Trump admits ‘this Russia thing’ part of reasoning for firing James Comey

Donald Trump has said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided James Comey’s fate – contradicting the White House rationale that he fired the FBI director for mishandling the Clinton email investigation.

Comey had been leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was dismissed by the president. Defending that decision in an interview on NBC News on Thursday, Trump said: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Trump also said there were three occasions on which Comey assured him he was not under investigation. The president said he called the director of the FBI to ask for an update on a possible criminal investigation into his ties with Russia.

In the NBC interview Trump also flatly contradicted his own vice-president and spokesman by saying he decided to fire James Comey before receiving a recommendation from the deputy attorney general.

Trump recalled three conversations with Comey about the FBI investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. First, he said, there was a dinner which was also about Comey’s future, raising the prospect that Trump could threaten his job.

“He wanted to stay on at the FBI,” Trump said, “and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens … But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’’’

Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice, told MSNBC: “It’s completely inappropriate for [Trump] to ask that question … It would also be a violation of DoJ rules for James Comey to answer it.”

Asked at Thursday’s White House press briefing if it was inappropriate for Trump to have asked Comey if he was under investigation, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “No, I don’t believe it is.”

She added: “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest and neither do many of the legal scholars who’ve been commenting on it over the last hour.” Sanders did not identify which “legal scholars” that she was referring to.

When the president fired Comey on Tuesday, the White House released a memo from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that criticised Comey for mishandling last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Press secretary Sean Spicer claimed it was this memo that prompted Trump to remove Comey, a position backed by vice-president Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said in an interview with CNN that Trump had “made a decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey.”

But in the NBC interview, Trump said of Comey: “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

He explained: “I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The revelation came amid a flurry of reports suggesting that Trump had grown increasingly irate with Comey in recent weeks because of his high profile, his failure to stop leaks, his pursuit of the Russia investigation and his lack of support for the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama.

In the end, he fired Comey late on Tuesday afternoon, a move that seemed to take many White House staff by surprise. The official reason given was the FBI director’s mishandling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails.

The acting head of the FBI, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Comey enjoyed broad support among its staff – directly contradicting the White House assertion that he had lost the confidence of the FBI rank and file.

Read the complete article on the above story in The Guardian web site.

Read this The Guardian article for background on “What do we know about alleged links between Trump and Russia?

Read this New York Times articleFor Trump Supporters, the Real Outrage Is the Left’s Uproar Over Comey.

Reince Priebus, FBI director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe had a conversation which appears to violate justice department rules

FBI director James Comey leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill on Friday in Washington DC. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

FBI director James Comey leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill on Friday in Washington DC. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The White House has confirmed that its chief of staff spoke with top FBI officials about the bureau’s inquiry into links between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia – a conversation which appears to violate justice department rules to ensure the integrity of investigations.

The administration had sought to push back against reports from CNN and the Associated Press that the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had asked the FBI’s top two officials to rebut news reports about Trump allies’ ties to Russia.

But in doing so, the White House on Friday acknowledged that Priebus, the FBI director, James Comey, and deputy director, Andrew McCabe, had discussed what the FBI knew about Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign.

“The White House appears to have violated accepted protocols and procedures,” said former FBI special agent Ali Soufan.

“As an FBI agent, we always know there shouldn’t be any appearance of political interference over a pending investigation. Any kind of appearance of political influence will be considered against existing protocols and procedures.”

Another retired FBI special agent, Michael German, said the FBI leadership had potentially jeopardized an investigation.

“It is illegal for an FBI employee to take information from an ongoing criminal investigation and share it with a potential witness or subject of that investigation. Obviously, if the justice department ultimately initiates a prosecution in this matter, this purported conversation would be exculpating evidence. Again, if it is true that high bureau officials believe the current FBI investigation is [bullshit], they should close the investigation and be prepared to justify this decision, not leak their opinion to anyone outside of the investigation”, German said.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee – which is also investigating Trump’s ties to Russia – called on Comey to explain the communications.

“Politicized assertions by White House chief of staff Priebus about what may or may not be the findings of an FBI investigation are exactly the wrong way for the public to hear about an issue that is of grave consequence to our democracy. The American people deserve real transparency, which means Director Comey needs to come forward, in an open hearing, and answer questions,” Wyden told the Guardian.

“If, as Priebus claimed, the FBI not only discussed this issue with the White House but coordinated the White House’s public statements, the American people would also have reason to doubt the impartiality both of the bureau and the Department of Justice to which the FBI is responsible. These claims deserve further investigation.”

