List of officials who sought to 'unmask' Flynn released: Biden, Comey, Obama chief of staff among them
Top Obama administration officials purportedly requested to "unmask" the identity of Michael Flynn during the presidential transition period, according to a list of names from that controversial process made public on Wednesday.
The list was declassified in recent days by Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell and then sent to GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, who made the documents public. The roster features top-ranking figures including then-Vice President Joe Biden -- a detail sure to soon be raised in the bare-knuckle 2020 presidential race where Biden is now the Democrats' presumptive nominee.
The list also includes then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Obama's then-chief of staff Denis McDonough.
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Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has decided to declassify information about Obama administration officials who were behind the “unmasking” of Michael Flynn -- whose calls with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition were picked up in surveillance and later leaked -- and their names could soon be made public, a source confirmed.
Fox News confirmed that a new round of documents is expected, in the wake of a document dump last week that renewed focus on the Russia investigation and specifically the treatment of Flynn. The unmasking concerns events between the November 2016 election and Inauguration Day 2017, Fox News is told.
Another source familiar with the intelligence told Fox News that Grenell is moving to declassify several pieces of intelligence in stages, with this being one part of it. Asked if former President Barack Obama's name is on the list of officials involving in unmasking Flynn, the source would not say but stressed the list would make waves.
The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the looming release overnight, cited a senior government official who called Grenell's move unprecedented, as it came just days after the Justice Department dropped its case against Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser. It is now up to Attorney General William Barr to release the names publicly.
Unmasking occurs after U.S. citizens' conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens' identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens' names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights.
Officials in the Obama administration have acknowledged that they unmasked some Americans in intelligence reports, but insisted that their reasons were legitimate. Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, said she unmasked the identities of Trump officials during the transition, according to ABC News. She has denied leaking their identities or being politically motivated.
An official told ABC News that Grenell visited the Justice Department at some point last week and had the list with him. The move coincided with the department's stunning reversal in the Flynn case, which was previously seen as special prosecutor Robert Mueller's signature case from the Russian collusion investigation.
The decision to drop the case was made even though prosecutors, for the past three years, have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty to this, but later sought to withdraw the plea.
Recent documents released in the case included handwritten notes in which FBI officials questioned what the purpose of interviewing Flynn. "What is our goal?" one of the notes read.
"Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?"
In court documents filed last week, the Justice Department said that after reviewing newly disclosed information and other materials, it agreed with Flynn’s lawyers that his Jan. 24, 2017 interview with the FBI should never have taken place because he had not had inappropriate contacts with Russians. The interview, the department said, was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
Sidney Powell, one of Flynn’s lawyers, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” that FBI agents did their best to hide their investigation and attempted to entrap Flynn. She mentioned a meeting on Jan. 5, 2017 at the White House that included Obama, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan.
Powell said the “whole thing was orchestrated and set up within the FBI, Clapper, Brennan and in the Oval Office meeting that day with President Obama,” she told anchor Maria Bartiromo.
Bartiromo asked Powell if she believed the scandal reached up to Obama, and Powell responded, “Absolutely.”
Trump later tweeted, “OBAMAGATE,” indicating that he believes that Obama worked to undermine his presidency.
When asked by a reporter in the Rose Garden what crime he is accusing Obama of committing, Trump responded: “Obamagate, it’s been going on for a long time, it’s been going on from before I got elected, and it's a disgrace that it happened. You look at now all of this information that’s being released and from what I understand that’s only the beginning.”
U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham is going “full throttle” with his review into the origins of the investigation into suspected Russia-Trump coordination in the 2016 election, with additional top prosecutors involved in looking at different components of the original probe, sources told Fox News.
Two sources told Fox News that Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri who was tapped by the Justice Department in February to review the case of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is continuing to help with Durham’s investigation even after the DOJ’s move last week to drop the case against Flynn.
The sources told Fox News that interim U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea is also assisting with components of the investigation.
“They farmed the investigation out because it is too much for Durham and he didn’t want to be distracted,” one of the sources told Fox News.
“He’s going full throttle, and they’re looking at everything,” the source told Fox News.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Jensen and Shea’s involvement.
