Posts Tagged ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’

Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Puts Spotlight on Fringe Platforms and Their Partners

October 30, 2018

As mainstream social-media companies such as Facebook and Twitter try to get rid of hate speech, those conversations are finding homes in other corners of the web



Hours after Robert Bowers allegedly opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, the right-wing social-media platform where he had posted anti-Semitic messages lost the partners that kept it running.

In quick succession, was dropped by its web-hosting firm, Joyent Inc., and GoDaddy Inc., the domain registrar that allows it to have an address on the web. It also was cut off by payment processors PayPal Holdings Inc. and Stripe. By Monday, was seemingly out of commission.

As mainstream social-media companies such as Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Reddit try to push racist commentary and hate speech off their platforms, those conversations are finding homes in other corners of the web.

They are happening on Discord, a chat service for videogamers, and message boards such as 4chan, where a politics thread Monday incorrectly said the French president was calling for a “black genocide.” Gab, created two years ago, was founded explicitly to be a haven for free commentary, no holds barred.

Discord says its rules prohibit harassment, threatening messages and calls to violence, and it has shut down accounts over those issues. 4chan didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Grappling with such web speech is proving challenging. It is thrusting an array of companies—from web hosts to payment processors—into the position of being arbiters of free speech. And it has left law-enforcement officials struggling to keep track of hate-filled conversations in remote parts of the web as they search for early tipoffs to tragedy.

Marc Randazza, the First Amendment lawyer representing far-right website Infowars in connection with a ban by PayPal, contends that the efforts of big tech companies to crack down on hate speech are likely to make people who are inclined to radicalization more radicalized, not less.

“If you take people and you kick them out into the cold, guess what?” he says. “They’re in an echo chamber of their beliefs.”

David Lazer, a computational social scientist at Northeastern University who has studied social networks and misinformation on the internet, says any company that is helping to keep the lights on at a site trafficking in hate content, including web hosts and payment processors, will face difficult questions. “Each company has some potential control,” he says. “Which are the ones we decide should be held accountable?”

People pay their respects at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead. The suspected shooter had posted anti-Semitic messages on a little-known social media site.
People pay their respects at a memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead. The suspected shooter had posted anti-Semitic messages on a little-known social media site. PHOTO:BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

GoDaddy said Monday it had received complaints about Gab over the weekend, and after investigating them, discovered “numerous instances” of content on the site that promotes and encourages violence against people. The company told Gab it had 24 hours to move the domain to another registrar, saying Gab had violated GoDaddy’s rules.

GoDaddy said it generally doesn’t take action against sites that include such content. “While we detest the sentiment of such sites, we support a free and open internet,” the company said. “Similar to the principles of free speech, that sometimes means allowing such tasteless, ignorant content.”

Where Gab crossed the line with GoDaddy was in promoting violence. “In instances where a site goes beyond the mere exercise of these freedoms…we will take action,” the company said.

Mr. Bowers, 46, lived alone in a ground-floor apartment in a complex in the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin. Neither immediate family nor friends have been located. A few neighbors recall him saying hi, never having guests, and sitting in his car and smoking on occasion.

This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers, the suspect in the deadly shooting in Pittsburgh.
This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers, the suspect in the deadly shooting in Pittsburgh.PHOTO: PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the 19 days before the shooting, he posted or reposted memes and comments at least 68 times on Gab, according to an analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center of his activity.

“In the small window into his account currently available, it’s evident he engaged with numerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have long been in circulation among neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” the analysis said. He also seemed to have a “conspiratorial focus” on other white nationalist fixations, including a caravan of Central Americans.

Before the shooting, which left 11 dead, a Gab account under his name posted a message about HIAS, a global Jewish agency that resettles refugees. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” it said.

According to a study cited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, over half of active shooters had previously signaled their intent to commit violence, while 88% of active shooters age 17 and younger had communicated their thoughts or fantasies to a third party.

Michael German, a former FBI agent who infiltrated antigovernment and neo-Nazi groups in California and Washington during the 1990s, says it is easier to identify bad actors when fringe sites aren’t shut down.

“If you suppress that activity, people are not going to go away, and their ideas are not going to go away,” he says. “They’ll find other ways to communicate. It will be actually harder for law enforcement to understand what is going on.”

Gab had already been pushed off several major tech companies’ platforms. Both Alphabet Inc. ’ s Google and Apple Inc. had blocked the Gab app from their app stores last year, and earlier this year Microsoft threatened to ban Gab from its Azure platform in response to anti-Semitic posts, which were ultimately deleted.

A message Monday on said the site would be “inaccessible for a period of time” after it was “systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors.” The company on Monday called itself “the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy.”

Gab was founded in 2016 to be a “platform for conservatives in the West and dissidents globally,” according to a lawsuit the company filed in 2017 against Google. Gab said at the time that it had acquired 268,000 users in just over one year of operation.

While some of the content on Gab is innocuous, the site has been a haven for individuals who were kicked off Twitter for violating its rules against hate speech and harassment. Milo Yiannopoulos, who Twitter banned weeks before Gab’s creation, has been one of the most popular users of Gab.

