Posts Tagged ‘Justice Department’

Trump’s national emergency order likely to be blocked by courts: DOJ

February 15, 2019

The Justice Department has warned the White House that President Trump’s national emergency declaration will most likely be blocked by courts, a report said Thursday.

The department said the declaration is nearly certain to be blocked, at least on a temporary basis, preventing the president from accessing billions of dollars for his border wall, according to ABC News.

The White House has been preparing to mount a legal effort against possible court challenges.

The emergency order would free up funds that Trump can use to build a massive wall across the US border with Mexico.


Bill Barr’s Hot Mess

February 15, 2019

He arrives at a Justice Department that is in desperate needs of an infusion of credibility.


William Barr, nominee to be US attorney general, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 15, 2019.

William Barr

It’s fitting that William Barr’s confirmation as attorney general happened just as two powerful law-enforcement figures were trading accusations involving President Trump. Mr. Barr’s greatest challenge isn’t antitrust deals, immigration policy or even handling special counsel Robert Mueller. His overriding challenge is to reboot a Justice Department that has shredded its reputation and lost the confidence of Congress and the public.

It’s hard to feel confident in law enforcement when a former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew McCabe, reveals that a small cabal of unelected senior law-enforcement officers held meetings in May 2017 to plot Mr. Trump’s removal from office. In an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Thursday and a forthcoming book, Mr. McCabe says he and other officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, did head-counts of which cabinet officials might vote to declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” under the 25th Amendment. Mr. McCabe claims Mr. Rosenstein repeatedly offered to wear a wire when meeting with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Rosenstein, who’s expected to resign soon, responded Thursday with a Justice Department statement blasting the claims as “factually incorrect” and highlighting that Mr. McCabe was fired for lying to the department’s inspector general. The rest of the statement was pure spin, in which Mr. Rosenstein never denied the McCabe claims.

This doesn’t look good.

Rod Rosenstein  — Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

That’s the Justice Department Mr. Barr arrives to lead—a hot mess of finger-pointing, leaks, planted press narratives, obstruction and extraordinary self-righteousness. Since the FBI presumed to investigate two active presidential campaigns, more than two dozen Justice and FBI officials have been fired, demoted or resigned. Yet no one in authority has acknowledged the mistakes that led to this bloodbath, explained how these institutions failed so spectacularly, or offered a plan for ending the dysfunction.

That’s Mr. Barr’s opening. For the first time in this presidency, the Justice Department will have a leader who is apart from the Russia stink—neither accused of “collusion” nor obsessed with finding it. He’s also uniquely suited to understand the importance of credibility and accountability, having worked in the 1970s at the Central Intelligence Agency, then under intense fire. The first measure of the “independence” Mr. Barr promised in his confirmation hearings will be his ability to assess ruthlessly the institution he’s about to join and come clean with the public on two key questions—the “whether” and the “how” of 2016.

Whether the Justice Department’s and FBI’s most controversial actions were appropriate. Is it acceptable for the FBI to use opposition research as an excuse to surveil a political campaign? To use back channels to stay in touch with sources it fired? To open counterintelligence investigations (as opposed to criminal ones) into political figures? To actively hide those investigations from congressional overseers? To hold meetings about removing presidents? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, Americans deserve to know that this is the brave new world they live in.

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

If not, how did it happen, and how can leaders make sure it never happens again? What protections are there against the clear bias that permeated law enforcement’s upper ranks (Peter Strzok), or insubordination (Jim Comey) or obsessive media cultivation (Mr. McCabe)? What are the lines of authority, and what are the consequences for breaking the rules? How is it (as we learned this week from newly revealed emails) that Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, was able to reach the FBI’s general counsel on the phone? How many Americans get that courtesy? The public will never trust a law-enforcement agency that has different standards for the powerful, or appears to prosecute only in one political direction, or operates as a law unto itself.

This accounting is important for the country, but also for the Justice Department and FBI themselves—and their ability to protect the country. Lawmakers, for instance, remain furious about the abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It’s a bedrock tool for combating terrorism, yet it was stretched for use against American citizens involved in political campaigns. Top Republicans have made clear they will refuse to reauthorize parts of FISA until the Justice Department acknowledges that it overstepped its bounds and explains what reforms it will take.

Mr. Barr may be tempted to fob all this off on the investigations by the U.S. attorney for Utah, John Huber, or the Justice Department inspector general. But Mr. Huber appears to have done little by way of investigation, the inspector general’s report could still be a long way out, and in any event these questions merit answers from the nation’s top legal officer. Mr. Barr needs this job like he needs a hole in the head. But if he spends the next years rebuilding trust in federal law enforcement, he’ll have performed an immense public service.

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McCabe says he launched probe into Trump after Comey firing

February 14, 2019

Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, revealed he launched counterintelligence and obstruction of justice investigations into President Trump and his possible links to Russia after speaking to the commander-in-chief about his firing of James Comey.

McCabe, who was fired by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May 2018, said he wanted the probes documented so that they couldn’t be scuttled without raising red flags.

“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly and reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace. I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground,” McCabe told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an excerpt of the interview that will air Sunday.

“And if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they’d made that decision,” he said in the snippet released Thursday.

McCabe said he was “troubled” by the conversation he had with Trump.