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Former President Barack Obama on Friday said that the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been an “absolute chaotic disaster” and blamed it on a “selfish” and “tribal” mindset that has become operationalized in government.
“This election that’s coming up on every level is so important because what we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party. What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life,” he said.
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Obama’s remarks, reported by Yahoo News, came as part of a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association -- former members of his administration.
He mentioned the coronavirus response as he urged ex-administration members to help former Vice President Joe Biden beat President Trump in November.
“It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government,” he said.
“That’s why, I, by the way, am going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden,” he said.
OBAMA SAYS 'RULE OF LAW IS AT RISK' AFTER DOJ DROPPED FLYNN CASE
It comes as a partial response to criticism aimed at Obama’s administration by Trump, who has partly blamed some sluggishness in the initial response to the crisis on limited stockpiles.
“But they also gave us empty cupboards. The cupboard was bare. You’ve heard the expression: “The cupboard was bare. So we took over a stockpile where the cupboard was bare and where the testing system was broken and old,” he said from the White House in April. “And we redid it.”
In the chat, Obama weighed in on a number of issues -- including the decision by the DOJ to seek to drop the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
"That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places,” he said.
Former President Barack Obama on Friday reacted to the Justice Department’s move to end its case against Michael Flynn by declaring that the “rule of law is at risk” -- as new details emerge about what the former president knew about the case against Flynn in the last days of his administration.
“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said, according to Yahoo News, in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association
OBAMA KNEW DETAILS OF WIRETAPPED FLYNN PHONE CALLS, SURPRISING TOP DOJ OFFICIAL IN MEETING WITH BIDEN, DECLASSIFIED DOCS SHOW
“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free," he reportedly said. "That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
Yahoo News, in reporting the tape, noted that Obama incorrectly states the charges against Flynn, who was not charged with perjury. Instead, Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations. But Flynn’s supporters have long argued that the FBI set a perjury trap for Flynn.
The move this week by the DOJ came after the release of memos showing bureau officials debating at the time whether their purpose in interviewing Flynn was to get him to lie and prosecute him or get him to “admit to breaking the Logan Act” -- an obscure law that bars non-government officials from pretending to represent the U.S.
DOJ DROPS CASE AGAINST MICHAEL FLYNN
New details emerged also this week about what Obama himself knew at the time of the Flynn case. Obama warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn and said he was “not a fan” of the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
According to declassified interview transcripts, Obama told then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and then-FBI Director James Comey in early 2017 that he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with the Russian ambassador about sanctions
Obama "specified that he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information."
At that point, the documents showed, "Yates had no idea what the president was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can't recall if he specified there was an 'investigation.' Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting."
COMEY SOUNDS OFF AFTER DOJ MOVES TO DROP FLYNN CASE
The exhibit continues: "It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey's response to the President's question about how to treat Flynn. She was so surprised by the information she was hearing that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time."
On Friday, Obama cited the Flynn case as a reason for why former officials needed to help his former Vice President Joe Biden beat Trump in November.
“So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it's the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”
Obama also reportedly cited the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to fight harder for Biden, blaming what he saw as a poor response on “tribal” trends stoked by Trump and his allies.
“What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life,” he said.
“And by the way, we’re seeing that internationally as well. It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”
Obama knew details of wiretapped Flynn phone calls, surprising top DOJ official, declassified docs show
President Obama was aware of the details of then-incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn's intercepted December 2016 phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, apparently shocking then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, according to documents released Thursday as exhibits to the government's motion to dismiss the Flynn case.
Obama's unexpectedly intimate knowledge of the details of Flynn's calls raised eyebrows because of his own history with Flynn. Obama personally had warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn, and made clear he was "not a fan," according to multiple officials. Obama fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
On January 5, 2017, Yates attended an Oval Office meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-CIA Director John Brennan, and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to the newly declassified documents. They were discussing Russian election interference, along with national security adviser Susan Rice and other members of the national security council.
After the briefing, Obama asked Yates and Comey to "stay behind," and said he had "learned of the information about Flynn" and his conversation with Russia's ambassador about sanctions. Obama "specified that he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information."
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The Justice Department on Thursday dropped its case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, in a stunning development that comes after internal memos were released raising serious questions about the nature of the investigation that led to Flynn’s late 2017 guilty plea of lying to the FBI.
