Posts Tagged ‘House Intelligence Committee’

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

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

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

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

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

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Adam Schiff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bannon says under White House orders not to answer House committee

January 17, 2018

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon Tuesday refused to answer questions from a congressional committee probing the president’s campaign links to Russia, saying he was under orders from the White House not to.

Bannon was quizzed voluntarily behind closed doors by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, the first time he has testified in the probe investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in its bid to influence the 2016 US elections.

It was unlikely to be Bannon’s last such testimony: the New York Times and the Washington Post reported late Tuesday that Bannon has been subpoenaed by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel investigating the same issue.

 

Stephen K. Bannon arrived to testify before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session on Tuesday. CreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

That made Bannon the first person from Trump’s inner circle to receive a grand jury subpoena from Mueller in the probe, which is also looking at whether Trump has tried to obstruct the investigation.

When appearing before the Intelligence Committee, Bannon refused to answer a number of questions, citing “executive privilege” allowing the president to keep information from the public.

“Steve Bannon and his attorney asserted a remarkably broad definition of executive privilege,” Representative Jim Himes, a Democratic member of the committee, said on CNN.

“Now remember, it’s the president who has the executive privilege and so they went back, conferred with the White House, and the White House said that anything that happened, any communications that happened while Steve Bannon was in the White House or during the transition, any communications were off limits,” Himes said.

– ‘Gag order’ –

“There were an awful lot of questions we weren’t able to answer based on this novel theory of executive privilege,” he said.

The committee itself eventually subpoenaed Bannon for refusing to answer its questions, reports said. Still, he again balked after the White House was consulted, said Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.

Bannon “got the same instruction back again. Basically, ‘we don’t care whether it’s under compulsory process or a voluntary basis — we’re instructing you, effectively putting in place a gag rule,'” said Schiff.

The unrestricted testimony of Trump’s estranged political strategist could be explosive: he had a front-row seat as chief executive of the 2016 election campaign in its final months, and as a top policy advisor in the first seven months of the administration.

An incendiary book released last week, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, quoted Bannon as saying that a pre-election meeting involving Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer was “treasonous.”

Wolff, who painted a picture of an erratic and poorly informed president, was given substantial access to the White House during Trump’s first year by Bannon.

A hard-line nationalist who sought to shake up US domestic and foreign policy, Bannon, 64, was forced out as Trump’s chief strategist in August.

His actions since then — most notably supporting the failed Senate campaign of Alabama Republican Roy Moore, but also his comments in the Wolff book — have left him increasingly isolated in conservative circles.

Last week he stepped down from Breitbart News, which he had helped make a powerful conservative force, and he lost the support of the Mercer family, wealthy conservative power brokers.

Underscoring the break, Trump said Bannon had “lost his mind” and branded him “Sloppy Steve” via Twitter.

Steve bannon Being Questioned by House Intelligence Committee

January 16, 2018

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Steve Bannon, the onetime close confidant to President Donald Trump, arrived early Tuesday for his interview before the House Intelligence Committee.

His interview follows his spectacular fall from power after being quoted in a book that he sees the president’s son and others as engaging in “treasonous” behavior for taking a meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign.

In Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” Bannon accuses Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of essentially betraying the nation by meeting with a group of Russian lawyers and lobbyists who they believed were ready to offer “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

More recently, Bannon has said he was not referring to Trump Jr. but rather to Manafort. Wolff stands by his account.

After the book’s release, Trump quickly disavowed “Sloppy Steve Bannon” and argued extensively there was no evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and operatives tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bannon apologized a few days later, but was stripped of his job leading the pro-Trump news site Breitbart News.

Bannon last year had largely avoided the scrutiny of congressional investigators, who instead focused much of their energy on trying to secure interviews with top witnesses like Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

But Bannon played a critical role in the campaign, the presidential transition and the White House — all during times now under scrutiny from congressional investigators looking for possible evidence of a connection between Trump’s operations and Russia.

Bannon recently retained the same lawyer being used by former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House general counsel  Don McGahn . Neither Bannon nor his lawyer immediately responded to a request for comment on Monday.

The House Intelligence Committee is speeding toward a conclusion of its interviews in its Russia investigation. The final result could be marred by partisan infighting, which has some members discussing the probability that Republicans on the panel will issue one set of findings and the Democrats will issue their own report.