“I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage. And that was something that troubled me greatly,” said McCabe, who was named acting director after Trump fired Comey in May 2017.

The next day, he launched the probes.

“I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward,” he said.

McCabe’s book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” will hit bookstores Tuesday.

McCabe: There were 25th Amendment discussions at DOJ to remove Trump from office

February 14, 2019

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says that after President Trump fired his boss, FBI Director James Comey, there were discussions within the Department of Justice about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

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Last year, the New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment.

McCabe confirmed the report in a new interview with “60 Minutes” host Scott Pelley, who relayed what McCabe told him on “CBS This Morning” Thursday.

“There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment,” Pelley said.

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Norah O’Donnell🇺🇸


.@ScottPelley on what McCabe told @60Minutes: “There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment.”

2,464 people are talking about this

The discussions occurred between the time of Comey’s firing in May of 2017 and the appointment eight days later of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

According to the Times, Rosenstein also suggested that he secretly record Trump in the White House. Rosenstein disputed the account, and a Justice Department official said he made the remark sarcastically. But McCabe told Pelley that Rosenstein’s offer to wear a wire was made more than once and that he ultimately took it to the lawyers at the FBI to discuss.

McCabe, who was named acting director of the bureau after Comey’s firing, launched obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.

He told Pelley he did so in order to preserve the FBI’s Russian probe in case there was an effort by Trump to terminate it.

“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion,” McCabe said. “That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.”

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CBS This Morning


NEW: In his first interview since being fired, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is telling @60Minuteswhy he opened up investigations involving President Trump. @ScottPelley reports:

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McCabe’s comments come ahead of the release of his new book, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” due out next week.

In an excerpt of the book published Thursday in the Atlantic, McCabe describes a phone call he received from Trump on his first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI. According to McCabe, Trump told him that he had “hundreds of messages from FBI people [saying] how happy they are that I fired [Comey].”

“You know — boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying,” Trump said, according to McCabe. “Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?”

McCabe was eventually fired in March 2018, less than two days before he would have collected a full early pension for his FBI career.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED,” Trump tweeted on the day of McCabe’s dismissal. “A great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy.”

Trump has since railed against McCabe dozens of times on Twitter. “He LIED! LIED! LIED! McCabe was totally controlled by Comey – McCabe is Comey!” he exclaimed last April. “No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”

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BuzzFeed Blow-Out: The Media’s ‘Gotcha!’ Hysteria is Harmful to Democracy

January 20, 2019

By lowering journalistic standards, the American press has waged an unrelenting media war against Donald Trump. Often it’s been unfair. But never mind; it sells! And we get lots of “clicks” on social media…. Everybody gets a good laugh….

The Free Press is supposed to govern itself responsibly….


Imagine that a scientist wanted to conduct an experiment to see if it’s true that blind hatred of President Trump has led Democrats and their media handmaidens to go ’round the bend and off the cliff.

Such a scientist would inject a damning — and false — media report about Trump into the political bloodstream, then observe the reactions. It wouldn’t take long.

The Gotcha! glee, the declarations of Trump’s certain impeachment for suborning perjury, reckless references to Richard Nixon, the breathless anticipation of resignation and disgrace, perhaps prison — these and other overheated reactions quickly clogged the airwaves and Internet, growing ever more bold as the day wore on and no compelling rebuttal appeared.

Then, suddenly, the scientist pulled the plug on the experiment. He had seen enough to prove the thesis: Much of America, many of its leaders and some of its most prominent institutions are indeed gripped with madness.

By Michael Goodwin

Hatred for the president has corrupted their judgments and blinded them to duty and decency. Having succumbed to prejudice and rage, they have proven themselves unworthy of public trust.

Case closed.

Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction. Friday was such a day in America. It was a shameful spectacle.

The BuzzFeed News report that special counsel Robert Mueller had corroborating evidence that Trump had instructed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a Moscow commercial project set the anti-Trump mob on fire. It was the bombshell development Dems and 90 percent of the media have dreamed of — and finally it was here. Oh, Happy Days!

Except it wasn’t true. Mueller said so in an unprecedented debunking that slammed the brakes on the celebration.

Mueller’s statement, though brief, was specific and thorough enough to rip out the guts of the report. It said: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this ­office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

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The site’s editor and others called the statement inadequate, but that was wishful thinking. The party was over because prosecutors denied the sensational central claim of the story, that they had gathered evidence beyond doubt that Trump had committed a crime.

While BuzzFeed alone created the false report, which was based, naturally, on anonymous sources, it was not alone in revealing its desire to be rid of Trump. Much of the political class embraced the story without doubts because they wanted it to be true. Dems in Congress instantly pledged investigations.

Then there are the so-called journalists who swallowed the ­report without trying to confirm it themselves. Many touted it as the Holy Grail while inserting the ridiculous phrase, “if it’s true.”

Not so long ago, no respected journalist or news organization would go public with something unless they had enough evidence to reach the conclusion it was true. The bigger the story, the higher the threshold of necessary evidence.

Not Friday. Then the biggest possible story was presented with the least possible evidence. “If it’s true” is an admission of malpractice.

To use it as a shield while reporting an accusation of massive significance violates every conceivable standard. Real journalists do not report something, then caution that it may not be true.

You certainly don’t accuse the president, or anyone else, of a crime unless you are persuaded by evidence it is true.

