House committee grills Comey and Rogers on Trump and Russia: key points

FBI director confirms investigation of Trump campaigns ties to Russian government and smacks down several of the presidents tweets

The House intelligence committee hearing on Russian tampering in the US election has wrapped, as has day one of judge Neil Gorsuchs confirmation hearings. Heres what happened.

  • FBI director James Comey announced for the first time that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian governments efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russias efforts.
  • Trump campaign figures mentioned at the hearing included Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, JD Gordon, Jeff Sessions and Kellyanne Conway. Comey declined to say whether the president was or is being personally investigated.
  • Comey knocked down Trumps assertion on Twitter that Barack Obama had wire tapped him. We do not have any information that supports those tweets, Comey said.
  • Republican chairman Devin Nunes admitted: We know there was not a physical wiretap at Trump Tower. However it is possible that other surveillance technology was used against President Trump and his associates.
  • Tweets sent from the @potus account during the hearing mischaracterized Comeys testimony and that of NSA director Michael Rogers. One tweet said the witnesses had told Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.
  • Comey was asked about the tweet. Weve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because its not something weve looked at, Comey said. It certainly wasnt our intention to say that today.
  • Rogers denied a White House claim that the Obama administration asked GCHQ to conduct surveillance on Trump, saying it would have been a violation of US law to ask the British to conduct such an operation.
  • Republicans called for punishment for anyone who leaked classified information to the press, concerning Flynns contacts with Russian operatives or other issues.One member promised to grill former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper about leaks next week.
  • It emerged that the FBI investigation of Russian tampering was launched in late July, although the public did not learn of the investigation for months, well after the FBI saw fit to announce its investigation of Hillary Clintons emails.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/key-points-house-committee-hearing-trump-russia-comey

FBI chief given dossier by John McCain alleging secret Trump-Russia contacts

Russian intelligence alleged to have compromising material on Trump, say unverified reports drawn up by western ex-counter-intelligence official

Senator John McCain passed documents to the FBI director, James Comey, last month alleging secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow and that Russian intelligence had personally compromising material on the president-elect himself.

The material, which has been seen by the Guardian, is a series of reports on Trumps relationship with Moscow. They were drawn up by a former western counter-intelligence official, now working as a private consultant.

The Guardian has not been able to confirm the veracity of the documents contents, and the Trump team has consistently denied any hidden contacts with the Russian government.

But an official in the US administration who spoke to the Guardian described the source who wrote the intelligence report as consistently reliable, meticulous and well-informed, with a reputation for having extensive Russian contacts.

Some of the reports which are dated from 20 June to 20 October last year also proved to be prescient, predicting events that happened after they were sent.

One report, dated June 2016, claims that the Kremlin has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years, with the aim of encouraging splits and divisions in western alliance.

It claims that Trump had declined various sweetener real estate deals offered him in Russia especially in developments linked to the 2018 World Cup finals but that he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.

Most explosively, the report alleges: FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.

CNN reported on Tuesday that the FBI was still investigating the credibility of the documents but added that the intelligence chiefs had included a summary of the material in a secret briefing on Russian interference in the election delivered last week to Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The emergence of the documents is potentially explosive, 10 days before Trumps inauguration and on the eve of his first planned press conference since July last year.

The FBI does not normally make any comment on ongoing counter-intelligence investigations but was under increasing pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to act before the inauguration, particularly because of Comeys announcement of a continuing investigation into Hillary Clintons email server 11 days before the election, which many of her supporters believe cost her the presidency.

The reports were initially commissioned as opposition research during the presidential campaign, but its author was sufficiently alarmed by what he discovered to send a copy to the FBI. It is unclear who within the organisation they reached and what action the bureau took. The former Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, has lambasted Comey for publicising investigations into Hillary Clintons private server, while allegedly sitting on explosive material on Trumps ties to Russia.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, questioned Comey insistently at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday on whether the FBI was pursuing leads on Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships? Wyden asked.

Comey replied: I would never comment on investigations in a public forum.

