Posts Tagged ‘House Intelligence Committee’

Russian oligarch, Justice Department and a clear case of collusion

August 30, 2018

In a 20-month search for evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, none that is compelling has emerged.

Former FBI Director James Comey told Congress he found none. The U.S. intelligence community has given a similar assessment, though it did prove convincingly that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election through cyber warfare. And, so far, special counsel Robert Mueller has not offered any collusion evidence, though his work continues.

But, for the first time, I can say there is evidence of collusion between Russians and Americans — specifically, the sort that is at the heart of counterintelligence work.

Before we review that evidence, let’s define collusion. The Collins Dictionary says its original British meaning was “secret or illegal cooperation, especially between countries or organizations.” Using that definition, collusion can be secret but good, if the outcome is well-intended. Or, it can be bad, if it is meant to defraud, deceive or create illegality.

Opinion
By John Solomon

Now for the evidence, as presented to me by several sources, American and foreign:

In September 2015, senior Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr and some FBI agents met in New York with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to seek the Russian billionaire’s help on organized crime investigations. The meeting was facilitated — though not attended — by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele.

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Oleg Deripaska

In 2012, Steele’s private firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, was hired as a subcontractor by a law firm working for Deripaska, who then headed Russia’s largest aluminum company. Steele’s firm was asked to do research to help the law firm defend a lawsuit filed against Deripaska by a business rival.

By 2015, Steele’s work had left him friendly with one of Deripaska’s lawyers, according to my sources. And when Ohr, then the associate deputy attorney general and a longtime acquaintance of Steele, sought help getting to meet Deripaska, Steele obliged.

Deripaska, who frequently has appeared alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at high-profile meetings, never really dealt with Steele, but he followed his lawyer’s recommendations and met with Ohr, my sources say.

By that time, Deripaska already had proven himself helpful to the FBI. As I’ve written previously, based on numerous U.S. sources, he cooperated with the bureau from 2009 to 2011 and spent more than $25 million of his own money on an FBI-supervised operation to try to rescue retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was captured in Iran while working as a CIA contractor.

U.S. officials and Levinson’s family told me that Deripaska’s efforts came close to securing Levinson’s freedom before the State Department scuttled a deal. The former agent has never been heard from again.

The 2015 meeting between Ohr, the FBI and Deripaska is captured cryptically in some of Ohr’s handwritten notes, recently turned over to Congress.

People familiar with the meeting said U.S. officials posed some investigative theories about suspected Russian organized crime and cyber espionage activity, theories that Deripaska indicated he did not believe were accurate.

The sources stressed that the 2015 meeting had nothing to do with any allegation about Russian meddling in the upcoming 2016 election but, rather, was an “outreach” about other types of suspected activity overseas that concerned U.S. officials.

A year later, Deripaska would get another visit from his FBI friends in New York. But this time the questions were about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Specifically, the agents told Deripaska they believed Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was secretly coordinating the election with Moscow.

Steele had planted that theory with the FBI. By that time the former MI6 agent was working for the American opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to find Russian dirt on Trump. Steele’s theories, of course, are contained in the so-called Steele dossier provided to the FBI.

Ohr had his own connection to Fusion, which was paying his wife, Nellie, to work on the anti-Trump research project, according to congressional testimony.

Deripaska once had a business relationship with Manafort, but it ended in lawsuits. Despite that acrimony, Deripaska told the agents in that September 2016 meeting that he thought the theory that Manafort was colluding with Russia to help Trump win the election was preposterous.

Deripaska — like the many foreign business figures to whom U.S. intelligence has turned for help over the decades — is not without controversy or need. The State Department tried to keep him from getting a U.S. visa between 2006 and 2009 because they believed he had unspecified connections to criminal elements in Russia as he consolidated power in the aluminum industry. Deripaska has denied those allegations and claims FBI agents told him in 2009 that the State Department file blocking his entry to the country was merely a pretext.

Whatever the case, it is irrefutable that after he began helping the FBI, Deripaska regained entry to the United States. And he visited numerous times between 2009 and 2017, visa entry records show.