I have my doubts the media will do the necessary soul searching. As I have argued repeatedly since 2016, too many outlets are too invested in getting the scoop that brings down the president they love to hate. They have trashed their standards, and Friday was the inevitable result.

But there is another possible silver lining emerging from the dark day, and I have more hope this one will make a difference. It is it a recognition that the endless Mueller probe has become a problem of its own making.

It is not healthy that a prosecutor has become like a divine oracle, with the nation’s mood hanging on first his silence, then his statement. The Wizard of Mueller has no place in our democracy.

Such power is too easily abused, and Mueller, whatever his personal and professional virtues, has gotten too big for America’s good.

Fortunately, he will soon have a real and worthy boss. William Barr is almost certain to be the new attorney general, ending a reign of error that began with the hapless Jeff Sessions and continued with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.

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William Barr

Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe because he was a prominent Trump campaign supporter is the bane of the Trump presidency. Rosenstein, for reasons known only to himself and perhaps Mueller, panicked when Trump fired James Comey, the corrupt FBI boss, and decided to appoint a special counsel.

Yet Rosenstein wrote a memo justifying the Comey firing and participated in conversations about it, facts that gave him more conflicts than Sessions ever had. Equally troubling, Rosenstein, a career mid-level prosecutor, proved incapable of properly supervising Mueller, whose reputation and gravitas far exceeded that of his putative boss.

As a result, Mueller has operated without restraint or guidance, with abuses and conflicts of interest on his team swept aside in what too often looks like a determination to knock off a duly elected president.

Barr, I believe, will be the antidote to this destructive situation. He is, as I wrote last week, “a respected adult” who can tame the waters in the Justice Department and get to the bottom of the anti-Trump cabal that has robbed the FBI of its reputation for fair play.

And he will not be a pushover for anyone. Barr, who was AG under the first President Bush, has a first-rate legal mind and a mature self-confidence born of experience, both of which he demonstrated at his confirmation hearings.

“I have a very good life, I love it,” he said in response to a question about his independence, “but I also want to help in this circumstance. I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards, the Congress or the president. I’m going to do what I think is right.”

The comments were widely interpreted as a warning to the president, and they were in some sense. But they were also a warning to anyone in Washington who would abuse power and corrupt key institutions for political purposes, whether in the media, Congress or the FBI.

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Robert Mueller

That includes the special counsel. Mueller is not exempt from the laws of common sense and fairness. When it comes to Trump, he must fish or cut bait.

After nearly two years of investigating, on top of a 10-month FBI probe he inherited, Mueller needs to show his cards. The country cannot continue to thrash about with uncertainty over events that took place three years ago. The void is being filled with partisan trash and dangerous discord.

As Friday proved, America needs clarity and finality, and it needs them now.


Democracy depends on a free press — But the Free Press is supposed to govern itself responsibly

In the summer of 1787, the nation’s most influential lawyers, generals and politicians gathered in Philadelphia with a single purpose: To create a government that was ruled by the people instead of one that ruled them.

The first words of the Constitution underscored this principle: “We, the people, of the United States of America . . .”

To protect the people’s power, our Founding Fathers carefully divided the government into three branches. With this system, no one person or governmental branch could ever rule with absolute authority.

The checks and balances provide a framework for the government. However, the cornerstone of our democracy is the unique privilege and responsibility of every citizen to be engaged through voting, public offices, representation in Congress and myriad other ways.

For a society to be responsible and powerful, it must be informed. Our free press, protected by the first constitutional amendment, plays a critical role in ensuring that every American has constant access to important and trustworthy news.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

As he emphasized, this free flow of information to the public is essential to preserving our American democracy. In addition to educating and reporting, the press serves as the public’s independent watchdog, charged with keeping governments, businesses and other organizations in check.

What other institution has the power to talk to key leaders, inspire social change and uncover corruption, while analyzing and providing context for major global events? Thanks to diligent reporting, citizens are empowered to take a stance on critical issues, enact change and demand the best from their leaders.

Recent headlines have demonstrated that we can’t take the power of the press for granted. After it was revealed this summer that the government secretly obtained AP phone records and the email content of Fox News reporter James Rosen, while also ruling that New York Times reporter James Risen must disclose his confidential sources, it became clear that confidential sources and the integrity of the newsgathering process must also be specifically protected.

Without a free press that can defend its sources, American democracy will suffer. The Newspaper Association of America applauded the vote last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Free Flow of Information Act for vote in the Senate. This bill represents a critical step in preserving the public’s right to know while still ensuring effective law enforcement.

While we celebrate this, we know that news organizations and the government itself comprise only a piece of the equation. To have a strong democracy and educated citizenry, it is up to you to take advantage of your opportunities to be engaged. It is up to you to stay informed by reading newspapers, visiting their websites or accessing their news apps, and up to you to show up at the polls on Nov. 5.

The Constitution was ratified on Sept. 17, a day that we continue to commemorate every year as the birth of our uniquely American government. There is no better way to honor our Constitution and our founding fathers than by exercising our individual right to be informed.


Free Speech in American Democracy

Speech is not entirely free in Europe. There are certain views you are prohibited from publicly expressing there, and they seem to have well-functioning democracies.