A study from the Cyprus University of Technology, the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science and University College London found that 5.4% of all Gab posts include a hate word—more than twice as often as Twitter posts, but much less frequently than on 4chan’s Politically Incorrect message board. The study said popular hashtags on Gab included “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory, and “Ban Islam.”

The cutting off of online speech through so-called no-platforming is less common on the political left. Last year, the left-wing website ThinkProgress launched a campaign to sign up paying members, arguing that the site’s coverage of white nationalism and other controversial topics was leading it to be classified as “inflammatory politics and news” by ad networks. “We are being financially punished for our work exposing racism,” the site said last year.

Companies considered communications platforms have the greatest leeway to enforce policies that bar certain users, legal experts say. After the August 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Google and GoDaddy stopped providing hosting support for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that they said violated their terms of service. The website reappeared under various country-specific domains in the ensuing months.

In September, PayPal terminated its relationship with Infowars after a review it conducted “found instances that promoted hate and discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions that run counter to our core value of inclusion.” Weeks later, the company that owns Infowars filed a lawsuit against PayPal in federal court in California in which it accused the payments company of illegally discriminating against Infowars based on its political affiliations.

Free Speech Systems LLC, Infowars’ parent company, said in the lawsuit that PayPal’s ban was “a bridge too far and, if allowed, sets a dangerous precedent for any person or entity with controversial views.” It asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to force PayPal to continue processing payments for the company.

PayPal said Free Speech Systems’ activities “are contrary to PayPal’s own core values of diversity and inclusion” and that making PayPal process its payments “would violate PayPal’s exercise of its constitutionally protected right to free speech.” The judge ultimately denied the motion for a restraining order.

In June, Stripe stopped processing payments for three far-right websites—Bitchute, MakerSupport and FreeStartr—which had been created as alternatives to YouTube, Patreon and Kickstarter, respectively.

Freestartr, which set out to do crowdfunding for controversial causes such as the legal defense of white supremacist Richard Spencer, shut down soon after.

In some cases, the companies that host the websites and process the payments for hate speech are being called to attention by activists who got their start organizing advertiser boycotts.

Sleeping Giants was founded in 2016 as “a campaign to make bigotry and sexism less profitable.” The organization’s Twitter and Facebook accounts post screenshots of ads on Breitbart in an effort to put pressure on these brands that provide business for Breitbart, the conservative website that former editorial director Stephen Bannon once described as the “platform for the alt-right.”

The campaign drove away Breitbart’s advertisers. In recent days, Breitbart sent a letter to Sleeping Giants threatening a civil lawsuit, complaining of “deceptive” practices that led to “economic harm.”

In an email to the Journal, a Breitbart spokesman described Sleeping Giants’ tactics as a “politically motivated harassment scheme” that capitalized on misunderstandings about how online advertising works. Sleeping Giants’ members visited Breitbart and saw ads that were selected based on their demographic profile, he said, giving the impression that those brands had actively advertised on Breitbart when they didn’t.

“Our line has always been what’s hateful, what’s bigotry and what’s sexism,” says Sleeping Giants creator Matt Rivitz. “If you are promoting bigotry on your site, that doesn’t guarantee you that everyone wants to support that.” Whether the ads were chosen by algorithms, he says, doesn’t change this.

Color of Change, a racial-justice organization, began a campaign last year that aimed to call attention to PayPal, Stripe and other payments companies that worked with right-wing extremist groups. “Cutting off that funding source, we immediately see has an impact in being able to take these groups offline,” says Brandi Collins, a senior campaign director of Color of Change.

Gab doesn’t rely on advertising, but used PayPal and Stripe to bring in money from donations and the sale of subscriptions. In early October, Gab said Stripe had frozen its accounts for hosting pornography on its websites, which violates Stripe’s terms of service.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, Sleeping Giants aimed at other pressure points, tweeting, “Tonight, users of Gab are celebrating the killing of Jews and policemen in a deadly shooting and gladly using their credit card on @stripe to keep the social network going.” Shortly after this tweet, Stripe suspended Gab.

Write to Keach Hagey at, Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.comand Dan Frosch at

Appeared in the October 30, 2018, print edition as ‘Pittsburgh Attack Puts Spotlight on Fringe Platforms.’


No Support in FBI Report for Claims Against Kavanaugh, White House says

October 4, 2018

Democrats have already signaled they consider the FBI investigation insufficient.

Senators are set to review the FBI’s findings Thursday.


Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his Supreme Court nomination in Washington, D.C., last month.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his Supreme Court nomination in Washington, D.C., last month. PHOTO: POOL/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—The White House has found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after examining interview reports from the FBI’s latest probe into the judge’s background, according to people familiar with the matter.

It was unclear whether the White House, which for weeks has raised doubts about the allegations, had completed its review of the FBI interview reports. Officials were expected to be sending the FBI report to the Senate Judiciary Committee late Wednesday.

Still, the White House’s conclusions from the report are not definitive at this point in the confirmation process. Senators who will decide Mr. Kavanaugh’s fate are set to review the findings on Thursday, and some of them may draw different conclusions.