We now know that, on multiple occasions during those visits, the DOJ and FBI secretly collaborated with Deripaska in the hope of getting help, first regarding Levinson, then on Ohr’s matters, and finally on the Manafort case. U.S. officials told me they assumed Deripaska let Putin’s team know he was helping the U.S. government and that his motive for helping was to keep visiting America.

Today, Deripaska is banned anew from the United States, one of several Russians sanctioned in April by the Trump administration as a way to punish Putin for 2016 election meddling. But he wants to be clear about a few things, according to a statement provided by his team. First, he did collude with Americans in the form of voluntarily assisting and meeting with the FBI, the DOJ and people such as Ohr between 2009 and 2016.

He also wants Americans to know he did not cooperate or assist with Steele’s dossier, and he tried to dispel the FBI notion that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded during the 2016 election.

“The latest reckless media chatter proposes that I had some unspecified involvement in the so-called dossier. Like most of the absurd fantasies and smears that ricochet across the internet, it is utterly false. I had absolutely nothing to do with this project, and I never had any knowledge of it until it was reported in the media and I certainly wasn’t involved in any activity related to it,” Deripaska said in the statement his team provided me.

Americans can form their own conclusions about the veracity of those claims. But they now have a pretty convincing case of collusion between U.S. officials and Russians, one that isn’t necessarily all that harmful to the American interest.

And the tale of Ohr, Steele, Deripaska, the FBI and the DOJ is a cogent reminder that people looking for black-and-white answers on Russia are more likely to find lots of gray — the favorite color of the murky counterintelligence world.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.

Includes video:

http://thehill.com/hilltv/rising/404061-russian-oligarch-justice-department-and-a-clear-case-of-collusion

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House Committee to Interview Bruce Ohr and Wife, Nellie Ohr, About Steele Dossier

August 11, 2018

The House Judiciary Committee is looking to interview—and will subpoena if necessary—Justice Department (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie Ohr, along with several current and former FBI and DOJ officials.

“We plan to interview the people noted in the coming weeks and we will issue subpoenas to compel their attendance if necessary,” a committee aide wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.

The DOJ confirmed that the committee reached out to them in regard to the interviews.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte could issue orders as early as the coming week, according to the Hill. Goodlatte’s committee is part of a joint investigation with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into decisions made by the FBI and the DOJ during the 2016 election.

Bruce Ohr on March 18, 2014. (Italy in US via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0])

The committee’s interview requests come on the heels of revelations that Bruce Ohr maintained contact with former British spy Christopher Steele for more than a year after the FBI terminated ties with Steele for leaking to the media. Ohr then became Steele’s back-door conduit for feeding information to the FBI.

Ohr also attempted to reinstate Steele with the bureau and link him into special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The pair remained in contact until mid-November 2017.

The revelations are problematic because Ohr has no official role in the Russia investigation and Steele had been prohibited from collecting intelligence on behalf of the FBI. The problem is compounded by the fact that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for the same opposition research firm as Steele, Fusion GPS.

Steele authored the opposition research dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump that was used to secure a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. Many of the dossier’s claims have been debunked while the rest remain unverified.

It was the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee that ultimately paid for Steele’s work. FBI and DOJ officials who used the dossier to apply for a secret court surveillance warrant on Page failed to mention that fact to the judge.

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Peter Strzok

Ohr met with FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page shortly after meeting Steele in late November 2016. Strzok, Page, and Steele were found to be strongly biased against Trump. Congressional investigators have reviewed text messages that show Steele and Strzok were willing to take action to stop Trump from becoming president. The messages show Strzok musing about impeaching Trump days after joining special counsel Mueller’s team.

The committee is also looking to interview current and former FBI and DOJ officials James Baker, Sally Moyer, Jonathan Moffa, and George Toscas.