Why must we hold to such an absolutist view on free speech? Are we not giving aid and comfort to the opponents of the republic by allowing them to utter such vile words? Is it not wiser to leaven the First Amendment with a prudent disregard for the fringes?

If we understand free speech in purely liberal terms — i.e. as a self-evident right — then these questions seem to have merit. After all, we restrict other rights for the sake of the public welfare. Most of them can be taken away, so long as it is done so with “due process.” And the process that is due, in many respects, is conditioned by the political, social, and economic climate of the day. Why not speech?

But the First Amendment is not merely an expression of liberal freedom, but of republican freedom as well. The liberal conception of liberty defines it as absence of government interference from your life — or, in its 20th-century evolution, liberty means that the government provides for a certain standard of living. But the republican notion of liberty is different. A free republic is one in which people are governed by laws that they themselves have a hand in making. From this perspective, freedom of speech needs to remain nearly absolute.

To appreciate this, consider the efforts of the man most responsible for the Bill of Rights, James Madison.

Madison was not so much the author of the Bill of Rights, but its editor. He was initially opposed to the project; the structure of the Constitution offered sufficient protection for civil liberty, he thought, and he feared that an enumeration of rights would imply a limitation to them. But the ratifying conventions in many states had approved the Constitution, with suggested revisions. Madison, who viewed these conventions as tribunes of the popular will, took their recommendations seriously. As George Washington’s de facto prime minister during the first session of the First Congress, he refined the wide array of proposals into what ultimately became the Bill of Rights.

In The Federalist Papers, Madison can come across as deeply suspicious of popular government. In Federalist No. 10 he bemoaned the “violence of faction” and sought to design a government that can corral the inherently selfish passions of humanity. In Federalist No. 51, he added checks and balances as “auxiliary precautions” to further thwart misrule.

Yet this is only one side of the Madisonian coin. Admittedly, he wanted to slow the tempo of government down to a crawl, to prevent fractious majorities from railroading minority rights and undermining the public welfare. But he also hoped to promote a robust intercourse of sentiments, so that — in due course — public opinion would cohere around principles of justice and the general welfare. Government had to move slowly and cautiously, but public discourse should be vigorous and unfettered.

“Public opinion,” he wrote in the National Gazette, in December 1791, “sets bounds to every government, and is the real sovereign in every free one.” But in a large republic such as the United States, it is “less easy to be ascertained, and . . . less difficult to be counterfeited.” It was thus key, he argued, to facilitate “a general intercourse of sentiments,” which included roads and commerce, as well as “a free press, and particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people.”

In Madison’s view, a free republic depends ultimately upon public opinion. A Constitution could divide power this way and that, but in the end it is the people, and only the people, who rule. And for the people to rule wisely, they have to be able to communicate with one another — freely, without fear of reprisal. Thus, freedom of speech and press were not, for Madison, merely God-given rights. They were preconditions for self-government.

Conversely, Madison believed that those who sought to restrict speech revealed themselves to be opponents of republicanism. They wished to prevent public opinion from cohering, thus making it easier to counterfeit. This is why Madison and Thomas Jefferson — Jefferson himself was a staunch republican — reacted so strongly to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which restricted immigration and made it a crime to print “libelous” comments about government officers. Madison and Jefferson’s Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions called for state intervention to correct the abuses of the government (for Madison this implied “interposition,” but for Jefferson it could include “nullification”). Decades later, their resolves would be repurposed for the cause of secession, but they were actually an effort to prevent the Federalist party under John Adams from undermining the very basis of the national republic itself.

Our First Amendment freedoms give us the right to think what we like and say what we please. And if we the people are to govern ourselves, we must have these rights, even if they are misused by a minority.

Madison’s tenure as president — 1809 to 1817 — has come in for a good bit of criticism over the years. It was, in many respects, an unspectacular administration, in no small part because of the disappointments of the War of 1812. But it is easy to overlook that although Madison was managing a relatively unpopular and difficult conflict, he did not sanction the abridgement of civil liberties. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt — all of whom tend to score higher in historical rankings — did not show such restraint. This speaks well of Madison’s commitment to the importance of free speech.

None of this means that we should excuse the boorish and ignorant among us, those who seek to incite popular unrest for the sake of their small-minded prejudices. Instead, Madison’s commitment to free speech should serve as a reminder that, while people say things that we might find personally offensive, we should never wish the state to squash their right to do so. Our First Amendment freedoms combined — freedom of religion, of assembly and petition, of press and speech — give us the right to think what we like and say what we please. And if we the people are to govern ourselves, we must have these rights, even if they are misused by a minority.

As we confront those who use their right to free speech to abuse the norms of decency and civility, we should calmly recall Jefferson’s admonition from his first inaugural address. “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

What Bruce Ohr Told the FBI — Raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty

January 18, 2019

The Justice Department official’s testimony raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty.


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Bruce Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general, arrives to testify behind closed doors in Washington, Aug. 28. PHOTO: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Everybody knew. Everybody of consequence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department understood fully in the middle of 2016—as the FBI embarked on its counterintelligence probe of Donald Trump—that it was doing so based on disinformation provided by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s the big revelation from the transcript of the testimony Justice Department official Bruce Ohr gave Congress in August. The transcripts haven’t been released, but parts were confirmed for me by congressional sources.

