Posts Tagged ‘Michael Flynn’

Senate Judiciary Committee withdraws subpoena for Manafort — Removes Donald Trump Jr. from the list of witnesses scheduled for Wednesday’s public hearing

July 26, 2017

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman will not be testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as originally scheduled, after the committee rescinded its subpoena.

The committee withdrew its subpoena for Paul Manafort late Tuesday after Manafort agreed to turn over documents and to continue negotiating about setting up an interview with the panel, according to Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman. The committee also removed Donald Trump Jr. from the list of witnesses scheduled for Wednesday’s public hearing.

The panel has sought to talk with Manafort about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, among other issues including his foreign political work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

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Paul Manafort

On Tuesday Manafort met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff, providing his recollection of the Veselnitskaya meeting and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, according to people familiar with the closed-door interview. Manafort “answered their questions fully,” said his spokesman, Jason Maloni.

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner was also on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a second day of private meetings, this time for a conversation with lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee.

Both Manafort and Kushner have been cooperating with the committees which, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Trump associates.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The two men have faced particular scrutiny about attending the Trump Tower meeting because it was flatly described in emails to Donald Trump Jr. as being part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign.

Manafort’s discussion with committee staff was limited to his recollection of the June 2016 meeting, according to two people familiar with the interview. Both demanded anonymity to discuss details because the interview occurred behind closed doors. Manafort had previously disclosed the meeting in documents he turned over to the committee. He has now provided the committee with notes he took at the time, one of the people said.

The other person said Manafort has also said he will participate in additional interviews with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff on other topics if necessary. Those meetings haven’t yet been scheduled.

Kushner spent about three hours behind closed doors Tuesday with the House intelligence panel. Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who is leading the committee’s Russia probe, said he found Kushner to be “straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had.” He said Kushner was willing to follow up with the committee if it has additional questions.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the questions touched on “a range of issues the committee had been concerned about.”

“We appreciate his voluntary willingness to come and testify today,” Schiff added.

On Monday, Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide.”

Emails released this month show that Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, accepted a June 2016 meeting with Veselnitskaya with the understanding that he would receive damaging information on Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, Kushner said he hadn’t read those emails until being recently shown them by his lawyers.

Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defense from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency.

Kushner called the meeting with Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.

“No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign; there was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of; I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” he said.

Kushner on Monday confirmed earlier media reports that he had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to set up secure communications between Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and Russian officials. But he disputed that it was an effort to establish a “secret back channel.”

His statement describes a December meeting with Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Kushner and Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Six Months In To The Trump Administration, Looks Like James Comey Will Have The First “Tell All” House of Cards Style Book Out

July 16, 2017
 Newsweek
 “It will speak to a broader desire in our country for more ethical leadership.”

Major publishers are vying for the rights to a memoir by James Comey, in which the former FBI director will outline his views on leadership and describe, among other things, his brief and controversial tenure in the Trump administration.

Agents of the literary kind are now the only ones who Comey has working for him—and according to the New York Times they have been discussing the project with major New York publishers. The book is expected to go to auction this coming week. Comey is being represented by literary agency Javelin.

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FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

The book will not be a conventional memoir, but will focus on leadership lessons Comey drew from his time leading the bureau. He angered many Democrats over his decision to reveal the re-opening of the Hillary Clinton emails investigation two weeks before the presidential election, and drew ire from Republicans for overseeing the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

President Donald Trump fired Comey in May. The administration initially claimed it was over Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails investigation, but the president subsequently told interviewers he had sacked Comey over the Russia investigation.

Comey has not gone quietly. He has released details of memos in which he alleges that Trump pressurized him to drop an investigation into General Michael Flynn, a former Trump national security advisor accused of collusion with Russia.

In May, publishers told the U.K.’s Daily Mail that Comey could earn as much as $10 million for a book deal, with his story resembling a real life version of hit Netflix political drama House of Cards.

“It’s a book about leadership and his search for truth, informed by lessons and experiences he’s had throughout his career, including his recent experiences in the Trump administration,” Matt Latimer, a partner with Javelin told The New York Times. “It will speak to a broader desire in our country for more ethical leadership.”

Comey testified before a Senate committee investigation Russian electoral interference in June, in an appearance broadcast live on television and watched by 20 million Americans, in an event dubbed the “political Super Bowl.”

