Trump asked NSA, DNI to push back against FBI investigation

The Washington Post reports that President Trump, in efforts to combat the ongoing FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, made separate appeals to a pair of top U.S. intelligence chiefs, asking them to deny any evidence.

Trump contacted the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Michael S. Rogers, shortly after Comey’s testimony confirming the investigation.

The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation said a former intelligence official to the WaPo.

Both Coats and Rogers rejected the request.

Coats may not know the scope of the probe:

As director of national intelligence, Coats leads a vast community that includes the FBI. This does not guarantee that Coats is fully attuned to the ongoing probe, however: James Clapper Jr., the former DNI, recently acknowledged that James Comey did not brief him on the scope of the probe.

Notably, Trump’s appeal was documented by a NSA official, but the agency declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

Remember the Memo:

  • A senior NSA official documented Trump’s request in a – you guessed it- internal memo.
  • Whether a similar memo was prepared by an official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is unknown, but the memo(s) could be made available to the recently appointed special counsel.

White House sounds off on leaks (again):

Asked about the report, a White House spokesperson said the following:

“The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals. The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.”

Flashback – White House sought press pushback months ago:

In February, multiple outlets reported on White House efforts to recruit intelligence agencies -including the FBI – to push back against press reports regarding Trump associates and Russian officials.

Two months later, things have changed dramatically:The White House has shifted its focus from refuting press reports to refuting the FBI.

President Trump’s budget proposal is expected to be released tomorrow, and the White House has issued a series of formal budget requests ahead of the release.

One request proposes a $1.7 trillion-dollar cut to a series of social and anti-poverty programs.

Conservatives will love it; moderates will probably hate it, said a White House source to Axios.

Below, an overview of some of the key cuts:

A 25 percent reduction in food stamps: 

  • About $193 billion would be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade.
  • The cuts would be – in part – made possible by limiting eligibility and requiring work.

Deep cuts to Children’s Health Insurance:

  • The bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is expected to face major cuts. The Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders reauthorized the program in 2015.
  • CHIP, now marking its 20th year, lowered the number of children uninsured from fourteen percent to four.

Slashes to Social Security:

Come tomorrow, Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to say that the “budget strives to replace dependency with the dignity of work through welfare reform efforts”.

Former national security advisor Michael T. Flynn has opted to invoke Fifth Amendment rights and refuse subpoenas issued by the Senate Intel Committee.

  • The Senate Intel Committee subpoenaed Flynn on May 10th for records relating to his communication with Russian officials.
  • House and Senate Intel Committees have yet to accept an earlier offer from Flynn’s lawyers to testify in exchange for immunity.

The Senate Intel Committee has now received responses from three Trump associates asked to provide records on interactions with Russian officials: Carter Page, an associate not yet revealed, and Michael Flynn.

James Comey has agreed to testify in an open forum before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A date will be scheduled after Memorial Day.

Comey will not also address the Senate Judiciary Committee, however – a decision Sen. Chuck Grassley sharply criticized:

Comey, Trump at a distance even before firing

  1. Earlier today, the White House did not dispute reports that President Trump, during a meeting with Russian diplomats, called Comey a “nut job” and remarked that his firing relieved pressure over the ongoing Russia probe.
  2. Associates of Comey have said that the ex-FBI Director aimed to keep President Trump at a cautious distance.

Previously, On:

According to a document summarizing the recent meeting between President Trump and Russian diplomats, Trump reportedly told the officials that firing James Comey – a “nut job” – would ease the ongoing FBI investigation.

An American official read a summation of the report to the New York Times:

I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off, said Trump. I’m not under investigation, he added.

The May 10th meeting took place just a day following the firing of Mr. Comey.

A running list of what’s happened this week:

  1. It was revealed that President Trump mistakenly disclosed highly classified intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation.
  2. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told the entire Senate that Trump’s decision to fire Comey predated Rosenstein’s memo justifying it.
  3. Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI Director, was appointed as Special Counsel and will continue the investigation. President Trump has labeled the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Spicer confirms account:

Sean Spicer did not dispute the account, but added that Times report was another example of an administration repeatedly undermined by leaks:

“The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it.

Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations,” said Spicer.