Partisan Divisions Emerge Over Future of Congressional Russia Investigations

December 31, 2017

Republicans seek to bring House and Senate probes to an end, while Democrats push for more investigative work

WASHINGTON—As Congress is set to return from the holiday break, sharp differences have emerged between Republicans and Democrats over the next steps in the congressional investigations into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 elections, with Democrats pushing for more investigative work and Republicans seeking to bring the probes to an end.

The chairmen of the two Republican-run investigations—which are separately being conducted by the House and Senate intelligence…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/partisan-divisions-emerge-over-future-of-congressional-russia-investigations-1514721601
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Russia probes in Congress spill into 2018

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The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Republicans are hoping lawmakers will soon wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging almost daily, that seems unlikely.

Three congressional committees are investigating Russian interference and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in any way involved. The panels have obtained thousands of pages of documents from Trump’s campaign and other officials, and have done dozens of interviews.

The probes are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller can prosecute for criminal activity, while Congress can only lay out findings, publicize any perceived wrongdoing and pass legislation to try to keep problems from happening again. If any committee finds evidence of criminal activity, it must refer the matter to Mueller.

All three committees have focused on a June 2016 meeting that Trump campaign officials held in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and others. They are also looking into outreach by several other Russians to the campaign, including involvement of George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this month to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s probe. New threads continue to emerge, such as a recent revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was messaging with WikiLeaks, the website that leaked emails from top Democratic officials during the campaign.

A look at the committees that are investigating, and the status of their work when they return from their Thanksgiving break:

SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE

The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people, including most of those attending the Trump Tower meeting. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and the panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have said they plan to bring in Donald Trump Jr. The president’s son was one of several Trump campaign officials in the meeting.

The committee has looked broadly at the issue of interference, and called in executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, pushing them to take steps to prevent Russian election meddling on their platforms. Warner told The Associated Press the committee is still looking for more information from those companies, which were initially reluctant to cooperate.

Burr has said he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring. He said Monday that he hopes the panel can “at a minimum” release recommendations on election security before next year’s congressional primaries begin.

While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia.

Warner said it is plain there were “unprecedented contacts” as Russians reached out to the Trump campaign but what’s not established is collusion.

“What we don’t know is, is there a there there,” Warner said. “That’s still something I am reserving judgement on.”

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HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE

In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. Nunes stepped back from the Russia probe in April after criticism that he was too close to the White House, but remains chairman of the committee.

Some Republicans on the panel have grown restless with the probe, saying it has amounted to a fishing expedition and pushing for it to end. Still, the committee has continued to interview dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, among them several participants in the 2016 meeting.

The top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was scheduled to come before the committee this week, likely answering questions behind closed doors about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians, and also his own contacts.

The panel has also scheduled an interview Thursday with Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a supporter of Trump’s campaign. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Prince was involved in a secret meeting in the United Arab Emirates in January with a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin.

Prince’s interview will be behind closed doors but the transcript will eventually be released, according to the committee.

Schiff said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon.

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SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. But as in the House, the panel has proceeded anyway, conducting bipartisan, closed-door interviews with several people who were in the 2016 meeting.

The panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. The committee is the only one to have interviewed Trump Jr. And just before the Thanksgiving break, it sent Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a letter asking him to be more forthcoming with the committee.

Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. Along with the other committees, Judiciary is also looking into a dossier of allegations about Trump’s own connections to Russia.

It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.

FILE – In this Nov. 1, 2017, file photo, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, speaks next to Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian election activity and technology on Capitol Hill in Washington. As Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break, some Republicans would like to wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging on an almost daily basis, that timeline seems unlikely. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 24, 2017, file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., center, standing with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., left, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. As Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break, some Republicans would like to wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging on an almost daily basis, that timeline seems unlikely. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

FILE – In this June 21, 2017, file photo, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill in Washington. As Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break, some Republicans would like to wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging on an almost daily basis, that timeline seems unlikely. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Bannon and Lewandowski Are Asked to Testify to House Russia Investigators

December 22, 2017

Bloomberg

By Billy House

 Updated on 
  • House Intelligence panel’s Russia probe sent invites this week
  • Committee sent voluntary invitation for closed-door interviews
Steve Bannon

Photographer: Nicole Craine/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have been asked to testify to House lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Both men were sent letters this week by the House Intelligence Committee asking them to testify in early January, according to an official familiar with the panel’s schedule.

The committee hasn’t yet received a response from either Bannon or Lewandowski. The invitation, which didn’t come in the form of a subpoena compelling them to testify, was for a “voluntary interview” in the committee’s offices, which means it would be held behind closed doors, the official said.

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Corey Lewandowski

The letter doesn’t lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but it makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation.

