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C.I.A Had Early Evidence Of Russian Effort To Help Trump Win Election

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

John O. Brennan in July when he was the C.I.A. director. Mr. Brennan was said to be so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that in late August he began a series of individual briefings for eight top members of Congress.© Al Drago/The New York Times John O. Brennan in July when he was the C.I.A. director. Mr. Brennan was said to be so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that in late August he began a series of individual…  

 

WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed only at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews.

The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.

It is unclear what new intelligence might have prompted the classified briefings. But with concerns growing both internally and publicly at the time about a significant Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee, the C.I.A. began seeing signs of possible connections to the Trump campaign, the officials said. By the final weeks of the campaign, Congress and the intelligence agencies were racing to understand the scope of the Russia threat.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

In August, Harry Reid, then the Senate minority leader, told James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, that he had “become concerned” that Russia’s interference was “more extensive than widely known.”© Al Drago/The New York Times In August, Harry Reid, then the Senate minority leader, told James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, that he had “become concerned” that Russia’s interference was “more extensive than widely known.”  

Mr. Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as “ridiculous” and “fake news.” The White House has also sought to redirect the focus from the investigation and toward what Mr. Trump has said, with no evidence, was President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. declined to comment for this article, as did Mr. Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

Days later, Mr. Reid wrote to James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I. Without mentioning the C.I.A. briefing, Mr. Reid told Mr. Comey that he had “recently become concerned” that Russia’s interference was “more extensive than widely known.”

In his letter, the senator cited what he called mounting evidence “of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” and said it was crucial for the F.B.I. to “use every resource available” to conduct an investigation.

Unknown to Mr. Reid, the F.B.I. had already opened a counterintelligence inquiry a month before, in late July, to examine possible links between Russia and people tied to the Trump campaign. But its existence was kept secret even from members of Congress.

Well into the fall, law enforcement officials said that the F.B.I. — including the bureau’s intelligence analysts — had not found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government, as The New York Times reported on Oct. 31.

But as the election approached and new batches of hacked Democratic emails poured out, some F.B.I. officials began to change their view about Russia’s intentions and eventually came to believe, as the C.I.A. had months earlier, that Moscow was trying to help get Mr. Trump elected, officials said.

It was not until early December, a month after the election, that it became publicly known in news reports that the C.I.A. had concluded that Moscow’s motivation was to get Mr. Trump elected.

In January, intelligence officials publicly released a declassified version of their findings, concluding that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had “aspired to help” Mr. Trump to win the election and harm Hillary Clinton, a longtime adversary.

By then, both the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. said they had “high confidence” that Russia was trying to help Mr. Trump by hacking into the internal emails of the Democratic National Committee and of some Clinton aides. (The National Security Agency, also involved in the review, expressed only “moderate confidence” that the Russians were trying to help him.)

Last month, Mr. Comey publicly acknowledged the continuing investigation at a House hearing on Russia’s influence in the election.

One factor in the C.I.A. analysis last summer was that American intelligence agencies learned that Russia’s cyberattacks had breached Republican targets as well as Democrats. But virtually none of the hacked Republican material came out publicly, while the Russians, working through WikiLeaks and other public outlets, dumped substantial amounts of Democratic material damaging to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Some intelligence officials were wary of pushing too aggressively before the election with questions about possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign because of concerns it might be seen as an improper political attempt to help Mrs. Clinton.

But after her loss, a number of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters have said that Mr. Comey and other government officials should have revealed more to the public during the campaign season about what they knew of Russia’s motivations and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

The classified briefings that the C.I.A. held in August and September for the so-called Gang of Eight — the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate and of the intelligence committees in each chamber — show deep concerns about the impact of the election meddling.

In the briefings, the C.I.A. said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Mr. Trump elected but that they had gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said.

Although the breached systems were not involved in actual vote-tallying operations, Obama administration officials proposed that the eight senior lawmakers write a letter to state election officials warning them of the possible threat posed by Russian hacking, officials said.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, resisted questioning the underpinnings of the intelligence, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. McConnell ultimately agreed to a softer version of the letter, which did not mention the Russians but warned of unnamed “malefactors” who might seek to disrupt the elections through online intrusion. The letter, dated Sept. 28, was signed by Mr. McConnell, Mr. Reid, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat.

