Posts Tagged ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’

SEC Discloses Edgar Corporate Filing System Was Hacked in 2016

September 21, 2017

The SEC disclosed that hackers penetrated its electronic system for storing public-company filings and may have traded illegally on the information.

Breach may have allowed trading that profited from nonpublic information, regulator says

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WASHINGTON—The top U.S. markets regulator disclosed Wednesday that hackers penetrated its electronic system for storing public-company filings last year and may have traded on the information.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s chairman, Jay Clayton, revealed the breach in an unusual and lengthy statement issued Wednesday evening that didn’t provide many details about the intrusion, including the extent of any illegal trading.

The SEC said it was investigating the source of the hack, which exploited a software vulnerability in a part of the agency’s Edgar system, a comprehensive database of filings made by thousands of public companies and other financial firms regulated by the SEC.

The commission said the hack was detected in 2016, but that regulators didn’t learn about the possibility of related illicit trading until August, when they started an investigation and began cooperating with what the SEC called “appropriate authorities.”

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment on the SEC disclosure.

The commission’s disclosure follows a major breach of Equifax Inc. that affected 143 million Americans and warnings from executives of the New York Stock Exchange and Bats Global Markets Inc. that a planned data repository of all U.S. equity and options orders could become a juicy target for hackers.

“Cybersecurity is critical to the operations of our markets and the risks are significant and, in many cases, systemic,” Mr. Clayton said in a written statement. “We also must recognize—in both the public and private sectors, including the SEC—that there will be intrusions, and that a key component of cyber risk management is resilience and recovery.”

The intrusion shows how confidential information that can yield easy trading profits has increasingly become a target of hackers.

The SEC in December sued three Chinese traders who allegedly earned more than $4 million in illegal gains after they stole information from the computer systems of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which represent Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 companies.

The SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system, or Edgar, is used by investors who access the online system to view companies’ earnings statements and other disclosures on material developments at companies. Some companies purchase and resell electronic feeds of the filings that cater to electronic and algorithmic traders.

Mr. Clayton’s statement didn’t identify the precise date of the intrusion or what sort of nonpublic data was obtained. The agency said the hackers exploited a vulnerability in part of the Edgar system that allows companies to test the accuracy of data transmitted in new forms. Many corporate filings are made public as soon as they are received through Edgar, although other forms may have to be reviewed first by SEC staff.

The SEC’s statement also didn’t explain why the SEC waited to reveal the breach until Wednesday.

SEC officials have sometimes indicated they could take enforcement action against a public company that misled investors about a significant hack that affected share prices.

Mr. Clayton, who is due to testify before the Senate Banking Committee next week, is sure to face questions about his own agency’s cyber vulnerabilities.

“We face the risks of cyber threat actors attempting to compromise the credentials of authorized users, gain unauthorized access to filings data, place fraudulent filings on the system, and prevent the public from accessing our system through denial of service attacks,” Mr Clayton said. “We also face the risks of actors attempting to access nonpublic data relating to our oversight, or enforcement against, market participants, which could then be used to obtain illicit trading profits,” he added.

The Edgar system, which was launched to equalize access to information among retail and sophisticated investors, has occasionally caused headaches for the commission. Academic researchers found in 2014, for instance, that hedge funds and other rapid-fire investors got earlier access to market-moving documents from Edgar than other users of the standard, web-based system, giving them a potential edge on other traders. The SEC later said it fixed the problem.

The system has also been exploited by traders who submitted fake corporate filings. In 2015, a 37-year-old man in Bulgaria filed a fake takeover offer for Avon Products Inc., which succeeded in sending the beauty-product company’s shares soaring but netted the mastermind just $5,000, regulators alleged.

Mr. Clayton’s statement acknowledged that the planned data repository, known as the Consolidated Audit Trail, could be targeted by cyber thieves looking to steal personal information of stockbrokers’ customers. The audit trail has been in the works for nearly seven years and the SEC approved its final design last year. However, exchange executives have recently cited the Equifax hack as evidence that the audit trail should be pared back, even if that takes away information that could help regulators spot manipulative traders more quickly.

Stock and options exchanges, as well as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees brokers, are due to begin reporting data to the repository in November.