Mr. Ohr testified that he sat down with dossier author Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016, and received salacious information the opposition researcher had compiled on Mr. Trump. Mr. Ohr immediately took that to the FBI’s then-Deputy Director Andy McCabe and lawyer Lisa Page. In August he took it to Peter Strzok, the bureau’s lead investigator. In the same month, Mr. Ohr believes, he briefed senior personnel in the Justice Department’s criminal division: Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, lawyer Zainab Ahmad and fraud unit head Andrew Weissman. The last two now work for special counsel Robert Mueller.

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More important, Mr. Ohr told this team the information came from the Clinton camp and warned that it was likely biased, certainly unproven. “When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” he testified. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to—who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware.”

He said he told them that Mr. Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected,” and that his own wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier. He confirmed sounding all these warnings before the FBI filed its October application for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page. We broke some of this in August, though the transcript provides new detail.

The FBI and Justice Department have gone to extraordinary lengths to muddy these details, with cover from Democrats and friendly journalists. A January 2017 memo from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, flatly (and incorrectly) insisted “the FBI’s closely-held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.” A May 2018 New York Times report repeated that claim, saying Mr. Steele’s reports didn’t reach the “Crossfire Hurricane team,” which ran the counterintelligence investigation, until “mid-September.”

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Rep. Adam Schiff

This line was essential for upholding the claim that the dossier played no role in the unprecedented July 31, 2016, decision to investigate a presidential campaign. Former officials have insisted they rushed to take this dramatic step on the basis of a conversation involving a low-level campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, which took place in May, before the dossier officially came into the picture. And maybe that is the case. Yet now Mr. Ohr has testified that top personnel had dossier details around the time they opened the probe.

The Ohr testimony is also further evidence that the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in its Page warrant application. We already knew the bureau failed to inform the court it knew the dossier had come from a rival campaign. But the FISA application additionally claimed the FBI was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to Mr. Steele, that he was “reliable,” that his “reporting” in this case was “credible.” and that the FBI only “speculates” that Mr. Steele’s bosses “likely” wanted to “discredit” Mr. Trump.

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Speculates? Likely? Mr. Ohr makes clear FBI and Justice officials knew from the earliest days that Mr. Steele was working for the Clinton campaign, which had an obvious desire to discredit Mr. Trump. And Mr. Ohr specifically told investigators that they had every reason to worry Mr. Steele’s work product was tainted.

This testimony has two other implications. First, it further demonstrates the accuracy of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ memo of 2018—which noted Mr. Ohr’s role and pointed out that the FBI had not been honest about its knowledge of the dossier and failed to inform the court of Mrs. Ohr’s employment at Fusion GPS. The testimony also destroys any remaining credibility of the Democratic response, in which Mr. Schiff and his colleagues claimed Mr. Ohr hadn’t met with the FBI or told them anything about his wife or about Mr. Steele’s bias until after the election.

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Hillary Clinton

Second, the testimony raises new concerns about Mr. Mueller’s team. Critics have noted Mr. Weissman’s donations to Mrs. Clinton and his unseemly support of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s obstruction of Trump orders. It now turns out that senior Mueller players were central to the dossier scandal. The conflicts of interest boggle the mind.

The Ohr testimony is evidence the FBI itself knows how seriously it erred. The FBI has been hiding and twisting facts from the start.

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Appeared in the January 18, 2019, print edition.


Key Justice Department officials, including Mueller deputy, knew about Steele dossier

January 17, 2019

Testimony last year before a House task force investigating the Trump-Russia affair confirmed that top Justice Department officials knew about the Trump dossier earlier than first thought, and that among those who knew was Andrew Weissmann, who went on to become the top deputy of special counsel Robert Mueller.

By Byron York

Washington Examiner

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Robert Mueller

Bruce Ohr, the fourth-ranking official in the Justice Department, told the House task force that he met with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier, at a Washington hotel on July 30, 2016. At that point, Steele, recruited for the job by Glenn Simpson of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, had completed a few installments of the dossier, including the salacious and never-verified sex allegation featuring Donald Trump and prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. Ohr testified that shortly after meeting with Steele, “I wanted to provide the information he had given me to the FBI.”

Ohr said he got in touch with Andrew McCabe, who was at the time the number-two man at the FBI. When Ohr went to McCabe’s office to talk, FBI lawyer Lisa Page was also there. “So I provided the information to them,” Ohr said. Ohr said he later talked to another top FBI official, Peter Strzok.

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Peter Strzok.  Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta

That was the FBI. But what about the Justice Department itself? “Who at the Department knew that you were talking to Chris Steele and Glenn Simpson?” asked Trey Gowdy, who last year was chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee.

“I spoke with some people in the Criminal Division, other career officials who dealt with some of these matters,” Ohr answered.

“Any of them have names?” Gowdy asked.

“Yes, so I was about to tell you,” replied Ohr. “One of them was Bruce Swartz, who is the counselor for international affairs in the Criminal Division; a person who was working with him at the time, working on similar matters in the Criminal Division, was Zainab Ahmad; and a third person who was working on some — some of these matters, I believe, was Andrew Weissmann.”

Gowdy wanted to make sure about the third name. “Who is that last one?” he asked

“He was head of the Fraud Section at the time,” said Ohr.

“I’ve heard his name somewhere before, I think,” said Gowdy. Weissmann has become widely known as Mueller’s hard-charging “pit bull.”