The Guardian can confirm that the documents reached the top of the FBI by December. Senator John McCain, who was informed about the existence of the documents separately by an intermediary from a western allied state, dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source and then decided to present the material to Comey in a one-on-one meeting on 9 December, according to a source aware of the meeting. The documents, which were first reported on last year by Mother Jones, are also in the hands of officials in the White House.

McCain is not thought to have made a judgment on the reliability of the documents but was sufficiently impressed by the sources credentials to feel obliged to pass them to the FBI.

The Senate armed services committee, which Senator McCain chairs, launched an inquiry last week into Russian cyber-attacks during the election, and the intelligence services are due to complete a final assessment of Russian electoral meddling for President Obama this week.

Russian intelligence allegedly gathered compromising material from his stay in Moscow in November 2013, when he was in the city to host the Miss Universe pageant.

Another report, dated 19 July last year said that Carter Page, a businessman named by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, had held a secret meeting that month with Igor Sechin, head of the Rosneft state-owned oil company and a long-serving lieutenant of Vladimir Putin. Page also allegedly met Igor Divyekin, an internal affairs official with a background in intelligence, who is said to have warned Page that Moscow had kompromat (compromising material) on Trump.

Two months later, allegations of Pages meetings surfaced in the US media, attributed to intelligence sources, along with reports that he had been under FBI scrutiny.

Page, a vociferous supporter of the Kremlin line, was in Moscow in July to make a speech decrying western policy towards Russia. At the time he declined to say whether he had been in contact with Russian officials, but in September he rejected the reports as garbage.

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

A month after Trumps surprise election victory, Page was back in Moscow saying he was meeting with business leaders and thought leaders, dismissing the FBI investigation as a witch-hunt and suggesting the Russian hacking of the Democratic Party alleged by US intelligence agencies, could be a false flag operation to incriminate Moscow.

Another of the reports compiled by the former western counter-intelligence official in July said that members of Trumps team, which was led by campaign manager Paul Manafort (a former consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine), had knowledge of the DNC hacking operation, and in return had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/Nato defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

A few days later, Trump raised the possibility that his administration might recognise Russias annexation of Crimea and openly called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clintons emails.

In August, officials from the Trump campaign intervened in the drafting of the Republican party platform, specifically to remove a call for lethal assistance to Ukraine for its battle against Moscow-backed eastern rebels.

Manafort stepped down in August as campaign manager and the campaign steadily distanced itself from Page. However, Trumps praise of Putin and defence of Moscows actions in Ukraine and Syria remained one of the few constants in his campaign talking points.

Manafort has denied secret links with Moscow calling the allegation an outrageous smear being driven by Harry Reid and the Clinton campaign.

Since then, Trump has consistently cast doubt on Russian culpability for hacking the Democratic National Committee, defying a consensus of 17 national intelligence agencies. After Obama deported 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscows intervention, Trump praised Putin for not carrying out tit-for-tat deportations of US diplomats. I always knew he was very smart, he tweeted.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment after the CNN report.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/10/fbi-chief-given-dossier-by-john-mccain-alleging-secret-trump-russia-contacts

James Comey refuses to tell Senate if FBI is investigating Trump-Russia links

FBI director says I would never comment on investigations in an open forum but response stuns senators after his public remarks on Clintons email case

The director of the FBI whose high-profile interventions in the 2016 election are widely seen to have helped tip the balance of against Hillary Clinton has refused to say if the bureau is investigating possible connections between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, James Comey said he could not comment in public on a possible investigation into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

I would never comment on investigations whether we have one or not in an open forum like this, so I really cant answer one way or another, said Comey, at a hearing into the US intelligence agencies conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump.

Comeys reticence stunned several senators who pointed to his repeated public discussions of FBI inquiries into Clinton during the campaign.

It was his first public appearance since an election that saw his reputation for integrity seriously tarnished, after his repeated public statements on the bureaus inquiry into Clintons private email server. Clinton reportedly blames Comey for her unexpected loss to Trump.

Asked by the Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden if he would provide an unclassified answer about any FBI inquiry into Trump-Russia connections before Trumps inauguration on 20 January, Comey said: I will answer any question you ask but the answer will likely be the same as I just gave you. I cant talk about it.