Robert Cook, chief executive of Finra, also has questioned whether the audit trail should be scaled back in light of the Equifax data breach. Speaking Wednesday at a banking luncheon in Washington, Mr. Cook questioned whether the database designed to help regulators sort through flash crashes and spot market manipulation should include personal information about stockbrokers’ customers.

“Especially post-Equifax when we are trying to win back investor confidence in the markets, it seems to be a useful question to ask whether we’ve got the right approach here or we need to revisit it,” he said.

Write to Dave Michaels at dave.michaels@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-discloses-edgar-corporate-filing-system-was-hacked-in-2016-1505956552

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Americans Feel Good About the Economy, Not So Good About Trump

July 17, 2017

By John McCormick
Bloomberg

July 17, 2017, 4:00 AM EDT
  • Just 40 percent approve of president’s performance in office
  • Narrow majority expect stock market to be higher by year’s end
Traders pass in front of an American flag displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York.

 Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Almost six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans are feeling fairly optimistic about their jobs, the strength of the U.S. economy, and their own fortunes. That should be welcome news for the president, except for one thing: The public’s confidence largely appears to be in spite of Trump, not because of him.

The latest Bloomberg National Poll shows 58 percent of Americans believe they’re moving closer to realizing their own career and financial aspirations, tied for the highest recorded in the poll since the question was first asked in February 2013.

A majority expect the U.S. stock market to be higher by the end of this year, while 30 percent anticipate a decline. Yet they don’t necessarily think Trump deserves credit for rising markets and falling unemployment.

Just 40 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing in the White House, and 55 percent now view him unfavorably, up 12 points since December. Sixty-one percent say the nation is headed down the wrong path, also up 12 points since December.

Trump scored his best numbers on his handling of the economy, but even there the news for him isn’t great. Less than half of Americans — 46 percent — approve of Trump’s performance on the economy; 44 percent disapprove. He gets slightly better marks for job creation, with 47 percent approving.

“If you take the president’s scores out of this poll, you see a nation increasingly happy about the economy,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who oversaw the survey. “When Trump’s name is mentioned, the clouds gather.”

In nearly every measure of his performance, the poll indicates that Trump’s tumultuous presidency is not wearing well with the public. A 56 percent majority say they’re more pessimistic about Trump because of his statements and actions since the election. That’s a huge swing since December when 55 percent said his statements and actions made them more optimistic about him.

Read the poll questions and methodology here.

The public has grown more skeptical that Trump will deliver on some of his most ambitious campaign promises. Two-thirds don’t think he’ll succeed in building a wall along the Mexican border during his first term. More than half say he won’t be able to revive the coal industry.

A majority — 54 percent — believe Trump will manage to create trade deals more beneficial to the U.S., but that’s down from 66 percent in December. There’s division on whether he’ll be able to bring a substantial number of jobs back to America, or significantly reform the tax code.

And despite his assurances that he and congressional Republicans will repeal Obamacare and replace it with a “beautiful” new health care bill, 64 percent of Americans say they disapprove of his handling of the issue. That’s especially significant because health care topped unemployment, terrorism and immigration as the issue poll respondents chose as the most important challenge facing the nation right now.

There are at least two areas where Americans say they believe Trump will deliver: Almost two-thirds say he will make significant cuts in government regulation, though it’s not clear whether most think that’s a good or bad thing. Likewise, 53 percent believe he will succeed in deporting millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The public is also skeptical about Trump’s abilities as a world leader, with 58 percent saying they disapprove of the way he handles relations with other countries and 46 percent disappointed in his actions on trade agreements.

Americans are more pessimistic about foreign policy than they were in December. Fifty-five percent now say they expect dealings with Germany to get worse during the next four years, up 22 points. The share of poll respondents who anticipate worsening relations with the U.K., Mexico, Cuba and Russia also increased by double digits.

The public is also wary of Trump’s motives in his negotiations with other countries. Just 24 percent said they were “very confident” that Trump puts the nation’s interests ahead of his businesses or family when dealing with foreign leaders.

Americans have plenty of other worries about the world. Majorities believe it’s realistic that terrorists will launch a major attack on U.S. soil (68 percent) and that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon aimed at the U.S. (55 percent).