Ahmad was a prosecutor who worked on terrorism cases. She later joined Mueller’s team, as well.

It was not clear when, precisely, Ohr told the three Justice Department officials about Steele’s work, but it appears from the testimony that it was not long after Ohr’s July 30, 2016 meeting with Steele.

The Ohr testimony sheds new light on an old question about the dossier: Who knew about it, and when? It has long been known that Steele talked to an FBI official in early July 2016. It was also known that Ohr talked to Steele on July 30. But it was not known who else knew about the dossier at the time. Indeed, there have been many reports that knowledge of the dossier was tightly limited; the FBI agents working on Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, reportedly did not know about the dossier until September 2016.

The Ohr testimony suggests that not only did top FBI officials know about the dossier, but top Justice Department officials did, too. And two of them, Weissmann and Ahmad, went on to work for Mueller.

Finally, Ohr told the House that he took care to tell the FBI that Steele’s information might not be reliable. He said he told the bureau that Steele was deeply biased against Trump; that Fusion GPS was ultimately working for the Clinton campaign; and that his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion at the time.

“When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” Ohr said. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to — who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware — ”

“Did you tell the bureau that?” asked Gowdy.

“Oh, yes,” said Ohr.

“Why did you tell the bureau that?”

“I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias or, you know, as they evaluate the information, they need to know the circumstances.”

“So you specifically told the bureau that the information you were passing on came from someone who was employed by the DNC, albeit in a somewhat triangulated way?” asked Gowdy.

“I don’t believe I used — I didn’t know they were employed by the DNC,” Ohr answered. “But I certainly said yes, that — that they were working for — you know, they were somehow working, associated with the Clinton campaign. And I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS, or was a contractor for Fusion GPS.”


Characters behind legal twists of Trump-Russia probe a tangled maze of Washington establishment

January 11, 2019

The Trump-Russia investigation, with its dynamic cast of judges, defenders and prosecutors, can have the look of an exclusive club.

Checks of official biographies and legal sources reveal a maze of professional connections that, while not unethical, show that the Washington establishment thrives inside the Justice Department. What President Trump called “the swamp” is often controlling legal maneuvers — and possibly his fate.

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Robert Mueller

“Personnel is power in D.C., and Trump advocated an Andrew Jackson takeover [of] the government with half measures and bad hiring,” said a former Justice Department lawyer who asked not to be named for career reasons.

When defense counsel Eric A. Dubelier filed an argument Dec. 20 for his Russian client, he attacked special counsel Robert Mueller, the top Russia investigation prosecutor and longtime Washington figure, by harking back to a major Justice Department conviction that failed.

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Eric A. Dubelier

On the surface, the reference to the defunct accounting firm Arthur Andersen appeared to be pure legal arguing.

But a closer look shows that the U.S. District Court judge to whom Mr. Dubelier was arguing, Dabney Friedrich, has a connection to the Andersen case. Her husband, Matthew W. Friedrich, was one of the lead prosecutors. He persuaded the jury to convict Arthur Andersen of obstruction of justice in the Enron financial scandal.

His co-counsel was Andrew Weissmann, who today is one of Mr. Mueller’s senior prosecutors.

The Arthur Andersen case ended in failure for the Friedrich-Weissmann, et al., task force. In 2005, the Supreme Court threw out the conviction in a 9-0 ruling, essentially saying there was no crime.

In his Dec. 20 argument, Mr. Dubelier chastised the Mueller team for withholding evidence on national security grounds from his client, Concord Management and Consulting. Judge Friedrich, one of Mr. Trump’s early District Court nominees, so far has sided with Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Dubelier accused Mr. Mueller of trying to gain a temporary political victory without worrying about an appeals reversal. He specifically cited the ghost of Arthur Andersen. In essence, he was criticizing the judge’s husband, Mr. Friedrich, now a corporate lawyer, and Mr. Weissmann, without mentioning their names.

The Judge Friedrich connection is an example of how the lives of Justice lawyers intersect.

Russia investigation connections

⦁ U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell oversees the Mueller grand jury. She recently granted the special counsel’s request to extend the jury another six months.

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U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell

Appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010, Judge Howell worked alongside Mr. Weissmann in Brooklyn in the early 1990s when both were assistant U.S. attorneys.

Writing of the Howell-Weissmann friendship in 2017, the Daily Beast said, “Federal prosecutors often form close, life-long relationships with their fellow assistant U.S. attorneys.”

They not only prosecuted together, but they also wrote together. Judge Howell and Mr. Weissmann co-authored a New York Law Journal article in June 2006 on obstruction of justice.

Judge Howell would have to approve for release any report the grand jury writes.

⦁ FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, is an integral player in the Mueller investigation. His agents do the groundwork, trying to create cases for perjury, obstruction of justice or Russia election interference. Agents recommend to Mr. Mueller whether to prosecute.

Mr. Wray also played an important role in Mr. Weissmann’s career.

In 2004, as assistant U.S. attorney general, Mr. Wray promoted Mr. Weissmann to chief of the Enron task force. In a press release, Mr. Wray praised Mr. Weissmann for winning convictions against Arthur Andersen and five Merrill Lynch executives. The Merrill Lynch case, like Arthur Andersen, also lay in shambles once appellate judges were finished. The same legal problem: There wasn’t a crime.