On Sept. 22, two other members of the Gang of Eight — Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam B. Schiff, both of California and the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees — released their own statement about the Russian interference that did not mention Mr. Trump or his campaign by name.

But they did say that “based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election.”

“At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election,” they added.

The classified briefings continued through the fall, as the C.I.A. gathered additional intelligence that appears to have firmed up its belief that Russia was trying to get Mr. Trump elected.

The F.B.I., the N.S.A. and Office of the Director of National Intelligence also held a classified briefing on Sept. 6 for congressional staff members about the wave of Russian hacks and “the current and ongoing threat facing U.S. political organizations during this national political season,” according to a government official.

These new details show Congress and the intelligence agencies racing in the final weeks of the campaign to understand the scope of the Russian threat. But Democrats and Republicans who were privy to the classified briefings often saw the intelligence through a political prism, sparring over whether it could be construed as showing that the Russians were helping Mr. Trump.

The briefings left Mr. Reid particularly frustrated with the F.B.I.’s handling of Russia’s election intrusion, especially after the agency said in late October — 11 days before the election — that it was re-examining Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

Mr. Reid fired off another letter two days later, on Oct. 30, accusing Mr. Comey of a “double standard” in reviving the Clinton investigation while sitting on “explosive information” about possible ties between Russia and Mr. Trump.

“The public,” Mr. Reid wrote said, “has a right to know this information.”                                 (The New York Times)

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Russian Election Interference Could Be ‘Act Of War’, Says Dick Cheney

 

Morgan Chalfant
Cheney: Russian election interference could be ‘act of war’             © Provided by The Hill Cheney: Russian election interference could be ‘act of war’  

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election could be considered an “act of war” against the U.S.

“There’s no question there was a very serious effort made by Mr. [Vladimir] Putin and his government, his organization, to interfere in major ways with our basic fundamental democratic processes,” Cheney said Monday during a speech at the Economic Times’ Global Business Summit 2017 in New Delhi.

“In some quarters, that would be considered an act of war. I think it’s a kind of conduct and activity we will see going forward. We know he’s attempted it previously in other states in the Baltics,” Cheney said, according to video of the remarks.

Some Democratic lawmakers charged last week that Russia’s election meddling amounted to an act of war, and others have accused Moscow of “attacking” the United States through its hacking.

“I actually think that their engagement was an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare, and I think that’s why the American people should be concerned about it,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian election interference last Monday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also said back in December that Russia’s actions amounted to an act of war.

Still, experts have cautioned against making such accusations. The U.S. government does not currently have a definition of what actions in cyberspace would necessitate a military response.

Cheney on Monday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having “designs” on the Baltic states. NATO has recently deployed forces to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in the wake of Moscow’s aggressive activity in Ukraine.

“Another aspect of Mr. Putin’s conduct is the issue that is now very much in the headlines at home, and that has to do with cyber warfare, cyberattack on the United States – the fact that he took his capabilities in the cyber area and used it to try to influence our election,” Cheney said.

While the former vice president emphasized that there is no argument that President Trump’s election was “not legitimate,” he said Americans should be mindful of Putin’s actions.

“I would not underestimate the weight that we Americans assign to the Russian attempts to interfere with our internal political processes,” Cheney said.

The FBI has been investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the election, including looking at any possible coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow, FBI Director James Comey revealed last week.

The intelligence community concluded in January that Russia waged a cyber and disinformation campaign to undermine the U.S. democratic process, damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and aid Trump.   (The Hill)

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Democrat Calls On House Intel Chair, Nunes To Recuse Himself

 

EILEEN SULLIVAN
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017.© (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 24, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP) — House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes went to the White House grounds to review intelligence reports and meet the secret source behind his claim that communications involving Trump associates were caught up in “incidental” surveillance, the Republican congressman said Monday, prompting the top Democrat on the committee to call on Nunes to recuse himself from the committee’s Russia probe.

Rep. Adam Schiff said Nunes’ connections to the White House have raised insurmountable public doubts about whether the committee could credibly investigate the president’s campaign associates.