Trump has called the expanding investigations into possible connections between his presidential campaign and Russia a “witch hunt.” But the public isn’t necessarily taking his side. Since the president’s decision to oust former FBI Director James Comey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s standing has improved. It’s now viewed favorably by 68 percent, up 10 points since December. Comey is viewed positively by 43 percent, while 36 percent see him negatively.

Meanwhile, most Americans don’t share the president’s apparent soft spot for Vladimir Putin: 65 percent view the Russian president negatively — and 53 percent say it’s realistic to think Russian hacking will disrupt future U.S. elections.

There is one notable bright spot for Trump. Though views of the White House as an institution are at the lowest level ever recorded by the poll — with 48 percent now viewing it unfavorably, up 21 points since December — Trump’s voters are still sticking with him. Among those who cast ballots for him, 89 percent still say he’s doing a good job.

The telephone poll of 1,001 American adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, higher among subgroups. It was conducted July 8-12 by Iowa-based Selzer & Co.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-17/americans-feel-good-about-the-economy-not-so-good-about-trump-j57v0var

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

June 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Image may contain: 1 person

Then FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Adam Schiff, photos

Adam Schiff

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

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

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

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

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

Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.

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

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

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

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

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

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

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

State Officials to Testify on Possible Russian Involvement in 2016 Election

June 18, 2017

State election directors, federal officials to testify on alleged security breaches, possible voting-machine tampering

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate and House intelligence committees are scheduled to hold open hearings on possible Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate and House intelligence committees are scheduled to hold open hearings on possible Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections. PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS

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June 18, 2017 8:00 a.m. ET

The Senate and House intelligence committees are set on Wednesday to hold two open hearings examining  efforts during the 2016 election, featuring testimony from current and former Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials as well as state election directors.

Steve Sandvoss, the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, is expected to walk the Senate committee through a cyberattack last July that allowed hackers to breach a database of up to 200,000 personal voter records.

Following the breach, the board informed the state attorney general’s office of the cyberattack. The board was subsequently contacted by the FBI, but the agency hasn’t informed the board who was responsible for the attack, according to Ken Menzel, the board’s general counsel.

An information-technology report to the board in August said the FBI was “highly confident” that no voter data had been altered.

The Senate committee will also hear testimony from J. Alex Halderman, a Michigan computer scientist who helped lead a push last year for an examination of paper ballots and electronic voting machines in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan to conclusively prove that hackers hadn’t manipulated the results. A series of legal rulings ultimately halted some of the recount efforts, while others were completed and found no widespread irregularities.

The hearings represent the most robust effort to date to elicit public testimony from state election officials concerning what federal officials have described as an aggressive and sustained effort by Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is also investigating whether campaign advisers to President Donald Trump had ties to the Russian activities, a probe that has expanded to include whether the president obstructed justice by trying to influence its outcome, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

States are also examining their own systems. A survey by The Wall Street Journal of election officials in nearly 50 states found many continue to participate in a Department of Homeland Security program of periodic checks of their election systems for any vulnerabilities and many had been in touch with the FBI before the election, when the bureau had provided states with a list of suspicious IP addresses.

A woman placed her ballot in a tabulation machine after voting at a high school in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2016. Computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, who led a push to examine voting results from Michigan and other states last year, is set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

A woman placed her ballot in a tabulation machine after voting at a high school in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2016. Computer scientist J. Alex Halderman, who led a push to examine voting results from Michigan and other states last year, is set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. PHOTO: JEFF KOWALSKY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ investigations unit, led by a former FBI agent, is investigating the reported attempts to compromise VR Systems Inc., a Tallahassee, Fla., firm whose electronic poll book software was used on Election Day in 21 of the state’s 100 counties.

The software deals with checking voters in, not with counting their votes. But on Election Day last year, that system failed in Durham County, which holds the state’s most reliable Democratic voters. That forced the county to issue ballots by hand, meaning longer lines and delays—factors that can often depress turnout. The county voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton by 77.7%, while Mr. Trump won the state with 49.8% of the vote, according to the state’s board of elections.

