to the Times report, “but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign,” a person knowledgeable about the situation said.

Manafort wanted the data to be sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the Times reported. Both men had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian parties that had previously hired Manafort as a political consultant.

The court filing also revealed that Manafort has been accused by Mueller of lying about discussing a Ukrainian peace plan with Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign and that Manafort also “acknowledged” that he met with Kilimnik while they were both in Madrid.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said the Madrid meeting took place in January or February 2017, after his work on the presidential campaign was finished.

But others think there’s enough information there to show that Manafort was somehow working with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over toward US President Donald Trump, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks over toward US President Donald Trump, as Trump speaks during their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“The margins the Russians needed to change in key states during the 2016 elections was pretty small. Now we know how they were able to be so precise: Paul Manafort was providing polling data to Russia,” said Steven Hall, the former chief of Russia operations for the CIA, in a tweet.

He later added: “[t]he next logical step is to tie in the fact that we know the Russians wanted to help elect Trump and hurt his opponent. It appears that Manafort and Putin had the same goal, and that Manafort was trying to help the Kremlin.”

John Dean, a White House counsel under President Richard Nixon convicted for his role in Watergate, said: “Big story. New info. Both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, Trump’s top campaign managers, transferred inside polling data to Russian intel guy Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. It’s called COLLUSION!”

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called the revelation about Manafort “one of the most significant activities of this whole investigation.”

“This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real live actual collusion. Clearly, Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents, and the question is, ‘What did the president know?’” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday. “How is that not evidence of an effort to collaborate?”

He added: “If it’s true that Manafort as campaign chair shared internal polling data with Kilimnik, he was giving the Russians information that would have been useful for their intelligence operation.”

Mueller’s team will respond to the Manafort court filing no later than Monday at midnight, and there is a possibility that more details of the allegations will be revealed.

“Manafort’s lawyers’ general characterization of Mueller’s allegations about Manafort’s conduct in the context of a dispute over whether Manafort violated his plea agreement or not offers a highly imperfect window into Mueller’s understanding of that evidence and how it fits into the larger picture of interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. We will not know what these tidbits mean, if anything, until we see both how Mueller characterizes them and, more particularly, how Mueller situates them against that broader pattern of interactions,” wrote Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a blog post Wednesday.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/democrats-intelligence-experts-think-manafort-filing-reveals-collusion

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Andrew Napolitano: Mueller can show Trump campaign ‘had a connection to Russian intelligence’

January 10, 2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that could prove a link between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, according to a Fox News senior legal commentator.

Judge Andrew Napolitano’s remarks come after the defense team for Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former 2016 campaign chairman, acknowledged in a new court filing that their client shared polling data before the election with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian political consultant to Russian intelligence, who at one point worked for Manafort’s lobbying firm. Kilimnik was indicted by Mueller last June on charges of obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness on behalf of Manafort.

Image result for Andrew Napolitano, pictures

“This shows that Bob Mueller can demonstrate to a court, without the testimony of Paul Manafort, that the campaign had a connection to Russian intelligence, and the connection involved information going from the campaign to the Russians,” Napolitano said during a Fox News segment on Wednesday. “The question is, was this in return for a promise of something from the Russians, and did the candidate, now the president, know about it.”

That could amount to a “conspiracy” if there was an arrangement to exchange “something of value from a foreign person or government during the campaign,” he said.

“Whether or not the thing of value arrives, the agreement is what is the crime,” Napolitano said.

The interactions between Manafort and Kilimnik were uncovered Tuesday when Manafort’s defense team submitted documents that were not properly redacted. The filing was made as Manafort’s lawyers continue to defend their client against allegations by Mueller that Manafort broke the terms of his plea deal.

“The part they forgot to seal was that the FBI accused Paul Manafort of lying about whether or not he gave confidential campaign polling data, at the height of the campaign,” Napolitano said Wednesday.

Manafort in September pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts, and agreed to “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” answer questions about “any and all matters” of interest to Mueller.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/andrew-napolitano-mueller-can-show-trump-campaign-had-a-connection-to-russian-intelligence

Cyber-attack disrupts distribution of multiple US newspapers

December 30, 2018

Several US newspapers suffered major printing and delivery disruptions on Saturday following a cyber-attack, US media report.

The attack led to delayed distribution of The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other titles belonging to Tribune Publishing.

The company said it first detected the malware on Friday, which hit papers sharing the same printing plant.

The attack is believed to have come from outside the US, the LA Times said.

The Los Angeles Times building is seen on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California

West Coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which share the same production platform in Los Angeles, were also affected.

“We believe the intention of the attack was to disable infrastructure, more specifically servers, as opposed to looking to steal information,” an anonymous source with knowledge of the attack told the LA Times.

Tribune Publishing spokeswoman Marisa Kollias confirmed this in a statement, saying the virus hurt back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”.

“Every market across the company was impacted,” Ms Kollias said, refusing to give more specifications on the disruptions, according to the LA Times.

Other publications owned by the company include the New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel and the Annapolis Capital-Gazette, whose staff were the targets of a deadly shooting earlier this year.

Another publication, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel was also “crippled this weekend by a computer virus that shut down production and hampered phone lines,” according to a story on its website.

“We are aware of reports of a potential cyber incident affecting several news outlets and are working with our government and industry partners to better understand the situation,” a Department of Homeland Security official said in a statement.

Investigators at the Federal Bureau of Investigations were not immediately available for comment.

BBC News