The result could leave senators in much the same position as last week—faced with two witnesses providing mutually exclusive accounts and forced to decide between them. The investigation, which concluded two days before its Friday deadline, has faced mounting criticism in recent days from Democrats who have said the probe wasn’t appropriately comprehensive. Investigators spoke to one of the three women who made accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

President Trump late Wednesday tweeted praise for his Supreme Court nominee. “Wow, such enthusiasm and energy for Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” he wrote, calling the judge “a fine man and great intellect.”

Republicans have said the extended background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a concession to Democrats and wavering Republicans, who demanded it and said its completion without a major revelation should allow Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to proceed to a Senate vote. Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee, where Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination hearings were heard, have claimed that the White House imposed too many restrictions on who the FBI could interview—they didn’t talk to Christine Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, for instance—to make their inquiry’s findings credible.

In an emotional hearing last Thursday, senators heard from Judge Kavanaugh and from Dr. Ford, the California psychology professor who accuses him of assaulting her when they were teenagers. Judge Kavanaugh denies the allegation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) took a step Wednesday night to set up a Friday procedural vote on Judge Kavanaugh. He said the Senate would later Wednesday receive the FBI supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, giving senators enough time to review the bureau’s findings before voting later this week.

Senators were expected to study the report at a secure location on Thursday. Three uncommitted Republicans—Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—have said the FBI report would factor significantly into their decision.

Republicans have a narrow 51-49 edge in the Senate, so two defections would doom the nomination. In the event of a 50-50 tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast a deciding vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf.

The FBI probe was launched last Friday as the Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on sending Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor. Mr. Flake voted yes, but asked for the FBI to be given up to a week for a supplemental background check into allegations by Dr. Ford and another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who says Judge Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in college.

Judge Kavanaugh also denies Ms. Ramirez’s allegations, saying he has never sexually assaulted anyone and characterizing the assertions as a political smear.

FBI agents have interviewed three people Dr. Ford said were at the social gathering where the alleged assault took place. The bureau also questioned two friends Judge Kavanaugh named in his 1982 calendar, Tim Gaudette and Chris Garrett, known as “Squi,” according to their lawyers.

Democrats have already signaled they consider the FBI investigation insufficient. The decision not to interview Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, among others, “raises serious concerns that this is not a credible investigation,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

An attorney for Dr. Ford late Wednesday criticized the probe. “An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony—cannot be called an investigation,” the attorney said. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”

Democrats also said they were concerned about Judge Kavanaugh for reasons beyond the sexual-assault allegation, including his partisan attacks at last Thursday’s hearing.

GOP leaders say the renewed investigation wasn’t necessary, given that Judge Kavanaugh had already been subjected to several FBI background checks.

Whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed or rejected, the fight over his nomination has added fuel to the country’s sharp political divide. It has damaged relationships in the Senate, prompted predictions of nasty confirmation fights in the future, and spurred warnings about the potential politicization of the Supreme Court.

“This cannot be the new normal, because it will destroy the ability of people to come forward and be judges,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Atlantic magazine. “What goes around comes around.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at, Michael C. Bender at, Kristina Peterson at and Natalie Andrews at

FBI, DOJ expected to make redactions despite Trump’s order to declassify Russia documents: Report

September 19, 2018

The FBI and Department of Justice are expected to redact some information in the materials President Trump has ordered declassified regarding the Russia investigation, according to a report Wednesday.

The president directed the Justice Department, FBI, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Monday to provide “immediate declassification” of materials relating to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications on Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with DOJ official Bruce Ohr, as well as all text messages, without redactions, about the investigation from former FBI Director James Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, Ohr, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

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Three people familiar with review of the materials told Bloomberg the agencies are expected to propose redactions on particularly sensitive materials, including classified sources and methods, before submitting them to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which will then turn over the materials to the White House.

Trump and his Republican allies have contended the Russia investigation has been tainted by anti-Trump bias before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed. Democrats counter that, saying Trump and his allies only want to discredit the probe.

Despite any proposed redactions, the president has the authority to veto the agencies’ recommendations and declassify the material on his own.

[Opinion: How declassifying documents might backfire on Trump]


FBI, DOJ To Defy Trump Order; Redactions Planned As Top ‘Deep State’ Dems Demand Insubordination

September 19, 2018

Despite President Trump’s Monday order for the “immediate declassification” of sensitive materials related to the Russia investigation, “without redaction,” the agencies involved are planning to do so anyway, according to Bloomberg, citing three people familiar with the matter.

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The Justice Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are going through a methodical review and can’t offer a timeline for finishing, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive matter. –Bloomberg

Trump ordered the DOJ to release the text messages of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also ordered released are specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The DOJ and the FBI are expected to submit proposed redactions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – which will prepare a package for Trump to sign off on.

“When the president issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests,” a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement. “The department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the president’s order.”

The agencies are likely to cite national security concerns over revealing classified “sources and methods” pertaining to the Russia investigation – which will put them in direct conflict with Trump’s order. Trump, as president, has the power to override the agencies and declassify material on his own.

Trump’s order to release the documents comes after months of requests from GOP lawmakers, while the DOJ has repeatedly denied their requests for more transparency.

