Showing posts with label Investigation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Investigation. Show all posts

September 9, 2018

The GOP Shut Down The Maria Investigation Dems Could Only Yell Because GOP Controls Washington

House Democrats released a scathing report Thursday accusing Republicans of shutting down efforts to investigate the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
House Republicans are trying to “insulate President Trump and his aides from scrutiny,” according to the report prepared by Democrats on the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform. Committee leaders received some documents they requested from the Department of Homeland Security, but leaders have refused to subpoena requested documents and emails that the Trump administration is still withholding; they’ve refused to ask for a single record from the White House, according to the report. A spokesperson for Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) did not reply to Vox’s request for a response to these claims.
The committee has scheduled only one full hearing to analyze the Trump administration’s response to the deadliest natural disaster in modern US history, which happened nearly a year ago.
Trump maintains that his team did a “fantastic job” in Puerto Rico, even after the death toll reached 2,965 — eclipsing the 1,100 deaths linked to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 
The response is in stark contrast to Congress’s reaction to the last deadly hurricane. After Katrina hit, Republican leaders on the committee held nine hearings about the federal response and obtained more than 500,000 documents from President George W. Bush’s administration. Within five months, the committee had prepared a 569-page report outlining the government’s failures — and potential improvements — in responding to the disaster.
This time around, Republicans on the committee appear, at best, uninterested in holding the government accountable for its response. The report from Democrats reveals deep frustration with the process. 
“Unfortunately, over the past year, Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and other House Republicans failed to conduct a credible, fact-based investigation of what went wrong and who was responsible. Instead, the Republican response was to insulate President Trump and his aides from scrutiny, wall off the White House from criticism, shut down key aspects of congressional oversight, and disregard the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina,” they stated in the report, titled “A Failure of Oversight.”

What Democrats wanted

Democrats have been trying to get emails related to Hurricane Maria from top Trump administration officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, and FEMA Administrator Brock Long. They also wanted to see emails between the White House and federal agencies. 
Gowdy did get about 20,000 documents from FEMA and DHS leadership, but Democrats wanted much more. They wanted Gowdy to use his subpoena powers to force the administration to turn over everything they asked for, just as the committee did after Katrina. Gowdy refused.
The report highlights a few examples:
  • The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands sent a letter asking Gowdy to subpoena the Department of Homeland Security to produce documents FEMA was withholding, related to the agency’s failure to provide tens of millions of emergency meals to hurricane victims. Gowdy declined, according to the report, and Republicans blocked all efforts to call a vote. 
  • Cummings and Plaskett requested another subpoena based on new information indicating that FEMA failed to respond to emergency requests from supermarkets seeking fuel for generators. Walmart and other grocery stores ended up throwing out tons of meat, produce, and dairy products because they couldn’t keep them refrigerated. Gowdy declined to subpoena the agency, according to the report. 
  • Cummings asked Gowdy to subpoena the Department of Defense for documents the department was allegedly withholding, including records related to the government’s emergency medical response in Puerto Rico. Cummings was concerned about reports that a Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, sailed around Puerto Rico for days without docking and that helicopters were unable to land on the ship. Gowdy declined these requests too, the report states. 

Republicans were much more responsive after Katrina

In their report, House Democrats made the case that Gowdy’s refusal to investigate the disaster response is unprecedented — even reckless.
When Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Republicans controlled the White House and the US House of Representatives. But politics didn’t stop the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee at the time, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), from conducting a thorough investigation of President George W. Bush’s handling of the disaster.
Within five months of the hurricane, Davis held nine committee hearings, conducted multiple interviews, and received dozens of briefings from federal officials. Davis requested documents from the White House, the vice president’s office, and multiple federal agencies. When Bush officials refused to hand over emails, Davis used the committee’s subpoena powers to force them. In the end, the committee received about 500,000 pages of documents, including 22,000 pages from the offices of the president and vice president.
After the five-month investigation, Davis published a 569-page report blasting the Bush administration, state governments, and several contractors for failing to learn from past disasters.
The committee’s aggressive investigation of Katrina is in sharp contrast to the lack of action post-Maria. 
Democrats say Gowdy has scheduled only one full committee hearing, which will happen this week. Committee members received only three briefings from federal agencies, and Gowdy refused to request documents from the White House. He then blocked all attempts by Democrats to hold a vote on whether or not to subpoena records that Cummings requested from the White House, according to the report.
“As a result of these decisions, the Committee was unable to adequately investigate key questions about the Trump Administration’s response, such as the delay in appointing a commanding general, the apparent lack of presidential engagement and direction, the failure to lead a coordinated response, and the wavering commitment to recovery and rebuilding,” the report states.
If it’s true that Republicans on the committee were trying to quash the investigation, then they got what they wanted.

