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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.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned as the country’s chief law enforcement officer at President Donald Trump’s request.

Sessions announced his plan to resign in a letter to the White House on Wednesday.

Trump announced in a tweet that Sessions’ chief of staff Matt Whitaker would become the new acting attorney general.

The attorney general had endured more than a year of stinging and personal criticism from Trump over his recusal from the investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice.

Timeline:
1973-1975 – Practices law in Alabama.

1975-1977 – Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

1981-1993 – US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

1986 – President Ronald Reagan nominates Sessions to become a federal judge. The Senate Judiciary Committee opposes the nomination following testimony that Sessions made racist remarks and called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.”

1995-1997- Alabama Attorney General. During this time, an Alabama judge accuses Sessions of prosecutorial misconduct related to the handling of evidence in a case but ultimately, Sessions is not disciplined for ethics violations.

1996 – Elected to the US Senate. Re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2014.

1997February 2017 – Republican senator representing Alabama.

February 2, 2009 – Votes in favor of the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general.

April 23, 2015 – Votes against the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general.

February 28, 2016 – Becomes the first sitting US senator to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

November 18, 2016 – President-elect Donald Trump announces he intends to nominate Sessions to be the next attorney general.

January 3, 2017 – An NAACP sit-in to protest the nomination of Sessions as US attorney general ends when six people are arrested at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama, office.

February 8, 2017 – After 30 hours of debate, the US Senate confirms Sessions as attorney general by a 52-47 vote.

March 1, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions failed to disclose pre-election meetings with the top Russian diplomat in Washington. Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.

March 2, 2017 – Sessions recuses himself from any involvement in a Justice Department probe into links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

March 10, 2017 – The DOJ abruptly announces the firing of 46 US attorneys, including Preet Bharara of New York. Bharara said that during the transition, Trump asked him to stay on during a meeting at Trump Tower.

April 3, 2017 – The Department of Justice releases a memorandum ordering a review of consent decrees and other police reforms overseen by the federal government in response to complaints of civil rights abuses and public safety issues. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Justice Department interventions in local police matters.

July 21, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions discussed policy-related matters with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak before the 2016 election, according to intelligence intercepts. Sessions had previously claimed that he did not talk about the campaign or relations with Russia during his meetings with Kislyak.

October 4, 2017 – In a memo to all federal prosecutors, Sessions says that a 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination and the department will take this new position in all “pending and future matters.”

November 14, 2017 – During a House judiciary committee hearing, Sessions says he did not lie under oath in earlier hearings regarding communications with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, and denies participating in any collusion with Russia. Sessions also says the DOJ will consider investigations into Hillary Clinton and alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One.

January 4, 2018 – Sessions announces that the DOJ is rescinding an Obama-era policy of non-interference with states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The reversal frees up federal prosecutors to pursue cases in states where recreational marijuana is legal.

March 21, 2018 – Sessions issues a statement encouraging federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for certain drug-related crimes, as mandated by law. Seeking capital punishment in drug cases is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to combat opioid abuse.

May 7, 2018 – Sessions announces a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, warning that parents could be separated from children if they try to cross to the US from Mexico. “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

May 30, 2018 – Trump again expresses regret for choosing Sessions to lead the Justice Department. In a tweet, he quotes a remark from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) who said that the president could have picked someone else as attorney general. “I wish I did!,” Trump tweeted. He had first said that he was rethinking his choice of Sessions as attorney general during a July 2017 interview with the New York Times.

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Ex-Trump Campaign Advisor George Papadopoulos Gets 14-Day Jail Term

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George Papadopoulos, a one-time foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in jail for lying to federal agents investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss in Washington rejected a push from Papadopoulos for a non-jail sentence. Moss also imposed 12 months of supervised release and 200 hours of community service. Prosecutors had urged Moss to sentence Papadopoulos to up to six months in jail for lying to federal investigators. (Law.com)

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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.

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This article was written by Ellen Nakashima from The Washington Post

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