Comey’s firing resulted in the Justice Department appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation.

http://www.newsweek.com/james-comey-trump-russia-comey-book-deal-637418

One Year After Turkey’s Failed Coup: Turkish envoy urges U.S. to search cleric Gulen’s communications

July 15, 2017

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Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Serdar Kılıç

Reuters

Aauthorities should search through any intercepted communications of Fethullah Gulen to seek evidence backing Turkey’s accusation that the US-based Muslim cleric orchestrated last year’s failed coup, Turkey’s envoy to Washington said on Friday.

In an interview with Reuters almost a year after the coup attempt, Ambassador Serdar Kilic expressed frustration over the halting US response to its request for Gulen’s extradition and urged Washington to use its data-collection capabilities to help prove Ankara’s accusations against him.

“They should help us in this regard. We don’t have national intelligence authority in the United States,” he said at the Turkish embassy.

President Donald Trump’s administration is taking Turkey’s extradition request “more seriously” than Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, Kilic told a news conference later on Friday, but he did not elaborate.

Kilic said the United States had not given any sign of when it would decide what to do with Gulen, who denies any involvement in the July 15, 2016, coup attempt.

Kilic cited confessions by some alleged coup plotters and visits he said they paid Gulen at his Pennsylvania compound in the days leading up to the failed putsch as proof that the 79-year-old cleric was behind the coup, in which more than 240 people were killed.

However, Kilic acknowledged in the Reuters interview that more concrete evidence of direct involvement by Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999, remains elusive.

“If you are asking for a written instruction by Fethullah Gulen to the members of the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization in the army, that would be a futile request,” Kilic said, adding that the planning was done in secrecy.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen 
Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen  CREDIT: CHRIS POST/AP

Alp Aslandogan, Gulen’s media adviser, said the cleric does not own a mobile phone, the land line at his compound is attended by staff members and he does not use email, suggesting that any effort to scour Gulen’s communications might yield little.

He also said he had not seen any signs of the Trump administration giving the Gulen extradition case a higher priority.

He said confessions of coup plotters implicating Gulen were suspect because of accusations that their testimony was “obtained under duress and sometimes torture.”

Ankara has repeatedly denied the accusations while saying a firm security posture is needed in the face of dangers it also faces from Kurdish militants as well as wars in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

The US Justice Department declined any comment on the case.

President Tayyip Erdogan said in May he would pursue “to the end” Gulen’s extradition and has waged a post-coup crackdown on his followers.

Kilic told reporters on Friday that US officials had requested further evidence, in addition to 84 boxes of documents already provided, and that Turkey was working to comply.

He said in the meantime Turkey wants the United States to limit Gulen’s freedom of movement.

Aslandogan said the call for such restrictions on Gulen, who is frail-looking and walks with a shuffle, was part of a “harassment campaign” by the Turkish government.

Prospects for the US extradition of Gulen appeared to dim in February when Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned over his failure to disclose the extent of his contacts with Russia.

Kilic said he met Flynn, who was outspoken in favour of Gulen’s extradition, “a couple of times,” described him as “visionary” and said he wished Flynn were still in office.

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Mike Pence Gets New Chief of Staff As Trump Staff Still Struggles

July 14, 2017

Pence Hires Fixer Chief of Staff as Trump Falls Apart

Thirty-four-year-old Nick Ayers has been a behind-the-scenes player in Vice President Mike Pence’s political circle, and now he’s about to take center stage as his chief of staff.

For many Republicans in Donald Trump’s Washington, Vice President Mike Pence has been the ax behind the glass you’re supposed to break in case of emergency: solid, sharp, and there to save you when the place is going up in flames.

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Now, as the Trump White House has become engulfed in one media firestorm after another, Pence is bringing in a new chief of staff, a veteran political operative who Pence loyalists expect will help him manage one of the thinnest, highest tightropes in Washington—balancing the vice president’s need to be loyal to a president who requires it, while keeping his own brand and capital strong enough to stand on its own.

The man on the way to fill that role is Nick Ayers, a 34-year-old political consultant who has helped more than a dozen top Republicans in around the country launch, rescue, or cement their political careers, including Mike Pence.

If Ayers’ name is new to casual observers, it isn’t all new to anyone working in Washington. In 2007, Ayers burst onto the scene as the 24-year-old executive director of the Republican Governors Association. But his political break came even earlier, when Ayers, then 19, hit it off with a longshot candidate for Georgia governor named Sonny Perdue. Perdue hired Ayers as his driver, and then won the governor’s mansion a year later. Four years later, Ayers ran Perdue’s successful reelection in 2006 and then went with Perdue to the RGA, when the Georgia governor helmed the committee tasked with electing Republicans to governors’ mansions.