In January, Goodlatte reached a deal with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to interview a number of DOJ and FBI officials, including Ohr, Baker, Moyer, Strzok, Page, FBI assistant directors Gregory Brower and Bill Priestap, and FBI special agent James Rybicki. Since then, only Page, Priestap, and Strzok are publicly known to have testified.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes referred several of the above officials to Goodlatte in a letter in late June.

Baker, Brower, Page, and Rybicky have resigned from the FBI.

https://www.theepochtimes.com/house-committee-to-interview-bruce-ohr-and-wife-nellie-ohr-about-steele-dossier_2620891.html

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Christopher Steele fed bogus Trump-Russia allegations to FBI on at least twelve difference occasions

August 5, 2018

Congressional investigators know that Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the Trump dossier on behalf of the Clinton campaign, kept supplying allegations to the FBI after the 2016 election — and even after he was terminated as a source by the bureau for giving confidential information to the media.

Because he had broken his agreement with the FBI, bureau procedure did not allow agents to keep using Steele as a source. But they did so anyway — by devising a system in which Steele spoke regularly with Bruce Ohr, a top Obama Justice Department official whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to search for dirt on Donald Trump in Russia. Ohr then passed on Steele’s information to the FBI.

In a highly unusual arrangement, Ohr, who was the fourth-highest ranking official in the Justice Department, acted as an intermediary for a terminated source for the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe. His task was to deliver to the FBI what Steele told him, which effectively meant the bureau kept Steele as a source.

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Peter Strzok

Agents made a record of each time Ohr gave the bureau information from Steele. Those records are in the form of so-called 302 reports, in which the FBI agents write up notes of interviews during an investigation.

There are a dozen 302 reports on FBI post-election interviews of Ohr. The first was Nov. 22, 2016. After that, the FBI interviewed Ohr on Dec. 5; Dec. 12; Dec. 20; Jan. 23, 2017; Jan. 25; Jan. 27; Feb. 6; Feb. 14; May 8; May 12; and May 15. The dates, previously unreported publicly, were included in a July letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to the FBI and Justice Department.

Congressional investigators have read the Ohr-Steele 302s. But the FBI has kept them under tight control, insisting they remain classified and limiting access to a few lawmakers and staff. Congress is not allowed to physically possess copies of any of the documents.

Now, Grassley says there is “no continuing justification for the FBI to keep the documents secret.” Grassley, who exercises oversight authority over the FBI, is formally challenging the bureau’s decision to keep the Ohr-Steele 302s under wraps. Grassley’s insistence has been met, unsurprisingly, with no cooperation from the FBI.

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James Comey

One small bit of the Ohr 302s has already been made public. The House Intelligence Committee, in its memo focusing on the FBI’s application to the secret FISA court to win a warrant to wiretap onetime Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, included a 16-word passage from an Ohr 302 in which Ohr described Christopher Steele’s motivation to stop candidate Trump. (Even though Ohr’s interviews with the FBI took place after the election, he apparently described things Steele told him during their contacts in the months before the election, as well as new information.) Here is the relevant portion of the House memo:

Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files — but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.

After the release of the House memo, Sen. Grassley, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote to the FBI noting the existence of “numerous FD-302s demonstrating that Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr continued to pass along allegations from Mr. Steele to the FBI after the FBI suspended its formal relationship with Mr. Steele for unauthorized contact with the media, and demonstrating that Mr. Ohr otherwise funneled allegations from Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele to the FBI.”

Grassley also noted other documents of interest: In addition to the 302s, written by the FBI agents who interviewed Ohr, Ohr himself also made notes of his talks with Steele. Those notes, which were never classified, have apparently been given to Congress; in his letter, Grassley referred to “63 pages of unclassified emails and notes documenting Mr. Ohr’s interactions with Mr. Steele.”

Grassley’s argument for declassification of the Ohr-Steele 302s is that the existence of the documents is widely known. Also, some of the material in them has been included in congressional documents and reported in the press. And Ohr’s own notes of the meetings, in the possession of Congress, are not classified. So now, there is no reason for the 302s to remain classified and for the FBI to withhold copies from Congress. The ultimate goal, given Grassley’s statement that there is no reason for the FBI to “keep the documents secret,” is for the public to see them.

