Posts Tagged ‘intelligence community’

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…

Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts discuss others ‘leaking like mad’ ahead of Russia investigation: Report

September 13, 2018

A newly released series of text messages from former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — the pair involved in an extramarital affair and shared texts critical of President Trump — show that others may have been “leaking like mad” ahead of the federal Russia probe, a new report says.

“Oh, remind me to tell you tomorrow about the times doing a story about the rnc hacks,” Page said to Strzok in a December 2016 conversation, according to Fox News.

“And more than they already did? I told you Quinn told me they pulling out all the stops on some story…,” Strzok said in response, likely referring to Richard Quinn who worked as the chief of the Media and Investigative Publicity Section in the Office of Public Affairs.

“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad,” Strzok said in a subsequent text. “Scorned and worried, and political, they’re kicking into overdrive.”

[Trump: FBI, DOJ doing ‘nothing’ in response to Strzok text on ‘media leak strategy’]

Although Strzok didn’t specify whom he was referring to when he said “sisters,” retired FBI special agent and former FBI national spokesperson John Iannarelli suggested it was a reference to another intelligence agency or a federal law enforcement agency, according to Fox News.

On that same day the conversation occurred, multiple news outlets reported that U.S. intelligence officials believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had a direct role and authorized Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The report comes after Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., expressed “grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations” in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this week, reacting to other texts between Strzok and Page were given to Congress.

Meadows is particularly concerned with a text sent on Apr. 10, 2017.

“I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about the media leak strategy with DOJ before you go,” Strzok wrote.

Thar text came a day before the Washington Post reported that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page had been surveilled by the FBI after the agency received a warrant from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a move that has elicited backlash because it partly relied on details included in the unverified and so-called “Trump dossier” that contains damaging information about Trump.

But Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman said the “media leak strategy” was a reference to a DOJ-wide initiative to identify and prevent staff members from disclosing information to the media.

Strzok was a leading official in the FBI’s investigation on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and was also part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation examining Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Strzok was removed from the Mueller team last year and was fired from the FBI in August following his appearance before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees in July, where he said he did not speak to journalists during his time on the Russia probe.

Page resigned from her post in 2018.



Trump Tweets Criticism of FBI, DOJ on ‘Media Leak Strategy’ of Peter Strzok, Lisa Page

September 11, 2018

President Trump lamented on Tuesday that “nothing is being done” to investigate former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his mistress Lisa Page after a report said they had planned a “media leak strategy” to embarrass the president.

“New Strzok-Page texts reveal ‘Media Leak Strategy.’ @FoxNews So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI – but the world is watching, and they get it completely,” the president wrote on his Twitter account.

A report late Monday on Fox News said GOP Rep. Mark Meadows sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to alert him to the actions of Strzok and Page that were revealed in newly released text messages.

“Review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations,” Meadows wrote in the letter.

He said the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee discovered a April 10, 2017, text from Strzok to Page that said: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”

Then, two days later, Strzok reaches out to Page to congratulate her for planting two stories that were critical of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

“Well done, Page,” Strzok wrote.

Meadows’ letter notes that the Washington Post wrote a story on April 11, 2017, about the FBI receiving a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page and that it had convinced a judge there was “probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia.”

The message “should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a sincere desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe,” Meadows wrote in the letter.

Strzok worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into any links between Trump campaign officials and Russia but was removed after text messages between him and Page showed they were critical of the president.

He was fired by the FBI in August.

Page, a former FBI lawyer who had an affair with Strzok, also was removed from Mueller’s team. She has since resigned.



Peter Strzok, Lisa Page conspired to leak anti-Trump stories to mainstream media

September 11, 2018

FBI agent Peter Strzok conspired with his in-house lover to leak anti-Trump stories to the media in spring 2017 when he headed the Russia probe into the Trump campaign, a congressman said on Monday.

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying a House task force had just received a new shipment of Justice Department documents.

By  – The Washington Times – Monday, September 10, 2018

“Our review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at FBI and DOJ,” Mr. Meadows said. “Review of these new documents suggest a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration.”

Mr. Meadows provided an example.

On April 10, 2017, Mr. Strzok text-messaged Lisa Page, his lover and then-FBI counsel, to discuss a “media leak strategy.”