Bannon, who worked as Trump’s top strategist during the campaign and for several months in the White House, hasn’t been publicly accused of any wrongdoing.

Bannon was a key member of Trump’s team when the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey.

Your Guide to Understanding the Trump-Russia Saga: QuickTake Q&A

During the campaign, Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, met with the House Intelligence probe earlier this month. Nix faced questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Lewandowski’s Role

Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager on June 20, 2016, and replaced by Paul Manafort, who has been indicted for money laundering charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Before Lewandowski left, he was among among several senior Trump campaign officials who received communications from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about his outreach to the Russian government, according to published news accounts.

The Washington Post reported last month that court filings show Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski several times to let him know that the Russians were interested in forging a relationship with the campaign.

The Post said that included one message in May 2016, in which Papadopoulos forwarded to Lewandowski an offer of “cooperation” from a Russian with links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Is this something we want to move forward with?” he asked. There was no indication of how Lewandowski responded, wrote the Post. Lewandowski has said publicly he doesn’t recall whether he received emails from Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in early October to lying to federal agents about his outreach to Russia.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-22/bannon-lewandowski-said-to-be-asked-to-testify-to-house-probe

Mueller Probe Gets Employees’ Emails From Trump Campaign Data Operation

December 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report: Fusion GPS Paid Senior Justice Department Official’s Wife During 2016 Campaign

December 12, 2017

Breitbart

Fusion GPS, the firm behind the Trump dossier, paid the wife of a senior Justice Department official during the 2016 election, a Fox News report revealed on Monday.

The senior Justice Department official is Bruce Ohr, who was demoted last week, just before Fox News reported that he had met with dossier author Christopher Steele during the campaign, and with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson after the election.

He was demoted for not disclosing those meetings to the Justice Department, according to Fox News.

Until last week, Ohr was both associate deputy attorney general, putting him four doors down from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. Ohr was removed from his first title just a day before Fox News reported on his meetings with Fusion GPS.

“The Department of Justice has provided no public explanation for Ohr’s demotion. Officials inside the Department have told Fox News his wearing of two hats was ‘unusual,’ but also confirm Ohr had withheld his contacts with the Fusion GPS men from colleagues at the DOJ,” according to Fox News.

It is not exactly clear yet what Ohr’s wife, Nellie H. Ohr, did for Fusion GPS, but the payments to a senior Justice Department official’s wife — in addition to his meetings — raises significant questions about the relationship between the Obama Justice Department and a firm hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to conduct political opposition research against Trump.

Ohr’s wife was paid by Fusion GPS through the summer and fall of 2016, the House intelligence committee confirmed to Fox News. Although it is not exactly clear what she did for Fusion GPS, a review of her published works show that she has written extensively on Russia-related subjects.

Ohr worked as a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, a decade ago. An open-source review of her work showed she has also reviewed a number of books about Russia.

Although Steele, a former British spy and longtime FBI informant, is said to have known Ohr for a decade, and an “initial investigation” suggested that Steele might have introduced Ohr to Fusion GPS’s Simpson, the revelation that his wife worked for Simpson now calls that account into question.

The web of relationships casts an even darker cloud of suspicion over the Obama Justice Department’s involvement with Fusion GPS.

House investigators are trying to figure out whether the Obama Justice Department used the dossier to launch an investigation on the Trump campaign, obtain a warrant to spy on one of its members, and perhaps pay for or help produce the dossier.

Steele provided the dossier to the FBI in July 2016, the same month that the FBI began a counterintelligence probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The dossier was also shopped around to journalists before the election, but was not published, due to news outlets’ inability to verify its salacious claims, which included that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia during the campaign. After being published by Buzzfeed, it has been used by President Trump’s political enemies to discredit his election.

House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox News that it “is looking into all facets of the connections between the Department of Justice and Fusion GPS, including Mr. Ohr.”

Trump’s political opponents have cast revelations about the murky ties between Fusion GPS and the Obama Justice Department merely as a political attempt to discredit their collusion narrative.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/12/11/report-fusion-gps-paid-senior-justice-department-officials-wife-during-2016-campaign/

Let Mueller Keep Digging

December 12, 2017

The special counsel’s team raises questions about its own fairness and impartiality.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray is sworn in during a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo-Carolyn Kaster)

At a moment when the special counsel’s team is busy calling its own fairness and impartiality into question, why would Donald Trump even think of firing Robert Mueller ?