During Ayers four years at the RGA, success and attention followed. The Washington Post called him “Washington’s  youngest important operative.”

Some of his fellow young conservatives, like Matt Lewiscalled him “the most hated campaign operative in America,” complaining that young Ayers’ track record didn’t warrant the hype.

But after two full cycles with Ayers running daily operations at the RGA, Republicans went from holding 25 governors mansions in 2007 to 32 in 2011. Among the pick-ups were Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Scott in Florida, and Rick Snyder in Michigan. It was also the period when Nikki Haley won her first term in South Carolina and Chris Christie pulled off an upset in New Jersey.

“It’s  hard to overstate how dramatic it was that he was in this position at that age,” said Nathan Daschle, a Democratic lobbyist who was the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association when Ayers ran the RGA, when the two became rivals and friends.

“In Nick, Mike Pence will get a very savvy and aggressive political mind,” Daschle said. “He’ll also get intense loyalty.  He won’t have to worry about Nick and that he’s got 100 percent loyalty out of his top person.”

With the successful run at the RGA under his belt, Ayers left Washington and became a campaign consultant and media buyer. His highest-profile race was also his biggest bomb—Tim Pawlenty’s spectacular presidential flameout, which ended abruptly five months after it began. Although Pawlenty initially said he dropped out because he lost the 2011 Iowa straw poll to then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (and even Rep. Rand Paul), the Pawlenty campaign was essentially broke—with $450,000 in debt still on the books two months after he dropped out.

A series of lower-profile Senate and governor’s races put Ayers on a winning streak—running outside PACs or advising campaign operations for Sens. Ted Cruz in Texas, David Perdue in Georgia, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Gov. Eric Greitens in Missouri, and, importantly, the 2016 reelection effort for Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana.

Pence had met Ayers while he was at the RGA and signed him up for his 2016 bid, but Ayers started early after a 2015 religious-freedom bill in Indiana both ignited controversy in the state and took Pence from a 62 percent approval rating to a number in the mid-40s.

“When Gov. Pence was looking for outside consulting help, his team talked extensively with Nick,” said Bob Grand, a longtime Pence adviser and Indianapolis lawyer. “All of us were very impressed, at a young age he has great insight. And I think the governor, now vice president, was very comfortable with his style and his advice.”

Ayers was already working for Pence when the call came to assess the governor’s interest in joining Donald Trump as his running mate.

“Nick was intimately involved in that process,” said Grand. “A lot of things changed for all of us in a fairly quick period of time and Nick ended up very quickly in a very good role for the vice president.”

That role, initially, was as an outside adviser and sounding board for Pence and a board member of the super PAC supporting the Trump administration’s agenda, including an attack ad against GOP Sen. Dean Heller over his refusal to negotiate to support the GOP health-care bill.

“He came back to the table,” a Republican operative observed of the ad, which GOP senators groused about.

Ayers also recently helped Pence launch his own leadership PAC and has been helping Pence host dinners for major donors at the vice president’s residence.

And although he seriously considered a run for governor of Georgia himself, according to The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution, Ayers’ role with Pence continued to grow as the scrutiny on all members of the Trump administration ratcheted up.

While Pence has remained mostly on the sidelines of the Russia investigation, he has twice insisted in media interviews that no Trump associates ever met with Russians during the 2016 campaign for president.

“All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people,” Pence wrongly told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Pence was also at the center of dismissal of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, after Pence defended Flynn publicly as having no Russian ties, only to learn weeks later that that, too, was false.

Paul Bennecke, the executive director of the RGA, said having Ayers on the inside of his vice-presidential operation should help both Pence and Trump by having someone on point to execute on their agenda.

“I think it’s a great asset to the president and the vice president to have someone who can figure out what the big objectives are, but more importantly, figure out what they can control and achieve, so that those objectives become reality.”

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was the RGA chairman during much of Ayer’s time there, said Ayers will also be an important point of contact inside Pence’s operation for the governors and senators he’s worked with before.

“Obviously a lot of people will find Nick to be someone they’re comfortable going to share their views.”

Going forward, veterans of past White Houses that were similarly under the microscope said Pence’s toughest, and most important, job might just be staying focused on his actual job and staying out of the West Wing intrigue as much as possible. And that’s where the chief of staff comes in.

