Posts Tagged ‘Trump Tower’

Trump Says ‘Both Sides’ to Blame in Charlottesville Violence

August 16, 2017

Updated Aug. 15, 2017 9:28 p.m. ET

NEW YORK—President Donald Trump, in a combative news conference on Tuesday, defended his response to the racially charged protests over the weekend, saying both sides were to blame for the clashes in Charlottesville, Va.

 

“There is blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it,” Mr. Trump said of the confrontation between white nationalist protesters holding a demonstration in the city and the counterprotesters facing off against them.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and nobody wants to say that but I’ll say it right now,” he said, adding that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

 More on the Violence in Charlottesville

Mr. Trump’s remarks were at odds with his statement on Monday that singled out white supremacists for blame and was issued after the president faced heavy pressure for failing to do so two days earlier. One woman was killed during the violence when a car driven by an alleged white supremacist plowed into a crowd.

Explaining Tuesday why he waited to call out white nationalist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name, Mr. Trump said: “Before I make a statement, I need the facts.”

The news conference was his first at Trump Tower since taking office, and was the most confrontational appearance since his last news conference at his New York skyscraper on Jan. 11, when he got into a shouting match with a CNN reporter.

Although the focus of the event was on Mr. Trump’s efforts to ease regulations and speed up infrastructure projects, the inquiries from reporters were almost exclusively about Mr. Trump’s handling of the protests, and why it took him three days to single out neo-Nazis or white nationalists, who organized the weekend rally.

Out of nearly two dozen questions aimed at the president, just one was about infrastructure. He received no questions about North Korea’s recent decision to back off its threat to fire missiles at Guam, or his first trade action aimed at China, which was announced on Monday.

We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.

An increasingly agitated president responded by calling the counterprotesters, who included liberal activists, members of the clergy and students, the “alt-left”—a play on the term “alt-right” that is a catchall phrase for far-right groups that embrace tenets of white supremacy or reject mainstream conservatism.

He suggested there was a slippery slope from removing a statute of Civil War General Robert E. Lee, which sparked the demonstration, and scrubbing from history former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves.

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” he said. “What about the fact that they came charging with their clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”

The president’s comments were praised by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who, on Twitter, thanked Mr. Trump for his “honor and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists.” Mr. Duke ran for Senate as a Republican.

The tweet drew immediate rebukes from some Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, one of his party’s few black congressmen.

“I don’t think anybody should be looking at getting props from a grand dragon from the KKK as a definition of success,” Mr. Hurd said on CNN, adding that the president should “stick to the teleprompter and not go off the cuff.”

As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who has often defended Mr. Trump this year, moved quickly to separate himself from the president’s remarks at Trump Tower.

“We must be clear,” Mr. Ryan posted on Twitter. “White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) tweeted: “As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.”

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany tweeted that the president “once again denounced hate today. The GOP stands behind his message of love and inclusiveness!”

Following days of criticism about his handling of Charlottesville, Mr. Trump came to the news conference aggrieved about his treatment, two advisers to the president said. One said he had been “stunned” by the reaction over the past few days and was feeling “overwhelming pressure.” Mr. Trump could have parried questions by referring to his statement on Monday singling out white nationalist groups by name. Instead, he gave the most extensive public comments on the episode to date.

One adviser to the president, speaking before the news conference, said Mr. Trump was facing pressure from aides, family and friends to clarify his statement on Saturday and condemn more directly the white nationalist protesters. The danger to Mr. Trump is that divisive racial rhetoric will leave him isolated, this person said.

President @realDonaldTrump once again denounced hate today. The GOP stands behind his message of love and inclusiveness!

“Congress will run from him. Any normal person will run from him,” he said.

Mr. Trump also was asked about his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his future in the White House.

The president has been urged to fire Mr. Bannon by other top White House officials, some Republican lawmakers, as well as Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House. But on Tuesday, the president called Mr. Bannon a “friend” and suggested he was safe, at least for now.

Mr. Bannon, who helped steer Mr. Trump’s election victory, joined the campaign from Breitbart News, which he once described as a “platform for the alt-right.” Brietbart has published such articles as “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.”

“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he’s a good person,” Mr. Trump said. “He is not a racist, I can tell you that.”

Some conservatives, though, said Mr. Trump is ill-served by Mr. Bannon’s presence in the West Wing, and calls for his ouster have risen since the Charlottesville violence.

Karl Rove, a former senior official in President George W. Bush’s White House and an op-ed writer for The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Bannon’s ideology is out of step with that of Republican and conservative thought. “I personally believe that Bannon’s mind-set is unhelpful to the president,” Mr. Rove said. “The idea of blowing up the Republican Party and helping the alt-right infiltrate the conservative movement is unhelpful to my party and my cause.”

Mr. Trump said some protesters Saturday weren’t white supremacists but people there to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statute.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”

Mr. Trump also was asked about the executives who had left White House advisory positions in the wake of his slow condemnation of white nationalists.

He said: “Because they’re not taking their jobs seriously as it pertains to this country.…They’re leaving out of embarrassment because they’re making their products outside” of the country.

