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Russia Investigation

Source inside Trump campaign reported concerns to FBI, new transcript reveals

  • Senator Feinstein releases testimony from Fusion GPS boss Glenn Simpson
  • Fusion GPS compiled explosive dossier on Trump campaign and Russians

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Source inside Trump campaign reported concerns to FBI, new transcript suggests” was written by Alan Yuhas in New York, Julian Borger in Washington and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th January 2018 22.30 UTC

A source within the Trump campaign reported concerns to the FBI, according to the man behind a controversial dossier on Donald Trump, a new transcript suggests.

Senator Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday unilaterally released the transcript of a congressional interview with Glenn Simpson, whose research firm, Fusion GPS, was behind the dossier on alleged contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

The dossier – compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele – makes an allegation that there was a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and the president has frequently scorned it since its publication last January.

According to the transcript, Simpson told Congress that Steele, the former British spy, stopped sharing information with the FBI just one week before the US election because of concerns that the law enforcement agency was being “manipulated” by Trump insiders.

According to Simpson, Steele “severed his relationship with the FBI” after the New York Times published a story in late October 2016 that said agents had not found “any conclusive or direct link between Mr Trump and the Russian government”.

Steele was concerned “that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on”.

Feinstein’s decision to make the transcript public renews a fierce debate about transparency surrounding the whole Russia-collusion investigation.

Elsewhere in his 312-page testimony, Simpson told the senators that “an internal Trump campaign source” or “a human source from inside the Trump organization” had reported his or her concerns to the FBI.

Simpson said that this information was drawn from Steele after the FBI “had debriefed him” that fall.

However, a person close to the matter suggested Simpson had got some details wrong about the human source during his evidence session in August and was actually alluding to the role of George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, who shared knowledge of the Russian hacking of Democratic party emails with an Australian diplomat.

Papadopoulos is cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation into the Trump campaign as a part of a plea deal that he reached with prosecutors after admitting he lied in his first interview with the FBI.

Steele had been compiling the dossier during the 2016 presidential campaign and approached the FBI, according to Simpson, because “he thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed”.

“He honed [sic] in on this issue of blackmail as being a significant national security issue,” Simpson said.

Simpson cautioned that he was paraphrasing Steele’s account, and added: “we did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI.”

He added: “I think it was a voluntary source, someone who was concerned about the same concerns we had. It was someone who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”

He said that Steele did not rely on this source for his work with the firm.

Beyond Mueller

Three separate congressional committees are investigating Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign: the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees, and the House intelligence committee.

The committees have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The list of witnesses to have been interviewed so far is long, and includes  Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, as well as lesser figures such as former adviser Carter Page; Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the Steele dossier; and Ben Rhodes, the former Obama adviser.

Senate intelligence committee

The most aggressive of the three committees so far, with a reasonable appearance of bipartisanship. Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said in October that the question of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives remained open. But Burr has also said the committee was not focused on “criminal acts” but a larger picture. The committee notably heard testimony from James Comey after the former FBI director was fired.

Senate judiciary committee

Hampered early on by partisan disagreement about the scope of its investigation, the committee has interviewed top witnesses including Donald Trump Jr and has taken a particular focus on the firing of James Comey. But the committee has deferred to Mueller in the investigation of Paul Manafort and has interviewed fewer witnesses than others.

House intelligence committee

Riven by partisan conflict, the committee appears to be on track to produce two reports – one from each party. Chairman Devin Nunes recused himself from the inquiry in March after Trump tweeted that Barack Obama had “tapp[ed] my phones” and Nunes, in an apparent attempt to defend the president, revealed that some communications involving Trump aides had been intercepted by US surveillance programs.

Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said she released the transcript because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves”.

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”

The Senate and House intelligence committees have also interviewed Simpson, but have not released any transcripts. Last week Simpson, a former journalist, requested in an op-ed in the New York Times that the committee release the transcript. The Republican head of the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, declined to release the document and instead asked Simpson to testify in public.

In his 10-hour 22 August interview with the Senate committee, Simpson said that the firm’s research into Trump’s past began as “a kind of holistic examination” of his business record. “It evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures, but you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump,” Simpson said.

Simpson also defended Steele, saying that the well-respected former intelligence officer “has a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney”.

By late September 2016, Simpson said, he had asked Steele about contacts with the FBI, with whom the British researcher had spoken. “By then it was obvious there was a crime in progress,” Simpson said. “So I was curious whether he’d heard back.”

Pressed about this claim, Simpson said: “Espionage. They were hacking into the computers of Democrats and thinktanks. That’s a computer crime.”

Steele has said he reported his concerns to the FBI in the summer of 2016.

Simpson said that it was Steele’s decision to take what he had discovered to the FBI in early July, explaining that the former MI6 officer felt a sense of responsibility.

“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and … he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information,” Simpson said. “He thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.”