Official defends Trump’s move as ‘negotiating tactic’:

Another government official defended Trump’s remarks, saying that they were a part of an extended negotiating tactic to establish a sense of obligation from the Russians on a number of matters:

  • Russia’s meddling in last years election had created tremendous problems for the Trump administration, the thought went.Opponents have seized on the reports.
  • By telling the Russian officials that Comey’s removal had “relieved pressure”, Trump was seeking to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and “to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues,” the Times wrote.

Related:

The ongoing probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials has reached the White House: the WaPo reports that a “senior advisor” has been cited as a “significant person of interest.”

  • Individuals familiar with the probe say it is expected to intensify in the coming weeks.
  • Law enforcement remains interested in former Trump associates – like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.
  • Officials emphasized that today’s report does not immediately suggest criminal charges are coming.

The list of current “senior advisors” isn’t exactly long:

The report does not identify the individual. But it does list a title: “Senior Advisor”. There are currently two senior advisors to President Trump.

  1. Jared Kushner
  2. Stephen Miller

Yashar Ali, a writer for New York Magazine, is reporting that the official in question is Jared Kushner:

Kushner has acknowledged previous contact with Russian officials, and was reportedly a considerable influence in the run up to Comey’s firing.

Kushner will also be joining President Trump on his first international trip:

Today, the New York Times reported that Kushner helped secure an arms deal in advance of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

From March: “Senate Committee to question Kushner on communications with Russians”

Joe Lieberman, former longtime Senator from Connecticut, has emerged as a leading candidate for FBI Director, per multiple reports.

Lieberman’s resume a rarity, in more ways than one:

The news comes as something of a surprise, as Lieberman’s resume has little in common with that of past FBI directors:

  1. He has no federal law enforcement experience.
  2. He has openly run for office. No elected official has ever led the FBI.
  3. He is senior counsel for a law firm that has represented Trump on matters as recently last year.

Supporters cite Lieberman’s – a former Democrat turned Independent – connections:

The nominee for FBI Director is expected to be announced soon, as President Trump has said he is looking to resolve the process before his trip abroad this Friday.

Whoever the nominee, he or she is likely to face almost unprecedented scrutiny in their confirmation hearings before a hyper-partisan, bitterly divided Senate.

Lieberman, supporters say, might bridge that divide: After losing in the Democratic primary in 2006, Lieberman was later re-elected as an Independent. He is, by most accounts, a career politician, possessed with an independence of mind cited by both supporters and detractors.

“Joe Lieberman has more experience than all of my Democratic colleagues combined. So screw them. And you can quote me,” said Senator John McCain.

The issue, of course, is whether or not a career politician ought to be nominated for FBI Director – a position ideally defined by work above-the-fray, and without political interference.

Continue Reading

The Department of Education (DOE) is expected to see some $10.6 billion in cuts under the coming White House budget. Among those cuts is reportedly the elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLFP), which encourages borrowers to work in the nonprofit/government sector in exchange for student loan forgiveness.

Created in 2007, the program grants borrowers loan forgiveness if they spend 10 years working for a government or nonprofit entity.

To cap – or to scrap – a complex program:

The Government Accountability Office estimates that almost 25 percent of Americans work in jobs that may qualify for the program.

But whether the program should be capped, scrapped, or expanded is an ongoing debate:

  1. DOE estimates released last year found that many PSLF enrollees borrowed over $100,000 to finance graduate degrees. Critics of the program have said that using PSLF toward graduate work creates an unsustainable “back door subsidy.”
  2. The Obama administration in 2015 proposed capping federal loan debt that could be forgiven at $57,500.
  3. Estimates from the Government Accountability office say the Obama-era cap would have saved $6.7 billion, while eliminating the program entirely would likely save more.

The budget, at present, does not define what would happen to borrowers currently pursuing forgiveness under PSLFP.

The Trump campaign, between April and November of last year, had eighteen undisclosed contacts with Russian officials, per a Reuters report.

The eighteen undisclosed contacts, which include calls and emails, are part of the record being reviewed by the FBI and congressional investigators.

The officials who described the contacts to Reuters said they had “seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.”

The White House, in January, denied having any contact with Russian officials during the Trump campaign, and have since confirmed four meetings between Sergei Kislyak and members of the Trump team.

A full account:

The discussions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials reportedly highlighted sanctions against Moscow, cooperation in fighting the Islamic State in Syria, and containment in China.

A political campaign having some contact with foreign officials is not considered exceptional. But Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, said the volume of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is “rare”:

It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power, said Armitage to Reuters.