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 16, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Adds Fuel to Race Furor.’

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Defiant Trump insists anew: Blame both sides for violence

August 16, 2017

The Associated Press

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JULIE PACE

The Associated Press

Image may contain: 2 people, suit

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, calls on a reporter while meeting the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK (AP) — Combative and insistent, President Donald Trump declared anew Tuesday “there is blame on both sides” for the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them. He showed sympathy for the fringe groups’ efforts to preserve Confederate monuments.

The president’s comments effectively wiped away the more conventional statement he delivered at the White House a day earlier when he branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs.”

Trump’s advisers had hoped those remarks might quell a crush of criticism from Republicans, Democrats and business leaders. But the president’s retorts Tuesday suggested he had been a reluctant participant in that cleanup effort and renewed questions about why he seems to struggle to unequivocally condemn white nationalists.

The blowback was swift, including from fellow Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Trump should not allow white supremacists “to share only part of the blame.” House Speaker Paul Ryan declared in a tweet that “white supremacy is repulsive” and there should be “no moral ambiguity,” though he did not specifically address the president.

Combative and insistent, President Donald Trump declared Tuesday “there is blame on both sides” for the deadly violence last weekend in Virginia, appearing to once again equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them. (Aug. 15)

Trump’s remarks were welcomed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth.”

Violence broke out Saturday in Charlottesville, a picturesque college town, after a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city’s decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

In the immediate aftermath, Trump placed the blame on “many sides.” On Monday, at the urging of his aides, he delivered a more direct condemnation of white supremacists. But he returned to his original arguments Tuesday during an impromptu press conference in the lobby of his Manhattan skyscraper, declaring “there are two sides to a story.”

He acknowledged there were “some very bad people” looking for trouble in the group protesting plans to remove the statue. “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” he said.

Trump sided with those seeking to maintain the monument to Lee, equating him with some of the nation’s founders who also owned slaves. Confederate monuments have become rallying points for supporters of both preserving and toppling them.

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down.” I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?”

He continued: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

The president’s comments mirrored rhetoric from the far-right fringe. A post Monday by the publisher of The Daily Stormer, a notorious neo-Nazi website, predicted that protesters are going to demand that the Washington Monument be torn down.

Trump’s handling of the weekend violence has raised new and troubling questions, even among some supporters. Members of his own Republican Party have pressured him to be more vigorous in criticizing bigoted groups, and business leaders have begun abandoning a White House jobs panel in response to his comments.

White House officials were caught off guard by his remarks Tuesday. He had signed off on a plan to not answer questions from journalists during an event touting infrastructure policies, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly about a private discussion. Once behind the lectern and facing the cameras, he overruled the decision.

As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines in the lobby stood in silence. Chief of staff John Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked around the room trying to make eye contact with other senior aides. One young staffer stood with her mouth agape.

 

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, on Tuesday during Mr. Trump’s news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Credit Al Drago for The New York Times

Kelly was brought into the White House less than a month ago to try to bring order and stability to a chaotic West Wing. Some Trump allies hoped the retired Marine general might be able to succeed where others have failed: controlling some of Trump’s impulses. But the president’s improvisations on Tuesday once against underscored that he cannot be controlled by his advisers.

Democrats were aghast at Trump’s comments. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said on Twitter that the Charlottesville violence “was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts.” Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said on Twitter that he no longer views Trump as his president.

“As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment,” Schatz said. “This is not my president.”

When asked to explain his Saturday comments about Charlottesville, Trump looked down at his notes and again read a section of his initial statement that denounced bigotry but did not single out white supremacists. He then tucked the paper back into his jacket pocket.

Trump, who has quickly deemed other deadly incidents in the U.S. and around the world acts of terrorism, waffled when asked whether the car death was a terrorist attack.

“There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism?” Trump said. “And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”

Trump said he had yet to call Heyer’s mother but would soon “reach out.” He praised her for what he said was a nice statement about him on social media.

As he finally walked away from his lectern, he stopped to answer one more shouted question: Would he visit Charlottesville? The president’s response was to note that he owned property there and to say — inaccurately — that it was one of the largest wineries in the United States.

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AP writers Darlene Superville and Richard Lardner contributed to this report. Pace reported from Washington.

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Follow Lemire at http://twitter.com/jonlemire and Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Russian-American lobbyist also at Trump Tower Meeting With Donald Trump Jr., Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, The Associated Press Finds

July 15, 2017

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Donald Trump Jr. is interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television program, in New York Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Richard Drew – Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer attended a meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year, the lobbyist said Friday, adding a new wrinkle to the Trump team’s evolving explanations about the June 2016 session.

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Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his involvement to The Associated Press in an interview. He had not been previously identified as a participant in the meeting at Trump Tower in New York, which was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

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Rinat Akhmetshin

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. (July 14)

The meeting has heightened questions about whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election — to help him and thwart Hillary Clinton — and whether they’ve been forthcoming about their foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators are probing possible connections between the campaign and Moscow.

Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He’s a well-known Washington presence, lobbying for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a U.S. sanctions law.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.