“I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go,” Mr. Strzok said.

Two days later, Mr. Strzok congratulated Ms. Page on two derogatory stories that appeared about Carter Page, a former Trump volunteer whom the FBI was wiretapping.

The Washington Post broke a story about the wiretap on April 11, Mr. Meadows said, which suggested Trumpconnections to Russia.

Mr. Strzok became famous for previously released text messages that showed a strong bias against Mr. Trump. At one point he told Ms. Page he had a plan to “stop” Mr. Trump.

In congressional testimony, Mr. Strzok denied that his bias affected how he conducted the Trump probe, saying that if he wanted to he could have leaked stories to the news media.

The Justice Department fired Mr. Strzok after a scathing inspector general report.

The Meadows letter to the Justice Department was first reported by journalist Sara Carter.

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Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta
FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, testifies before a House Judiciary Committee joint hearing on “oversight of FBI and Department of Justice actions surrounding the 2016 election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 12. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Mr. Meadows told Mr. Rosenstein that the new discoveries should prompt the Justice Department to turn over messages from three other FBI and Justice officials who may have communicated with Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Mr. Meadows also wants communications with Andrew Weissmann, a top deputy to Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller.

The House task force investigating the FBI’s 2016-17 Trump probe is comprised of two of the chamber’s regular committees — Oversight and Government Reform, and Judiciary.

Testifying July 12 before the House task force, Mr. Strzok presented himself as a straight arrow who didn’t let his biases interfere with his 20-plus-year FBI career. He also handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which exonerated her, before quickly pivoting in July 2016 to the Russia-Trump probe.

“Let me be clear unequivocally and under oath, not once in my 26 years of defending our nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took. This is true for the Clinton email investigation, for the investigation into Russian interference and for every other investigation I have worked on. It is not who I am and it is not something I would ever do, period.”

He added, “There is, however, one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI and our lack of bias. In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign.

“This information had the potential to derail and quite possibly defeat Mr. Trump, but the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind. That’s what FBI agents do every single day and that’s why I’m so proud of the bureau.”



The secret documents Republicans want Trump to declassify this week

September 11, 2018

There is growing buzz among Hill Republicans that President Trump will act this week to declassify some key documents in the Trump-Russia investigation. Some in the GOP had hoped the documents would be released weeks ago – they’ve been asking with increasing urgency – but an internal White House debate apparently held that up.

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In any event, there are new GOP hopes that this will be the week. If the White House does act, these are the documents, some or all, that might be released:

1) More of the Carter Page FISA wiretap application. The release of a heavily-redacted version of the secret court application, and subsequent renewals, to wiretap the onetime Trump foreign policy aide has already shown that the FBI relied on the unverified Trump dossier. Now, Republicans want the president to declassify the rest of the application, or, failing that, to release about 20 key pages of it.

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Photo: Carter Page

By Byron York
The Washington Examiner

What is in it? Remember that fired FBI Director James Comey, in an interview with Fox News in connection with his new book, said that, yes, the dossier was included in the Page surveillance request, but that, “My recollection was, it was part of a broader mosaic of facts that were laid before the FISA judge to obtain a FISA warrant.” The 20 or so unreleased pages of the Page FISA application are said to shed light on Comey’s “mosaic” comment – that is, they will purportedly reveal more of the FBI’s reason for wiretapping Page. So far, no one in the public knows what those reasons are.

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2) The Bruce Ohr 302s. It’s possible that the Carter Page documents will be all that are declassified. But if more is released, the Ohr documents might be among them. The 302s refer to the FBI reports of its interviews with top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. Remember that in the fall of 2016, with the presidential campaign going strong, the FBI decided to hire Christopher Steele to search for dirt on candidate Donald Trump. But the FBI had to terminate Steele as a source because he talked to the press. (Steele desperately wanted to help defeat Trump and tried hard to get his dossier allegations into the media.) But once the FBI terminated Steele, the bureau still used him as an informant. The method to do that was to have Steele talk to Ohr, and then Ohr talk to the FBI to pass on what Steele had told him. Those conversations between Ohr and the FBI were memorialized in so-called 302 reports. There are a dozen of them, and Republicans believe they will reveal a lot about what the FBI was doing in the Trump-Russia investigation at the end of the campaign, during the transition, and during the early months of the Trump presidency.