The FBI’s spy…

According to Bloomberg, the DOJ is interpreting Trump’s request to include information about the use of confidential informant (spy) Stephan Halper during the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation. After taking in over $400,000 from the Obama Pentagon under the auspices of a research contract, Halper befriended and spied on members of the Trump campaign, including aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.


Top Congressional Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff and Mark Warner penned a joint letter to ODNI Director Dan Coates, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding that the agencies defy President Trump.

Byron York


Showdown? In letter, Pelosi/Schumer/Schiff/Warner order intel agencies to ignore presidential order on declassification until consulting with Congress. 

In the letter, the lawmakers “express profound alarm” at the decision to “intervene in an ongoing law enforcement investigation that may implicate the President himself or those around him.”

“Any decision by your offices to share this material with the President or his lawyers will violate longstanding Department of Justice polices, as well as assurances you have provided to us.”

The letter then demands that the agencies brief the Gang of Eight before releasing the materials “to anyone at the White House.”

In short, prepare for fireworks…

Devin Nunes: ‘Laughable’ to argue Trump’s declassification order endangers national security

September 18, 2018

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said it is “laughable” to claim President Trump’s order Monday to declassify documents related to the Russia investigation is a danger to national security.

The “mainstream media” is “buying the Kool-Aid,” Nunes, R-Calif., said in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham reacting to a warning given hours earlier by his Democratic counterpart on the intelligence panel.

In a statement, Rep. Adam Schiff called Trump’s order a “clear abuse of power” and said he was previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider the release of these materials the stepping past a “red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods.”

Image result for Adam Schiff, photos

Rep. Adam Schiff

Nunes brushed off what he described as a political “play call,” which has been echoed by other Democrats, politicos, and legal experts. “It’s laughable that they are saying this will somehow endanger national security,” Nunes said. “This is really full transparency for the American people.”

Answering a push by his GOP allies in Congress, who have been clamoring to secure public evidence showing a tainted Russia investigation and bias in the top levels of the DOJ and FBI, the White House announced early Monday evening that Trump had ordered the declassification of certain key documents that Nunes and others have had their eyes on, and more.

Among them are about 20 pages of the June 2017 application to the FISA court seeking the authority to spy on onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who had suspicious ties to Russia. While it’s not the first application submitted — there were four in total — Nunes explained this one contains the main details of the other three. The FISA documents were released earlier in the summer, but in heavily redacted form.

The GOP majority in the House Intelligence Committee, with the release of a memo in February that was declassified by Trump, raised the alarm about the FBI possibly misleading the FISA court by hiding the political origins of dossier, written by ex-British spy Christopher Steele and funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Trump and Republicans have repeatedly questioned the credibility of the Russia investigation, specifically how much the dossier — which contains unverified claims about Trump’s ties to Russia — was used by top federal law enforcement officials to justify launching it in 2016. Trump’s order Monday also covers documents on FBI interviews with DOJ official Bruce Ohr, who not only fed the bureau information he got from Steele, but also has a wife who had done work for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier.

Democrats have decried the GOP efforts, characterizing them as a means to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. In his statement Monday, Schiff accused Trump of deciding to “intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative.”

Meanwhile, there has been talk that Trump could be breaking the law with his order; not in regards to the Russia documents, but rather with the unexpected move of ordering the unredacted release of text messages of current and former officials, including ex-FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Ohr, and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who became infamous for their anti-Trump text messages.

“There could very likely be Privacy Act implications,” former Justice Department attorney Scott Hodes told Politico.

While Nunes and others, like Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., praised Trump for allowing transparency to win, there remain hurdles. In a statement Monday evening, the Justice Department suggested that the declassification effort, which will involve multiple agencies, will take some time.

“When the President issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests. The Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order,” a DOJ spokeperson said.

Even when the documents are declassified, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano warned that some of them may not see the light of day. “Just because something is no longer classified doesn’t mean it’s public,” he said on air.

Former government officials explained to the Wall Street Journal that members of Congress, including those in the House Intelligence Committee, could obtain them and then release some of the documents themselves. They would also be subject to freedom of information laws.


Trump Orders Declassification Of FBI Documents Sought By House Republicans

September 18, 2018

President Trump has ordered the intelligence community to “provide for the immediate declassification” of several documents related to the FBI and the Department of Justice, the White House press secretary announced Monday.

The documents in question are specific pages of the June 2017 FISA warrant application related to onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, all FBI interview reports prepared in connection with all FISA warrant applications in connection with Page, and all FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr prepared in connection with the FBI’s Russia investigation.

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Additionally, Trump has ordered the DOJ and the FBI to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation — in unredacted form — of former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and Ohr.

“When the President issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said in a statement. “The Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order.”

One of Trump’s allies in the House cheered the president’s decision. “I commend President Trump for his decision to declassify numerous documents, including several redacted pages of the Carter Page FISA application and important messages relating to the Russia investigation,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said in a statement. “My colleagues in Congress and I have requested these documents for months, but have faced lengthy and unnecessary delays, redactions, and refusals from officials at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Gaetz, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, added that he looks “forward to the forthcoming release of these documents, and reviewing them closely.”

But the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee criticized Trump’s move. “President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement that also raised concerns about the possibility that intelligence sources and methods could be compromised by the release ordered by Trump.