“The Republicans were claiming that this was Democratic voter fraud, but maybe the other explanation, the simplest answer, is most likely to be the correct one. Look at the Russians,” said Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the North Carolina legislature and an expert on state election law. “If you were trying to hurt Democrats in North Carolina, shutting down Durham’s Election Day voter check-in would be your quickest and most effective method.”

The aim of the Senate hearing, according to an email sent by a committee aide to those testifying, is to “give the public an unclassified look at Russian activity in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as a look at what we are facing from an election security standpoint in 2018 and 2020.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, meanwhile, will testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday to discuss “Russian active measures” during the 2016 election.

Scary Ways Hackers Could Impact the U.S. Election (From Sept. 8, 2016)

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/state-officials-to-testify-on-possible-russian-involvement-in-2016-election-1497787201?mod=e2tw
Scary Ways Hackers Could Impact the U.S. Election
America’s democratic election process appeared to be the target of Russian hackers in 2016, according to some top government officials. So how could foreign actors have hacked the U.S. election and what could they do with voter information? WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains the worst case scenarios. Photo: iStock
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Department of Homeland Security officials have said at least 20 states were targeted during the 2016 election. Last August, the FBI issued a warning to state governments that cited the Illinois breach and a hacking attempt in Arizona. Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee last September, then-FBI Director James Comey said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators were “doing an awful lot of work…to understand just what mischief is Russia up to in connection with our election.”

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the agency’s investigation.

In early June, the website the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document that said Russian military intelligence had executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier in August 2016.

The document also said Russian operatives had sent “spear-phishing” emails to more than 100 email addresses linked to local government organizations—potentially including local election officials—in the days preceding the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The NSA report, however, didn’t draw conclusions about whether such activity had any effect on the outcome of the election.

At least five counties in Florida have reported receiving the phishing emails described in the Intercept article that appeared to come from VR Systems. But none appear to have resulted in a breach of their voting systems.

Earlier this month, VR Systems said it had no indication that any customers had been compromised by the phishing emails and said it has “policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee in Washington on June 6. Mr. Kelly said at the hearing that he doesn’t support rolling back a federal designation of voting apparatus as ‘critical infrastructure.’

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before a Senate committee in Washington on June 6. Mr. Kelly said at the hearing that he doesn’t support rolling back a federal designation of voting apparatus as ‘critical infrastructure.’ PHOTO: SUSAN WALSH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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As states undertake their own investigations of the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security is weighing whether to maintain the designation of voting apparatus as “critical infrastructure,” which gives the federal government additional authority to protect the systems, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee earlier this month.

That decision was made by Mr. Kelly’s predecessor, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Kelly testified that he has had a “large amount of pushback” on the determination from states and members of Congress.

Many states have expressed concern about additional federal authority over their election systems and have said the Constitution provides states the right to run their own elections.

In his testimony earlier this month, Mr. Kelly said he doesn’t support rolling back the designation and hopes to persuade states that they allow the federal government to be helpful on such issues. When asked about the review of the designation, a Department of Homeland Security official defended it, emphasizing that it allows the department to “prioritize our cybersecurity assistance to election officials, for those who request it.”

“A designation makes it easier for the federal government to have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive vulnerability information,” the Homeland Security official said. The official also noted that the designation creates no new regulations for states.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Erica Orden at erica.orden@wsj.com and Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com

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Mueller Probe Examining Whether Donald Trump Obstructed Justice

June 15, 2017

Special-counsel investigation has expanded to look into president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller giving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2013 in Washington.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller giving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2013 in Washington. PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey is now a subject of the federal probe being headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has expanded to include whether the president obstructed justice, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Mueller is examining whether the president fired Mr. Comey as part of a broader effort to alter the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Moscow, the person said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, denounced the revelation in a statement.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Mr. Corallo said.

Mr. Trump’s reaction to the new turn in Mr. Mueller’s inquiry came early Thursday morning in the form of a tweet. He suggested that he is unhappy with the focus on obstruction of justice, given that he believes there was no underlying crime.

They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice

You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Aides to Mr. Trump have warned him not to tweet about the Russia investigation, an inquiry in which any statement he makes could become fodder for investigators.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mr. Mueller, declined to comment. The special counsel’s pursuit of an obstruction of justice probe was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.