June 7, 2018

Calls for a 911 Type of Commission to Investigate Puerto Rico Underreported Deaths

 A week after a Harvard report estimated that thousands of people died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — while the official death toll sits at 64 — several congressional Democrats on Wednesday called for an investigation into the death toll.
The members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said that they will introduce a bill next week aiming to set up an independent commission examining the death toll and how it was handled — similar to the investigation established after the September 11 attacks. But the bill has little chance of going anywhere as Republicans control Congress, and the CHC is made up of entirely Democrats.
Representatives including Nydia Velazquez and Adriano Espaillat from New York, Darren Soto from Florida, and Bennie Thompson from Mississippi, said the Harvard study released last week was a reminder that federal and Puerto Rican officials have failed to reliably account for the number people who died on the island after the Category 4 storm.
"These low numbers have justified a vastly underfunded disaster," said Florida Rep. Darren Soto.
The government's official death count came under suspicion first by the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Reporting and BuzzFeed News just days after the hurricane devastated the island.
"These numbers drive the narrative about what happened in Puerto Rico and how our government responded, and how we should rebuild going forward," Velazquez said. "We all remember when Donald Trump sat in Puerto Rico and pointed to a death count of 16, suggested that Maria was not, and I quote, "a real catastrophe'."
New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat called relying on non-governmental studies like the Harvard report and the GWU study commissioned by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló "the highest form of neglect and negligence."
"How could we, government, have to rely on private institutions to do our job?" he said.
"We as government must be responsible… These are people that died, they have families, those families deserve to know what was the level of tragedy that hit Puerto Rico," he continued.
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson added that the Government Accountability Office has accepted his request to audit the death toll. Thompson and Velazquez made the request in a letter in December.
Nidhi Prakash
Nidhi Prakash

January 4, 2018

Interview with Bannon: "She's Dumb as a Brick" and He "Will Crack Like An Egg"

Steve Bannon gave an interview to author Michael Wolff that is jaw-dropping — even by Bannon's extreme standards.
Why this matters: Bannon's comments won't surprise anyone who's spoken to him, but as on the record statements, they are shocking sources close to the president. The White House was prepared for the Wolff book to be bad for them — and sources there have told me he spent a ton of time in the building visiting with Bannon — but they weren't prepared for Bannon doing this.
According to The Guardian, Bannon touched the third rail of Trumpworld — going after the president's blood family:
  • Attacking Don Junior: Bannon described the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer — arranged by the president's eldest son — as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." Bannon also predicted this of the Russia investigation: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV".'
  • Hinting there's a "there" there: Per the Guardian: “ 'You realize where this is going,' [Bannon] is quoted as saying. 'This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f---ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr, and Jared Kushner … It's as plain as a hair on your face.' " 
  • Taking his war against Jared Kushner to new depths: Per The Guardian: "Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: 'It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.' "
  • The Guardian Posting below but first Trump goes After Bannon on Wed. (Axios):
  • The White House released a statement from President Trump slamming Steve Bannon, after it  emerged that Bannon had gone after Trump's family in interviews with Michael Wolff for his forthcoming book.
    The key quote: "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
    Full statement from President Trump:
    Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
    "Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn't represent my base—he's only in it for himself.
    "Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
    "We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down."
    Continued from The Guardian
  • Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”, according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.
  • Trump-Russia investigation: the key questions answered 
  • Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
  • Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year. In it, Wolff lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him.
  • Bannon, who was chief executive of the Trump campaign in its final three months, then White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the rightwing Breitbart News, is a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.
  • 'Idiot': Murdoch mocked Trump after phone call on immigration, book claims 
  • He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: “I love it.”
  • The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.
  • “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
  • Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.
  • Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”
  • Bannon also speculated that Trump Jr had involved his father in the meeting. “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May, following Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This has led to the indictments of four members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges; Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In recent weeks Bannon’s Breitbart News and other conservative outlets have accused Mueller’s team of bias against the president. 
  • Trump predicted in an interview with the New York Times last week that the special counsel was “going to be fair”, though he also said the investigation “makes the country look very bad”. The president and his allies deny any collusion with Russia and the Kremlin has denied interfering.
  • Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In Wolff’s book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.
  • “You realise where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
  • Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
  • Scorning apparent White House insouciance, Bannon reaches for a hurricane metaphor: “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.” 
  •  in Washington