David Thomas, an aide to then-Vice President Al Gore at the height of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, said Gore’s chief of staff directed the staff daily to “do your job” and say and do nothing related to the impeachment.

“It’s hard enough to work for a White House in crisis,” Thomas said. “But if the White House also has internal battles, you won’t get through it.” Thomas also said the best play for Pence and his team at this point is to keep their heads down and themselves out of the spotlight.

Ayers, who will start officially at the end of the month, declined to be interviewed for this article.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/pence-hires-fixer-chief-of-staff-as-trump-falls-apart

GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn

June 30, 2017

Peter W. Smith portrayed the former general as an ally in an effort, independent of the Trump campaign, to find personal emails deleted by Hillary Clinton

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, right, at the White House shortly before his dismissal as national security adviser
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, right, at the White House shortly before his dismissal as national security adviser PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON—Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.

Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.

What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.

Mr. Flynn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual. The White House declined to comment.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian attempts to sway the U.S. election and whether there was collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign. President Trump has denied any collusion and called the investigation a “witch hunt.” The Russian government has denied it interfered in the election.

Peter W. Smith
Peter W. Smith
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Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it.

The operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.

Those investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.

It isn’t clear who that intermediary might have been or whether Mr. Smith’s operation was the one allegedly under discussion by the Russian hackers. The reports were compiled during the same period when Mr. Smith’s group was operating, according to the officials.

Mr. Smith said he worked independently and wasn’t part of the Trump campaign.

His project began over Labor Day weekend 2016 when Mr. Smith, a private-equity executive from Chicago active in Republican politics, said he assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails the group theorized might have been stolen from the private server Mrs. Clinton used as secretary of state.

Mr. Smith’s focus was some 33,000 emails Mrs. Clinton said were deleted because they were deemed personal. Mr. Smith said he believed that the emails might have been obtained by hackers and that they actually concerned official matters Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal—two notions for which he offered no evidence. Mrs. Clinton gave the State Department tens of thousands of emails related to official business.

Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said in July 2016 there was no evidence the private server had been hacked but held out the possibility it could have been.

In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails, including two groups he determined were Russians.

“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Mr. Smith said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused the Russians of stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and providing them to WikiLeaks last summer as part of a multifaceted operation to interfere with the election and help Mr. Trump’s campaign. Mr. Trump on July 27 publicly encouraged Russia to go further and find the Clinton “emails that are missing.” Asked about that on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Mr. Trump was joking.

Hillary Clinton checking her phone in March 2012, when she was secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton checking her phone in March 2012, when she was secretary of state. PHOTO: RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Mr. Smith said after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself. “We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks,” he said. WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them.

Mr. Smith and one of his associates said they had a line of communication with Mr. Flynn and his consulting company.

In one Smith email reviewed by the Journal, intended to entice outside experts to join his work, he offered to make introductions to Mr. Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked as chief of staff in his father’s company. Mr. Smith’s email mentioned the son among a small number of other people he said were helping.

Michael G. Flynn didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In another recruiting email seen by the Journal, Jonathan Safron, a law student Mr. Smith described as a close colleague, included links to the websites and LinkedIn profiles of people purportedly working with the Smith team. At the top of the list was the name and website of Flynn Intel, which Mr. Flynn set up after his 2014 firing as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Safron declined to comment on his email or Mr. Smith’s project.

In phone conversations, Mr. Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son, according to this expert. The person said an anti-Clinton research document prepared by Mr. Smith’s group identified the younger Mr. Flynn as someone associated with the effort. The expert said that based on his conversations with Mr. Smith, he understood the elder Mr. Flynn to be coordinating with Mr. Smith’s group in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser.

The senior Mr. Flynn was fired as national-security adviser in February after misleading administration officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador concerning sanctions. Those conversations put Mr. Flynn under scrutiny by the FBI and then the special counsel, according to U.S. officials.

Mr. Smith said in the interview he supported Mr. Flynn’s efforts during the presidential transition to establish relations with Russian officials.

Mr. Smith said he never intended to pay for any emails found by hackers.

He said he understood the risk in publishing the emails himself. If, under public scrutiny, they proved not to be genuine, “people would say we made them up,” he said, and the whole project would be dismissed as a Republican hit job on the Clinton campaign. In the early 1990s, Mr. Smith helped publicize Arkansas state troopers’ claims that then-Gov. Bill Clinton had enlisted them to arrange trysts with women, an unproven allegation denied by the Clinton White House.