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Bruce Ohr

3) The Gang of 8 documents. This appears to be a grab-bag category referring to evidence the FBI presented to the so-called Gang of 8 – the chair and ranking member of House and Senate intelligence committees plus the majority and minority leader of House and Senate. The documents are said to shed light on what Republicans call “FISA abuse,” but it is not clear what they are.

It’s not certain the president with authorize the declassification of any of this. But if he does, the documents are said to represent a real step forward in the public’s knowledge of the actions of the intelligence community and law enforcement in the Trump-Russia investigation. Just exactly what those actions are might be known by later this week.



In Senate Hearing, Pompeo Defends Trump’s Russia Policy — Talks North Korea, Syria, Crimea

July 26, 2018

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, told skeptical senators on Wednesday that the Trump administration has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow as “proof” it is tough on Russia as the White House walked back an invitation for President Vladimir V. Putin to visit Washington this fall.

Yet during a combative three-hour Senate hearing, Mr. Pompeo repeatedly declined to provide specifics about a one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Mr. Putin last week in Helsinki, Finland — including the possibility of relaxing sanctions on Moscow, military cooperation in Syria or the future of Crimea.

Mr. Pompeo angrily dismissed questions about the deep gulf between the administration’s tough policies on Russia and Mr. Trump’s own warm statements about Mr. Putin.

“You somehow disconnect the administration’s activities from the president’s actions,” Mr. Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They’re one and the same.”


The New York Times

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 25, 2018. Credit Camille Fine/USA TODAY

And for the first time, Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear fuel for its weapons program, even as the administration claims progress toward the goal of denuclearization.

“Yes, they continue to produce fissile material,” he told the committee, using the term for nuclear material that can be used in a bomb.

His testimony amounted to an elaborate cleanup effort by the United States’ top diplomat for Mr. Trump’s performance in Helsinki, during which he cast doubt on his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The meeting with Mr. Putin was followed by a week of halfhearted walk-backs and position shifts that have left many lawmakers questioning Mr. Trump’s ability to be tough with Russia.

Under blistering pressure for details of the talks, Mr. Pompeo shot back: “Presidents are entitled to have private meetings.”

At times, he dismissed Democratic senators’ attempts to elicit answers as politically motivated. “I understand the game that you’re playing,” he told Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, the panel’s top Democrat.

“If President Obama did what President Trump did in Helsinki, I’d be peeling you off the Capitol ceiling,” Mr. Menendez said later.

The criticism came from both parties. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the committee, opened the session by saying that Mr. Trump had been “submissive and deferential” to Mr. Putin in Helsinki, and derided the administration’s foreign policy as an incoherent “ready, fire, aim” approach.

“We are antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill,” Mr. Corker said. “It’s the president’s actions that create tremendous distrust in our nation, among our allies — it’s palpable.”

When Mr. Corker pressed him on what motivates the president to “purposely create distrust in these institutions” by questioning his commitment to NATO or whether Russia attacked the 2016 election, Mr. Pompeo took exception.

“Some of the statements achieve important policy outcomes for the United States,” he said.

“And some,” Mr. Corker replied, “are very damaging.”

In an apparent attempt to accomplish what the president’s own statements had not, Mr. Pompeo came armed with a formal declaration refusing to recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. He insisted to a packed hearing room that the president was “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” and had taken “a staggering number of actions to protect our interests,” calling them “proof” that Mr. Trump was willing to hold Moscow to account.

In one testy exchange with Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, who asked whether Mr. Trump’s financial ties with Russia could be driving foreign policy, Mr. Pompeo began reciting a litany of actions the administration has taken against Moscow, offering to send a full list to the committee — including imposing sanctions, expelling diplomats, closing a consulate and providing weapons to Ukraine, where the military is fighting Russia-backed separatists.

“We’ll back a truck up and get it on in here,” Mr. Pompeo said with a glare.

Just before the hearing began, the White House announced it was delaying an invitation to Mr. Putin to meet with Mr. Trump this fall in Washington. A statement by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, said the follow-up meeting between the two presidents should take place at the conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference — “after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year.”

Russian officials had not yet committed to the invitation.