October 29, 2017

The Arrest to Occur Monday Shows IC Mueller is Dead Serious


On Friday night, CNN reported that a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the Russian government. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said that a judge had ordered the charges kept under seal, but that at least one arrest could take place as early as Monday.

Details were scant. The CNN report didn’t specify what the charges were or whom they had been brought against. But the news created an immediate furor, as other news organizations sought to follow up the story, and people on television and social media began speculating about the nature of the charges. Shortly before midnight, the Wall Street Journal confirmed CNN’s scoop, without providing any additional details.

Speaking on CNN, Michael Zeldin, a lawyer who served as a special assistant to Mueller when he was director of the F.B.I., suggested that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, might be the person charged. Zeldin imagined Mueller taking such a step to pressure Manafort to coöperate. “There is a lot of pressure on people who are under investigation to coöperate with Mueller after this indictment,” Zeldin said. Well before Mueller was appointed the special counsel, the F.B.I. had been investigating Manafort’s financial ties to a pro-Russia party in the Ukraine. Mueller took over that investigation after he was appointed, in May. In July, F.B.I. agents staged a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort isn’t the only name being speculated about. Other commentators suggested that Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign who had his own extensive Russian ties, or Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser who was ousted from the White House over his post-election contact with Russia, might be subjects of the charges. It has been reported that the former F.B.I. director James Comey, when he was leading the Russia investigation, secured permission from a secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to tap the communications of Page and Manafort. It has also been reported that Mueller’s team demanded White House documents about Flynn.

A key political question is whether these charges are related to things that happened as part of the Trump campaign, or whether they relate to alleged wrongdoings that occurred before it began or separate from it. If there are direct ties between the charges and the campaign, that will obviously have huge ramifications on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. But if the charges concern alleged actions on the part of Manafort or others that were unrelated to the 2016 campaign, the White House may well accuse Mueller of moving beyond his remit. That allegation wouldn’t be accurate—the terms of Mueller’s appointment gave him license to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from the Russia probe—but accuracy has never concerned Trump much.
One thing we can say for sure is that the news of the charges has moved the Mueller investigation firmly into the media spotlight, where it is likely to stay. Since Mueller’s appointment, his team of prosecutors and investigators has operated largely out of the public eye. One of the few known facts was that it had convened a grand jury in Washington. Friday night’s CNN report said that earlier in the day, “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the courtroom at the D.C. federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.” 

There was no immediate comment from the White House about the CNN story. But it was published less than twelve hours after Donald Trump tweeted, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of costly looking, that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”
For days, the White House and conservative media organizations have been touting a Washington Post story that revealed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped to pay for the controversial Russia dossier written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. “I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons, look no further than the D.N.C.,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told Fox News on Thursday. “Everything that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. were falsely accusing this President of doing over the past year, they were actually doing themselves.”

After CNN published its story on Friday night, some Democrats and commentators suggested that the Trump Administration may have known the Mueller indictments were coming and leaked the Steele story to create a smokescreen. “So clearly target is in crosshairs, alerted Trumpsville, right-wing media & Trump engineered mass diversion &main stream media fell for it,” Neera Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton who is the president of the Center for American Progress, tweeted.
Plausible as that theory sounds, it, too, is conjecture. What isn’t speculation is the fact that, five months into his investigation, Mueller has brought the first set of criminal charges. By the standards of recent special prosecutors, that is fast work, and it confirms Mueller’s reputation as someone who doesn’t like to dally. Now that he has started arresting people, there is no reason to suppose he will stop. And that is precisely the message he wants to send.

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for

September 20, 2017

Mueller Going For The Kill ~~Who is Going Down First?