It is not clear from the statement when the declassification and release of the documents will occur. But when it does it would be the latest move by Trump and his administration to release previously secret documents at the heart of claims by the president’s allies on Capitol Hill. Those allies, particularly conservative Republicans in the House, contend that the FBI’s Russia investigation is biased against Trump at its core and from its early stages.

In July the administration released the previously classified warrant application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made by the FBI in 2016 seeking permission to surveil Page’s communications. But those documents were heavily redacted, with entire pages blacked out. Earlier this year, in February, a memo by House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was also declassified and released. And later that same month, a countermemo by Democrats on the same committee was declassified and released in redacted form.

Although Monday’s announcement had been anticipated, the news comes as the Trump administration is grappling with sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

A month ago, the president made headlines when he revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, a persistent Trump critic on TV and on Twitter, who played a role in referring information to the FBI that would spark the bureau’s Russia investigation. The revocation of Brennan’s clearance and the release by the White House of the names of a number of other individuals in federal law enforcement or the intelligence community whose clearances might also be in jeopardy occurred as prosecutors were wrapping up the presentation of their case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and as former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman was on a media tour promoting a new book critical of Trump and his administration.

In another headline-grabbing move Monday that had likewise been anticipated, the Trump administration announced it was imposing 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, the latest salvo in the president’s escalating trade dispute with China.

Robert Mueller investigation and a disparity of justice

August 24, 2018

Robert Mueller is determined to sniff out any wrongdoing he can find—on one side.

When Justice Is Partial

Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill, June 13, 2013.
Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill, June 13, 2013. PHOTO: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami took a few moments in his Tuesday statement about Michael Cohen’s plea deal to sing neutrality’s praise: “His day of reckoning serves as a reminder that we are a nation of laws, with one set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”

Noble words, and they used to mean something. But a disparity of justice is at the heart of our current crisis of faith in institutions. Americans aren’t outraged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation felt obliged to investigate allegations leveled at campaigns, or that a special counsel is looking at Russian electoral interference. They are instead furious that Lady Justice seems to have it in for only one side.

The country has watched the FBI treat one presidential campaign with kid gloves, the other with informants, warrants and eavesdropping. They’ve seen the Justice Department resist all efforts at accountability, even as it fails to hold its own accountable. And don’t get them started on the one-sided media.

And they are now witnessing unequal treatment in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Yes, the former FBI director deserves credit for smoking out the Russian trolls who interfered in 2016. And one can argue he is obliged to pursue any evidence of criminal acts, even those unrelated to Russia. But what cannot be justified is the one-sided nature of his probe.

Consider Mr. Cohen, the former Trump lawyer who this week pleaded guilty to eight felony charges. Six related to his personal business dealings; the other two involved campaign-finance violations arising from payments to women claiming affairs with Donald Trump. The criminal prosecution of campaign-finance offenses is exceptionally rare (most charges are civil), but let’s take Mr. Khuzami’s word for it when he says Mr. Cohen’s crimes are “particularly significant” because he’s a lawyer who should know better, and also because the payments were for the purpose of “influencing an election” and undermining its “integrity.”

If there is only “one set of rules,” where is Mr. Mueller’s referral of a case against Hillary for America? Federal law requires campaigns to disclose the recipient and purpose of any payments. The Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS to compile a dossier against Mr. Trump, a document that became the basis of the Russia narrative Mr. Mueller now investigates. But the campaign funneled the money to law firm Perkins Coie, which in turn paid Fusion. The campaign falsely described the money as payment for “legal services.” The Democratic National Committee did the same. A Perkins Coie spokesperson has claimed that neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the research, and maybe so. But a lot of lawyers here seemed to have been ignoring a clear statute, presumably with the intent of influencing an election.

“Liberty and Justice for All”

Prosecutions under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) are also exceptionally rare, though Mr. Mueller is getting media kudos for hammering the likes of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for failing to register as lobbyists for foreign entities. The law is the law.

But under this standard, where are the charges against the principals of Fusion GPS, who Sen. Chuck Grassley has said look to have been lobbying on behalf of powerful Russians against a U.S. sanctions law, with its payment again funneled through a law firm? This was a sideline to its dossier work, but Mr. Mueller usually has no issue with sideline charges.

Or what about an evenhanded look at dossier author Christopher Steele ? FARA also requires foreigners to register if they act on behalf of a foreign principal. Recently disclosed emails from senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr show the British Mr. Steele pleading the case to the Justice Department on behalf of a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

Of the seven U.S. citizens Mr. Mueller has charged, five have been accused of (among other things) making false statements to federal officials. But there have been no charges against the partisans who made repeated abjectly false claims to the FBI and Justice Department about actions of their political opponents. There have been no charges against those who leaked classified information, including the unprecedented release of an unmasked conversation between former national security adviser Mike Flynn and a Russian ambassador. Nothing.

Some of these charges might not stand up in court, but that’s beside the point. Plenty of lawyers would poke holes in the campaign-finance charges against Cohen, or the “lying” charges against Mr. Flynn. Special counsels wield immense power; the mere threat of a charge provokes plea deals. It’s the focus that matters.