Mr. Smith’s views on Russian hacking were complex. While he said he believed Russians were likely among those who tried to steal Mrs. Clinton’s emails, he dismissed intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russia’s government meddled in the election to discredit Mrs. Clinton and to help Mr. Trump.

Mr. Smith was himself once a hacking victim. Emails he wrote about the 2015 contest to fill former House Speaker John Boehner’s seat were stolen from the Illinois Republican Party and then made public, in a campaign U.S. intelligence officials attributed to Russian actors. Mr. Smith didn’t dispute that Russia might have been to blame. He said he was unconcerned about his messages being exposed.

Write to Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/gop-operative-sought-clinton-emails-from-hackers-implied-a-connection-to-flynn-1498770851?mod=e2tw

Sketchy firm behind Trump dossier is stalling investigators — Did Democrats Fund “The Dossier” That U.S. Intelligence Rejected?

June 25, 2017

“These guys had a vested personal and ideological interest in smearing Trump.”

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Donald Trump. Getty Images

A secretive Washington firm that commissioned the dubious intelligence dossier on Donald Trump is stonewalling congressional investigators trying to learn more about its connections to the Democratic Party.

The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month threatened to subpoena the firm, Fusion GPS, after it refused to answer questions and provide records to the panel identifying who financed the error-ridden dossier, which was circulated during the election and has sparked much of the Russia scandal now engulfing the White House.

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“These weren’t mercenaries or hired guns,” a congressional source familiar with the dossier probe said. “These guys had a vested personal and ideological interest in smearing Trump and boosting Hillary’s chances of winning the White House.”

Fusion GPS was on the payroll of an unidentified Democratic ally of Clinton when it hired a long-retired British spy to dig up dirt on Trump. In 2012, Democrats hired Fusion GPS to uncover dirt on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And in 2015, Democrat ally Planned Parenthood retained Fusion GPS to investigate pro-life activists protesting the abortion group.

More, federal records show a key co-founder and partner in the firm was a Hillary Clinton donor and supporter of her presidential campaign.

In September 2016, while Fusion GPS was quietly shopping the dirty dossier on Trump around Washington, its co-founder and partner Peter R. Fritsch contributed at least $1,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and the Hillary For America campaign, Federal Election Commission data show. His wife also donated money to Hillary’s campaign.

Property records show that in June 2016, as Clinton allies bankrolled Fusion GPS, Fritsch bought a six-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Bethesda, Md., for $2.3 million.

Fritsch did not respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Fusion GPS said the firm’s work is confidential.

Sources say Fusion GPS had its own interest, beyond those of its clients, in promulgating negative gossip about Trump.

Fritsch, who served as the Journal’s bureau chief in Mexico City and has lectured at the liberal Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, married into a family with Mexican business interests. His wife, Beatriz Garcia, formerly worked as an executive at Grupo Dina, a manufacturer of trucks and buses in Mexico City that benefits from NAFTA, which Trump opposes.

Fritsch’s Fusion GPS partner Thomas Catan, who grew up in Britain, once edited a business magazine in Mexico, moreover. A third founding partner, Glenn Simpson, is reported to have shared dark views of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump. Before joining Fusion GPS, Simpson did opposition research for a former Clinton White House operative.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also investigating whether the FBI has wrongly relied on the anti-Trump dossier and its author, Christopher Steele — the old spy who was hired by Fusion GPS to build a Russia file on Trump — to aid its ongoing espionage investigation into the Trump campaign and its possible ties to Moscow.

The FBI received a copy of the Democrat-funded dossier in August, during the heat of the campaign, and is said to have contracted in October to pay Steele $50,000 to help corroborate the dirt on Trump — a relationship that “raises substantial questions about the independence” of the bureau in investigating Trump, warned Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Senate investigators are demanding to see records of communications between Fusion GPS and the FBI and the Justice Department, including any contacts with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, now under congressional investigation for possibly obstructing the Hillary Clinton email probe, and deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who is under investigation by the Senate and the Justice inspector general for failing to recuse himself despite financial and political connections to the Clinton campaign through his Democrat activist wife. Senate investigators have singled out McCabe as the FBI official who negotiated with Steele.

Like Fusion GPS, the FBI has failed to cooperate with congressional investigators seeking documents.

Steele contracted with Fusion GPS to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia starting in June 2016, whereupon he outlandishly claimed that Hillary campaign hackers were “paid by both Trump’s team and the Kremlin” and that the operation was run out of Putin’s office. He also fed Fusion GPS and its Hillary-allied clients incredulous gossip about Trump hating the Obamas so much that he hired hookers to urinate on a bed they slept in at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, and that Russian intelligence recorded the pee party in case they needed to blackmail Trump.