When the special counsel picked his team, almost half the lawyers he selected had donated to Hillary Clinton. Legally that may not be disqualifying. It was, however, highly imprudent for a man presiding over the nation’s most sensitive investigation. Not a single Mueller prosecutor had contributed to Mr. Trump.

Those donations now provide the context for more recent revelations about the partisan preferences of Team Mueller. Start with the lead FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary text messages with his mistress, an FBI lawyer named Lisa Page —who was then also working for Mr. Mueller. Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, not only attended Mrs. Clinton’s election-night soiree but turns out to have cheered an Obama holdover at the Justice Department, Sally Yates, for her refusal to carry out a presidential order. Meanwhile we learn that a senior Justice official, Bruce Ohr, met with both Trump dossier author Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson during the 2016 campaign—and that his wife worked for Fusion GPS.

These developments, alas, have encouraged two horrible responses from Republicans. The first is the call for Mr. Trump to sack Mr. Mueller, an idea news reports say is gaining traction inside the White House. The other is for a new special counsel to investigate the existing special counsel.

Robert S. Mueller.
Robert S. Mueller. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/UIG VIA BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

Either would make a bad situation worse. If the president fires Mr. Mueller now, it will look as though he has something to hide; if another special counsel is appointed, it will further diminish the proper investigative authority here—i.e., Congress. There are better ways forward.

Start with the president. If it’s true that there is no obstruction or Russian collusion, his overriding interest lies in full transparency. In a recent piece for National Review, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy asks why Mr. Trump doesn’t just order the declassification of material such as the FBI’s application for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants to wiretap Trump associates, so Americans can see for themselves whether the FBI used or misused information from the infamous Steele dossier. Good question.

My colleague Kim Strassel has suggested the president might create a temporary position at Justice for an appointee whose only job would be to ensure Justice and FBI compliance with congressional oversight. Again, a good idea. But even without a point man, Mr. Trump as president has the authority to declassify documents and have information made public.

Here Donald Sr. might follow the example of Donald Jr. Back in July, amid reports that he met with a Russian after being offered dirt on Mrs. Clinton, the first son released his email exchanges. He was similarly forthcoming last month, releasing his direct-message exchanges with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after news broke they had been in touch.

Then there’s Congress, which has been rightly frustrated to find the Trump Justice Department as obstructionist as the Obama Justice Department. In testimony last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray advanced the extraordinary claim he can hold back information from the elected representatives of the American people on the grounds that it is classified or that he’s waiting for an inspector general’s report and so, presumably, should they.

The message for Congress is this: Why should an FBI director take you seriously when you don’t take yourselves seriously? During the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner rode off into the sunset without testifying because Congress allowed the Obama Justice Department to determine her fate. Ditto for John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner who happily served out his time when Congress should have impeached him for his falsehoods and obstructionism.

In its 1821 decision affirming the right of the House to hold people in contempt and jail them, the Supreme Court noted that depriving Congress of this authority would mean “the total annihilation of the power of the House of Representatives” to prevent people from just flipping it the bird. Isn’t that just what government officials from Ms. Lerner to Mr. Wray have been doing?

If executive branch officials continue to play games with subpoenas, Congress needs to give them a taste of the legislature’s powers, whether by cutting agency budgets, impeaching directors or holding uncooperative officials in contempt. In this regard it’s good to know Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is still pursuing contempt citations for Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. A contempt vote by the full House would of course depend on Speaker Paul Ryan, who complained in October about FBI “stonewalling.”

So forget firings and new special prosecutors. Let the president use his executive authority to make public the evidence that would tell the American people what really happened. And let Congress start acting like the coequal branch of government the Founders intended—and get to the bottom of a story that involves the legitimacy of the presidency, the 2016 election and our federal institutions.

Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

Appeared in the December 12, 2017, print edition.

Includes video:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/let-mueller-keep-digging-1513035975

CNN Botches Major ‘Bombshell’ Alleging Contacts Between Don Jr. And WikiLeaks

December 9, 2017

By Chuck Ross

CNN misreported key details of an offer made to Donald Trump Jr. last year of a batch of stolen Wikileaks documents.

The story, which CNN published on Friday and covered extensively on TV, was touted as the first evidence that the Trump campaign was given a heads-up about documents stolen from Democrats.

But the story appears to have been riddled with errors, while also lacking key context.

Perhaps the most jarring error in the CNN report is the date on which Trump Jr. was sent the email. The network reported that a person named Mike Erickson emailed Trump Jr. and others on the Trump campaign on Sept. 4, 2016, with a link to Wikileaks documents as well as a decryption key to access them.