In emails posted by Donald Trump Jr. earlier this week, a music publicist said he arranged the meeting because a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Clinton. The go-between stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.

While Trump Jr. has confirmed that Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he has not disclosed Akhmetshin’s presence. The president’s son has publicly discounted the meeting, saying he did not receive the information he was promised.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya

In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said the attorney had said she had information that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton, a description that Akhmetshin backed up in his interview with the AP.

In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in “adjacent political circles” but never together.

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Paul Manafort

He said there were others in the room but he didn’t know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the meeting via email with Trump Jr., has told the AP that he was there.

Asked about Akhmetshin’s participation, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment. Trump Jr.’s attorney did not respond to inquiries, nor did a spokesman for Kushner. Veselnitskaya has denied having any ties to the Russian government. When reached by the AP this week, she declined comment. She did not respond to additional attempts to contact her Friday.

The confirmation of Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting drew swift reaction from the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who said he wanted Akhmetshin to appear before the committee and provide “any relevant documents and information.”

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Jared Kushner

Schiff said whether Akhmetshin is connected to Russian intelligence or not “it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Schiff said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

Kushner disclosed the meeting on his security clearance paperwork, but Schiff said the Akhmetshin revelation raises questions about how much Kushner disclosed about it. He said he believes Kushner’s clearance should be reviewed, and “if he was not perfectly candid,” the clearance should be revoked.

Akhmetshin, who spoke to the AP while on vacation in France where he said he has been surfing, said the meeting was “not substantive” and he “actually expected more serious” discussion.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he said.

The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “We don’t know anything about this person.”

Akhmetshin has been identified in media reports as a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service known as the GRU. He has denied that, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence.”

Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by the U.S. special counsel’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr. He said he’s willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman has pressed the Justice Department about why Akhmetshin has not registered as a foreign agent.

The chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a March letter that Akhmetshin has “reportedly admitted to being a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’ and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters.”

Akhmetshin said that the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit sent him a letter in April and told him, “it has come to our attention you should have filed for FARA.” He said he didn’t believe he needed to file. He has previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work, and he plans to raise this issue before Grassley’s committee.

“I think I have a legal right to tell my story,” he said.

Separately on Friday, the data and digital director for Trump’s presidential campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence committee later this month as part of its own Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is “unaware of any Russian involvement” in the data and digital operations but will voluntarily appear before the panel.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun and Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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Rob Goldstone from his Facebook page

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Donald Trump Jr: Former Soviet counterintelligence officer confirms he attended Russian lawyer meeting

Mr Trump Jr has dismissed the controversy as a ‘big yawn’

The Independent

A Russian former military operative with links to counterintelligence also attended Donald Trump Jr’s notorious meeting with a Russian lawyer about obtaining possibly incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Rinat Akhmetshin, a dual Russian-American citizen and lobbyist who has been accused of acting as “an unregistered agent for Russian interests” and with ties to Russian military intelligence service, or GRU, has confirmed he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Also participating in the meeting was a US-based Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov, who had worked previously for Ms Veselnitskaya and the US State Department at various points.

Mr Akhmetshin said he accompanied Ms Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower on 9 June 2016. Although he had known and worked with Ms Veselnitskaya for a number of years, he said he had only learned about the meeting that day when she asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Mr Trump Jr’s account of the meeting, which has shifted several times, failed to mention the presence of Mr Akhmetshin, or the translator. Mr Trump Jr said he had agreed to the meeting, also attended by Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort, because he was told Ms Veselnitskaya had material damaging to Ms Clinton that was “high level and sensitive information [and] is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

Mr Akhmetshin said Ms Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder with her, containing printed documents that detailed what she believed could potentially be the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Ms Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

Mr Trump Jr asked the lawyer if she had all the evidence to back up her claims, according to Mr Akhmetshin, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Ms Veselnitskaya allegedly claimed the Trump campaign would need to research it more.

After that exchange, Mr Trump Jr lost interest, Mr Akhmetshin said. “They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Akhmetshin said he does not know if Ms Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room, or simply left them behind, he said.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said that the reports about Mr Akhmetshin add “another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting”.

Mr Trump Jr has insisted the meeting did not amount to much, that he was offered no information on Ms Clinton and that in truth Ms Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act, a piece of US legislation that sanctions a handful of Russians the US believes might be linked to the 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Ms Veselnitskaya has denied offering any information to Mr Trump Jr and working for the Russian state.

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Ms Veselnitskaya has denied working for the Russian government (AP)
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Mr Akhmetshin has been closely associated with Ms Veselnitskaya for several years and has worked with her in an effort to overturn the Magnitsky Act. Mr Samochornov did translation for Ms Veselnitskaya in relation to her lobbying and legal work in the US.

In 2016, Ms Veselnitskaya’s client, Denis Katsyv, head of the company Prevezon, registered a nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) in February 2016, which says its aim is to overturn an adoption ban on impacting American couples but which many believe is a front to lobby against the Magnitsky Act, the passage of which is said to have infuriated Vladimir Putin.

The HRAGIF’s registered lobbyist was Mr Akhmetshin, who took UK citizenship in 2009.