What would all of that show? It’s likely that the 302s and notes, if released, would show that the FBI was both still trying to get new information out of Steele after the election and that it was also trying to verify the information Steele had already provided in the dossier installments he handed over in preceding months. Remember, the FBI had already presented some of the dossier’s allegations as evidence to the FISA court. After going out on a limb like that, the bureau wanted to know if the allegations were true or not.

In a larger sense, the Ohr-Steele 302s could shed some light on how an effort — it certainly included Steele, but also others — to keep Trump from being elected morphed into an effort to keep Trump from being inaugurated and then morphed into an effort to remove Trump from office. A version of that effort is still going on, of course, even as some in Congress try to find out how it started.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/12-times-christopher-steele-fed-trump-russia-allegations-to-fbi-after-the-election

The FBI’s FISA Faults

July 24, 2018

The documents show the bureau relied heavily on the Steele dossier.

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© Getty Images

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The FBI over the weekend finally released its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications for warrants against former Trump aide Carter Page, and now we know why the bureau resisted disclosure. Even in heavily redacted form, the applications confirm that the FBI relied on dubious partisan evidence to justify its warrant and withheld relevant information from the court.

The applications also vindicate the criticism of the FBI’s surveillance requests that were laid out in February by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. The committee’s findings were based on a review of the FISA applications, which were still classified at the time. The main Nunes claim was that the FBI made the Steele dossier—which was commissioned by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee—“an essential” part of its initial application. The FISA documents confirm this.

More than half of the first FISA application’s 66 pages are devoted to technical matters and a history of Russian electoral interference. Of the roughly 25 pages that focus on Mr. Page, much of it reports his dealings with Russians, his response to the news that he was under investigation, and a largely redacted conclusion.

The guts of the application is titled “Page’s Coordination With Russian Government Officials on 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Influence Activities.” This is the FBI’s evidence section, and, though heavily redacted, it looks to be almost entirely dossier-related.

Its opening paragraph says that the “FBI has learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials” on a trip to Russia in 2016 and that it got this information from an “FBI confidential human source (Source #1),” who is dossier author Christopher Steele. Most of what is unredacted that follows details the dossier’s claims about these Russian meetings, with further reference to “Source #1.”

This is important given that FBI assistant director Bill Priestap told Congressional investigators in October 2017 that the FBI’s efforts to corroborate the dossier were still in their “infancy” at the time of the first application. Months later former FBI Director Jim Comey referred to the dossier as “salacious and unverified.” To date no investigator has offered public proof of the dossier’s most damaging claims. Yet on the basis of an uncorroborated document commissioned by a rival presidential campaign, the FBI accused a U.S. citizen of being an “agent of a foreign power” who should be wiretapped.

Mr. Nunes also reported that the FBI did not inform the FISA court that the dossier and trusted “source” (Christopher Steele) were paid by the Clinton campaign. And sure enough, nowhere do the FISA applications mention the words Clinton, Democratic National Committee, Fusion GPS (the Clinton-financed oppo research firm that hired Mr. Steele), or Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson.

Several convoluted footnotes refer to “Source #1” (Mr. Steele) and a “U.S.-based law firm” (Clinton firm Perkins Coie), as well as an “identified U.S. person” (Mr. Simpson) who was “likely” interested in discrediting Mr. Trump. These obscure references are quickly followed by another footnote in which the FBI says that, despite that motivation, it is confident that “Source #1” is “credible.” So the FBI was vouching for this partisan source.

It’s true that the first application doesn’t mention any names. But it does refer to “Candidate #1” (who is clearly Donald Trump ), “Candidate #2” ( Hillary Clinton ) and “Political Party #1” (Republicans). The FBI had an obligation to tell the court that the dossier and its “credible” source had been retained and paid for by “Candidate #2” and “Political Party #2” (Democrats), but it didn’t. By the way, Mr. Comey signed three of these applications, yet he claimed on his recent book tour that he “still” didn’t know who paid for the dossier.