“I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman,” Schiff said in a statement Monday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes.         © AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin

Nunes. Nunes confirmed Monday that he met with the source at the White House complex, but he denied coordinating with the president’s aides.

After reviewing the information last week, Nunes called a news conference to announce that U.S. spy agencies may have inadvertently captured Trump and his associates in routine targeting of foreigners’ communications. Trump quickly seized on the statements as at least partial vindication for his assertion that President Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower — though Nunes, Schiff and FBI Director James Comey have said there is no such evidence.

The Senate intelligence committee is also conducting an investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible ties with the Trump campaign. On Monday, it announced that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has agreed to be interviewed. The White House confirmed that Kushner, a senior Trump adviser, had volunteered to be interviewed about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.

Kushner is the fourth Trump associate to offer to be interviewed by the congressional committees looking into the murky Russia ties. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Trump adviser Carter Page and Trump associate Roger Stone last week volunteered to speak as well.

“Mr. Kushner will certainly not be the last person the committee calls to give testimony, but we expect him to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry,” the chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and the top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, said in a joint statement Monday in a sign of bipartisanship.

The House investigation, meanwhile, has been plagued with partisan divisions under Nunes’ leadership.

The chairman did not tell top Democrat on the committee about the meeting at the White House complex. It is highly unusual for a committee chairman and ranking member not to coordinate meetings related to an investigation.

“‘I think the chairman has to make a decision whether to act as a surrogate of the White House — as he did during the campaign and the transition — or to lead an independent and credible investigation,” Schiff said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Nunes argued he had to review classified, executive branch documents from a secure facility at the White House because the reports had not been provided to Congress and could not be transported to the secure facilities used by the House intelligence committee.

“Because of classification rules, the source could not simply put the documents in a backpack and walk them over to the House Intelligence committee space,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said. “The White House grounds was the best location to safeguard the proper chain of custody and classification of these documents, so the chairman could view them in a legal way.”

Nunes would not name the source of the information, nor would he disclose who invited him on the White House grounds for the meeting. In addition to the White House itself, the grounds include an adjacent building with offices for National Security Council and other executive branch employees.

Nunes described the source as intelligence official, not a White House official. In an interview on CNN, he suggested the president’s aides were unaware of the meeting.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer would not comment on whether White House officials were involved with Nunes.

“I’m not going to get into who he met with or why he met with them,” Spicer said.

The clandestine meeting was remarkable for a committee that seeks to demonstrate bipartisanship, said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who has written extensively about separation of powers.

“Ideally, any meeting at the White House on a subject under investigation would have been done with the knowledge of the ranking member or his staff,” Turley said. “Because these committees are the least transparent in Congress, both parties have historically tried to be open with each other on contacts or meetings with agencies on key questions.”

The disclosure renewed calls for an independent committee to investigate the Russia ties.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to replace Nunes as chairman of the intelligence committee.

“He has not been operating like someone who is interested in getting to the unvarnished truth. His actions look like those of someone who is interested in protecting the president and his party,” Schumer said.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said Monday the speaker has “full confidence that Chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair and credible investigation.”

When Nunes disclosed the intelligence reports last week, he said what he reviewed had nothing to do with Russia, which could suggest that Trump associates were in touch with other foreign targets of U.S. intelligence surveillance in November, December or January.

“The chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of U.S. citizens, and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted his assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped,” Langer said.

It is unclear exactly what documents Nunes reviewed.

Nunes and Schiff have asked the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency for the names of officials who were cited in intelligence reports. The committee has said it is getting some of what it requested, but has not received everything.  AP

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The FBI Indicts A Russian Official For Hacking, But Why Did Russia Charge Him With Treason?

Andrew Roth

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. A grand jury in the Northern District of California has indicted four defendants, including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), for hacking into Yahoo's network system and stealing information from about at least 500 million accounts and other illegal activities.© Alex Wong/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 15: Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. A grand jury in the Northern District of…

 

MOSCOW — As my colleague Ellen Nakashima wrote yesterday, the FBI announced bombshell indictments against two Russian spies and two hackers over the 2014 heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts, “marking the first U.S. criminal cyber charges ever against Russian government officials.” The charges, if true, are some of the first to give detailed evidence of how Russian intelligence agencies use cybercriminals as “hackers-for-hire.”