Steve Bannon provoked lots of chatter for telling Charlie Rose on "60 Minutes" that President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey may have been the worst mistake in "modern political history."
What's intriguing is the reason he said it: the belief of some close White House allies that special counsel Bob Mueller, whose appointment was triggered by Comey's ouster, could use events surrounding the firing to make an obstruction of justice case against Trump.
There's a good reason that Vice President Pence has hired a lawyer, Bannon freaked out about the decision, and Mueller plans to interview a slew of current and former West Wing aides: They were with Trump during those frantic days, and know what he was saying and what was on his mind.
White House aides with legal exposure to these events have quickly reached four conclusions, according to conversations with Jonathan Swan and me:
  1. Mueller is burrowing in hard on the obstruction of justice angle.
  2. The "angry, meanderingdraft White House justification for firing Comey — which was never released, but obtained by Mueller — could be used as evidence of Trump's unvarnished thinking when venting to staff.
  3. Legal fees, with white-collar attorneys charging $1,000 an hour, get cripplingly expensive pretty quick. Watch for outside legal defense funds to pop up quickly.
  4. The investigation's financial dimensions are worrisome. The focus on Michael Cohen, a Trump lawyer and confidant whose business dealings are intertwined with the president's, has been particularly troubling for those in Trump's close orbit. Cohen dealt with some colorful characters. And when plans for the Trump Tower in Moscow are fully picked apart, other questionable Russian characters may be drawn in.
Republicans close to the White House say every sign by Mueller — from his hiring of Mafia and money-laundering experts to his aggressive pursuit of witnesses and evidence — is that he's going for the kill.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the front page today that outside Trump lawyers "earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down ... because of possible legal complications ... and aired concerns about him to the president." Kushner has since defended himself on Capitol Hill.
Be smart: Trump allies fret that the White House is ill-prepared for the public showdown with Mueller that will eventually come, and should be making legal, political and constitutional arguments for the president's right to fire Comey. Statements by Trump lawyers tend to rattle, rather than reassure, White House allies.
  • Trump associates tell me Trump mused about firing Mueller. But now, one associate said, the damage would be as horrendous as "firing the Pope."
P.S. Russian politician Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Duma (ruling assembly), said on live TVthat U.S. "intelligence missed it when Russian intelligence stole the president of the United States."
  • Hillary Clinton, out today with "What Happened," tells USA Today's Susan Page she's "convinced" Trump associates colluded with Russia: "There certainly was communication and there certainly was an understanding of some sort."
  • A little more:
  • Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was wiretapped by the FBI due to concerns about his links with Moscow, US media reports say.
    The reported surveillance, granted under a court warrant, occurred both before and after the 2016 election.
    Investigators wanted to know if he had sought Russian help with the campaign.
    It is not known if the wiretap, which began in 2014, included conversations with President Trump. Mr. Manafort is said to be facing an indictment.
    The former political consultant, who had worked for Ukraine's former ruling party, was chairman of the Trump campaign from June to August 2016. He has not commented on the reports.
    FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into alleged attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 election.
    However, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants were granted before his investigation started, and were first authorized as part of an investigation into Washington consulting firms working for Ukraine, CNN reported.
    After the 2014 warrant ended, it was renewed again until earlier this year, in order to allow the FBI to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives.
    Communications collected with the Manafort wiretaps sparked concerns among investigators that he had encouraged the Russians to help with the election campaign, CNN cited three sources as saying - although two of the sources said the evidence had not been conclusive.
    The FBI, as well as several congressional committees, are investigating whether Russia attempted to interfere in the US election in order to help Donald Trump.
    FBI agents raided Mr. Manafort's suburban Washington DC home on 26 July, according to the New York Times.
    Agents had picked the lock to his Virginia home as Mr. Manafort lay in bed, and were looking for evidence that he had set up off-shore bank accounts, the newspaper reported.
    Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who lost the election to Mr Trump, said Monday that she "wouldn't rule out" questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election if evidence emerged of Russian interference.

August 15, 2017

Washington on Vacation Seems Empty But Mueller and His Team are Not

[Stay up to date here on the investigation here]

The Senate is long gone. The House? Splitsville. The president is at his golf club in New Jersey. Only the hardiest swamp creatures continue to scuttle in and out of the half-empty offices of late-August Washington, D.C.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, however, haven't gone anywhere.