Earlier this year, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to learn more about Mr Akhmetshin’s activities.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in April, Mr Grassley wrote: “I write to obtain information regarding Mr Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant to the United States who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”

He added: “Mr Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the US who has admitted having been a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’. In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specialises in ‘active measures campaigns, subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

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Rinat Akhmetshin has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of various Russia-related issues for a number of years (Bill Browder)
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Mr Akhmetshin has denied that he worked for the GRU, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence”.

The development has infuriated President Trump, who had hoped to get away from the Russia story, even as special prosecutor Robert Mueller continues a probe into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged effort to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mr Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by Mr Mueller’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Mr Trump Jr. He said he is willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump was obliged to defend his eldest son, saying that “anyone” would have taken the meeting.

Speaking in France, where he was meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, he said: “I do think this, that taken from a practical standpoint … most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person,’ or, frankly, Hillary.”

He added: “That’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world.”

Mr Akhmetshin did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Independent. President Trump’s lawyers also failed to respond.

Elsewhere, a former Trump campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, said after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee in closed session on Friday that he had no contact with Russians and never heard of anyone in the campaign “talking with Russians”.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-jr-russia-meeting-societ-counter-intelligence-officer-jared-kushner-hillary-clinton-a7841386.html

Trump son-in-law to testify in Senate committee Russia probe

March 27, 2017

Reuters and AFP

© Nicholas Kamm, AFP file picture | Trump’s son-in-law and Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-03-27

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, has volunteered to testify to a Senate committee probing whether Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the White House said on Monday.

The allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian actors were behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails last year linger over Trump’s young presidency. Democrats charge the Russians wanted to tilt the election toward the Republican, a claim dismissed by Trump. Russia denies the allegations.

But there has been no doubt that the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, developed contacts among the Trump team. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign on Feb. 13 after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Kushner is willing to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by U.S. Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

“Throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials … and so, given this role, he volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr’s committee, but has not received any confirmation regarding a time for a meeting,” Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate panel also said Kushner had agreed to be interviewed.

At the same time, a mystery rooted in Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by then President Barack Obama during the election campaign deepened with the disclosure that a top congressional Republican reviewed classified information on the White House grounds about potential surveillance of some Trump campaign associates.

U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, visited the White House the night before announcing on Wednesday that he had information that indicated some Trump associates may have been subjected to some level of intelligence activity before Trump took office on Jan. 20.

‘Willing stooge of Trump’

Democrats have said Nunes, who was a member of Trump’s transition team, can no longer run a credible investigation of Russian hacking, the U.S. election and any potential involvement by Trump associates. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi last week called Nunes “a willing stooge of Trump”.

  House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes

Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement that Nunes “met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source”.

White House spokesman Spicer did not shed any light on who at the White House helped Nunes gain access to a secure location.

“I’m not going to get into who he met with or why he met with them,” Spicer said. “I will leave it up to him and not try to get in the middle of that.”

It was the latest twist in a saga that began on March 4 when Trump said on Twitter without providing evidence that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory”.

FBI Director James Comey told Congress last Monday he had seen no evidence to support the claim.

Trump’s mention of wiretapping drew attention away from U.S. intelligence agencies having said that Russia tried to help Trump in the election against Democrat Hillary Clinton by hacking leading Democrats and spreading disinformation.

Trump briefed before committee

Nunes told reporters on Wednesday that he had briefed Trump “on the concerns I had about incidental collection and how it relates to President-elect Trump and his transition team and the concerns that I have.”

After an uproar over the allegations and the fact that he briefed Trump first before members of his own committee, Nunes apologized on Thursday for the way he handled the information.

A congressional source said congressional investigators have questioned agencies directly to try to find out what intelligence reports and intercepts Nunes is referring to, but that as of Monday the agencies were still saying they did not know what Nunes was talking about.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Nunes was on his way to an event late Tuesday when he left his staff and went to review classified intelligence files brought to his attention by his source, whom he has not identified.

The White House had seized on Nunes’ remarks to bolster Trump’s unproven assertion that Obama wiretapped his campaign headquarters in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.

Nunes and some other Republicans have focused much of their concern over the investigation about the possibility that some Americans’ names have been improperly “unmasked” and released to the public in leaks about the investigation of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.

(REUTERS)

Trump Tower

Trump Tower CREDIT: EPA

Alleged Obama administration spying on Trump team — Is there a potential ‘smoking gun’?

March 24, 2017

By

Nunes: Surveillance reports I’ve seen are ‘concerning’

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Republican congressional investigators expect a potential “smoking gun” establishing that the Obama administration spied on the Trump transition team, and possibly the president-elect himself, will be produced to the House Intelligence Committee this week, a source told Fox News.

Classified intelligence showing incidental collection of Trump team communications, purportedly seen by committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and described by him in vague terms at a bombshell Wednesday afternoon news conference, came from multiple sources, Capitol Hill sources told Fox News. The intelligence corroborated information about surveillance of the Trump team that was known to Nunes, sources said, even before President Trump accused his predecessor of having wiretappedhim in a series of now-infamous tweets posted on March 4.