But what is less clear is why one of the men has been arrested and charged with treason in Russia. Dmitry Dokuchaev, an agent for the cyberinvestigative arm of the FSB, was arrested in Moscow in December. He’s accused by the FBI of “handling” the hackers, paying “bounties” for breaking into email accounts held by Russian officials, opposition politicians and journalists, as well as foreign officials and business executives. The Russian targets included an Interior Ministry officer and physical trainer in a regional Ministry of Sports. (The full text of the indictment, which has a full list of the targets and some curious typos, is here.)

https://twitter.com/shaunwalker7/status/842046303580352515/photo/1

Dokuchaev’s case is part of a larger and mysterious spate of arrests of Russian cyber officials and experts. His superior, Sergei Mikhailov, deputy chief of the FSB’s Center for Information Security, was also arrested in December and charged with treason. According to Russian reports, the arrest came during a plenum of FSB officers, where Mikhailov had a bag placed over his head and was taken in handcuffs from the room. Ruslan Stoyanov, a manager at the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, was also arrested that month. Stoyanov helped coordinate investigations between the company and law enforcement, a person who used to work at the company said.

Below are some of the theories behind the Russian arrests. Lawyers for some of the accused have told The Washington Post that they can’t reveal details of the case and, because of the secrecy afforded to treason cases, they don’t have access to all the documents.

None of the theories below has been confirmed, nor are they mutually exclusive.

1. Links to U.S. election hacking: With attention focused on the hacking attacks against the U.S. Democratic National Committee allegedly ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, some Russian and U.S. media suggested that Dokuchaev and Mikhailov leaked information implicating Russia in the hack to the United States. The Russian Interfax news agency, which regularly cites government officials as sources, reported that “Sergei Mikhailov and his deputy, Dmitry Dokuchaev, are accused of betraying their oath and working with the CIA.” Novaya Gazeta, a liberal, respected Russian publication, citing sources, wrote that Mikhailov had tipped off U.S. intelligence about King Servers, the hosting service used to support hacking attacks on targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona in June. That had followed reports in the New York Times, citing one current and one former government official, that “human sources in Russia did play a crucial role in proving who was responsible for the hacking.”

Nakashima wrote yesterday that “the [FBI] charges are unrelated to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the move reflects the U.S. government’s increasing desire to hold foreign governments accountable for malicious acts in cyberspace.”

2. A shadowy hacking collective called Shaltai-Boltai (Humpty-Dumpty): Also called Anonymous International, Shaltai-Boltai was responsible for leaking early copies of Putin’s New Year speech and for selling off “lots” of emails stolen from Russian officials such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In a theory first reported by the pro-Kremlin, conservative Orthodox media company Tsargrad, Mikhailov had taken control of Shaltai-Boltai, “curating and supervising” the group in selecting hacking targets. Later media reports said that the group’s leader, Vladimir Anikeyev, had recently been arrested by the FSB and had informed on Mikhailov, Dokuchaev and Stoyanov.  A member of  the group who fled to Estonia told the Russian media agency Fontanka that they had recently acquired an FSB “coordinator,” although he could not say whether it was Mikhailov. None of the hacks mentioned in the FBI indictment could immediately be confirmed as those carried out by Shaltai-Boltai.

Lawyers contacted by The Post said that in documents they had seen, there was no link to Shaltai-Boltai in the case.

3. A grudge with a cybercriminal: A Russian businessman who had specialized in spam and malware had claimed for years that Mikhailov was trading information on cybercriminals with the West. Mikhailov had reportedly testified in the case of Pavel Vrublevsky, the former head of the payment services company Chronopay, who was imprisoned in 2013 for ordering a denial of service attack on the website of Aeroflot, the Russian national airline. Vrublevsky claimed then that Mikhailov began exchanging information about Russian cybercriminals with Western intelligence agencies, including documents about Chronopay. Brian Krebs, an American journalist who investigates cybercrime and received access to Vrublevsky’s emails, wrote in January: “Based on how long Vrublevsky has been trying to sell this narrative, it seems he may have finally found a buyer.”