His attorneys and investigators are using a federal grand jury to interview witnesses and issue subpoenas as they look into potential connections between President Trump's campaign and Russia's attack on the 2016 election. 

News also emerged this week that FBI agents searched a home owned by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and that Manafort and other people in Trump world, including Donald Trump Jr., had submitted hundreds of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If all that has been established, many other questions remain about Mueller's investigation — just who else is he interviewing? What specific materials does he want? — as well as the rest of the sprawling Russia imbroglio.

1. What inning is this?

Does Mueller's use of the grand jury mean this game is almost over — or has everyone on the starting lineup even had a chance at bat? Does the FBI search warrant mean the tempo is increasing?

Mueller hasn't uttered more than a peep on the record since he's been in his job. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has talked about the probe in general terms, but no one seems to have a sense about how far along this story might be — only that it's focused appropriately.

"It's not a fishing expedition," Rosenstein recently told Fox News Sunday.
There Are Many Russia Investigations. What Are They All Doing?
The more time Mueller takes, the greater the political pressure in Washington.

The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said at one time they hoped to complete their investigations about Russia's election interference by the fall.

That may prove optimistic, but if they do wrap up their work and Mueller's investigation continues into the new year and beyond, it could turn into a big factor in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

2. How much classified, or otherwise confidential, evidence will become public?

The Russia soap opera is frustrating to try to understand because it's an iceberg, only partly visible above the water.
Former CIA Director Tells Lawmakers About 'Very Aggressive' Russian Election Meddling
Much more of the evidence remains hidden — teased by current or former intelligence officials but never detailed. One big example: electronic intercepts of communications between Americans and Russians allegedly involved in the interference.

"I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons," as former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee this spring. "By the time I left office ... I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not work on their behalf."

Mueller and the congressional intelligence committees have access to this evidence — believed to be intercepted emails or other messages from key Americans to key Russians. 

There's also classified material from allied intelligence services. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that European spy agencies had sent material to Washington in 2016 — but said nothing more.

"It's quite sensitive," he warned in May.

It also hasn't been described in anything like helpful detail. U.S. government officials have spoken about it anonymously to reporters — for example, CNN reported that Russians discussed conversations with then-Trump campaign chairman Manafort — but very little is solidly on the record.

Until it is, the widespread skepticism among many Americans about the theory of the case — that Donald Trump or some of his top campaign aides might have colluded with Russians who targeted the election — will likely endure.

3. What if Trump or associates did something other than "collude?"

So far, prosecutors haven't accused the president or anyone in his camp of doing anything wrong. But allegations about Trump's business practices, and those of his associates, swirled for years before his run for office.
Businessman Paints Terrifying And Complex Picture Of Putin's Russia

Separately, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others have said they want to know whether Trump might have obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and taking other actions to try to protect himself or his aides — whatever the merits of the underlying DOJ investigation into possible collusion with Russia.

These issues aren't trivial, and they're all tied together with the original mandate for Mueller's investigation: Did, per press reports, Russian underworld figures have a relationship with Trump? If so, did Russian political leaders' awareness of these ties put the president in a position in which he might be subject to coercion?

Trump alluded obliquely to this thread of the story in his interview with The New York Times. He told the newspaper that he'd consider it a "breach" of Mueller's mandate for the special counsel to look into his or his family's business practices.

"I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?" Trump said. "I don't make money from Russia."

That's not the account The New Republic, for example, gave in its story "Trump's Russian Laundromat," which described decades' worth of business relationships between the Trumps and Russian underworld figures who allegedly used the president's properties to launder illicit money.

The magazine reported, among other things, that at least 13 people connected to Russian organized crime have "owned, lived in and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties."

If Mueller's investigators substantiate organized crime connections to Trump himself, but no "collusion" with Russia's election mischief, would they reveal it? And, if so, what happens next?

4. Will the U.S. ever deploy any safeguards or countermeasures?

Trump Calls Russia Story 'Total Fabrication' 

Although some Americans — particularly Trump supporters — don't believe the Russians attacked the election, Washington has officially rebuked Moscow over it. Members of Congress passed and Trump himself signed legislation imposing new sanctions and constraining the president's ability to lift them on his own.