Mr. Mueller’s team is planning to interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers as part of its examination of whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct justice, the person said.

The special counsel also plans to interview Rick Ledgett, who recently retired as the deputy director of the NSA, the person added.

While Mr. Ledgett was still in office, he wrote a memo documenting a phone call that Mr. Rogers had with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. During the call, the president questioned the veracity of the intelligence community’s judgment that Russia had interfered with the election and tried to persuade Mr. Rogers to say there was no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials, they said.

Russia has denied any government effort to meddle in the U.S. election. Mr. Ledgett declined to comment, and officials at the NSA didn’t respond to a request for comment. An aide to Mr. Coats declined to comment.

Mr. Coats and Mr. Rogers told a Senate panel June 7 that they didn’t feel pressured by Mr. Trump to intervene with Mr. Comey or push back against allegations of possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia. But the top national security officials declined to say what, if anything, Mr. Trump requested they do in relation to the Russia probe.

“If the special prosecutor called upon me to meet with him to ask his questions, I said I would be willing to do that,” Mr. Coats said June 7. Mr. Rogers said he would also be willing to meet with the special counsel’s team.

Mr. Comey told a Senate panel on June 8 that Mr. Trump expressed “hope” in a one-on-one Oval Office meeting that the FBI would drop its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned under pressure for making false statements about his conversations with a Russian diplomat. Mr. Trump has denied making that request.

Mr. Comey said during the testimony that it was up to Mr. Mueller to decide whether the president’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice. The former FBI director also said he had furnished the special counsel with memos he wrote documenting his interactions with the president on the matter.

At a June 13 hearing at a House of Representatives panel, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declined to say who asked him to write a memo justifying Mr. Comey’s firing. The White House initially cited that memo as the reason for the termination, and Mr. Trump later said in an NBC interview that he also was influenced by the Russia investigation. Mr. Rosenstein said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter.

“The reason for that is that if it is within the scope of Director Mueller’s investigation, and I’ve been a prosecutor for 27 years, we don’t want people talking publicly about the subjects of ongoing investigations,” Mr. Rosenstein said.

Write to Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com, Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com and Paul Sonne at paul.sonne@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 15, 2017, print edition as ‘Mueller Probes Trump Over Obstruction.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mueller-probe-examining-whether-donald-trump-obstructed-justice-1497490897

Trump wants to re-engage with Moscow, Tillerson says

June 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking to the media during a joint press conference with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English in Wellington, said President Donald Trump had ordered him to build ties with Russia

WELLINGTON (AFP) – 

US President Donald Trump has told his top diplomat to ignore trouble in Washington and re-engage with Russia to rebuild ties, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

With ex-FBI director James Comey due to testify to Congress on Thursday, Tillerson was asked if he feared the adminstration would be brought down over allegations of Trump’s election campaign ties with Moscow.

“The president has been clear to me, ‘Do not let what’s happening over here in the political realm prevent you from the work you need to do in this relationship’,” he told reporters in New Zealand.

Comey’s testimony will be his first public remarks since being fired by Trump last month, and represents a moment of danger for the embattled president.

His sacking came as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probes possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign team and Russia — which US intelligence believes hoped to tilt the election in the Republican’s favor.

Tillerson said he could not comment on the investigations into Russian ties and was “really … not involved in any of these other issues”.

But he added: “The president has been very clear with me that Russia is an important global player and today our relationships with Russia are at a very low point and they’ve been deteriorating.

“So the president asked me to begin a re-engagement process with Russia to stabilise that relationship so it does not deteriorate further.”

Trump wanted him to “identify areas of mutual interest where perhaps we can build some level of trust and confidence so that there are areas where we can work together”.

“And that’s the process that’s under way today,” Tillerson said.

“He’s been quite clear with me to proceed at whatever pace and in whatever areas we might make progress.”

Tillerson met New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee on Tuesday after stopovers in Australia and Singapore.