Never mind that none of the rumors were backed by evidence or even credible sourcing (don’t bother trying to confirm his bed-wetting yarn, Steele advised, as “all direct witnesses have been silenced”). Steele reinforced his paying customers’ worst fears about Trump, and they rewarded him for it with a whopping $250,000 in payments.

But it’s now clear his “intelligence reports,” which together run more than 35-pages long, were for the most part worthless. And the clients who paid Fusion GPS (which claims to go “beyond standard due diligence”) for them got taken to the cleaners.

Steele’s most sensational allegations remain unconfirmed. For instance, his claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen held a “clandestine meeting” on the alleged hacking scheme in Prague with “Kremlin officials” in August 2016 unraveled when Cohen denied ever visiting Prague, his passport showed no stamps showing he left or entered the US at the time, witnesses accounted for his presence here, and Czech authorities found no evidence Cohen went to Prague.

Steele hadn’t worked in Moscow since the 1990s and didn’t actually travel there to gather intelligence on Trump firsthand. He relied on third-hand “friend of friend” sourcing. In fact, most of his claimed Russian sources spoke not directly to him but “in confidence to a trusted compatriot” who, in turn, spoke to Steele — and always anonymously.

But his main source may have been Google. Most of the information branded as “intelligence” was merely rehashed from news headlines or cut and pasted — replete with errors — from Wikipedia.

In fact, much of the seemingly cloak-and-dagger information connecting Trump and his campaign advisers to Russia had already been reported in the media at the time Steele wrote his monthly reports.

In the same August report, for example, Steele connected a Moscow trip taken by then-Trump campaign adviser Michael Flynn to “the Russian operation” to hack the election. But there was nothing secret about the trip, which had taken place months earlier and had been widely reported.

And there was nothing untoward about it. It was a dinner celebrating the 10th birthday of Russian TV network RT, and Flynn sat at the same table with Putin as US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

The real question is why anyone would take anything in the sketchy report seriously.

But even the CIA gave it credence. The dossier ended up attached to a Top Secret intelligence briefing on Russia for President Obama, even though his intelligence czar last month testified “We couldn’t corroborate the sourcing.” The FBI, moreover, has been using it for investigative leads on Trump associates like Carter Page, even though former FBI Director James Comey this month described the dossier as “salacious and unverified.”

And of course, Democratic leaders in Congress keep referring to it to cook up more charges against Trump, while liberal media continue to use it as a road map to find “scoops” on Trump in the “Russiagate” conspiracy they’re peddling — still hoping against hope that the central thrust of the report — that Trump entered into an unholy alliance with the Russian government during the election — will one day prove true and bring about the downfall of his presidency.

Sperry is a former Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”

http://nypost.com/2017/06/24/inside-the-shadowy-intelligence-firm-behind-the-trump-dossier/

Trump Denies Obstructing FBI Probe, Says Has No Tapes of Talks With Comey

June 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had not obstructed the FBI’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and had not recorded his conversations with former FBI chief James Comey.

Comey was leading the investigation into allegations Russia tried to sway the election towards Trump and the possibility Trump associates colluded with Moscow when the president fired him on May 9, sparking a political firestorm.

“Look there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview set to air on Friday. Fox released a partial transcript of the interview on Thursday.

The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified before a Senate committee that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Russia.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not make and does not possess any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after suggesting last month he might have recordings that could undercut Comey’s description of events.

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Then FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

“I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election had asked the White House for any such recordings.

Shortly after dismissing Comey, Trump mentioned the possibility of tapes in a Twitter post.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted on May 12.

Allegations of ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the U.S. healthcare and tax systems.

Trump has privately told aides that the threat of the existence of tapes forced Comey to tell the truth in his recent testimony, a source familiar with the situation said.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump still had questions to answer about possible tapes.

Image result for Adam Schiff, photos

Adam Schiff

“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?” Schiff said in a statement.

CNN reported on Thursday that two top U.S. intelligence officials told investigators Trump suggested they publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, but that they did not feel he had ordered them to do so.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers met separately last week with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

The two officials said they were surprised at Trump’s suggestion and found their interactions with him odd and uncomfortable, but they did not act on the president’s requests, CNN reported, citing sources familiar with their accounts.

Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.