The announcement came in a court filing, with the department saying it is dropping the case "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information."
The documents were first obtained by The Associated Press. DOJ sources confirmed the decision to Fox News.
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Sources say Russia probe transcripts affirm officials came up empty on collusion: 'Schiff is in panic mode'
EXCLUSIVE: Transcripts of House Intelligence Committee interviews that have been cleared for release show top law enforcement and intelligence officials affirming they had no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, senior administration and intelligence community officials told Fox News on Wednesday.
This would align with the results of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — which found no evidence of illegal or criminal coordination between President Trump, the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 — but the numerous transcribed interviews could raise further questions about committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s past statements saying that there was “direct evidence” of collusion.
“Schiff is in panic mode,” a senior administration official told Fox News.
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EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham has reviewed the bombshell files released earlier this week showing FBI officials discussed whether they wanted to interview Michael Flynn in order to “get him to lie,” sources familiar with his investigation told Fox News, as the document drop renews attention on his probe of the law enforcement community's Russia case.
Sources even said charges could be justified against officials, and that those reviewing the Justice Department and the FBI's actions are building a "serious case." Durham and Attorney General Bill Barr are said to be speaking regularly.
“Durham has seen all of this already,” one source told Fox News, adding that they “could be sufficient for some charges against agents.”
“It’s a crime to present under oath false or misleading information,” the source told Fox News. “Not to mention obstruction of justice.”
Another source also told Fox News that the files have been reviewed by Durham and Jeff Jensen, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri who was tapped by the Justice Department in February to review the Flynn case specifically.
“They’re building a very serious case,” the second source told Fox News in reference to Durham's team.
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Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe apologized for lying to federal investigators concerning an October 2016 leak to The Wall Street Journal about the Hillary Clinton email probe, newly released transcripts indicate -- underscoring McCabe's legal jeopardy as U.S. Attorney John Durham continues the Justice Department's criminal probe into bureau misconduct.
The transcripts specifically raised the possibility that McCabe, now a paid CNN commentator, could face a false statements charge similar to the one leveled against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The account of McCabe's remarks was released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general (IG) because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C.
The IG concluded in 2018 that McCabe "lacked candor" when speaking to then-FBI Director James Comey and DOJ Oversight and Review (O&R) internal investigators about the leak to the Journal on May 9, 2017. In the transcripts, released Thursday, an unidentified O&R investigator asserted that McCabe had claimed "he did not grant anyone permission to divulge the information to the media" and that he "personally hadn't shared the information" or "granted anyone else permission to."
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Strzok claims anti-Trump texts protected by 1st Amendment, administration violated his rights
Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who is suing the government in a bid for reinstatement, argued in a court filing in Washington, D.C., federal district court on Monday that his politically charged anti-Trump messages were protected by the First Amendment -- even though he sent them on bureau-issued phones while playing leading roles in the probes into both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
"Firing an employee for the content of his or her non-public communications is unconstitutional, irrespective of any balancing of interests" including damage to the FBI's reputation and other factors, Strzok argued in his response brief, which also slammed Trump's "unpresidential tweets."
Because it was the DOJ that had leaked his anti-Trump text messages, Strzok argued, his texts should be considered private speech, and he should not be held to the tougher legal standard under the 1968 Supreme Court case Pickering v. Board of Education that applies to public statements by government employees.
Strzok, once the FBI's head of counterintelligence, said he was entitled to "develop a full factual record through discovery," and that it would be premature to dismiss the case at this early stage. He went on to argue that the DOJ's position would "leave thousands of career federal government employees without protections from discipline over the content of their political speech."
Strzok's filing was a response to the Justice Department's no-holds-barred motion to dismiss his lawsuit for reinstatement in November. The DOJ told the court that Strzok had even admitted to conducting FBI business on his personal iMessage account and assured them that the materials were secure -- even though his wife accessed his phone and determined he was having an affair with Lisa Page, then an FBI lawyer also involved in the Clinton and Russia probes.