House Intelligence chief Devin Nunes says the FBI provided no evidence on Friday of a warrant to wiretap Trump Tower

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, accused Trump of leading Congress on a 'wild goose chase' in a competing interview on NBC's Meet the Press

House Intelligence chief Devin Nunes says the FBI provided no evidence on Friday of a warrant to wiretap Trump Tower (top). Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, accused Trump of leading Congress on a ‘wild goose chase’ in a competing interview on NBC’s Meet the Press (bottom)

The intelligence is said to leave no doubt the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on President-elect Trump, according to sources.

The key to that conclusion is the unmasking of selected U.S. persons whose names appeared in the intelligence, the sources said, adding that the paper trail leaves no other plausible purpose for the unmasking other than to damage the incoming Trump administration.

The FBI hasn’t been responsive to the House Intelligence Committee’s request for documents, but the National Security Agency is expected to produce documents to the committee by Friday. The NSA document production is expected to produce more intelligence than Nunes has so far seen or described – including what one source described as a potential “smoking gun” establishing the spying.

Some time will be needed to properly assess the materials, with the likely result being that congressional investigators and attorneys won’t have a solid handle on the contents of the documents – and their implications – until next week.

Because Nunes’s intelligence came from multiple sources during a span of several weeks, and he has not shared the actual materials with his committee colleagues, he will be the only member of the panel in a position to know whether the NSA has turned over some or all of the intelligence he is citing. However, Fox News was told Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had been briefed on the basic contents of the intelligence described by Nunes.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is also sympathetic to the effort to determine, with documentary evidence, the extent of any alleged Obama administration spying on the Trump team, sources said.

At a dramatic Wednesday news conference, Nunes claimed to have seen evidence that members of the Trump transition team, possibly including the president-elect, were subjected to “incidental surveillance” collection that Nunes characterized as legal but troubling.

“What I’ve read bothers me,” he told reporters, “and I think it should bother the president himself, and his team because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate.”

Schiff blasted Nunes for not coming first to the Intelligence Committee with the information.

“If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,” Schiff said in a Wednesday statement.

James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show “The Foxhole.” His latest book is “A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century” (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).

Includes video:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/23/potential-smoking-gun-showing-obama-administration-spied-on-trump-team-source-says.html

Related:

Anonymous U.S. government officials accuse Trump aides of giving Russians the ‘thumbs up’ for election hacks — ‘This is deeply troubling along many levels.’

March 23, 2017
  • US officials say FBI has information suggesting Trump campaign aides coordinated release of damaging info about Hillary Clinton with Russia
  • Other officials, however, say the evidence is circumstantial and it is premature to infer that collusion took place between Trump campaign and Moscow
  • The new information adds to statements made Wednesday by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee
  • Schiff told MSNBC that the evidence into alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign is ‘more than circumstantial’ 
  • Earlier Schiff ripped GOP chairman Devin Nunes for going to the White House with new information about ‘incidental’ surveillance of Trump associates 
  • Nunes stunned Washington by saying that President Donald Trump was right – sort of – when he said his calls were monitored by Obama 
  • Intelligence collected on his transition team was ‘incidental,’ meaning neither Trump nor campaign insiders were targeted
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. AFP photo

The bitter dispute over President Trump’s claims he was wire-tapped by the Obama administration and counter-accusations that his aides colluded with Russia during the election took another twist on Wednesday night.

A CNN report said the FBI believes President Donald Trump’s associates were in communication with suspected Russian operatives possibly to coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.

The cable news network quotes anonymous US government officials as saying that the bureau has information that suggests links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, though the sources stress that the evidence unearthed so far is ‘not conclusive.’

The fact that the claims are being made on CNN is only likely to intensify the president’s conflict with the network he has called ‘fake news’ and lead to further accusations that it is acting as the opposition to Trump.

And they come against the background of a bitter and now nakedly partisan dispute on the House Intelligence Committee over interactions with Russia which boiled over on Wednesday afternoon into an ugly public dispute between the Republican chair and the Democratic ranking member.

One source is cited by CNN as saying that this information is what FBI Director James Comey was referring to in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

Comey told lawmakers on Monday that the FBI had come across ‘a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.’

The bureau is now sifting through phone records, travel documents, and human intelligence material in an effort to conclusively determine if laws were broken by individuals with links to Trump’s campaign.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday that there is 'more than circumstantial' evidence of links between the Trump campaign and Russia - a statement backed up by anonymous US officials who told CNN that new information suggests possible collusion

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday that there is ‘more than circumstantial’ evidence of links between the Trump campaign and Russia – a statement backed up by anonymous US officials who told CNN that new information suggests possible collusion

The White House has denied any wrongdoing by the campaign.

‘People connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready,’ CNN quoted one source as saying.

But other officials threw cold water on the circumstantial evidence, saying that it was premature to make inferences from the information gathered.

US intelligence agencies believe that the Russian government was behind the hacking and release of emails belonging to senior Democratic Party officials, including the senior echelons of Clinton’s campaign.