In his testimony, Mr. Pompeo sought but fell short of assuring senators that the United States would never acknowledge Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He did not directly answer whether sanctions to punish Russia for seizing the Ukrainian peninsula would remain in place in perpetuity.

Instead, Mr. Pompeo repeatedly restated United States policy, saying that after the Helsinki summit meeting, the stance on sanctions “remains completely unchanged,” and that “no commitment has been made to change those policies.” But he did not speak to whether Mr. Trump had signaled any willingness to reconsider or modify them.

Mr. Menendez told Mr. Pompeo that American citizens and their elected officials have heard more about what happened in the closed-door Helsinki meeting from Moscow than from their own president.

“We don’t know what the truth is because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” Mr. Menendez said.

On the election interference in particular, Mr. Pompeo told the committee that the president accepts the findings that the Russian cyberattacks took place and that he “has a complete and proper understanding of what happened.”

“I know — I briefed him on it for over a year,” Mr. Pompeo said, referring to his time as C.I.A. director.

He insisted that Mr. Trump deeply respects the work of the intelligence community — a notion the president left in doubt in Helsinki when he said he had to weigh its assertions about election interference against Mr. Putin’s strong denials that it took place.

Mr. Pompeo spent much of the hearing attempting to convince senators it that it was the Trump administration’s policies — not the president’s own words — that mattered. At times, under questioning from the lawmakers, that meant the secretary of state contradicted Mr. Trump.

That was the case when it came to Mr. Trump’s frequent complaints that NATO allies have been delinquent in paying their bills to the United States — a mischaracterization that Mr. Corker called out.

“That’s a misnomer, is it not?” Mr. Corker said. “These NATO countries are not not paying bills to the United States, as sometimes is projected.”

Mr. Pompeo agreed. “That’s correct,” he said.

At another point, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, asked whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had discussed scaling back American military presence in Syria. Mr. Pompeo repeated that “there’s been no change to U.S. policy.”

“That’s not exactly the question,” Ms. Shaheen responded.

“It’s what matters,” Mr. Pompeo answered back testily. “What matters is what President Trump has directed us to do following his meeting.”

But he later conceded that Mr. Trump’s words reflect United States policy.

“It is the case that the president calls the ball,” Mr. Pompeo said. “His statements are, in fact, policy.”

Mr. Pompeo’s decision to concede that American intelligence agencies believe North Korea is still producing nuclear fuel was significant.

It runs counter to the narrative that Mr. Trump has been pressing, one in which the North is making good progress on its promises to him in the June summit meeting in Singapore. The acknowledgment of continued nuclear production suggests that even as the negotiations inch forward, the magnitude of the problem is increasing.

For Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, the continued production of nuclear material may be a pressure tactic. The C.I.A. — which Mr. Pompeo headed last year — believes that Mr. Kim will never give up all of his nuclear ability, but may negotiate a reduction in parts of it.

Dan Coats walks back “awkward response” to news that President Donald Trump was planning a second summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin

July 22, 2018

U.S. Director of Intelligence Dan Coats said his “awkward response” to news that President Donald Trump was planning a second summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin was in no way meant to “disrespect or criticize the actions of the president.”

While taking questions at the Aspen Institute in Colorado for the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Coats was informed by NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell that Trump had invited Putin to the White House.

“Say that again,” Coats responded, laughing. “Did I hear you? OK, that’s going to be special.” (RELATED: Dan Coats Finds Out Putin Is Coming To White House During Live Interview)

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Coats walked back his remarks in a statement issued Saturday.

“Some press coverage has mis-characterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview. My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president,” Coats said.

“I and the entire intel community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize dangerous regimes and protect our nation and our allies.”

Trump has been under fire since his meeting with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, where he cast doubt on U.S. intelligence officials who believe that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential elections.

“People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others — they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said during the joint press conference with Putin on Monday. “I have president Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

After intense backlash for his comment, Trump later insisted he misspoke, saying instead he had no reason to believe “it wouldn’t be Russia” who interfered, he said Tuesday.

“Obviously I wished he had made a different statement, but I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that,” Coats, who was in Aspen as the Helsinki visit was taking place, said regarding Trump’s remarks.