Prosecutors can claim all they want that they are applying the law equally, but if they only apply it to half the suspects, justice is not served. Mr. Mueller seems blind to the national need for—the basic expectation of—a thorough look into all parties. That omission is fundamentally undermining any legitimacy in his findings. Lady Justice does not wear a blindfold over only one eye.

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Appeared in the August 24, 2018, print edition.

Five things to know about Bruce Ohr, and the “afraid we’ll be exposed” email

August 19, 2018

President Donald Trump has recently attacked Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, linking the figure to his allegations of bias in the federal Russia probe.

Ohr has long drawn intense scrutiny from figures on the right, but he received broad attention after Trump said Friday that he is planning to revoke his security clearance following the president’s controversial decision to revoke the clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.

The Hill

Bruce Ohr in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 2010.
Bruce Ohr in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 2010. PHOTO: C-SPAN

While it’s unclear in what full capacity the official is currently serving at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Ohr and his wife have caught the attention of Republican lawmakers, who are now seeking to interview the couple, among other figures.

From Ohr’s ties to intelligence firm Fusion GPS to the president’s threats, here are five things to know about the Justice Department official.

Trump is threatening to take away Ohr’s security clearance

The president told reporters Fridaythat he is planning on revoking Ohr’s security clearance “very quickly,” calling the official “a disgrace.”

“For him to be in the Justice Department and doing what he did, that is a disgrace,” Trump said.

If Trump follows through on the promise, it would be the first time he pulled a security clearance from a current DOJ staffer, a move that would likely inflame tensions between the president and the intelligence community.

Trump pulled the security clearance for Brennan, a vocal critic who served as CIA chief under former President Obama, earlier in the week and the White House has reportedly drafted documents for the president to revoke several other former officials’ clearances.

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Nellie Ohr and Bruce Ohr

It’s unclear how revoking Ohr’s clearance might affect his ability to do parts of his job. Those who have maintained their clearances after leaving government have mostly done so to preserve current officials’ ability to ask them questions about particular issues.

Ohr was demoted over his ties to Steele

Ohr, who previously served as associate deputy attorney general, was demoted late last year over his contacts with former British spy Christopher Steele, who assembled the controversial dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia.

The longtime government prosecutor was demoted in December 2017 after the DOJ learned he had been in touch with Steele. Ohr also worked as the head of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces before being removed from that position as well.

While the agency has not commented recently on Ohr’s current role at the DOJ, a source familiar with his position told CNN this week that Ohr is serving as an attorney in the DOJ’s criminal division.

The agency pointed The Washington Post to a June statement from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at the DOJ.

“Mr. Ohr is a career employee of the department. He was there when I arrived. To my knowledge, he wasn’t working on the Russia matter,” Rosenstein told the House Intelligence Committee at the time. “When we learned of the relevant information, we arranged to transfer Mr. Ohr to a different office.”

The FBI interviewed Ohr about his contacts with Steele. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has asked that the reports that include the interviews be declassified.

Ohr’s wife worked for the firm behind the Steele dossier

Much of the scrutiny on Ohr has surrounded his ties to Steele, whose dossier made salacious and unverified claims on the relationship between Trump and Russia.

Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, has worked for Fusion GPS, the firm that funded Steele’s research behind the document.

The Post reported that Bruce Ohr’s financial disclosure form listed his wife’s occupation as an “independent contractor.”

However, it’s unknown how large or small of a role Nellie Ohr played in the research that went into the dossier.

court filing from the co-founder of Fusion GPS said the firm contracted with Nellie Ohr to help “with its research and analysis of Mr. Trump.”

Ohr knew both Steele and the head of Fusion GPS

The Hill’s John Solomon reported earlier this month that Bruce Ohr and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson had met shortly after Trump won the 2016 election, and that Ohr wrote in handwritten notes that it was believed that Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer Micahel Cohen was the “go-between from Russia to the Trump campaign.”

“Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the U.S.,” Ohr also wrote in the notes.

The Post reported that Simpson and Ohr knew each other from organized crime conferences, and that Steele also knew the DOJ official from their work in the same field.

Simpson testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Steele had recommended he talk to Ohr after Trump’s election victory.

And emails obtained by The Hill also showed that Steele had contacted Ohr ahead of the 2016 election, with the British intelligence officer writing that he wanted to discuss “our favorite business tycoon!”

It’s unclear who Steele was referring to in the email. The two men had previously discussed Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, but it also may have referred to Trump.

Conservative lawmakers will question Ohr

The Hill reported earlier this month that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is preparing subpoenas for Ohr, his wife and Simpson.

“We plan to interview the people [mentioned] in the coming weeks and we will issue subpoenas to compel their attendance if necessary,” a GOP House Judiciary aide told The Hill.

Lawmakers are now set to question Ohr during a closed-door interview on Aug. 28.

Conservative lawmakers have pointed to Ohr’s ties to Steele and Simpson as evidence of bias against Trump in the DOJ and in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Those Republicans have previously seized on the inclusion of information provided by Steele to the FBI in an application to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

The warrant application, released last month, showed that the FBI cut off ties with Steele after discovering he was sharing information with the media.