The FISA documents also confirm that the FBI cited a Sept. 23, 2016 story in Yahoo News to buttress its Steele dossier information with the court—even though Mr. Steele was also the source for the Yahoo News story.

Democrats insist that the FBI used the Yahoo story only to describe Mr. Page’s response to the investigation, not for corroboration. The applications show otherwise. The FBI cites the Yahoo News story after its dossier-evidence section, noting that the story said that “intelligence reports” and a “well-placed Western intelligence source” had also made claims like those in the dossier. But the “reports” were the dossier, and the “Western intelligence source” was Mr. Steele.

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Our media friends are dismissing all this as no big deal because they say Mr. Page’s history of personal Russian dealings justified his surveillance in any case. Yet so far no one has produced evidence that Mr. Page was anything but an innocent abroad who liked to boast about his contacts. He certainly was a minor figure in the Trump campaign.

And that still doesn’t justify the FBI’s use of uncorroborated partisan smears as part of its application. At best the FBI appears to have played fast and loose with the facts to stretch the ethical boundaries of the FISA statute. At worst the FBI dissembled to target a man because they wanted to unleash a counterintelligence campaign against a presidential campaign. Either one tarnishes the FBI’s reputation.

Democrats and their media allies won’t admit any of this because they are invested in the narrative that Russian meddling elected Donald Trump. But two years of investigation later we’re still waiting to see evidence of that. What the FISA applications show is that the FBI did abuse its surveillance powers. There’s still more to learn, and Mr. Trump should declassify and release everything that can be safely disclosed.

Appeared in the July 24, 2018, print edition.

Trump says Carter Page documents show DoJ and FBI misled courts — “Is there no there there?”

July 22, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that documents about his former presidential campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed with little doubt that the Department of Justice and FBI had misled the courts.

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U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The FBI on Saturday released documents related to the surveillance of Page as part of an investigation into whether he conspired with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

“Congratulations to @JudicialWatch and @TomFitton on being successful in getting the Carter Page FISA documents. As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!” Trump tweeted.

Reuters

Adam Schiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo ‘misrepresented and distorted’

July 22, 2018

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Saturday that the release of documents related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser show that Republicans “misrepresented and distorted these applications” in their claims of bias at the Department of Justice.

“These documents affirm that our nation faced a profound counterintelligence threat prior to the 2016 election, and the Department of Justice and FBI took appropriate steps to investigate whether any U.S. persons were acting as an agent of a foreign power,” Schiff said in a statement. “FBI and DOJ would have been negligent had they not used all the tools at their disposal, including Court-authorized FISA surveillance, to protect the country.”

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© Getty Images

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Saturday released more than 400 pages of heavily-redacted documents on the surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The application documents state that FBI “believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government … to undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”

Page told The Hill that he’s “having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above complete ignorance and/or insanity.”

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee argued in a memo released in February that the DOJ and FBI were biased against Trump and his campaign, and abused their authority in obtaining the surveillance warrant against Page. Committee chair Devin Nunes‘s (R-Calif.) staff authored the document.

Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and other Democrats released their own memo shortly afterward, pushing back against the GOP claims of bias.

Schiff said Saturday that while the documents show the FBI’s “legitimate concern” about Page, he said the materials should not have been released during a pending investigation.

“These national security considerations were cast aside by President Trump, whose decision to declassify the Nunes Memo — which misrepresented and distorted these applications — over the fervent opposition of the Department of Justice, was nakedly political and self-interested, and designed to  to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” the lawmaker said.

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http://thehill.com/homenews/house/398224-schiff-surveillance-warrant-docs-show-that-nunes-memo-misrepresented-and

Not Sure Where Trump’s Russia Diplomacy Goes? Yet It Could Easily Eclipse the Barack Obama Diplomacy and Hillary Clinton’s Reset Button and E-Mail Give Away…

July 16, 2018

Many Americans are tired of Putin’s Russia getting the best of the U.S. Russia stole Crimea away while everyone was looking, started a war in Ukraine, Invaded Syria and broke every promise it ever made.