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FISA COURT SPEAKS
In a rare public order Tuesday, the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FISC] strongly criticized the FBI over its surveillance-application process, giving the bureau until Jan. 10 to come up with solutions, in the wake of findings from Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
The order, from the court's presiding judge Rosemary M. Collyer, came just a week after the release of Horowitz's withering report about the wiretapping of Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to President Trump.
"The FBI's handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the [Office of Inspector General] report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above," Collyer wrote in her four-page order. "The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable."
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"WE DO NOT AGREE"
Durham blisters Horowitz after IG report spares FBI brass in Trump probe origins
The U.S. attorney who is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia probe released a rare statement Monday saying he disagrees with conclusions of the so-called FISA report -- after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz found in that review that the probe's launch largely complied with DOJ and FBI policies.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” U.S. Attorney John Durham said in a statement.
Horowitz released his report Monday saying his investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding efforts to launch that 2016 probe and to seek a highly controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the investigation. Still, it found that there were "significant concerns with how certain aspects of the investigation were conducted and supervised."
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff,” Durham said. “However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
As Horowitz has conducted his review of DOJ actions during the Russia probe, Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, has also been conducting a wider inquiry into alleged misconduct and alleged improper government surveillance on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
Fox News reported in October that Durham's ongoing probe has transitioned into a full-fledged criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr ripped the FBI’s “intrusive” investigation after the release of Horowitz’s review, saying it was launched based on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in a statement.
Barr expressed frustration that the FBI continued investigating the Trump campaign, even as “exculpatory” information came to the light.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller acknowledged in his report that investigators did not find evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russians in 2016 – which the FBI probed extensively.“It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory,” Barr said. “Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”
Barr said the FISA report shows a “clear abuse” of the surveillance process.
“In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source,” Barr said.
He added, “The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.”
Monday’s FISA report dealing with the investigation into Trump’s campaign has long been expected. Horowitz in September submitted a draft of the report to Barr and the FBI so they could identify any classified information. But it had not been publicly released until now.
The release comes as Washington has been consumed with an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The House Judiciary Committee is holding the inquiry’s latest hearing Monday, days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are moving forward with plans to bring articles of impeachment against the president over his dealings with Ukraine.
EXCLUSIVE – John Durham, the U.S. attorney reviewing the origins of the 2016 counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, is probing a wider timeline than previously known, according to multiple senior administration officials.
Fox News previously reported that Durham would be reviewing the days leading up to the 2016 election and through the inauguration.
However, based on what he has been finding, Durham has expanded his investigation adding agents and resources, the senior administration officials said. The timeline has grown from the beginning of the probe through the election and now has included a post-election timeline through the spring of 2017, up to when Robert Mueller was named special counsel.
Attorney General Bill Barr and Durham traveled to Italy recently to talk to law enforcement officials there about the probe and have also had conversations with officials in the U.K. and Australia about the investigation, according to multiple sources familiar with the meetings.
Barr assigned Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, back in May to conduct the inquiry into alleged misconduct and improper surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016, as well as whether Democrats were the ones who'd improperly colluded with foreign actors.
The attorney "is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries. At Attorney General Barr’s request, the president has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the attorney general and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said last month.
DEMOCRATS SET SIGHTS ON BARR IN EVER-EXPANDING INVESTIGATION
Durham, known as a "hard-charging, bulldog" prosecutor, according to a source, has been focusing on the use and assignments of FBI informants, as well as alleged improper issuance of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. Durham was asked to help Barr to "ensure that intelligence collection activities by the U.S. government related to the Trump 2016 presidential campaign were lawful and appropriate."
Democrats increasingly have targeted Barr. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said late last month that Barr has "gone rogue," alleging an attempted "cover-up" of the whistleblower complaint that has led to a formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
Pelosi made the comments on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" after host Joe Scarborough asked if she was concerned that the country's institutions could fail due to Barr's behavior.
"I think where they are going is the cover-up of the cover-up, and that's very really sad for them. To have a Justice Department go so rogue, they have been for a while, and now it just makes matters worse," said Pelosi, faulting Barr for instructing the director of national intelligence to bring the whistleblower complaint over a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House.
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Please take the time to watch this video for how many time Dimwits have called for Trumps impeachment.