In both public and private meetings with Congress, Comey has continued to refuse to address whether the FBI has an active inquiry into Trump associates’ ties to Russia, despite continuing pressure from the press. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees have their own investigations into the matter, and congressional Democrats continue to push for an independent inquiry.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said Priebus “has committed an outrageous breach of the FBI’s independence” and “tainted the integrity of the FBI”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

US intelligence report: Vladimir Putin ‘ordered’ operation to get Trump elected

The report found that a multifaceted Russian campaign, going beyond the high-profile data breaches, included state-owned media and social media campaigns. Photograph: Alexander Utkin/AFP/Getty Images

The report found that a multifaceted Russian campaign, going beyond the high-profile data breaches, included state-owned media and social media campaigns. Photograph: Alexander Utkin/AFP/Getty Images

This report, available as PDF below, on Vladimir Putin and Russian influence in getting Donald Trump elected President of the United States is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment; its conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.

Declassified assessment says Russia ‘had clear preference’ for Trump, who met with US intelligence chiefs on Friday but refused to endorse their findings. You may read this declassified report and decide for yourself.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the agencies found in a long-awaited report that stands to hang over the head of the incoming Trump administration.

Though the declassified report lacks detail, never before has the US intelligence apparatus publicly assessed a foreign power to have interfered in an election for the benefit of an incoming president.

The three US intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Russian military intelligence was behind anonymous hacking entities Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, and relayed to WikiLeaks data stolen from prominent Democrats. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has denied receiving any material from the Russians.

“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the agencies found.

The intelligence assessment found that a multifaceted Russian influence campaign, going beyond the data breaches at the Democratic National Committee, began as an effort to undermine Clinton’s “expected presidency” and included state-owned media and social media campaigns. It foreshadowed “future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes”.

“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” the report said.

After meeting with US intelligence officials at Trump Tower, Trump did not endorse the conclusion of Russian interference but said he would task his administration with devising a new plan to “aggressively combat and and stop cyber attacks”.

In a statement following his meeting with intelligence chiefs, Trump discussed digital intrusions in a generic sense, referring to “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” that engage in digital theft, remaining agnostic on the intelligence agencies’ conclusion of Russian interference.

He said it was ultimately irrelevant, describing the data penetration and leak as having “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”.

Brian Bartholomew of Russia-based security firm Kaspersky believes the hacks were the work of a group known by several code names, among them Fancy Bear, Sofacy and APT 29.

Bartholomew told the Guardian that while Kaspersky tends to shy away from attribution and focus on deterrence and analysis, it had already become difficult to reach any other conclusion than that Russian state actors were behind the Fancy Bear hacks.

“[Julian] Assange said it could have been a 14-year-old hacker – if you look at the collective operations of this group, there’s no way a 14-year-old has this much money, time and effort to conduct all of these operations together,” he said.

Kaspersky believes Fancy Bear controlled several operations attributed to Islamic State and other international groups, among them hacks on TV5Monde, the German Bundestag and the Democratic National Committee. Those attacks look sloppy and public by design, Bartholomew said.

“What it came down to was essentially plausible deniability,” he said. “You have an espionage group that is linked to a nation-state group; if you have a group that is targeting media or election systems, that’s taking it past the line that traditional groups used to follow.”

The fronts for Fancy Bear allowed a more organized and well-funded actor to pretend to be a gang of dissidents that just happened to act in a way that furthered the interests of the group backing them. “It all forms a line with the Russian sphere of influence,” said Bartholomew.

Bartholomew said he hoped the new report would contain at least some new technical details. Instead, it contains an analysis of Russian state news outlet Russia Today dating back more than four years, and the detail that among other tactics, the Russian GRU intelligence agency is said to have hired Twitter trolls.

You may download the declassified report in PDF format here…. assessing-russian-activities-and-intentions-in-recent-us-elections

You may read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.

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Self-serving insiders in US Government

Get ready for the biggest show yet of corrupt self-serving insiders during the next four years. Just wait until Trump forces the retraction of sanctions against Russia as a way of thanks for the millions and millions of dollars two top Russian businessmen loaned Trump companies. http://time.com/4433880/donald-trump-ties-to-russia/

Hell, Trump even tried to have his family  – daughters and sons – run the family companies after placing them as operators of the ‘blind trust’ he had to set up. http://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/30/donald-trump-blind-trust-foreign-business-deals-500398.html