Kislyak at the center (again)

Six of the eighteen previously-undisclosed calls involved Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Kislyak regularly communicated with former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who resigned following his failure to properly characterize conversations he had with Kislyak in December.

The remaining 12 communications involved calls, emails and text discussions with Russian officials and Trump campaign advisors.

Special Counsel appointed:

The report comes the day after the Department of Justice appointed Robert Mueller, former FBI Director, as special counsel to oversee the investigation.

“It is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

“My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” he added.

President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to end the ongoing federal probe of former-national security advisor Michael T. Flynn, according to a memo written by Comey following a meeting with the president.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said to Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

The meeting between Comey and President Trump took place the day after Flynn resigned.

Behind the report:

Two people have read the memo and confirmed its contents to the Times, and one Comey associate read portions of it aloud.

If the report holds, it is thought to be the most direct evidence yet that President Trump has sought to influence ongoing investigations against members of the Trump team and Russian officials.

The White House has denied the version of the memo as reported by the Times.

Memo was shared with DOJ, WaPO reports:

Comey associates, following his firing, predicted that Comey, a careful record keeper, left a paper trail of his communications with the Trump administration:

The Washington Post has reported that the memo was shared with the Department of Justice.

Congress can subpoena memo:

Congress has the authority to subpoena the memo – which the Times did not make public, as its contents were read aloud – and get answers in a public, open forum.

But Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, called on the Times – not Congress – to make the memo public:

Awaiting Comey’s next step:

James Comey declined an invitation to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but later reports say Comey is open to testifying, and would like to do so in public.

Comey is likely waiting for legal protection – like a subpoena – before going public.

Israel is a source behind the classified intelligence President Trump shared with Russian officials in a White House meeting last week, according to “a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information”.

Israeli officials have not confirmed the report, but Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, reaffirmed a commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with the U.S. and President Trump:

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” said Dermer.

Israeli officials provided some of the intelligence details, according to officials who spoke to the Times on conditions of anonymity. The administration was urged to be careful with the intelligence, the officials said.

McMaster: Trump was unaware of the source of the information

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster – current national security advisor – told reporters today that President Trump effectively made a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ decision to share the intelligence with Russian officials:

The president, McMaster added, was not briefed on the intel ‘source or method’:

Of note:

In January, an Israeli newspaper reported that American officials cautioned Israel to be careful when transferring intelligence to the White House and National Security Council.

President Trump shared “highly classified” information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their visit to the White House last week, the Washington Post reports.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, quickly expressed his concern over the report:

The information shared by Trump is reportedly exceptional:

The details “were considered so sensitive that they had been withheld from allies – and under close hold within the U.S. government as well,” said Jessica Estepa of USA Today.

Trump reportedly revealed U.S. knowledge of a possible threat, even going so far as to reveal the Islamic State territory designated as the source of the threat.

The president “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we share with our own allies,” said one source to the Post.

Officials contacted the CIA, NSA after Trump’s comments:

Per the Post, a number of top White House officials called the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, hoping to “contain the damage.”

President Trump – and, by extension, the White House – were never granted permission to share the information in question.

Tillerson, McMaster respond:

The Trump administration, working alongside AG Jeff Sessions and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, has settled on a list of 8 potential candidates for the FBI Director position.

Each candidate has been interviewed, and no further interviews are expected.

“I think the process is going to move quickly. Almost all of them are very well-known; they’ve been vetted over their lifetime, essentially. But very well-known, highly respected, really talented people and that’s what we want for the FBI,” said Trump.

Below, a rundown of the candidates:

1. John Cornyn:

2. Mike Rogers:

3. Alice Fisher:

Continue Reading

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from North Carolina regarding a lower courts decision to strike down the states voter ID law.

That decision now upholds a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the voter ID law disenfranchised black voters with “almost surgical precision.

Five restrictions in the bill – which now looks to be done for good – were rejected by the appeals court:

  1. No out-of-state voting.
  2. Voters must present valid form of photo ID.
  3. Rolled back early voting period from 17 days to 10 days.
  4. Eliminated same-day registration and voting.
  5. Eliminated preregistration by 16-year-olds.

Chief Justice Roberts offers statement on ‘non-decision’:

The Supreme Court – as is custom – did not offer reasoning for its non-decision.

However, Chief Justice Roberts did release a statement on the denial of cert, linking the decision to a debate over who represented the state:

“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that ‘the denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,” Roberts wrote.

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