There is consensus among US intelligence officials that the aim of the hacks was to aid Trump’s candidacy.

Thus far, four individuals involved in Trump’s campaign – former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, national security adviser Michael Flynn, and confidante Roger Stone – have been investigated by the FBI for alleged ties to Russia.

All of them deny any wrongdoing.

Paul Manafort 

Paul Manafort  CREDIT: AP

The latest revelations by CNN appear to bolster statements made earlier on Wednesday by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff told MSNBC’s MTP Daily that the evidence currently in the hands of intelligence officials are ‘more than circumstantial’ and ‘very much worthy of investigation,’ though he said he could not get into specific.

Schiff blasted his GOP counterpart, asking whether the panel’s Russia probe can function after chairman Rep. Devin Nunes briefed Trump on new snooping developments.

Schiff, a California Democrat who works closely with Nunes, called the Republicans’ debrief of Trump at the White House Wednesday ‘deeply troubling,’ and demanded the creation of an independent Russia probe.

House Democrats condemn Nunes for ‘undermining’ intel probe
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Schiff was blindsided when Nunes went to tell Trump that intelligence intercepts picked up Trump transition members – as well as Trump himself – seeming to substantiate the president’s claims this month.

‘The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to at as a surrogate of the White House – because he cannot do both,’ Schiff fumed at a Capitol Hill press conference.

‘This is deeply troubling along many levels. The most significant level is it really impedes our ability to do this investigation the way we should,’ he added.

He declined to get into specifics about the documents Nunes saw – because he said Nunes hadn’t shared them with him or with Republican members of the committee yet.

‘We have no idea where these documents came from, whether they even show what they purport to show,’ he said. He raised the possibility that Nunes brought up the information as a way to help Trump back up his Twitter claim of 19 days ago that President Obama had his phones ‘tapped’ at Trump Tower – something the head of the FBI and Nunes himself has said didn’t happen.

His admonishment was a departure from the normally collegial panel, where the leaders are known as ‘chairman’ and ‘vice chairman’ and share the nation’s top secrets.

Nunes confirms intelligence was collected on Trump transition team

Earlier on Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. David Nunes (R-Cal) told President Trump that there was ‘incidental’ surveillance of Trump aides unrelated to Russia

Nunes would not say how Trump transition officials were caught up in the surveillance - and whether any of them work at the White House

Nunes would not say how Trump transition officials were caught up in the surveillance – and whether any of them work at the White House

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‘But even if they do, on the basis of what the chairman said, the underlying fact is still the same: There’s no evidence to support the president’s contention that he was wiretapped by his predecessor,’ said Schiff.

‘So I’m not sure what the point of this extraordinary process is. And I have to hope that this is not part of a broader campaign by the White House aimed to deflect from the [FBI] director’s testimony earlier this week.’

Schiff suggested that the House Intelligence could be a casualty of Trump’s tweets – bringing up an angry clash with the British government over alleged spy cooperation that the British say didn’t happen.

HAPPIER TIMES? Chairman Devin Nunes of California (R) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff listen to testimony during hearings on Russia's involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election and alleged hacking allegations during a House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday

HAPPIER TIMES? Chairman Devin Nunes of California (R) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff listen to testimony during hearings on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election and alleged hacking allegations during a House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday

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‘If the incident today is an indication that, after making the baseless claim, the president then aggravated the damage by implicating the British in a potential plot to have the British surveil him on behalf of President Obama, and now is attempting to interfere in the congressional investigation – again, with the effort of trying to provide some substance to a claim without substance – then the damage the wrecking ball of this allegation has just claimed another victim, that being our own committee,’ he said.

‘I only learned about this the way that all of you did, when the chairman briefed the press in advance of briefing his own committee members,’ said Schiff.

The president told White House reporters that he feels ‘somewhat’ vindicated after hearing what Nunes had to say this afternoon. The congressman came to the White House this afternoon to give Trump an in-person briefing

Schiff also blasted Nunes in a blistering written statement. ”If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,’ Schiff said.

‘The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.’

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Nunes defended himself from the charges he might have acted improperly in an appearance on CNN about an hour before Schiff spoke.

He said the information ‘concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this,’ he said.

‘It’s not fair for him not to know what’s in these reports,’ added Nunes.

‘President-elect Trump and his team were put into intelligence reports,’ Nunes told the network. He mentioned ‘dozens’ of intercepts. ‘Clearly there was surveillance that was conducted.’

But he didn’t back off his earlier statement that Trump was not subjected to wiretapping at Trump Tower.

FBI Director James Comey. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Schiff’s frustration followed Republican committee chairman Devin Nunes’ decision to brief the House speaker; the CIA, NSA and FBI chiefs; the White House; and the Washington press corps about a cache of intelligence reports in his possession – without sharing them with fellow committee members.

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Nunes told reporters on Capitol Hill that the US Intelligence Community collected ‘incidental’ information about President Donald Trump and his transition team during the three months following the 2016 election.

He said the information collected was ‘legally collected’ pursuant to a warrant issued by a FISA judge in a federal court, and concerned ‘foreign’ surveillance.