The email also offered access to emails that had been stolen from former Sec. of State Colin Powell, according to CNN.

But a copy of the email provided to The Daily Caller shows that Erickson sent the email on Sept. 14.

That date is significant because WikiLeaks had released a batch of stolen documents on Sept. 13. The group touted its release of the DNC documents, which were published by Guccifer 2.0.

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The email shows that Erickson messaged Trump Jr. stating that “Wikileaks has uploaded another (huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC.”

“It is too big for me to send you by e-mail attachments, but you can download it yourselves,” he added, providing a link to the same website cited by Wikileaks the day before.

He also included a link to a decryption key that could be used to access the documents.

Michael Erickson email to Donald Trump Jr., Sept. 14, 2016.

The Washington Post first reported on the true date and wording of the Erickson email.

The site that Erickson linked to leads to a page where a file with the same file name referenced in the Wikileaks tweet could be downloaded.

Screen grab of the website linked to by Michael Erickson.

Powell’s emails were also published online on Sept. 13. DC Leaks, a group that has been affiliated with the Russian government, published the documents online. The group granted access to the documents to several news organizations, including The Daily Caller. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Colin Powell’s Emails Hacked, Published Online)

How CNN got its report so wrong is unclear.

The article states that its information was based on a read-out of the Trump Jr. email provided by multiple sources, none of who are identified. Trump Jr.’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, speculated on Friday that the source was on the Democratic side of the House Intelligence Committee, which interviewed Trump Jr. earlier this week.

The spokesman for the committee Democrats did not respond to a request for comment.

Erickson also appears not to be a super-secret Kremlin agent. The Post identified him as the president of an aviation management company.

Attempts made by The Daily Caller to contact him were unsuccessful.

Futerfas, the lawyer for Trump Jr., said that the real estate executive received “tons of unsolicited emails” during the campaign.

“The email was never read or responded to — and the House Intelligence Committee knows this,” he said in a statement.

“This email arrived after published media reports disclosed 12 hours earlier that hacked documents had been posted. The suggestion that this information was not public is false.”

Futerfas blasted the House Intelligence Committee over what he says is its leak of the story.

“It is profoundly disappointing that members of the House Intelligence Committee would deliberately leak a document, with the misleading suggestion that the information was not public, when they know that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Trump Jr. read or responded to the email,” he said.

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http://dailycaller.com/2017/12/08/cnn-botches-major-bombshell-alleging-contacts-between-don-jr-and-wikileaks/

Obstruction of Congress — Justice Department, FBI and the “Deep State”

December 8, 2017
 Mueller, the Justice Department and the FBI aren’t helping the lawmakers’ probe.
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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller departing Capitol Hill on June 21.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller departing Capitol Hill on June 21. PHOTO: ANDREW HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The media echo chamber spent the week speculating about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller can or will nab President Trump on obstruction-of-justice charges. All the while it continues to ignore Washington’s most obvious obstruction—the coordinated effort to thwart congressional probes of the role law enforcement played in the 2016 election.

The news that senior FBI agent Peter Strzok exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary text messages with another FBI official matters—though we’ve yet to see the content. The bigger scandal is that the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mr. Mueller have known about those texts for months and deliberately kept their existence from Congress. The House Intelligence Committee sent document subpoenas and demanded an interview with Mr. Strzok. The Justice Department dodged, and then leaked.

The department also withheld from Congress that another top official, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, was in contact with ex-spook Christopher Steele and the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS. It has refused to say what role the Steele dossier—Clinton-commissioned oppo research—played in its Trump investigation. It won’t turn over files about its wiretapping.

And Mr. Mueller—who is well aware the House is probing all this, and considered the Strzok texts relevant enough to earn the agent a demotion—nonetheless did not inform Congress about the matter. Why? Perhaps Mr. Mueller feels he’s above being bothered with any other investigation. Or perhaps his team is covering for the FBI and the Justice Department.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, he stressed that he wanted a probe with “independence from the normal chain of command.” Yet the Mueller team is made up of the same commanders who were previously running the Trump show at the Justice Department and the FBI, and hardly distant from their old office.

Andrew Weissmann, Mr. Mueller’s deputy, is chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section and was once FBI general counsel. Until Mr. Strzok’s demotion, he was a top FBI counterintelligence officer, lead on the Trump probe. Michael Dreeben is a deputy solicitor general. Elizabeth Prelogar, Brandon Van Grack, Kyle Freeny, Adam Jed, Andrew Goldstein —every one is a highly placed, influential lawyer on loan from the Justice Department. Lisa Page —Mr. Strzok’s mistress, with whom he exchanged those texts—was on loan from the FBI general counsel’s office.