Chuck Ross | Reporter

Dossier author Christopher Steele told Justice Department official Bruce Ohr after James Comey’s firing last year that he was “afraid they will be exposed.”

What exactly Steele was concerned about having exposed after Comey’s May 9, 2017 firing is not made clear in Ohr’s notes, which were reported by Fox News.

The text message is part of a trove of emails, text messages and handwritten notes that the Justice Department has provided to Congress as part of an investigation into the government’s handling of the Steele dossier.

Steele told Ohr in a May 10, 2017 phone call that he was “very concerned abt Comey’s firing — afraid they will be exposed,” according to Fox.

Steele’s interactions with Ohr have been a focal point for congressional Republicans in their investigation into the government’s possible abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The dossier, which Steele wrote on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC, was used to obtain FISA warrants on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Republicans say that the dossier was not verified when the FBI used it to obtain the spy warrants.

Page, an energy consultant who joined the Trump team in March 2016, has vehemently denied the dossier’s allegations about him. In the 35-page report, Steele alleges that Page was the Trump campaign’s main contact to the Kremlin.

Justice Department documents given to Congress show that Steele and Ohr were in contact all throughout 2016 and 2017, though Ohr’s involvement was not revealed until December. Following a report from Fox News on Ohr’s contacts with Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, he was demoted as assistant deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. (RELATED: Glenn Simpson’s Claims About His Interactions With Bruce Ohr Don’t Add Up)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was Ohr’s boss, has told Congress that he was not aware of Ohr’s contacts with Steele or Simpson. It is unclear if Rosenstein’s predecessor, Sally Yates, knew what Ohr was up to.

Steele first reached out to Ohr in January 2016 seeking help for a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. Text messages and emails suggest that the former MI6 officer lobbied Ohr to keep an eye on the status of negotiations between Deripasksa and the U.S. government for the billionaire’s visa. Deripaska is a close ally of Vladimir Putin’s. He has also worked with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (RELATED: Emails Show Christopher Steele Lobbied DOJ Official On Behalf Of Putin-Linked Oligarch)

Ohr also corresponded with Steele after the 2016 election about the Russia investigation. By that time, the FBI had ended its relationship with Steele because he made unauthorized disclosures to the media. Steele met with numerous reporters in September and October 2016 about his Trump-Russia findings.

Ohr provided a dozen briefings to the FBI from November 2016 to May 2017 about his interactions with Steele.

An added wrinkle is that Ohr’s wife, a Russia expert named Nellie, was directly involved in the anti-Trump investigation. She worked as a researcher for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele.

What Was Bruce Ohr Doing?

August 17, 2018

Justice releases some damning documents, but much of the truth is still classified.

Bruce Ohr in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 2010.
Bruce Ohr in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 2010. PHOTO: C-SPAN

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department have continued to insist they did nothing wrong in their Trump-Russia investigation. This week should finally bring an end to that claim, given the clear evidence of malfeasance via the use of Bruce Ohr.

Mr. Ohr was until last year associate deputy attorney general. He began feeding information to the FBI from dossier author Christopher Steele in late 2016—after the FBI had terminated Mr. Steele as a confidential informant for violating the bureau’s rules. He also collected dirt from Glenn Simpson, cofounder of Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm that worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and employed Mr. Steele. Altogether, the FBI pumped Mr. Ohr for information at least a dozen times, debriefs that remain in classified 302 forms.

All the while, Mr. Ohr failed to disclose on financial forms that his wife, Nellie, worked alongside Mr. Steele in 2016, getting paid by Mr. Simpson for anti-Trump research. The Justice Department has now turned over Ohr documents to Congress that show how deeply tied up he was with the Clinton crew—with dozens of emails, calls, meetings and notes that describe his interactions and what he collected.

Mr. Ohr’s conduct is itself deeply troubling. He was acting as a witness (via FBI interviews) in a case being overseen by a Justice Department in which he held a very senior position. He appears to have concealed this role from at least some superiors, since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified that he’d been unaware of Mr. Ohr’s intermediary status.

Lawyers meanwhile note that it is a crime for a federal official to participate in any government matter in which he has a financial interest. Fusion’s bank records presumably show Nellie Ohr, and by extension her husband, benefiting from the Trump opposition research that Mr. Ohr continued to pass to the FBI. The Justice Department declined to comment.

But for all Mr. Ohr’s misdeeds, the worse misconduct is by the FBI and Justice Department. It’s bad enough that the bureau relied on a dossier crafted by a man in the employ of the rival presidential campaign. Bad enough that it never informed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of that dossier’s provenance. And bad enough that the FBI didn’t fire Mr. Steele as a confidential human source in September 2016 when it should have been obvious he was leaking FBI details to the press to harm Donald Trump’s electoral chances. It terminated him only when it was absolutely forced to, after Mr. Steele gave an on-the-record interview on Oct. 31, 2016.

But now we discover the FBI continued to go to this discredited informant in its investigation after the firing—by funneling his information via a Justice Department cutout. The FBI has an entire manual governing the use of confidential sources, with elaborate rules on validations, standards and documentation. Mr. Steele failed these standards. The FBI then evaded its own program to get at his info anyway.