In his interview with Fox, Trump expressed concern about what he described as the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, who was appointed to take over the investigation after Comey was fired.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by
J. Scott Applewhite AP

“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said, according to the Fox transcript.

The Kremlin has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

Mueller’s Expanding Probe Raises Stakes for Trump Presidency

June 16, 2017

By Chris Strohm and Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg

June 14, 2017, 8:36 PM EDT June 15, 2017, 8:55 PM EDT
  • Trump decries ‘witch hunt’ led by ‘bad and conflicted people’
  • Senate Intelligence panel hosts DNI Coats behind closed doors
Mueller’s Expanded Probe Eyes Trump on Flynn

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, 2013. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s move to investigate whether Donald Trump sought to get the FBI to back off from a probe of his former national security adviser has angered the president and raised the stakes in the inquiry of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning. He decried a “witch hunt” that he said is being “led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Although White House officials tried earlier this week to tamp down speculation that Trump might try to fire Mueller, the escalating conflict led members of Congress of both parties to warn Trump Thursday against the temptation to do so.

“It would be a catastrophic mistake, but he doesn’t have the authority to do it,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters. She noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, told senators this week that only he could dismiss the special counsel.

‘Confidence’ in Mueller

Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who met with the special counsel a day earlier, said, “I have a lot of confidence in Mueller.”

Rosenstein named Mueller as special counsel last month to lead the inquiry into Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in that effort. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last month, citing the Russia investigation as the reason.

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Former FBI Director James Comey

Tensions escalated with Mueller’s latest moves. He is planning to interview two top U.S. intelligence officials about whether Trump sought their help to get the FBI to back off a related probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to three people familiar with the inquiry.

That suggests Mueller is examining the president’s own conduct, which may include whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

The Washington Post late Thursday reported that Mueller also is looking into the finances and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner as part of the Russian investigation. The paper cited unidentified officials familiar with the matter.

“We do not know what this report refers to,” Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick said in a statement provided by Kushner’s office. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Trump has hired one of his longtime lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, to represent him in the multiple inquiries. Vice President Mike Pence, who has mostly been on the sidelines of the investigations, has hired his own outside legal counsel, veteran Washington lawyer Richard Cullen, his spokesman said Thursday.

Mueller wants to interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Separately, Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session Thursday that lasted for three-and-a-half hours.

Burr said they discussed questions that Coats told lawmakers he couldn’t answer in public last week at a hearing, as well as the budget for intelligence for the next fiscal year.

“We worked through all of that,” Burr told reporters.

Avoiding Conflicts

The special counsel is also set to meet with a leading Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee as Mueller and lawmakers seek to avoid conflicts over their parallel investigations.

“We’ll be meeting with him in the next few days. It will be a closed hearing,” Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters.

A spokesman for Trump’s outside lawyer reacted angrily to the reports of an expanding probe by Mueller, accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation of breaking the law by disclosing the information.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said in an email on Wednesday.

Corallo didn’t elaborate on why he singled out the FBI as the source of information. Mueller’s decision to talk with the two officials was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

“Current and former leaders in the intelligence community have repeatedly said there’s been no effort to impede the investigation in any way,” Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “The continued illegal leaks are the only crime here.”

Refusing to Say

At a hearing last week of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats and Rogers refused to say whether they were asked by Trump to help impede an FBI investigation and suggested any response in a closed hearing would require consultations with White House lawyers on whether executive privilege should be invoked.

“To the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers said at the hearing, without answering whether he was asked — but not directed — to back off.

Mueller’s plans emerged just a week after Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump pressed him in February to ease up on an investigation into Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign for misleading administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.

Comey also said Trump repeatedly sought assurances that he wasn’t a target of the Russia investigation. Comey said he told the president on three occasions that he wasn’t personally under investigation.

But Comey suggested he expected Mueller would look into whether Trump’s efforts to intervene in the FBI inquiry amounted to obstruction of justice.

Read more: Why ‘Obstruction of Justice’ Is Echoing in D.C.

Trump’s spokesman said when he dismissed Comey on May 9 that the reason was the former FBI chief’s handling of the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. He cited the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia inquiry, and his deputy Rosenstein.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions

But days later, Trump said in an NBC interview that he had decided to fire Comey before getting their input and he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did it.

“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News in an interview broadcast May 11. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

Comey told senators on June 8 that Trump’s shifting explanations for dismissing him were “lies, plain and simple.” Trump and the White House disputed Comey’s description of the events.