But that ‘did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russians,’ and there’s no reason to believe anyone in Trump’s circle was the target of an investigation.

The president told journalists that he feels ‘somewhat’ vindicated after hearing what Nunes had to say.

Trump has been fighting Democrats’ charges that he lied on March 4 when he claimed Barack Obama ‘wire tapped’ him last year.

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President Obama’s Director of national Intelligence James Clapper

‘I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. I somewhat do,’ he said shortly after a meeting with Nunes.

Nunes told NBC he wasn’t currently able to show the information to Schiff because he and the committee don’t have the documents in their possession.

He said he was waiting for an intelligence official to send over the reports, which he said he was shown by a ‘source.’

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Nunes’ statements ‘would appear to have revealed classified intelligence.’

Schiff refused to make the same charged when asked whether Nunes had revealed classified information.

House Intel Committee Chairman: Surveillance was collected about Trump transition team in Trump Tower

March 22, 2017

The U.S. intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of President Trump’s transition team and the information was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters.

“Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.”

He said that the intelligence has nothing to do with Russia and that the collection occurred after the presidential election.

No automatic alt text available.

The information was “legally brought to him by sources who thought we should know it,” Nunes said, though he provided little detail on the source.

He said that “additional names” of Trump transition officials had been unmasked in the intelligence reports and indicated that Trump’s communications may have been swept up.

The congressman said he had viewed dozens of documents showing that the information had been incidentally collected. He said that he believes the information was collected legally.

Nunes said he briefed Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the revelation and will inform the White House later today. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Nunes will brief Trump personally.

The chairman’s statement comes after he and other congressional leaders pushed back on Trump’s claims that former President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower ahead of the election.

Nunes said Wednesday that it was unclear whether the information incidentally collected originated in Trump Tower.

The revelation comes in the wake of the committee’s explosive hearing on Monday, at which FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the bureau has been investigating Russia’s election meddling since July, which includes probing possible coordination between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow.

The meeting represented the panel’s first open hearing on its investigation into Russia’s election meddling and also featured testimony from National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.

http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/325218-nunes-intelligence-community-collected-information-on-trump-transition

Related:

Nunes Confirms There Was “Incidental Surveillance” Of Trump During Obama Administration

March 22, 2017

Zero Hedge

It appears Trump may have been right, again.

Two days after FBI director Comey shot down Trump’s allegation that Trump was being wiretapped by president Obama before the election, it appears that president Trump may have been on to something because moments ago, the House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, told reporters that the U.S. intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of President Trump’s transition team, possibly including Trump himself, and the information was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports.

  House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes

As AP adds, Nunes said that President Donald Trump’s communications may have been “monitored” during the transition period as part of an “incidental collection.”

Nunes told a news conference Wednesday that the communications appear to be picked up through “incidental collection” and do not appear to be related to the ongoing FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia. He says he believes the intelligence collections were done legally, although in light of the dramatic change in the plotline it may be prudent to reserve judgment on how “incidental” it was.

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters.

“Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.”

The information was “legally brought to him by sources who thought we should know it,” Nunes said, though he provided little detail on the source.

BREAKING!!! Rep Devin Nunes (Intel Cmte Chmn):
There was “Incidental collection” of @realDonaldTrump thru IC surveillance <- BOMBSHELL

Nunes also said that “additional names” of Trump transition officials had been unmasked in the intelligence reports. He indicated that Trump’s communications may have been swept up. 

The House Intel Chair said he had viewed dozens of documents showing that the information had been incidentally collected. He said that he believes the information was legally collected.  Nunes said that the intelligence has nothing to do with Russia and that the collection occurred after the presidential election.

Nunes said he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the revelation and will inform the White House later today.  Nunes’ statement comes after he and other congressional leaders pushed back on Trump’s claims that former President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower ahead of the election.

Nunes said Wednesday that it was unclear whether the information incidentally collected originated in Trump Tower.

The revelation comes in the wake of the committee’s explosive hearing on Monday, at which FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the bureau has been investigating Russia’s election hacking since July, which includes probing possible coordination between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow.

The meeting represented the panel’s first open hearing on its investigation into Russia’s election meddling and also featured testimony from NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers.

Nunes says the communications of Trump associates were also picked up, but he did not name those associates. He says the monitoring mostly occurred in November, December and January. He added that he learned of the collection through “sources” but did not specify those source

Politico adds that Nunes is going to the White House later Wednesday to brief the Trump administration on what he has learned, which he said came from “sources.”

Nunes says he is “bothered” by this. Won’t say whether or not intel community spied on Trump et. al. But says he is “concerned.”

While there are no further details, we look forward to how the media narrative will change as a result of today’s latest dramatic development.

A President’s Credibility

March 22, 2017

Trump’s falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, March 21.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, March 21. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
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The Wall Street Journal
Editorial Board

March 21, 2017 7:28 p.m. ET

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.

The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had “found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence.

Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims. Sean Spicer—who doesn’t deserve this treatment—was dispatched last week to repeat an assertion by a Fox News commentator that perhaps the Obama Administration had subcontracted the wiretap to British intelligence.