Democrats employing a second round of false collusion narratives with Ukraine
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Former Attorney General Eric Holder told Fox News on Tuesday that current Attorney General Bill Barr "is paying a price" and sacrificing his credibility by spearheading U.S. Attorney John Durham's ongoing probe into possible misconduct by the intelligence community at the outset of the Russia investigation.
Holder also remarked separately that it was a "reality" that Republicans will "cheat" in the 2020 elections by trying to "move polling places" and "a whole variety of things" -- prompting Republicans to dismiss his "outlandish and baseless accusations."
Holder's comments came a day after The New York Times reported that President Trump had privately pressed Australia's leader to help Barr in that probe. However, a letter obtained by Fox News showed that Australia had proactively reached out to Trump in May to offer assistance after Trump publicly told reporters he would direct Barr to contact a variety of countries as part of the probe.
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Susan Rice, who was one of President Obama's closest advisers during his time in office, blasted President Trump on Friday night for storing details about his July 25 call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a separate, highly secured computer system.
Rice, who was a guest at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, addressed whistleblower allegations that the Trump administration worked to "lock down" these records to presumably hide his interaction with Zelensky where he dangled about $400 million in military aid to get Kiev to investigate the Bidens relationship to the country.
Both Trump and Zelensky denied the allegations. Trump insisted that the conversation was "perfect" and he was just making sure the country was making good on its promise to weed out corruption.
Obama’s former national security adviser said the "normal system" that holds information on similar calls is protected and classified. She said there was "no classified substance" in the Trump phone call and yet the administration "hid it on a very highly sensitive, highly compartmentalized server that very few people in the U.S. government have access to in order to bury it."
She was asked by the moderator if the Obama administration ever kept calls on a separate server. She responded by saying only if "they were legitimately in their contents classified."
"It’s rare that a presidential conversation would be classified to that highest level," she said. "It's not impossible. It’s very rare. Even when they are two leaders discussing classified information. Here’s a case where there was nothing classified and it was moved to the most secure, sensitive server.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the Trump administration—after sensing problematic leaks early in his presidency—worked to protect presidential phone calls. Politicians on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of a sitting president’s ability to engage with a foreign leader in a conversation that would not face public scrutiny.
The Trump administration reportedly said the phone call with Ukraine’s leader was only added to the server after guidance from National Security Counsel lawyer.
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is challenging President Trump in the Republican primaries, proclaimed Monday that the president committed treason through his controversial phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky -- adding that the punishment for treason is death.
The statement drew a swift rebuke from the Trump campaign.
“The media’s affliction with Trump Derangement Syndrome has driven them into an actual discussion of the proposed execution of the President of the United States,” communications director Tim Murtaugh told Fox News. “In severe cases of TDS such as this, immediate consultation with a physician is recommended.”
Weld was responding to claims that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden -- the son of former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden -- and threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine as leverage. Trump has denied wrongdoing.
“Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election, it couldn’t be clearer. And that’s not just undermining democratic institutions, that is treason," Weld said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "It’s treason pure and simple. And the penalty for treason under the U.S. Code is death. That’s the only penalty.”
Weld then referred to impeachment as a possible alternative to a criminal case, stating, “The penalty under the Constitution is removal from office, and that might look like a pretty good alternative to the president if he could work out a plea deal.”
Weld’s mention of the death penalty later ignited a conversation about the “legal framework” of the claim. Weld again said, “The only penalty for treason is death, it’s spelled out in the statute.”
While the U.S. Code does list the death penalty as a punishment for treason, Weld’s claim that it is the only penalty is false. Treason is covered by 18. U.S. Code § 2381, which says that a person guilty of treason “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
When Fox News asked Weld’s campaign about this, they did not immediately respond.
Weld's comments came during a joint television appearance with the two other longshot Republicans challenging Trump in next year's primary: former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh. They have joined together to protest the canceling of GOP presidential primaries in some states in 2020.
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The Justice Department’s inspector general told lawmakers Friday his team is nearly finished with its long-awaited review of alleged surveillance abuses by the DOJ and FBI during the Russia investigation, saying they have submitted a draft to Attorney General Bill Barr and are “finalizing” the report ahead of its public release.