In his testimony, Simpson repeatedly praised Steele, his skills and his reliability, pointing out that the former British intelligence officer was the “lead Russianist at MI6” who was “extremely well regarded”.

He described Steele, who he said he hired in May or June of 2016, as “basically a boy scout”.

“He worked for the government for a very long time. He lives a very modest, quiet life, and this is his specialty,” Simpson said.

“We got along very well because my speciality is public information. So he was comfortable working with me and I was comfortable working with him and, you know, we’ve both been around a lot of criminal investigations and national security stuff.”

Simpson said that while he and his colleagues at Fusion focused on the analysis of documents, Steele’s strength was his personal contacts to sources in Moscow and the Trump camp, drawing on his intelligence background. He said that at the time Steele was hired, the alleged Trump links to the Kremlin were an open secret in Moscow.

“The thing that people forget about what was going on in June of 2016 was that no one was really focused on sort of this question of whether Donald Trump had a relationship with the Kremlin. So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret,” Simpson said.

“People were talking about it freely. It was only later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.”

In a statement, Grassley’s office excoriated Feinstein for the release, saying she had not consulted with him. Her decision “undermines the integrity” of the investigation, he said, and “jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony”, including from the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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Justice Department plans to alert public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy

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The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election.

The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process.

“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the policy at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, according to prepared remarks. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”

The Obama administration struggled in 2016 to decide whether and when to disclose the existence of the Russian intervention, fearing that it would be portrayed as a partisan move. Concerns about appearing to favor the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, weighed on President Obama, who was reluctant to give then GOP-nominee Donald Trump ammunition for his accusation that the election was rigged.

“The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is just one tree in a growing forest,” Rosenstein said. “Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.”

He cited Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who last Friday said Russia’s actions continued. “As Director Coats made clear, “these actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,’ ” Rosenstein said.

At the Aspen Forum on Thursday, a Microsoft executive said that Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, has targeted at least three candidates running for election this year. Tom Burt, the company’s Vice President for Customer Security and Trust, said that his team had discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting the candidates. Spear-phishing is a technique hackers use to trick victims into clicking on malware-laced links in emails that enable access to the victims’ computers.

Twelve GRU officers were charged last week by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III with conspiracy for their role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the transfer of thousands of emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published them at key moments in the campaign.

Pressure has been building on the Trump administration to commit to informing the public with lawmakers debating passage of a similar requirement, which would give it the force of law.

“It’s absolutely crucial that the intelligence community lean forward, push the envelope on sharing as much of that information as possible because one of the biggest challenges we have is on education of the public, of the electorate, on foreign, read Russian-influence operations,” said James R. Clapper Jr., former DNI, who last year at Aspen called for such transparency.

He called the move “quite significant” and said “making that a standard policy across the government is a good one.” Other agencies, he said, “will take a cue” from the Justice Department, which is part of the intelligence community and receives information from spy agencies.

The policy, which is part of a report issued on a new Cyber Digital Task Force set up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, also specifies that in considering whether to disclose, the department must protect intelligence sources and methods, investigations and other government operations.

“Partisan political considerations must play no role in efforts to alert victims, other affected individuals or the American public to foreign influence operations against the United States,” the policy states. A foreign influence operation will be publicly disclosed “only when the government can attribute those activities to a foreign government with high confidence,” it said.

Rosenstein noted that influence operations are not new. The Soviet Union used them against the United States throughout the 20th century, including in 1963 paying an American to distribute a book claiming that the FBI and the CIA assassinated President Kennedy.

The new task force for the first time spelled out five different types of threats covered under foreign influence operations.

Hackers can target election systems, trying to get into voter registration databases and voting machines. Foreign operatives can pursue political organizations, campaigns and public officials. They can offer to assist political organizations or campaigns, while concealing their links to foreign governments. They can seek to covertly influence public opinion and sow division through the use of social media and other outlets. And they can try to employ lobbyists, foreign media outlets and other foreign organizations to influence policy-makers and the public.

“Public attribution of foreign influence operations can help to counter and mitigate the harm caused by foreign government-sponsored disinformation,” Rosenstein said. “When people are aware of the true sponsor, they can make better-informed decisions.”

The task force works closely with the FBI, whose director, Christopher Wray, last year established a Foreign Influence Task Force to focus on the same issue. The Justice Department task force is broader, but includes as a key component foreign influence activities.

To counter foreign influence, the department will aggressively investigate and prosecute such activities, and will work with other departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to share information about threats and vulnerabilities with state and local election officials, political organizations and other potential victims so they can take measures to detect or prevent harm, the report said.

It also noted that DOJ supports other agencies’ actions, such as financial or diplomatic sanctions and intelligence efforts. The department also is forming strategic relationships with social media providers to help them identify malign foreign influence activity.