That bungle led to a public denial from the British Government Communications Headquarters, and British news reports said the U.S. apologized. But then the White House claimed there was no apology. For the sake of grasping for any evidence to back up his original tweet, and the sin of pride in not admitting error, Mr. Trump had his spokesman repeat an unchecked TV claim that insulted an ally.

The wiretap tweet is also costing Mr. Trump politically as he hands his opponents a sword. Mr. Trump has a legitimate question about why the U.S. was listening to his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and who leaked news of his meeting with the Russian ambassador. But that question never gets a hearing because the near-daily repudiation of his false tweet is a bigger media story.

FBI director James Comey also took revenge on Monday by joining the queue of those saying the bureau has no evidence to back up the wiretap tweet. Mr. Comey even took the unusual step of confirming that the FBI is investigating ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia.

Mr. Comey said he could make such a public admission only in “unusual circumstances,” but why now? Could the wiretap tweet have made Mr. Comey angry because it implied the FBI was involved in illegal surveillance? Mr. Trump blundered in keeping Mr. Comey in the job after the election, but now the President can’t fire the man leading an investigation into his campaign even if he wants to.

All of this continues the pattern from the campaign that Mr. Trump is his own worst political enemy. He survived his many false claims as a candidate because his core supporters treated it as mere hyperbole and his opponent was untrustworthy Hillary Clinton. But now he’s President, and he needs support beyond the Breitbart cheering section that will excuse anything. As he is learning with the health-care bill, Mr. Trump needs partners in his own party to pass his agenda. He also needs friends abroad who are willing to trust him when he asks for support, not least in a crisis.

This week should be dominated by the smooth political sailing for Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and the progress of health-care reform on Capitol Hill. These are historic events, and success will show he can deliver on his promises. But instead the week has been dominated by the news that he was repudiated by his own FBI director.

Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.

Appeared in the Mar. 22, 2017, print edition.

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FBI investigating ties between Russia and Trump campaign

March 20, 2017

AFP and The Associated Press

© Nicholas Kamm, AFP | FBI Director James Comey (pictured left) and NSA Director Mike Rogers on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on March 20, 2017

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-03-20

FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that the bureau is investigating possible links and coordination between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump as part of a probe of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

The extraordinary revelation came at the outset of Comey’s opening statement in a congressional hearing examining Russian meddling and possible connections between Moscow and Trump‘s campaign. He acknowledged that the FBI does not ordinarily discuss ongoing investigations, but said he’d been authorized to do so given the extreme public interest in this case.

“This work is very complex, and there is no way for me to give you a timetable for when it will be done,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee.

Earlier in the hearing, the chairman of the committee contradicted an assertion from Trump by saying that there had been no wiretap of Trump Tower. But Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican whose committee is one of several investigating, said that other forms of surveillance of Trump and his associates have not been ruled out.

Comey was testifying at Monday’s hearing along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.

Trump, who recently accused President Barack Obama of wiretapping his New York skyscraper during the campaign, took to Twitter before the hearing began, accusing Democrats of making up allegations about his campaign associates’ contact with Russia during the election. He said Congress and the FBI should be going after media leaks and maybe even Hillary Clinton instead.

“The real story that Congress, the FBI and others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!” Trump tweeted early Monday as news coverage on the Russia allegations dominated the morning’s cable news.

Trump also suggested, without evidence, that Clinton’s campaign was in contact with Russia and had possibly thwarted a federal investigation. U.S. intelligence officials have not publicly raised the possibility of contacts between the Clintons and Moscow. Officials investigating the matter have said they believe Moscow had hacked into Democrats’ computers in a bid to help Trump’s election bid.

The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!

Monday’s hearing, one of several by congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.

The top two lawmakers on the committee said Sunday that documents the Justice Department and FBI delivered late last week offered no evidence that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, the president’s New York City headquarters. But the panel’s ranking Democrat said the material offered circumstantial evidence that American citizens colluded with Russians in Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

“There was circumstantial evidence of collusion; there is direct evidence, I think, of deception,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”There’s certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation.”

The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!

Nunes said: “For the first time the American people, and all the political parties now, are paying attention to the threat that Russia poses.”

“We know that the Russians were trying to get involved in our campaign, like they have for many decades. They’re also trying to get involved in campaigns around the globe and over in Europe,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a similar hearing for later in the month.

It is not clear how much new information will emerge Monday, and the hearing’s open setting unquestionably puts Comey in a difficult situation if he’s asked to discuss an ongoing investigation tied to the campaign of the president.

At a hearing in January, Comey refused to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation exploring possible connections between Trump associates and Russia, consistent with the FBI’s longstanding policy of not publicly discussing its work. His appearances on Capitol Hill since then have occurred in classified settings, often with small groups of lawmakers, and he has made no public statements connected to the Trump campaign or Russia.

Any lack of detail from Comey on Monday would likely be contrasted with public comments he made last year when closing out an investigation into Clinton’s email practices and then, shortly before Election Day, announcing that the probe would be revived following the discovery of additional emails.

(AP)

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