“We have now begun the process of finalizing our report by providing a draft of our factual findings to the department and the FBI for classification determination and marking,” Michael Horowitz wrote in a Friday letter to several House and Senate committees. “This step is consistent with our process for reports such as this one that involve classified material.”
MCCABE TEAM PRESSURES DOJ TO SHOW CARDS AMID GRAND JURY SPECULATION
Barr has received the draft report from Horowitz and will begin the process of reviewing it, according to a source familiar with the situation. The inspector general said his team has “reviewed over one million records and conducted over 100 interviews, including several of witnesses who only recently agreed to be interviewed.”
Horowitz and his investigators have probed how the infamous anti-Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was used to secure the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for former Trump aide Carter Page in October 2016, as well as for three renewals.
Horowitz’s team has questioned why the FBI considered Steele a credible source, and why the bureau seemed to use news reports to bolster Steele’s credibility.
In his letter Friday, Horowitz indicated that once the Justice Department and the FBI send back a marked document relating to classified material, his team will “proceed with our usual process for preparing final draft public and classified reports, and ensuring that appropriate reviews occur for accuracy and comment purposes.”
Meanwhile, a key FBI player during the time frame, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, is facing the prospect of federal charges after Horowitz faulted him in a separate inquiry over statements he made during a Hillary Clinton-related investigation. The review found that McCabe "lacked candor" when talking with investigators, but the former FBI official has denied wrongdoing.
US ATTORNEY RECOMMENDS PROCEEDING WITH CHARGES AGAINST MCCABE, AS DOJ REJECTS LAST-DITCH APPEAL
As Fox News reported Thursday, Washington D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has recommended moving forward with charges against McCabe, a CNN contributor, though no indictment has been handed down.
The Horowitz letter also comes amid other similar inquiries related to the 2016 election:
Barr has assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to conduct an inquiry into alleged misconduct and alleged improper government surveillance on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
And U.S. Attorney John Huber was appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review not only alleged surveillance abuses by the Justice Department and the FBI but also their handling of the investigation into the Clinton Foundation and other matters.
U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has recommended moving forward with charges against Andrew McCabe, Fox News has learned, as the Justice Department rejects a last-ditch appeal from the former top FBI official and current CNN contributor.
McCabe -- the former deputy and acting director of the FBI -- appealed the decision of the U.S. attorney for Washington all the way up to Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy attorney general, but he rejected that request, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The potential charges relate to DOJ inspector general findings against him regarding misleading statements concerning a Hillary Clinton-related investigation.
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Behind the scenes, some major events were set in motion last autumn that could soon change the tenor in Washington, at least as it relates to the debunked Russia collusion narrative that distracted America for nearly three years.
It was in September 2018 that President Trump told my Hill.TV colleague Buck Sexton and me that he would order the release of all classified documents showing what the FBI, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other U.S. intelligence agencies may have done wrong in the Russia probe.
About the same time, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, under then-Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), voted unanimously to send 53 nonpublic transcripts of witnesses in its Russia review to the director of national intelligence (DNI) for declassification. The transcripts were officially delivered in November.
Now, nearly a year later, neither release has happened.
To put that into perspective, it took just a couple of months in 2004 to declassify the final report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks after a presidential commission finished its work, which contained some of the nation’s most secretive intelligence revelations.
But the long wait for transparency may soon end.
The foot-dragging inside the intelligence community (IC) that occurred under now-departed DNI Dan Coats and his deputy, Sue Gordon, could halt abruptly. That’s particularly true if Trump appoints a new IC sheriff, such as former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the current ambassador to the Netherlands, or longtime national security expert Fred Fleitz.
Likewise, the president has an opportunity to speed up and organize the release of declassified information by simply creating an Office of Transparency and Accountability inside his own White House, run by a staffer empowered at the level of a formal assistant to the president. That would prevent intelligence agencies from continuing their game of public keep-away.
Nunes, who helped to unravel the Russia collusion farce, has identified five buckets of information he’d like to see released. One of those buckets, the FBI's interview reports on Bruce Ohr’s cooperation, was released last week—not through a Trump declassification order but, rather, through litigation brought by Judicial Watch, and with heavy redactions.