Before he told supporters at a political rally in West Virginia that the story was a "hoax," Trump said in signing the sanctions bill that he supported "making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization."

(The question of whether U.S. sanctions actually change Russia's policies is a different matter.)

But many members of Congress and outside advocates say Washington must do much more to deter future Russian interference in elections and respond in kind to Russia's war of information against the U.S.

State governments are bitterly frustrated with the federal government's follow-up to the election interference, from the awkwardness of the outreach by the Department of Homeland Security to a White House "voter fraud" commission widely viewed as partisan.

At the same time, former diplomats and intelligence officers complain that Washington has all but surrendered the battlefield of public opinion to Moscow. The Russian government is spending millions of rubles on both open and covert influence operations against the West, from cable TV networks to Twitter bots, but commentators argue the U.S. isn't even trying to level the playing field.

Two members of Congress asked why the State Department reportedly isn't using funds that have been set aside exactly for that purpose.

"Countering foreign propaganda should be a top priority, and it is very concerning that progress on combating this problem is being delayed because the State Department isn't tapping into these resources," complained Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. 

Timeline: Foreign Efforts To Hack State Election Systems And How Officials Responded
"This is indefensible," said Sen. Chris Murphy D-Conn.

A State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to review global "engagement" following Trump's approval of the sanctions bill, but she acknowledged that much of the work now is focused on the Islamic State.

Clapper told lawmakers earlier this year he thought they should bring back a "U.S. Information Agency on steroids," targeting Russians and "giving them some of their own medicine much more aggressively than we've done now."

Will Congress heed his advice? Will it increase federal scrutiny of the security of state election systems and their vendors — or will the politics, along with all the other priorities that await lawmakers when they return in September, make it all too fraught?

June 9, 2017

Did Comey Hurt A.G. Sessions More Than Trump?

Former FBI director James Comey may have done more damage to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday than even President Trump, whom Comey publicly accused of waving him off part of the Russia investigation.

Comey said he expected Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation weeks before he did because of reasons that are classified. That does not comport with Sessions rationale when he announced his recusal in early March.

Sessions has been the subject of scrutiny over his failure to disclose meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign, which Sessions has defended as routine — part of his duties as a U.S. senator.

In his opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, released on Wednesday, Comey detailed a private conversation with President Trump in the Oval Office shortly after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign, in which Comey recalls the president saying, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

This has raised questions as to why Comey didn't tell others, including the attorney general. Comey said in his opening statement that his leadership team at the FBI agreed not to share this with Sessions for the following reason: "We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations."

Comey also pointed out that they were right – Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation less than two weeks later.

The question is why Sessions recused himself.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee took advantage of Comey's mention of this in his opening statement to raise such questions about Sessions' recusal on Thursday.

"What was it about the attorney general's interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?" asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Comey responded, "He was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic."

The prospect of facts that would be problematic for Sessions seems to vary for the reason Sessions himself gave when he recused himself from the Russia probe on March 2.

"I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in," Sessions said. His rationale was that his role as a high-profile surrogate and advisor for the Trump campaign made it inappropriate for him to be involved in an investigation of that same campaign, a rationale which received little pushback, except reportedly from the president himself.

In fact, Sessions' recusal came after he said in his confirmation hearing that he "did not have communications with the Russians." Sessions had met with Kislyak twice during 2016, though Sessions said his misstatement was a result of the fact that he met with Kislyak in his role as a senator involved in foreign policy.

"I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign," Sessions said in March.

The Department of Justice put out a statement Thursday evening, asserting that Sessions' "participation in President Trump's campaign" was the sole reason for his recusal.

"Shortly after being sworn in, Attorney General Sessions began consulting with career Department of Justice ethics officials to determine whether he should recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States," the statement said.

Democrats pounced on Thursday after hearing Comey's suggestive language about "facts that I can't discuss in an open setting."

"The hearing raised serious questions about Attorney General Sessions that he and the Justice Department must answer immediately," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech shortly after the hearing with Comey ended. "The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and special counsel Mueller ought to get to the bottom of this matter."