Russia shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 due to ineptitude or just unvarnished meanness.

The Issues for President Trump in Helsinki couldn’t be bigger.

He has tried to downplay expectations.

But like most Americans, out expectations here at Peace and Freedom were very low already.

Related:

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The now famous reset button caper: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after she gave him a device with red knob during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) …. Reset was misspelled to the Russian word for “overcharge.”

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Did Hillary’s email security negligence as U.S. Secretary of State invite Russian cyber meddling?

Hillary Clinton was exonerated for mishandling classified email by:

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Devin Nunes: Indictment of Russians Contains Nothing New, But Leaves Out Attacks on Republicans (Information in the Indictment Was Known 18 Months Ago by The House Intelligence Committee)

July 15, 2018

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Devin Nunes is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

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Hillary Clinton speaking during a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday.

Personal, not secure, “home-brew” email server?

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John Podesta: His password was “password”.

Justice Department hands over classified info to House GOP

June 24, 2018

The Justice Department says it has given House Republicans new classified information related to the Russia investigation after lawmakers had threatened to hold officials in contempt of Congressor even impeach them.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said Saturday the department has partially complied with subpoenas from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees after officials turned over more than a thousand new documents this week.

House Republicans had given the Justice Department and FBI a Friday deadline for all documents, most of which are related to the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation and the handling of its probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails. Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the department asked for more time and they will get it — for now.

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“Our efforts have resulted in the committees finally getting access to information that was sought months ago, but some important requests remain to be completed,” Strong said in a statement.

“Additional time has been requested for the outstanding items, and based on our understanding of the process we believe that request is reasonable. We expect the department to meet its full obligations to the two committees.”

The efforts by the Justice Department over the last week to deliver documents to the House Republicans appear to have at least temporarily diffused a months-long standoff with Congress. Democrats have criticized the multiple document requests, charging that they are intended to discredit the department and distract from or even undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties and whether there was obstruction of justice.

In a letter sent to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., late Friday, the Justice Department said it had that day provided a classified letter to his panel regarding whether the FBI used “confidential human sources” before it officially began its Russia investigation in 2016.

Bolstered by President Trump, Nunes has been pressing the department on an informant who spoke to members of Trump’s campaign as the FBI began to explore the campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump has called the matter “spygate,” though multiple Republicans who have been briefed on the informant have downplayed its significance.In the letter, the Justice Department’s acting assistant director of congressional affairs, Jill Tyson, said Nunes had also asked for transcripts of conversations between confidential human sources and Trump campaign officials. She said the department had referred that request to National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.

Tyson’s letter said the department had also given Nunes materials related to the department’s guidelines under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Republicans have for months questioned whether the department abused that act when prosecutors and agents in 2016 applied for and received a secret warrant to monitor the communications of Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

https://nypost.com/2018/06/24/justice-department-hands-over-classified-info-to-house-gop/

Congressional leaders get briefings on Russia probe

May 25, 2018

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.

Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday’s briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned “nothing particularly surprising,” but declined to go into detail.

Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump’s GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump’s personal and political defense.

President Donald Trump says he wants transparency from everyone involved in the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Trump insisted Wednesday, “what I want is total transparency.” (May 23)

Video:

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe

Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.

“For the record, the president’s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.

The White House said the officials didn’t attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the “president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law” and relaying “the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government,” according to a statement.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.

Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it “spygate” and tweeting Thursday that it was “Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”

It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.

In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t say what he learned, but said he looked forward to the “prompt completion” of the House Intelligence Committee’s work now that they are “getting the cooperation necessary.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.

Nunes and other Republicans already eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation used Trump’s complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.

Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing, but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed that “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”

The statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment afterward.

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.

The Justice Department had rejected Nunes’ original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.

Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.

In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

AP

https://apnews.com/fc99009f9f0b42aba27a87ee0b2d19f2/Congressional-leaders-get-briefings-on-Russia-probe