My reporting, including interviews with four dozen U.S. officials over the last several months, actually identifies a much larger collection of documents – about a dozen all together – that, when declassified, would show more completely how a routine counterintelligence probe was hijacked to turn the most awesome spy powers in America against a presidential nominee in what was essentially a political dirty trick orchestrated by Democrats.
Here are the documents that have the greatest chance of rocking Washington, if declassified:
1.) Christopher Steele’s confidential human source reports at the FBI. These documents, known in bureau parlance as 1023 reports, show exactly what transpired each time Steele and his FBI handlers met in the summer and fall of 2016 to discuss his anti-Trump dossier. The big reveal, my sources say, could be the first evidence that the FBI shared sensitive information with Steele, such as the existence of the classified Crossfire Hurricane operation targeting the Trump campaign. It would be a huge discovery if the FBI fed Trump-Russia intel to Steele in the midst of an election, especially when his ultimate opposition-research client was Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The FBI has released only one or two of these reports under FOIA lawsuits and they were 100 percent redacted. The American public deserves better.
2.) The 53 House Intel interviews. House Intelligence interviewed many key players in the Russia probe and asked the DNI to declassify those interviews nearly a year ago, after sending the transcripts for review last November. There are several big reveals, I’m told, including the first evidence that a lawyer tied to the Democratic National Committee had Russia-related contacts at the CIA.
3.) The Stefan Halper documents. It has been widely reported that European-based American academic Stefan Halper and a young assistant, Azra Turk, worked as FBI sources. We know for sure that one or both had contact with targeted Trump aides like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos at the end of the election. My sources tell me there may be other documents showing Halper continued working his way to the top of Trump's transition and administration, eventually reaching senior advisers like Peter Navarro inside the White House in summer 2017. These documents would show what intelligence agencies worked with Halper, who directed his activity, how much he was paid and how long his contacts with Trump officials were directed by the U.S. government’s Russia probe.
4.) The October 2016 FBI email chain. This is a key document identified by Rep. Nunes and his investigators. My sources say it will show exactly what concerns the FBI knew about and discussed with DOJ about using Steele’s dossier and other evidence to support a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign in October 2016. If those concerns weren’t shared with FISA judges who approved the warrant, there could be major repercussions.
5.) Page/Papadopoulos exculpatory statements. Another of Nunes’ five buckets, these documents purport to show what the two Trump aides were recorded telling undercover assets or captured in intercepts insisting on their innocence. Papadopoulos told me he told an FBI undercover source in September 2016 that the Trump campaign was not trying to obtain hacked Clinton documents from Russia and considered doing so to be treason. If he made that statement with the FBI monitoring, and it was not disclosed to the FISA court, it could be another case of FBI or DOJ misconduct.
6.) The 'Gang of Eight' briefing materials. These were a series of classified briefings and briefing books the FBI and DOJ provided key leaders in Congress in the summer of 2018 that identify shortcomings in the Russia collusion narrative. Of all the documents congressional leaders were shown, this is most frequently cited to me in private as having changed the minds of lawmakers who weren’t initially convinced of FISA abuses or FBI irregularities.
7.) The Steele spreadsheet. I wrote recently that the FBI kept a spreadsheet on the accuracy and reliability of every claim in the Steele dossier. According to my sources, it showed as much as 90 percent of the claims could not be corroborated, were debunked or turned out to be open-source internet rumors. Given Steele’s own effort to leak intel in his dossier to the media before Election Day, the public deserves to see the FBI’s final analysis of his credibility. A document I reviewed recently showed the FBI described Steele’s information as only “minimally corroborated” and the bureau’s confidence in him as “medium.”
8.) The Steele interview. It has been reported, and confirmed, that the DOJ's inspector general (IG) interviewed the former British intelligence operative for as long as 16 hours about his contacts with the FBI while working with Clinton’s opposition research firm, Fusion GPS. It is clear from documents already forced into the public view by lawsuits that Steele admitted in the fall of 2016 that he was desperate to defeat Trump, had a political deadline to make his dirt public, was working for the DNC/Clinton campaign and was leaking to the news media. If he told that to the FBI and it wasn’t disclosed to the FISA court, there could be serious repercussions.