The White House stood behind Sessions. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Trump has confidence in his attorney general, a question press secretary Sean Spicer would not answer earlier in the week.

"Absolutely, the president has confidence in all of his cabinet and if he didn't, they wouldn't be here," Sanders said on Thursday.

Sessions will soon face questions from senators. He is scheduled to testify on Tuesday in a committee hearing about the 2018 budget for the Department of Justice — but it's a pretty sure bet that Russia will come up.


May 7, 2017

FBI Investigates Accusations Jane Sanders Defrauded Bank

 Jane Sanders, Wife of Bernie Sanders past contender against Hillary Clinton


Burlington College ceased operations in May 2016 after failing to meet accreditation standards and falling into bankruptcy. Sanders served as president from 2004-2011, during which time the school took on $10 million in debt as part of a plan to expand the school.

 In a 2010 loan application Sanders said that the college had $2.6 million in donations coming in to pay for purchased land, however only $676,00 in donations came through over the next four years, leading the college into bankruptcy in May 2016, according to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Sanders has been accused of falsifying loan documents to expand the college grounds in May of 2015. The report says that donors who Sanders used to apply for loans are now in contact with the FBI and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

One such example the report cites is a 2010 loan application, in which Sanders documented that Corinne Bove Maietta, the daughter of the founders of Bove Restaurants in Burlington, had pledged a $1 million donation over half a decade. Maietta claims that she made no such pledge, rathering offering an unspecified bequest to be paid to the school upon her death, the report said.

Maietta’s accountant, Richard Moss confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation that the FBI has contacted him and is seeking an interview with Maietta.

"It was sometime back in March or April, during tax season," Moss said. "It was in regards to Corine Maietta's current address and where they could contact her for questions related to Burlington College."

TheDCNF said it reached out to the Sen. Bernie Sanders but has not yet receive a reply. His representative, Jeff Weaver, said in a statement last week that the FBI hasn’t reached out to Jane Sanders yet.

By Mandy Mayfield in the  Washington Examiner 

April 26, 2017

FollowUp: South Korean Military Cracking Down on Gays

At a time when South Korea is struggling to deter North Korea’s nuclear threats, human rights advocates say its military is targeting gay soldiers in its ranks.

In recent weeks, the army has focused on dozens of those soldiers in what rights groups say is a campaign against gay men in the 620,000-member military. At least 32 faced criminal charges of “sodomy or other disgraceful conduct,” according to the domestic news media and lawyers and rights advocates familiar with the cases.

On Tuesday night, the issue of gay rights became a focus in South Korea’s presidential race, when the candidate who leads in the polls, Moon Jae-in, joined another contender in saying that he opposed homosexuality. Critics said the statement was a stark tactic to win support among conservative voters.

In South Korea, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a largely taboo and politically unpopular subject. In recent years, powerful right-wing Christian groups have intensified a campaign against homosexuality, scuttling a bill that would have given sexual minorities the same protection as other minorities. 

“Our military remains stuck in a barbarian and medieval culture,” said Lim Tae-hoon, director of the Military Human Rights Center. “The investigators preyed upon gay soldiers’ vulnerability like a cat playing with a mouse.”

Mr. Moon made the comment during a debate in which the issue of the military’s treatment of gays was raised. Under the conscript system, all eligible men are required to serve about two years.

But the Military Criminal Act outlaws sodomy and other unspecified “disgraceful conduct” between servicemen, whether or not there is mutual consent and whether or not that conduct takes place in or outside the military compounds. Those found to have violated the act face up to two years in prison.

The army declined to provide details of its investigation. It insisted that it was not cracking down on gay soldiers; instead it said that it was trying to root out sodomy and other homosexual activities, which right-wing Christian groups have called a growing blight on its readiness to fight North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military.

But in the past week, evidence has emerged to support the allegations by gay soldiers that investigators flouted the army’s own regulations on how to treat gay service members by preying upon the soldiers’ fear of shame and abuse if they are outed in the military. Analysts and veterans said bullying, hazing and sexual violence were chronic problems.

In a series of telephone conversations secretly recorded in March and April, an army investigator warned a gay sergeant against seeking help from lawyers or the National Human Rights Commission. In one conversation, the investigator complained that another gay soldier refused to cooperate with the inquiry and wanted to hire a lawyer.