⦁ Mr. Wray is a longtime friend of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Trump appointee. Mr. Rosenstein, a former U.S. attorney for Maryland, is the man who created the Robert Mueller express train when he appointed him special counsel in May 2017. Mr. Rosenstein didn’t consult first with the White House.

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Rod Rosenstein

Mr. Wray signed an endorsement letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee for Mr. Rosenstein as deputy. Mr. Rosenstein backed Mr. Wray to succeed FBI Director James B. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Wray’s FBI general counsel is Dana Boente, who came from Mr. Rosenstein’s office as an assistant attorney general.

Trump would have been better served air-dropping random Kansans into D.C.,” said the former Justice Department lawyer. “Instead, he empowered Rod and Rod’s cronies.”

⦁ One of Mr. Mueller’s first moves was to bring in Mr. Weissmann, who then led Justice’s fraud division. The special counsel quickly assigned Mr. Weissmann the job of prosecuting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and getting him to talk.

Mr. Mueller has a long working relationship with Mr. Weissmann. As FBI director, he appointed him as FBI special counsel and then general counsel in the 2000s.

Mr. Mueller also coaxed Jeannie Rhee from Wilmer Hale, his just-vacated law firm.

She, like Mr. Weissmann, has ties to Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Ms. Rhee defended the Clinton Foundation and Mrs. Clinton in two civil cases. She contributed the maximum amount to the Democrat’s campaign. Mr. Weissmann attended what was supposed to be Mrs. Clinton’s victory party in New York.

⦁ Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who wrote a string of anti-Trump messages to his lover, provided a peek into how some agents view judges. He suggested in one missive that he invite U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras to a “cocktail” party. Mr. Strzok sent the July 25, 2016, text just as he was opening an investigation into suspected Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

Image result for Manuel Balce Ceneta, photo, peter strzok

Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta

Mr. Strzok’s messaging included a discussion that Judge Contreras sits on the panel that approves wiretaps, known as Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. “Rudy is on the FISC! Did you know that?” texted his lover, then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

“We talked about it before and after,” Mr. Strzok responded. “I need to get together with him.”

Mr. Strzok told the Justice Department inspector general that no such party was held.

Judge Contreras, without explanation, suddenly recused himself from the Michael Flynn perjury case in December 2017 after he was assigned as Flynn’s judge and accepted his guilty plea.

⦁ Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz investigated how the department handled the Clinton email scandal. He now is investigating how the FBI relied on a Democratic Party-financed dossier to target the Trump campaign and obtain wiretaps.

Mr. Horowitz sat from 2003 to 2008 on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which issues guidelines to judges and can be a springboard to judgeships and other top appointments. Among his fellow commissioners: Judges Beryl A. Howell and Dabney Friedrich.

⦁ Mr. Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department, William Barr, has expressed complete confidence in Mr. Mueller.

He should know the special counsel well. They are “best friends,” the Daily Mail reported.

“Their wives attend the same Bible study together, and Mueller has attended the weddings of two of Barr’s daughters,” the Mail said.

The former Justice Department lawyer, who knows many of its players and who spoke to The Washington Times, was asked to assess the personal and professional connections.

“As an outsider, Trump needed to turn this town upside down but failed to do so and made money for all the wrong people,” the lawyer said. “The result of his bad hiring is a huge, gaping self-inflicted wound, with collateral damage to loyalists that has made him look weak and vulnerable to the insiders of the place he said he was going to drain.”

FriedrichDubelierArthur Andersen

Judge Friedrich and her husband were Justice Department prosecutors when they met and married in 2001. Both traveled in blue-blood Republican circles. Judge Friedrich had a stint in the George W. Bush White House.

“I have spent a large portion of my career as a federal prosecutor,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee in her confirmation hearing.

Mr. Friedrich left the Justice Department in 2009. He is now general counsel for the technology firm Cognizant.

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

That the Concord Management and Consulting case is being contested is surprising. Legal pundits suggested that none of the Russian individuals or firms indicted by Mr. Mueller’s grand jury would appear in Washington to face charges.

But Concord, which is accused of financing Russian social media trolling during the election, did appear — in the person of defense attorney Eric A. Dubelier.

Mr. Dubelier has launched an aggressive courtroom strategy against Mr. Mueller — and the judge.

Like Judge FriedrichMr. Dubelier is an alumnus of the Justice Department’s prosecutor class. He is incensed that the judge is backing Mr. Mueller’s position that he can keep hidden sensitive pieces of evidence so it won’t fall into the hands of Moscow.

Mr. Dubelier has a flair for injecting colorful prose into otherwise legalistic motions. In his Dec. 20 brief, he cited the specter of Arthur Andersen by accusing Mr. Mueller of playing politics with Concord.

“Specifically, the short-term political value of a conviction far outweighs a reversal by a higher court years from now,” he said. “This tactic, though rare, is not new.”

His Jan. 4 filing triggered Judge Friedrich’s anger. He called her evidence decisions “onerous and unprecedented.” He quoted a line from the frat-boy comedy “Animal House” to describe motives for what he believes is possible misconduct by Mr. Mueller’s team.

At a Monday hearing, Judge Friedrich vented — and defended Mr. Mueller.