9.) The redacted sections of the third FISA renewal application. This was the last of four FISA warrants targeting the Trump campaign; it was renewed in June 2017 after special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe had started, and signed by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It is the one FISA application that House Republicans have repeatedly asked to be released, and I’m told the big reveal in the currently redacted sections of the application is that it contained both misleading information and evidence of intrusive tactics used by the U.S. government to infiltrate Trump’s orbit.
10.) Records of allies’ assistance. Multiple sources have said a handful of U.S. allies overseas – possibly Great Britain, Australia and Italy – were asked to assist FBI efforts to check on Trump connections to Russia. Members of Congress have searched recently for some key contact documents with British intelligence. My sources say these documents might help explain Attorney General Bill Barr’s recent comments that “the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign, to me, is unprecedented and it's a serious red line that's been crossed.”
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is adamant about revealing what went on behind the scenes of the Russia investigation and is looking forward to the American people learning about what happened.
Graham pointed to three investigations of the investigators that are taking place: one by his committee; one by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was appointed by Attorney General Bill Barr to conduct a probe; and one by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
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"I believe the Horowitz report will be ugly and damning," Graham told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on "Sunday Morning Futures." That report has been anticipated for months, but it has faced delays in recent months.
"Every time you turn around you find something new," Graham explained. "Mr. Horowitz is doing a very in-depth dive" into the FBI's use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to acquire a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Graham predicted that the report will finally come out in the coming weeks.
Another man linked to the early stages of the investigation -- former Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos -- is eager to tell his side of the story after serving a brief sentence for providing a false statement to investigators. Papadopoulos is said to have brought about the investigation by revealing to an Australian diplomat (who later alerted U.S. officials) that he had information that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. This was after he heard about this from Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud.
Graham said that once Horowitz's IG report comes out, he would like Papadopoulos to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham believes that, based on interview transcripts, Papadopolous was "clearly" not working with Russians.
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The more information that gets declassified, the better, according to Graham.
"I want to declassify as much as possible … I don’t want people to believe what I said, I want them to read for themselves how bad it was," he declared. Graham claimed that the FBI relied on the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele when they applied for the FISA warrant, despite Steele being "an unreliable informant" who hated President Trump.
"I want it all out, I want people to see how off the rails this investigation got, and I want people to be held accountable, and I am patient," he said. "I'm not in a hurry to do it, I want to do it right."
Graham also expressed a desire to find out just who was ultimately responsible for the Russia investigation, saying he is "curious about the role the CIA played here." He also questioned whether it went all the way to the top.
"Who knew about this in the White House?" he wondered. "Was President Obama briefed ... I'd like to know that."
Graham's lengthy interview touched on several other high-profile subject matters. He discussed recent polling that showed several Democratic presidential candidates beating President Trump in a general election.
"Well, I'm not buying it," Graham said, predicting that unless Trump has a significant blunder in Afghanistan, "the president is going to clean their clock on the stage."
Graham also criticized Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for their recent hostility toward Israel, after the Jewish state barred them from visiting due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at economically crippling Israel.
"It's been bipartisan up to now about Israel," Graham said, pointing out how Israel's enemies are enemies of the U.S. as well.
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"Those who want to destroy Israel want to destroy us. Name one radical Islamic group that wants to destroy the State Israel that doesn't want to destroy America," he challenged, referring to Iran, ISIS and al Qaeda.
"The policies coming out of the Democratic Party toward Israel are dangerous," he warned. "Tlaib and Omar openly calling for an economic boycott of the State of Israel which will destroy the State of Israel.
Graham said that the extreme positions of Democrats will lead to a Trump victory in 2020.
"The bottom line here is they are radical when it comes to Israel, they're radical on the economy, they're weak when it comes to fighting terrorism," he said. "Donald Trump is going to win this election because he's been a damn good president and what they are trying to do is make America a socialist country, and that's not going to work."
Earlier in the interview, Graham discussed another controversial idea endorsed by some Democrats: court packing. Several 2020 hopefuls have suggested expanding the Supreme Court's roster.
Last week, a ground of Democratic Senators filed a brief that accused the Supreme Court of being "not well," and instructed the court to "heal" itself before they face calls for restructuring. Graham was having none of it.
"When you hear expanding the court, that’s code for liberals packing the court. Over my dead body, it's not going to happen.