[email protected]

 

This article was written by Ellen Nakashima from The Washington Post

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Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller

  • President’s lawyer gives meandering CNN interview
  • ‘It’s for public opinion’, he says of claims of campaign informant

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller” was written by Tom McCarthy, for The Guardian on Sunday 27th May 2018 18.03 UTC

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his repeated imputations of a supposed scandal at the heart of the Robert Mueller investigation – which Donald Trump calls “Spygate” – amounted to a tactic to sway public opinion and limit the risk of the president being impeached.

“Of course we have to do it to defend the president,” Trump’s lawyer told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash, who accused him of being part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel’s work a “witch hunt”, despite its producing five guilty pleas, including by three former Trump aides, and evidence of Russian tampering in US elections.

“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said of his public campaign of dissimulation. “Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. And so our jury – and it should be – is the American people.

“So Republicans largely, many independents, even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation],” Giuliani said. “Democrats I would suggest for their own self-interest, this is not a good issue to go into the midterms.”

As Giuliani acknowledged the political nature of his public campaign against Mueller, Trump advanced that campaign on Twitter, lamenting what he said were “young and beautiful lives … devastated and destroyed” by the investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“They went back home in tatters!” Trump wrote. It was unclear who he was talking about.

Trump, Giuliani and other allies claim reports that an FBI informant monitored links between Trump aides and Russia show there was a “spy” on the Trump campaign. Senior figures in the intelligence community have rubbished such claims.

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, the Democrat Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said: “This is part of the propaganda machine. Let’s spread a completely fallacious story and then say it needs to be investigated, and give it a life of its own.”

The Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a rare Republican critic of Trump, told NBC’s Meet the Press the “Spygate” claims were a “diversion tactic, obviously”.

He added: “There is concern that the president is laying the groundwork to [fire] Bob Mueller or [deputy attorney general Rod] Rosenstein. If that were to happen, obviously, that would cause a constitutional crisis.”

According to a CNN poll from 10 May, views of the Mueller investigation have shifted significantly among Republicans since March. The poll found that Republican approval of Mueller had declined to 17%, from 29%. Approval among Democrats had fallen slightly, from 69% to 64%. A majority of respondents from both parties disapproved of Trump’s handling of the Mueller investigation.

Giuliani is a former US attorney for the southern district of New York. In his CNN appearance, he called former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, both fierce critics of Trump, “two clowns”.

“I have no regard at all for Brennan or Clapper. I think they’re two clowns…” Giuliani said. “They’re not civil servants as far as I know.”

Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate judiciary committee, last June.
Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate judiciary committee, last June.
Photograph: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Clapper told the same show: “In the space of a week I’ve progressed from being the dumbest intelligence officer on the planet, from President Trump, to a clown. So it’s progress, I guess.”

Michael Hayden, another former director of the CIA, told ABC that Trump was “simply trying to delegitimize Mueller … and he’s willing to throw anything against the wall.

“From the outside looking in, from everything I know, everyone has handled this just about the way it should have been handled.”

Giuliani’s month-old job as a spokesman for the president has been marked by confusion, contradiction and scandal. He began by saying money used to seal a 2016 hush agreement with the porn actor Stormy Daniels had come from Trump, who had earlier flatly denied, on camera, any knowledge of the 0,000.

“We’re not changing any stories,” Trump told reporters. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.

Giuliani also said earlier this month Trump would have had his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pay off women in addition to Daniels “if necessary”. Giuliani told ABC he had “no knowledge” of any other payments to women.

Trump has repeatedly excused and praised Giuliani. “He started yesterday,” Trump said on 4 May. “He’ll get his facts straight. It’s actually very simple, there has been a lot of misinformation really.”

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Russia Investigation

Former Trump Lawyer: Mueller Raised Possibility of Trump Subpoena

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a meeting with President Donald Trump’s lawyers in March, raised the possibility of issuing a subpoena for Trump if he declines to talk to investigators in the Russia probe, a former lawyer for the president said on Tuesday.

John Dowd told Reuters that Mueller mentioned the possibility of a subpoena in the early March meeting. Mueller’s subpoena warning was first reported by the Washington Post, which cited four people familiar with the encounter.

“This isn’t some game. You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States,” Dowd said he told the investigators, who are probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Dowd left the president’s legal team about two weeks after the meeting.

The Post said Mueller had raised the possibility of a subpoena after Trump’s lawyers said the president had no obligation to talk with federal investigators involved in the probe.

After the March meeting, Mueller’s team agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects they wished to ask Trump, the Post reported.

With that information, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions the president’s legal team believed he would be asked, according to the Post.

That list, first reported by the New York Times on Monday, includes questions on Trump’s ties to Russia and others to determine whether the president may have unlawfully tried to obstruct the investigation.

Trump on Tuesday criticized the leak of the questions.

“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media. No questions on Collusion,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as U.S. intelligence agencies allege, and Trump has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Sekulow did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

Republished With Permission from VOA – Voice Of America

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