“Meritless personal attacks on the special counsel, his attorneys, other members of the trial team, and firewall counsel will play no role in my decision on your motion, nor will inappropriate and what you clearly believe to be clever quotes from movies, cartoons, and elsewhere,” the judge said. “Your strategy is ineffective. It’s undermining your credibility in this courthouse. I will say it plain and simple: Knock it off.”

Mr. Dubelier didn’t back off. The next day, he filed a brief accusing Judge Friedrich of triggering a wave of hate messages in emails and voicemails against him and his co-counsel.

“For a reason unknown to undersigned counsel, the court [judge] took it upon itself to defend the special counsel, creating at a minimum an appearance of bias or prejudice in favor of the government,” he said.

Rod Rosenstein expected to leave the Justice Department in a matter of weeks

January 9, 2019

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to step down from his role in the Justice Department in the coming weeks.

A source confirmed to the Washington Examiner that Rosenstein always expected to serve for about two years, and said he is likely leave after attorney general nominee Bill Barr is confirmed by the Senate.

Barr’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary committee begin next week, and once he’s confirmed, he will officially replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to resign by the White House in November.

The source said Rosenstein is not being pushed out, and ABC News reported that he wants to ensure a smooth transition to the next deputy attorney general.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Announces Indictment Of 12 Russian Military Officers For DNC Hacking

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C), Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan (R) and Assistant Attorney General John Demers and holds a news conference at the Department of Justice July 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After Sessions’ departure, there was speculation that Rosenstein would depart soon after. Yet he remained in his post after Matt Whitaker, the former chief of staff for Sessions, was named acting attorney general.

Rosenstein appointed and has overseen special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation since May 2017.

Rosenstein has been a frequent target of President Trump’s ire on Twitter. The president recently re-posted an image of Rosenstein and high ranking officials behind prison bars.

Rosenstein has also drawn the criticism of Trump-allies Republican lawmakers, who have consistently accused the Justice Department of being biased at the top levels.

Nominated by Trump in 2017, Rosenstein previously served as U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. For more than 15 years before that, he served in senior roles throughout the Justice Department.

U.S. plans new move targeting China’s ‘economic aggression’

December 20, 2018

Justice officials aim to counter espionage and theft of intellectual property

“China is applying power in more proactive ways than ever before, to exert influence and interfere in the domestic policy and politics of this country.”

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

The US justice department on Thursday will unveil another enforcement action against China, as the Trump administration ramps up efforts to tackle what it sees as a mounting national security threat from Beijing.

One official familiar with the action said it was part of the “China initiative” that Jeff Sessions established earlier this year just before he was fired as attorney-general. It comes one week after several top justice department officials, including John Demers, who heads the China initiative, provided Congress with stark warnings about Chinese espionage and the commercial theft of US intellectual property.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Announces Indictment Of 12 Russian Military Officers For DNC Hacking

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C), Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan (R) and Assistant Attorney General John Demers and holds a news conference at the Department of Justice July 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“It’s an enforcement action under the DoJ’s China initiative that targets China’s continued economic aggression,” said the official. “It has wide ranging international components [and] will further demonstrate the depths that China has gone to in their quest to cheat their way up the global economic ladder.”

Christopher Wray, the FBI director who earlier this year warned Congress about Chinese espionage, will unveil the action with Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney-general.

Recommended Gideon Rachman America, China and the art of confrontation

The move comes just weeks after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, after a request from the US to extradite the Chinese telecoms company executive.

The Huawei Case Just Got (More) Political

Meng Wanzhou

While the detention of Ms Meng was directly related to allegations about violating sanctions on Iran — which she denies — one person familiar with the FBI approach to China said the agency had long been looking for ways to take on Huawei because of concerns that the Shenzhen-based company could help the Chinese government penetrate global telecoms networks and increase surveillance of the US and its allies.

The action on Thursday will underscore the growing perception among security officials in Washington that the US has not been tough enough in the past to tackle Chinese cyber espionage — from traditional spying to efforts to steal critical US technology.

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The person familiar with the FBI’s view of China said it had significantly boosted efforts to push back against China and that officials seemed to have been given the green light to reveal much more in public about the espionage allegations against China than has been allowed in the past.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Mr Demers, who heads the justice department’s national security division, said China was stealing US technology to accelerate its own development and innovation.

He said the justice department was pursuing cases against three former US intelligence officers who were alleged to have spied for China — a number that he described as “unprecedented”. US files criminal charges against a Chinese company for alleged theft of trade secrets “No one begrudges a nation that generates the most innovative ideas and from them develops the best technology,” Mr Demers said.

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“But we cannot tolerate a nation that steals our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. And this is just what China is doing to achieve its development goals.” The rising scrutiny by US law enforcement comes as President Donald Trump is pressuring Beijing to complete a trade deal that he believes will reduce the US trade deficit.

But many China experts in Washington — from doves to hawks — believe the Sino-US relationship is heading for much rockier waters as the Trump administration increasingly challenges China on all facets of the relationship between the two powers. In October, Mike Pence, US vice-president, put China on notice that the US was preparing to launch a comprehensive effort to push back against China that went way beyond the trade deficit.

“China is also applying this power in more proactive ways than ever before, to exert influence and interfere in the domestic policy and politics of this country,” Mr Pence said in a tough speech that was met with surprise in Beijing.

Twitter: @dimi