Wyden said he was troubled by Comeys silence. I think the American people have a right to know this, he said.

Other senators went further. Democrat Kamala Harris of California suggested that a new standard for discussing FBI investigations publicly had been created in the months before the election.

Angus King, a Maine independent, told Comey: The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid.

Responding to King, Comey suggested sometimes we think differently about [discussing] closed investigations.

But the FBI had not technically closed its inquiry into the email server when Comey wrote to Congress on 28 October just 11 days before the general election to say that the agency was reviewing newly discovered electronic communications for potential relevance to the Clinton case.

Those materials arose from another active FBI investigation, into disgraced former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Comey eventually announced that the new material was ultimately irrelevant to Clinton, on the day before the election.

Comeys intervention into the presidential election contravened justice department protocols and earned rebuke from the former attorney general Eric Holder.

Trump has not publicly committed to retaining Comey, whose term extends to 2023, and Comey has receded from public view following the election. At one point in the hearing he attempted to joke: I hope Ive demonstrated by now Im tone deaf when it comes to politics and thats the way it should be.

The hearing was the intelligence committees first since the FBI, National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency released a declassified assessment finding that Russia orchestrated a wide-ranging influence operation during the US election, to include digitally breaking into Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton aide John Podestas email and providing the materials to outlets that published the information online.

James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, placed Russian interference in the US election in the context of Moscows attempted subversion of elections in what he estimated was a couple dozen foreign countries.

FBI
FBI director James Comey (left), and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, testify before the Senate hearing on Russian intelligence activities. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Clapper reiterated that he had no evidence that Russia had manipulated the voting process itself. But he said there was evidence of Russian reconnoitering, intrusion on certain voter rolls in unnamed American states.

Comey also said that there was evidence that Russia had penetrated an outdated Republican National Committee data hoard and harvested old stuff but not that it had accessed any current RNC material or the national Trump campaign.

There was evidence that there was hacking directed at state-level organizations, state-level campaigns, and the RNC, but old domains of the RNC, that is, email domains they were no longer using, Comey said.

The FBI director added that it was potentially possible that a hacker could access and manipulate voter information contained in county databases, possibly without election officials knowing about the manipulation.

Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, pledged a thorough and bipartisan staff review into the finding, which Trump has yet to publicly accept and which has led him to denigrate the intelligence agencies he is set to inherit.

Burr said he had no reason to doubt the findings and promised to follow the intel wherever it leads. His Democratic counterpart, Virginias Mark Warner, said he believed the committee inquiry ought to include a focus on contact between the Russian government and its agents, and associates of any campaign and candidate.

Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico added: Russia didnt do this to help the Republican candidate. Russia did this to help Russia and to weaken America and therein lies the heart of why this is so important. In the next election the shoe could easily be on the other foot, and a foreign power could easily decide it wants the Democrat could win this time.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/10/james-comey-trump-russia-links-investigation-senate

Former Los Angeles sheriff Lee Baca will go to trial in corruption case

Baca withdrew a guilty plea Monday on charges of lying to federal authorities in an effort to thwart an FBI investigation into abuses at jails he ran

The former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca withdrew a guilty plea Monday and chose to go to trial on a charge of lying to federal authorities in an effort to thwart an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.

The decision was made at a hearing after last-minute negotiations between defense attorneys and prosecutors on a new plea agreement.

Baca, 74, who has Alzheimers disease, had pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities under a deal that called for no more than six months in prison. But a federal judge rejected that sentence last month as too lenient, saying it failed to address Bacas gross abuse of the publics trust.

Negotiations continued through the weekend to find a compromise that would suit Baca, federal prosecutors and the judge.

Its frustrating for [Baca] because hes looking for a degree of certainty. He wants this very much to be over, the defense lawyer Michael Zweiback said before the decision was made. If hes not going to be in a situation where he has some understanding of what hes walking into, then he may feel he has no alternative but to fight for his life and go to trial.

One of the main challenges was uncertainty about what term would satisfy the judge. Federal court rules bar judges from taking part in plea negotiations, and Zweiback said Anderson did not provide a number of months or years that would satisfy him.