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Coats Says He Meant No Disrespect to Trump With Putin Response

July 22, 2018

The top U.S. intelligence official said Saturday he meant no disrespect to President Donald Trump in a televised interview discussing the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said his Thursday comments at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado were not intended to be critical of the president’s decision to invite Putin to a meeting in Washington later this year.

 Updated on 
Dan Coats.  Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

“Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Coats said. “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president.”

Coats has been under scrutiny since he said he wished Trump had not met one-on-one with the Russian leader and expressed dismay that the president had publicly undermined U.S. intelligence agencies.

Coats issued a rare statement rebutting the president’s Monday comments during a press conference with Putin doubting the findings of the intelligence community on Russian election interference. White House aides were fearful that the former lawmaker might resign over the president’s comments, and the president spoke positively of Coats in a television interview Wednesday. But Coats’ display of surprise upon learning that Trump had invited Putin to Washington this fall for a follow-on meeting drew the president’s ire.

“Say that again,” Coats said, cupping his hand over his ear on live television. He took a deep breath and continued: “OK. That’s going to be special.”

Coats also revealed in the interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he was unaware of what transpired in the private meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki, and restated without equivocation his belief that Russia continues to pose a threat to the American electoral system.

“Basically, they are the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values and divide with our allies,” Coats said of Russia. “They are the ones who are trying to wreak havoc over our election process.”

Coats, who oversees the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies, also said that if he had been asked, he would have advised Trump against meeting Putin alone, with just interpreters.

“That’s not my role. That’s not my job. It is what it is,” Coats said.

The statement Saturday from Coats, more than 48 hours after the initial interview, capped a week of public walk backs by the Trump administration relating to Russia.

Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s culpability for interference in 2016 — though he later tried to “clarify” his remarks a day later — sparked bipartisan condemnation in Washington and sparked congressional lawmakers to look once again for ways to tighten sanctions on the longtime U.S. foe.

Coats, a former GOP senator from Indiana, has until this week been a largely invisible figure in Trump’s Cabinet. Earlier in the administration, his voice was drowned out by the more outspoken Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director before Trump tapped him as secretary of state. Now with Pompeo heading the State Department, Coats has been thrust into the limelight as the voice of the intelligence community.


Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed from Aspen, Colorado.


In His Latest Account of His Meeting With Putin, Trump Says He Laid Down the Law

July 19, 2018

President Trump sowed even more confusion on Wednesday over his recent meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin, insisting after a day of conflicting statements about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election that he had actually laid down the law with Mr. Putin.

“I let him know we can’t have this,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “CBS Evening News.” “We’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

But that statement was almost completely at odds with how the president has characterized the meeting with Mr. Putin on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, and it contradicted an answer he appeared to give when asked earlier in the day if he believed Russia was still interfering in American elections and he said, “No.”

The White House claimed Mr. Trump had yet again been misunderstood. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said the president had said “no” only to whether he would take questions during a cabinet meeting, not to whether Russia was still interfering.

By Mark Landler and Eileen Sullivan
The New York Times
July 18, 2018

President Donald Trump said he doesn’t believe Russia still targets the United States ahead of a July 18, 2018, Cabinet meeting. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

“We believe that the threat still exists,” she said, “which is why we are taking steps to prevent it.”

It was the second day of reversals and semantic hairsplitting in Mr. Trump’s statements about Russia — on Tuesday, he said that he had meant to say at a news conference in Helsinki that he disagreed with a statement by Mr. Putin, not that he agreed with it — and it only deepened the mystery of what exactly Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had talked about during a two-and-a-half-hour session in Finland when only their interpreters were in the room with them.

Democrats demanded that Mr. Trump’s State Department interpreter be summoned to Capitol Hill to testify about what the president said, a prospect that seemed unlikely, given the lack of Republican support. But Republicans also hardened their criticism of Mr. Trump, with lawmakers expressing anger and incredulity at his shifting statements.

Mr. Trump has been consistent in some respects. In his CBS interview, he delivered yet another broadside against prominent veterans of the intelligence community, referring to a former director of the C.I.A., John O. Brennan, as a “total lowlife,” and suggesting that someone had gotten to James R. Clapper, a former director of national intelligence.