Does anyone think this crowd intends to investigate Justice Department or FBI misdeeds? To put it another way, does anyone think they intend to investigate themselves? Or that they’d investigate their longtime colleagues— Andrew McCabe, or Mr. Ohr or Mr. Strzok? Or could we instead just acknowledge the Mueller team has enormous personal and institutional interests in justifying the actions their agencies took in 2016—and therefore in stonewalling Congress?

The Strzok texts raise the additional question of whether those interests extend to taking down the president. Mr. Strzok was ejected from Team Mueller for exhibiting anti-Trump, pro-Clinton behavior. By that standard, one has to wonder how Mr. Mueller has any attorneys left.

Judicial Watch this week released an email in which Mr. Weissmann gushed about how “proud and in awe” he was of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for staging a mutiny against the Trump travel ban. Of 15 publicly identified Mueller lawyers, nine are Democratic donors—including several who gave money to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Jeannie Rhee defended the Clinton Foundation against racketeering charges, and represented Mrs. Clinton personally in the question of her emails. Aaron Zebley represented Justin Cooper, the Clinton aide who helped manage her server. Mr. Goldstein worked for Preet Bharara, whom Mr. Trump fired and who is now a vigorous Trump critic. The question isn’t whether these people are legally allowed (under the Hatch Act) to investigate Mr. Trump—as the left keeps insisting. The question is whether a team of declared Democrats is capable of impartially investigating a Republican president.

Some want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clean house, although this would require firing a huge number of career Justice Department lawyers. Some want Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller—which would be counterproductive. Some have called for a special counsel to investigate the special counsel, but that way lies infinite regress.

There is a better, more transparent way. Mr. Sessions (or maybe even Mr. Trump) is within rights to create a short-term position for an official whose only job is to ensure Justice Department and FBI compliance with congressional oversight. This person needs to be a straight shooter and versed in law enforcement, but with no history at or substantial ties to the Justice Department or FBI.

It would be a first, but we are in an era of firsts. Congress is the only body with an interest and ability to get the full story of 2016 to the public, thereby ending this drama quickly. But that requires putting an end to the obstruction.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

Appeared in the December 8, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/obstruction-of-congress-1512691791

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The Threat of a Deep State Is Real. No, Really.

POLITICS FEATURES DEEP STATE

The Threat of a Deep State Is Real. No, Really.

It wasn’t too long ago that if you saw something like this, you could write it off, because it came out of the mouth of someone like Alex Jones or G. Gordon Liddy—someone you’d have to make an active effort to discover and follow. Such rhetoric was so far underground that odds were you’d never come across it in the first place, but here we have it in primetime:

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To be clear, the FBI isn’t “out of control.” And the FBI isn’t “a threat to you, and every American.” What Mr. Tucker Carlson means is the FBI is a threat to the Trump administration.

So that’s the one hand: The FBI is a dark-handed, deep-state political op being run by [this part not made clear but I assume it involves Schumer, Podesta, Soros, and Hillary Clinton] in order to dismantle the Trump agenda at any cost. Not only that, but in Mr. Carlson’s world, the FBI has also already broken the law in its investigation of Trump.

(At this time, I’d like to point out to Mr. Carlson that the FBI isn’t actually investigating Donald Trump; Special Counsel Robert Mueller is, as an independent agent of the Department of Justice outside the FBI.)

A major news network that millions of people take as gospel is saying our existing federal law enforcement apparatus is a secret police force. And if we can’t trust the people in charge of administering the law, then we can’t trust those administrations. Everything the FBI (DOJ) does (against Trump) should be not merely questioned, but rejected outright with great urgency: The agency is out of control.

I don’t think we should accept everything a law enforcement official says as gospel, but I also don’t advocate peddling ego meth in the form of batshit conspiracies not so subtly intended to sow the seeds of legitimizing future violence against the state. The rhetoric might not lead to disastrous consequences, but there’s a good chance it might.

This is one of the consequences of electing a birther. Conspiracy theories have made it into the news. We’ve already seen a conspiratorial fascination with the “deep state,” which has branched this latest volley of insanity. That phrase, “deep state,” still sounds ridiculous to me, something a guy wearing a loupe says to you while he slides an inspirational poster off his basement wall to show off his safe full of commemorative moon landing coins, which he says he can sell you cheap because the moon landing was fake.

Or something this guy says to you.

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