Prosecutors cannot mention the prior guilty plea in the trial.

The prospect that Baca will go through a public trial is another dramatic twist in a corruption scandal that blossomed after his deputies learned an inmate was an FBI informant.

Baca, who cut the figure of a fit, trim military officer in a crisp khaki uniform during his 16-year reign, was known for his unconventional approach to running the nations largest sheriffs department. He jetted around the world to promote a softer style of law enforcement, advocating for jailhouse education and a better understanding of different cultures.

But in his jails, a band of rogue deputies was beating inmates, and supervisors were helping cover up the violence.

After discovery of the FBI mole who was trying to gather evidence of beatings, Baca and other higher-ups tried to derail the investigation, having underlings shuffle the inmate to different jails under different names and trying to intimidate an FBI agent.

Baca long denied any role in the scandal and claimed he was out of touch with the goings-on in the jails. In his guilty plea, he acknowledged ordering deputies to do everything but put handcuffs on a female agent.

More than 20 members of the department have been convicted on charges ranging from assault to obstruction of justice, including his former second-in-command, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Anderson surprised many court observers when he rejected the plea deal.

Its one thing to lie, Anderson said. Its another thing entirely … when the chief law enforcement officer of the county of Los Angeles is involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up abuse and corruption.

One factor that might have come into play in the decision-making for Bacas attorneys is the state of Bacas mind.

Doctors have said hes in the early stages of Alzheimers and able to function. But he will probably experience severe cognitive impairment in five to 10 years.

Hes going to be locked up during the healthiest period of his life … and certainly the most aware period that hes got left, said the attorney J Vincent Aprile II, who has written about defending elderly clients.

Withdrawing the plea and forcing prosecutors to get a grand jury indictment and go to trial would buy Baca more time as lawyers prepare for trial.

If his condition declined during that delay, he could be deemed incompetent to stand trial or appear as a sympathetic figure to a jury and be acquitted.

Discussing the prospect with Baca that any delay would allow him to remain free before his mind diminishes, however, would be a tough task, said the defense lawyer Steve Cron, who is not involved in the case.

Im not saying its not going to happen, but thats not a conversation Id ever want to have with a client, Cron said. Thats a pretty grim choice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/01/former-los-angeles-sheriff-trial-corruption-case

Twitter bars spy agencies from buying bulk user data from analytics firm

Social network says it has never authorized Dataminr to sell information to US intelligence agencies, but officials say tools have been used previously

Twitter has blocked US spies from buying bulk data on its users from a data analytics company.

Until now, US national security agencies, including the FBI and CIA, had been able to query treasure troves of Twitter data through software from Dataminr, the New York-based analytics company in which Twitter owns a 5% stake. Agents could enter search terms such as Isis or jihad and view more tweets, over a longer period, than what a standard Twitter search would offer, people familiar with the process said.

Apparently not wanting to seem too close to US spies, Twitter has blocked any future such sales, the company confirmed on Monday. Twitter maintains the power to veto Dataminrs contracts with its customers, typically news organizations and financial analysts.

The US tech industry and Washington have had a tense relationship as of late, yet many of the sticking points have been related to surveillance of westerners. When it comes to combating Islamic extremism, American tech firms, including Twitter, have voluntarily assisted.

It remains unclear why selling data to US spies that it sells to private companies is a bridge too far for Twitter.

We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes, a Twitter spokesman said. This is a longstanding policy, not a new development.

However, several current and former US officials said US intelligence agencies had used Dataminr tools in the past. Dataminr also is backed by In-Q-Tel, the not-for-profit organization that serves as the venture capital arm of US intelligence agencies. Dataminr didnt respond to a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported on Dataminrs position.

On its website, the company advertises a public sector product that instantly analyzes all publicly available Tweets for real-time information related to terrorist threats, social and political unrest.

The company also maintains a contract with the Department of Homeland Security. A Twitter spokesman said government contracts were acceptable if they do not involve surveillance.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/09/twitter-surveillance-fbi-cia-privacy-dataminr