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

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

Jared Kushner Considered Setting Up Secret Communications With Russia

May 27, 2017

Jared Kushner Considered Setting Up Secret Communications With Russia

Idea was broached in meeting Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian ambassador

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS

WASHINGTON— Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The idea was broached in a meeting that Mr. Kushner had last December with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak, this person said. Such a line would have allowed Mr. Kushner to communicate securely with a Russian military official, but it was never set up, this person said.

A secure communications line like the one considered could have made it more difficult for the U.S. intelligence agencies to intercept and listen to any conversations. The Russian ambassador was under routine surveillance at the time by American authorities.

It was unclear why the transition team would have felt the need to establish a secure line to Moscow or whether Mr. Trump’s advisers realized that Mr. Kislyak was likely the target of U.S. surveillance. But two other people with knowledge of Mr. Kushner’s activities during the transition said his interest in creating what they described as a “backchannel” with Russia raised concerns among law enforcement and national security officials.

Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer for Mr. Kushner, couldn’t be reached late Friday. Previously she said in a statement about Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russians: “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Washington Post reported earlier Friday, citing U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports, that Mr. Kislyak had reported to Moscow that Mr. Kushner had discussed establishing a secure line.

At the time, the Obama administration was still in charge of U.S. foreign policy. But retired Gen. Mike Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, was engaged in his own discussions with the Russians that eventually became part of a sprawling FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Russians have denied interfering in the election.

Mr. Kushner’s known contacts with the Russians, which include a December meeting he had with a Russian banker, have been scrutinized by federal investigators for months, these people said. The FBI, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, would eventually like to speak to Mr. Kushner about his meetings with the Russian ambassador and the banker, as well as any other interactions he may have had with Russians linked to that country’s intelligence services, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Investigators haven’t taken formal steps to interview Mr. Kushner, this person said.

The Trump administration has denied any collusion with Russia.

Ties between Russia and Trump associates and his campaign are also the subject of two congressional investigations. As part of those probes, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have asked the Treasury Department for information that could be used to find any financial links between Mr. Trump, his businesses and associates, and Russian individuals or entities.

Among the questions investigators are also considering is whether any of Mr. Kushner’s business interests also have Russian links, according to a person with knowledge of the congressional investigations. Before joining the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner was the CEO of the Kushner family’s real-estate business.

Mr. Kushner isn’t considered a target or a focus of the FBI investigation, according to the person familiar with the probe.

The White House has said that Mr. Kushner’s previously disclosed meetings with Russian officials were part of his role in the transition as the main point of contact for foreign government officials. In addition to Mr. Kislyak, Mr. Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank that was placed on a U.S. sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/jared-kushner-considered-setting-up-secret-communications-with-russia-1495863533?mod=e2fb

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Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

May 27, 2017
The Washington Post
May 26 at 7:01 PM
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Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
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Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
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Image result for Jared Kushner,photosJared Kushner, left, has the ear of his father-in-law.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.

To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naivete.

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.

“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

The discussion of a secret channel adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts. Trump’s first national security adviser, Flynn, was forced to resign after a series of false statements about his conversations with Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose his own meetings with Kislyak when asked during congressional testimony about any contact with Russians.

Kushner’s interactions with Russians — including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions — were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.

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Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak

It is common for senior advisers of a newly elected president to be in contact with foreign leaders and officials. But new administrations are generally cautious in their handling of interactions with Moscow, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of waging an unprecedented campaign to interfere in last year’s presidential race and help elect Trump.

Obama administration officials say members of the Trump transition team never approached them about arranging a secure communications channel with their Russian contacts, possibly because of concerns about leaks.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.

Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities — which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds — to an American.

The Post was first alerted in mid-December to the meeting by an anonymous letter, which said, among other things, that Kushner had talked to Kislyak about setting up the communications channel. This week, officials who reviewed the letter and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence said the portion about the secret channel was consistent with their understanding of events.

For instance, according to those officials and the letter, Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware that it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.

In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.

The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Includes videos:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-ambassador-told-moscow-that-kushner-wanted-secret-communications-channel-with-kremlin/2017/05/26/520a14b4-422d-11e7-9869-bac8b446820a_story.html?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.09ed6ca39df4

The Trump-Russia Story Starts Making Sense

May 27, 2017

The Kremlin seems to have bet big on the willingness of U.S. intelligence agencies to leak.