“If he hires a lawyer, that means he is outing himself,” the investigator says in the recording, uploaded to the website of the Military Human Rights Center for Korea, based in Seoul.

It is unknown how many gay soldiers were punished under the anti-sodomy law before the recent flurry of charges.

Gay soldiers said they feared that they were being scapegoated in the recent inquiry as part of an effort by the army to contain sexual abuse. In a survey of 671 veterans commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission in 2004, more than 15 percent said they had been sexually abused.

Mr. Lim, the director of the Military Human Rights Center, said the inquiry also detracted from looming security concerns.

“It’s time for our military to focus on how to deal with the North Korean threat, but by going after gay soldiers, it is actually shooting at its own troops,” Mr. Lim said. “They don’t seem to realize how grave our security situation is.” 

Lim Tae-hoon, director of the Military Human Rights Center, in Seoul this month. “Our military remains stuck in a barbarian and medieval culture,” he said. “The investigators preyed upon gay soldiers’ vulnerability like a cat playing with a mouse.” Credit Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press
The crackdown began early this year when the army was tipped to a video clip on social media that showed a soldier and an officer, both men, having sex. The soldier was arrested on charges of violating the military criminal code, as well as a law against spreading obscene content online.

But the case did not end there.

Using information they learned from the case, investigators expanded the inquiry. Army regulations ban discriminating against gay soldiers and forbid identifying or outing gay men or asking about their sexual experiences.

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But the investigators routinely asked gay soldiers questions about their sexual history and orientation, said Mr. Lim’s group, which is providing legal advice for 14 of the service members implicated in the case. They seized mobile phones without warrants and forced the men to identify gay soldiers on their contact lists and to confess to having sex with them. They also forced some to log onto dating apps to dupe other gay soldiers into revealing their identities, the group said.

“I’m just curious, but does it make you feel good when you have sex with a man?” one investigator was quoted as saying to a gay soldier. “I want you to take this opportunity to readjust your sexual orientation.”

The army declined to respond to individual accusations by Mr. Lim’s group.

But the army denied that its chief of staff, Gen. Jang Jun-kyu, ordered the crackdown. “The investigation is proceeding legally while protecting human rights and privacy,” it said.

Although South Korea has made strides in democratizing and improving basic rights in recent decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been largely left out, rights groups said.

South Korea does not recognize same-sex marriage. All major candidates for the presidential election in May have vowed to oppose it.

After the Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that adultery was no longer a crime, many churches seized on homosexuality as a vice to denounce, organizing rallies to counter gay-pride marches.

The Ministry of Education does not allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues to be part of sex education for students.

“Our society has been busy erasing sexual minorities,” said Jeong Min-seok, the director of the DDingDong LGBTQ Youth Crisis Support Center.

And the military has been the least receptive.

In 1998, Mr. Jeong, then an army private, was sent to a military psychiatric ward after he was outed. He said he was forced to take tranquilizers and was separated from other inmates at night. Once he returned to his unit a month and a half later, it tried to ban him from conducting a nighttime guard-post duty with another soldier.

In 2011, when a male and female officers were found having sex on duty, they were suspended for three months but not criminally charged. By contrast, all 18 gay service members identified by Mr. Lim’s group in the current investigation faced criminal charges, even though they had sex on leave or off duty.

The Constitutional Court has repeatedly upheld the anti-sodomy code, giving more weight to the argument that it is necessary to fight sexual abuse and protect the discipline of an almost all-male military.

“The problem is that the army is abusing the law to launch a systematic ferreting out of gay soldiers,” said Han Ga-ram, a human rights lawyer. “This is not that different from the Nazis’ roundup of homosexuals and the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya.”

For months before the Constitutional Court gave its last ruling on the military criminal code, in July, conservatives rallied outside the courthouse, saying that abolishing the code would undermine the military’s ability to fight North Korea. Some warned against empowering “pro-North Korean gays.”

One of their banners said: “Who’s going to take responsibility if my son goes to the military and learns homosexuality?”

“What the investigators have found is just the tip of an iceberg, so widespread is homosexual activity in our military,” said Kim Young-kil, a retired army colonel who leads the Just Military Human Rights Institute and supports a crackdown on gay sex in the military.

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