But Mr. Trump tried to dispel perceptions of a rift between him and the current national intelligence director, Dan Coats, who has warned of Russia’s continuing efforts to meddle in American elections. Mr. Trump said Mr. Coats was doing an “excellent job,” as was the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel.

“When they tell me something, it means a lot,” Mr. Trump said. Of Mr. Coats, the president said, “He’s a great guy and a great patriot who loves his country, and he’s only going to say what he believes.”

That was a shift from Monday, when Mr. Trump, standing next to Mr. Putin, said Mr. Coats had expressed his views about Russia’s culpability but Mr. Trump had found the Russian leader’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial more persuasive.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” he said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

After his words set off a cascade of criticism, Mr. Trump claimed that he had misspoken as a result of his failed attempt to use a double negative when he was answering a question about whether he believed Mr. Putin or American intelligence agencies.

The next reversal came Wednesday during a cabinet meeting, when reporters and photographers jostled on the other side of a long table from Mr. Trump. After a series of statements from cabinet officials and the president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, press aides began ordering reporters to leave the room — and one asked Mr. Trump if he believed that Russia was still targeting American elections.

“No,” Mr. Trump said, going on to say he had been tough on Russia — a fact, he said, the news media consistently failed to report.

While these encounters, known as pool sprays, are hectic and sometimes confusing — with cross talk and background noise — Mr. Trump seemed to be responding to a question about Russia rather than a general request to take questions.

Regardless, the constantly changing stories frayed nerves among Republicans.

Speaking before Mr. Trump’s interview on CBS was aired, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that he was “dumbfounded” by the president’s latest denial. “We need to reconcile the difference between him and the intelligence community,” he said. “I agree with the intelligence community. Tell me why I’m wrong, Mr. President.”

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he had no reason to doubt the warnings from intelligence agencies about November’s midterm elections. “He ought to look at the intelligence,” Mr. Burr, a Republican, said of Mr. Trump.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said Mr. Trump’s rejection of American intelligence put the country’s security at risk.

“This president continuing to deny the reality of our country under assault by Russia and other parties, it raises questions not only about Trump’s credibility but his commitment to our nation’s security,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Trump also came under sharp criticism for discussing an agreement with Mr. Putin under which Russian authorities would be allowed to question several American citizens it claims were involved in illegal dealings with a London-based financier and longtime critic of Mr. Putin, William F. Browder.

On Monday, Mr. Trump said Mr. Putin had made an “incredible” offer: to allow the special counsel in the Russia inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III, to interview 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted last week on a charge of hacking the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 Clinton campaign, in return for access to these Americans.

Among the names on the list, a Russian official told the Interfax news agency, is that of Michael A. McFaul, who served as American ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. Mr. McFaul was sharply critical of the Russian government during his posting in Moscow, and has continued to speak and write regularly about Mr. Putin.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Ms. Sanders said Wednesday. “The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Mr. McFaul, a Stanford professor and Russia expert, said he knows Mr. Browder but has never had business with him, and found the idea advanced by Mr. Putin as “absolutely outrageous.”

“What they’re doing is allowing a moral equivalency between a legitimate indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for interfering in our election with a cockamamie, crazy story that it sounds like Putin spun to our president in Helsinki,” Mr. McFaul said.

As a legal matter, Mr. Trump has no authority to force Mr. McFaul or any other American to face Russian questioning. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, and under a mutual legal assistance treaty between the countries, the Justice Department can reject any request relating to a case it deems politically motivated — a status it has long given to Russia’s case against Mr. Browder.

Still, diplomats and other former officials said the mere fact that Mr. Trump discussed such an arrangement with the leader of a hostile power could put other American diplomats serving in dangerous posts at risk.

“The so-called deal apparently suggested in Helsinki is a classic Putin diversion,” said William J. Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and a deputy secretary of state. “It is a deeply cynical dodge, in no way aimed at cooperation on the very serious matter of Russia’s interference in our political system, which last Friday’s indictments detail so powerfully.”

“It would be truly appalling if the White House were even to consider the Russian ploy of proposing an interview of Mike McFaul, who served our country with honor as ambassador to Russia,” said Mr. Burns, who is now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The White House should knock this idea down flatly, and immediately.”

Maggie Haberman, Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump’s ‘No’ Adds to Swirl Of Confusion