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Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak

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Updated May 26, 2017 8:06 p.m. ET

The Trump-Russia business is finally coming into clearer, more rational focus. Former Obama CIA chief John Brennan, in testimony this week, offered no evidence of Trump campaign cooperation with Russian intelligence. Instead he spoke of CIA fears that Russia would try to recruit/blackmail/trick Trump colleagues into being witting or unwitting agents of influence.

This is a realistic fear of any incoming administration. It’s especially realistic in the case of an “outsider” campaign full of naive, inexperienced and unvetted individuals. But it’s quite different from “collusion.”

The other shoe was dropped by the Washington Post. Finally we have details of an alleged email exchange showing influential liberals trusting in then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to corral an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email practices. According to the Post, this email appears not to exist. It was cited in a secret Russian intelligence document that inspired FBI chief James Comey to usurp the attorney general’s role and publicly clear Mrs. Clinton of intelligence mishandling. Allegedly, he feared the real email (which didn’t exist) would surface and discredit any Justice Department announcement clearing Mrs. Clinton.

Are you now thinking of the Trump dossier circulated by former British agent Christopher Steele, which also felt like a Russian plant? While the political circus in Washington has focused on purloined Democratic emails and fake news spread during the election by Russian bots, the more effective part of Moscow’s effort may have been planting fake leads to prod U.S. enforcement and intelligence agencies to intervene disruptively in the campaign.

This also should shed new light on today’s anti-Trump leakers in the intelligence agencies: They may be the real unwitting agents of Russian influence.

There are plenty of lessons to go around. Mr. Trump, if he ever really thought Vladimir Putin was his friend, probably has wised up by now. He should have wised up the moment the Steele document came into view, supposedly based on plumbing Mr. Steele’s peerless Russian intelligence contacts. It always appeared possible, even likely, that Mr. Steele was the semi-witting vehicle for Russian rumors designed expressly to undermine Mr. Trump just as Russia was also trying to undermine Mrs. Clinton.

Plenty of people in Washington could also afford to rethink how their partisan idiocy makes them soft touches for such Russian disruption efforts. That includes Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. It includes Mr. Trump too. Overdue is an inquiry into a possible Russian role in flogging the birther conspiracy and the 9/11 truther miasma. Mr. Trump, who loves a conspiracy theory, might consider how he and his ilk showed Russia a vulnerability in American political discourse that it could exploit.

Let’s remember that ex-FBI chief Robert Mueller’s mission is to investigate Russian influence in the election, not the narrow matter of Trump collusion. Whether Russia suborned or tried to suborn people like Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Michael Caputo is a necessary question. Whether Russia exploited Facebook to proliferate fake anti-Hillary news is a necessary question. But so is the provenance of the Steele document and the fake email purporting a Democratic coverup of Hillary Clinton’s server activity. If the FBI’s Mr. Comey allowed himself to be manipulated by Russian intelligence into intervening in the race, that’s something we need to know about. And we need to know about the leaks.

Mr. Brennan, the former CIA chief, has pointed out that these leaks are palpable, unambiguous crimes. Recall that Russia twice sent us detailed warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. President Trump is entitled to share terrorism intelligence with Russia’s ambassador. The only criminal leak occurred when anonymous officials relayed the classified content of these briefings to the press.

Certain press hyenas then cackled that Mr. Trump further “leaked” when he said, during his visit to Israel, that he never mentioned an Israeli source for any intelligence he shared with Russia’s representative. Mr. Trump is entitled to make this statement, and in any case the information had already been made public through another criminal leak. Mr. Trump’s obvious point was that criminal leakers leaked information beyond what he had legally and confidentially shared with the Russians.

It’s times like this we are reminded how personally stupid are many people who make up the media. These leaks need to be investigated—and by Mr. Mueller specifically to the extent that the leaks, as seems more and more likely, indirectly or partly have their origins in Russian manipulation of our own intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Democrats wanted an independent counsel investigation of Russia’s election meddling. They believed it would lead to evidence of, or at least keep alive the story of, Trump collusion. They may be unpleasantly surprised where it really leads.

Appeared in the May 27, 2017, print edition.

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