And it did so even though we have evidence that lead FBI investigators may have suspected Mr. Ohr was a problem. An Oct. 7, 2016, text message from now-fired FBI agent Peter Strzok to his colleague Lisa Page reads: “Jesus. More BO leaks in the NYT,” which could be a reference to Mr. Ohr.

The FBI may also have been obtaining, via Mr. Ohr, information that came from a man the FBI had never even vetted as a source—Mr. Simpson. Mr. Steele had at least worked with the FBI before; Mr. Simpson was a paid political operative. And the Ohr notes raise further doubts about Mr. Simpson’s forthrightness. In House testimony in November 2017, Mr. Simpson said only that he reached out to Mr. Ohr after the election, and at Mr. Steele’s suggestion. But Mr. Ohr’s inbox shows an email from Mr. Simpson dated Aug. 22, 2016 that reads, in full: “Can u ring.”

The Justice Department hasn’t tried to justify any of this; in fact, last year it quietly demoted Mr. Ohr. In what smells of a further admission of impropriety, it didn’t initially turn over the Ohr documents; Congress had to fight to get them.

But it raises at least two further crucial questions. First, who authorized or knew about this improper procedure? Mr. Strzok seems to be in the thick of it, having admitted to Congress interactions with Mr. Ohr at the end of 2016. While Mr. Rosenstein disclaims knowledge, Mr. Ohr’s direct supervisor at the time was the previous deputy attorney general, Sally Yates. Who else in former FBI Director Jim Comey’s inner circle and at the Obama Justice Department nodded at the FBI’s back-door interaction with a sacked source and a Clinton operative?

Second, did the FBI continue to submit Steele- or Simpson-sourced information to the FISA court? Having informed the court in later applications that it had fired Mr. Steele, the FBI would have had no business continuing to use any Steele information laundered through an intermediary.

We could have these answers pronto; they rest in part in those Ohr 302 forms. And so once again: a call for President Trump to declassify.


What Are the FBI and CIA Hiding?

August 1, 2018

The agency might have led the bureau down a rabbit hole in the 2016 Trump counterintelligence probe.

George Papadopoulos in London.

Did the Central Intelligence Agency lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation down a rabbit hole in the counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign?

Although the FBI’s case officially began July 31, 2016, there had been investigative activity before that date. John Brennan’s CIA might have directed activity in Britain, which could be a problem because of longstanding agreements that the U.S. will not conduct intelligence operations there. It would explain why the FBI continues to stonewall Congress as to the inquiry’s origin.

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John Brennan. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press.

Further, what we know about the case’s origin does not meet the threshold required by the attorney general guidelines for opening a counterintelligence case. That standard requires “predicate information,” or “articulable facts.”

From what has been made public, all that passes for predicate information in this matter originated in Britain. Stefan Halper, an American who ran the Centre of International Studies at Cambridge, had been a CIA source in the past. Recent press reports describe him as an FBI informant. Joseph Mifsud, another U.K.-based academic with ties to Western intelligence, met with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016. Mr. Mifsud reportedly mentioned “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Then, on May 10, Mr. Papadopoulos met with Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer in London, to whom he relayed the claim about “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton.

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Peter Strzok

Peter Strzok, the FBI’s deputy assistant director, went to London Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the case was opened, ostensibly to interview Mr. Downer about his conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos. But what about the earlier investigative activity? The FBI would not usually maintain an informant in England. It is far likelier that in the spring of 2016 Mr. Halper was providing information to British intelligence or directly to the CIA, where Mr. Brennan was already pushing the collusion narrative.

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James Clapper

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that “intelligence agencies” were looking into the collusion allegations in spring 2016. The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that British intelligence had been suspicious about contacts between associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign and possible Russian agents. That prompted Robert Hannigan, then head of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, to pass information to Mr. Brennan. With only these suspicions, Mr. Brennan pressured the FBI into launching its counterintelligence probe.

The FBI lacked any real predicate. But in the post-9/11 world, a referral from the CIA would cause some in the FBI to believe they had to act—particularly as the agency’s information originated with America’s closest ally. Shortly after the case opened that summer, Mr. Brennan gave a briefing to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, telling him that the CIA had referred the matter to the FBI—an obvious effort to pressure the bureau to get moving on the collusion case.

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Harry Reid

As the FBI’s investigation progressed, it would use a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, a former member of Mr. Trump’s campaign, who had been in contact with Mr. Halper. A dossier prepared for the Clinton campaign by Christopher Steele, formerly of Britain’s MI6, was used to obtain the warrant.

The existence of the investigation was withheld from the congressional “gang of eight” because of its “sensitivity,” former FBI Director James Comey later said. The FBI continues to withhold the full details of the origin story from Congress. Their rationale is the “protection of sources,” as the origin lies with our best international partner.

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Although Mr. Brennan has exposed himself as a biased actor, the CIA has escaped criticism for using only thinly sourced information from British intelligence to snooker the FBI. Most damaging is the possibility that the CIA violated agreements with Britain by spying there rather than asking MI5 or MI6 to do so. And that may be what is really being withheld from Congress.

Mr. Baker is a retired FBI special agent and legal attaché.

Appeared in the August 1, 2018, print edition.