Mueller has been building a team of investigators for a wide-ranging inquiry into Russia’s meddling.

Includes videos:

https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-06-15/mueller-said-to-examine-whether-trump-sought-to-slow-flynn-probe

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Trump accuses ex-FBI director Comey of cowardice over ‘leaks’

June 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP | US President © AFP | US President Donald Trump lambasted ex-FBI director James Comey as a “leaker” for making accounts of his meetings with the president public lambasted ex-FBI director James Comey as a “leaker” for making accounts of his meetings with the president public

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump on Sunday accused James Comey of cowardice by leaking accounts of his meetings with the president, days after the ex-FBI director testified that Trump sought to derail the Russian probe.

“I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible,” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet. “Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!'”

Sacked FBI chief Comey delivered his bombshell allegations at a Senate hearing Thursday, saying in his sworn testimony that he had asked a “friend” identified as a Columbia University law professor to release a memo of his conversations with the president to the press.

Comey said he had hoped releasing the information via the media would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to handle the Russia probe, a ploy that ultimately proved successful.

He branded the president a liar and said Trump urged him to abandon the investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, an allegation Trump has denied.

On Friday, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski criticized Comey as not “man enough” for having leaked the memo via his friend rather than doing it himself.

“He gave his notes to a Columbia law professor because he wasn’t man enough to give the notes directly to the media when he wanted them out to the media,” Lewandowski told NBC’s morning show “Today.”

Though Trump has lambasted Comey as a “leaker,” he also claimed “total and complete vindication” following the ex-FBI chief’s testimony, focusing on Comey’s confirmation that Trump was not personally being probed.

Comey confirms that Democratic commentators are wrong — By Alan Dershowitz

June 9, 2017

In his testimony former FBI director James Comey echoed a view that I alone have been expressing for several weeks, and that has been attacked by nearly every Democratic pundit.

Comey confirmed that under our Constitution, the president has the authority to direct the FBI to stop investigating any individual. I paraphrase, because the transcript is not yet available:  the president can, in theory, decide who to investigate, who to stop investigating, who to prosecute and who not to prosecute.  The president is the head of the unified executive branch of government, and the Justice Department and the FBI work under him and he may order them to do what he wishes.

As a matter of law, Comey is 100 percent correct.  As I have long argued, and as Comey confirmed in his written statement, our history shows that many presidents—from Adams to Jefferson, to Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to Kennedy, to Bush 1, and to Obama – have directed the Justice Department with regard to ongoing investigations. The history is clear, the precedents are clear, the constitutional structure is clear, and common sense is clear.

Yet virtually every Democratic pundit, in their haste to “get” President Trump, has willfully ignored these realities.  In doing so they have endangered our civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Now that even former Director Comey has acknowledged that the Constitution would permit the president to direct the Justice Department and the FBI in this matter, let us put the issue of obstruction of justice behind us once and for all and focus on the political, moral, and other non-criminal aspects of President Trump’s conduct.

Comey’s testimony was devastating with regard to President Trump’s credibility – at least as Comey sees it.  He was also critical of President Trump’s failure to observe the recent tradition of FBI independence from presidential influence.  These are issues worth discussing but they have been distorted by the insistence of Democratic pundits that Trump must have committed a crime because they disagree with what he did politically.

Director Comey’s testimony was thoughtful, coherent and balanced.  He is obviously angry with President Trump, and his anger has influenced his assessment of the president and his actions.  But even putting that aside, Comey has provided useful insights into the ongoing investigations.

I was disappointed to learn that Comey used a Columbia law professor as a go-between to provide information to the media.  He should have has the courage to do it himself.  Senators must insist that he disclose the name of his go-between so that they can subpoena his memos and perhaps subpoena the professor-friend to provide further information.

I write this short op-ed as Comey finishes his testimony. I think it is important to put to rest the notion that there was anything criminal about the president exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and to request – “hope” – that he let go the investigation of General Flynn. Just as the president would have had the constitutional power to pardon Flynn and thus end the criminal investigation of him, he certainly had the authority to request the director of the FBI to end his investigation of Flynn.

So let’s move on and learn all the facts regarding the Russian efforts to intrude on American elections without that investigation being impeded by frivolous efforts to accuse President Trump of committing a crime by exercising his constitutional authority.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus and author of Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law and Electile Dysfunction.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/06/08/dershowitz-comey-confirms-that-im-right-and-all-democratic-commentators-are-wrong.html

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