4. Infighting at the FSB: The Russian government is not monolithic, and infighting between and within the powerful law enforcement agencies is common. The Russian business publication RBC had written that Mikhailov and Dokuchaev’s Center for Information Security had been in conflict with another department with similar responsibilities, the FSB’s Center for Information Protection and Special Communications. The conflict may have led to the initiation of a criminal case, the paper’s sources said.         (The Washington Post)

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FBI To Brief Graham, Whitehouse On Trump Wiretapping Warrant-Graham

Katie Bo Williams

FBI to brief Graham, Whitehouse on Trump warrants: Graham        © Provided by The Hill FBI to brief Graham, Whitehouse on Trump warrants: Graham  
The FBI has told Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that it will brief them in response to their demand for any surveillance warrant applications for President Trump, Graham said Wednesday.

“We were informed by the FBI just a few minutes ago that they would be responding to our letter with a classified briefing to the chair and ranking member,” Graham said at the outset of a Senate hearing on Russian interference in elections worldwide.

He provided no specific date for the briefing. FBI Director James Comey is on the Hill Wednesday to brief the chairman and ranking member of the full Judiciary Committee, Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Graham and Whitehouse, who head the subcommittee that has oversight over the FBI, last week sent a letter to Comey and acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, asking for any warrant application or court documents tied to potential legal wiretapping of the Trump campaign, Trump or Trump Tower.

The resolution comes after Graham fired a warning shot to the FBI on Tuesday, telling reporters that the bureau was about to “screw up big time” if they didn’t respond to his letter.

Graham’s subcommittee is probing Russian influence in the U.S. election. The bureau headed the investigation into the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and is reportedly probing connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Both lawmakers argued Wednesday that the bureau should make the investigation public.

“I just want to let the American people know that this subcommittee – we’re going to get an answer to whether or not the Trump campaign was surveilled. Was a warrant ever requested, was it issued?” Graham said.

“And I hope to be able to answer the question of is there an active investigation.”

The president earlier this month claimed that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the campaign.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted.

In addition to Graham’s subcommittee, the Senate and House Intelligence committees are also probing Moscow’s meddling in the White House race and any potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source: The Hill

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FBI, 5 Other Agencies Probe Possible Covert Russian Aid To Trump |The Republican News

 

Peter Stone and Greg Gordon
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Washington.© Evan Vucci President-elect Donald Trump speaks during the presidential inaugural Chairman’s Global Dinner, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Washington.

 

WASHINGTON — The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

On Jan. 6, the director of national intelligence released a declassified report that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign to “undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process,” damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects and bolster Trump’s. The campaign included the hacking of top Democrats’ emails and fake news distributed by Russian sources.

The president-elect, who will be inaugurated Friday, has said he believes Russia was involved with the hacking, and he has called allegations that he or his associates were involved a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.”

Trump has yet to say whether FBI Director James Comey will be retained. The rest of Trump’s newly appointed intelligence and law enforcement chiefs will inherit the investigation, whose outcome could create national and international fallout.

Trump’s presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.

A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The London-based transparency group WikiLeaks released the emails last summer and in October.

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win.

Trump and Republican members of Congress have said they believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election but that those actions didn’t change the outcome. However, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that Russia’s tactics did alter the election result.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has opened its own investigation into Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That panel will have subpoena power.

FBI Director Comey refused at a recent Senate hearing to comment on whether the bureau was investigating Russia’s hacking campaign for possible criminal prosecutions. Spokespeople for the FBI, the Justice Department and the national intelligence director declined to comment.

The BBC reported last week that the joint inquiry was launched when the CIA learned last spring, through a Baltic ally, of a recording indicating the Russian government was planning to funnel funds aimed at influencing the U.S. election.

Another source of information was the former longtime British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who was hired to gather opposition research about Trump for a Republican client and later a Democrat. Early last summer, Steele became alarmed about information he was receiving from a network of Russian sources describing a web of Trump’s business relationships with wealthy Russians and alleged political ties to the Kremlin, according to two people who know him. These sources also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Steele’s reports also alleged that Russian consulates in New York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver “tens of thousands of dollars” to Kremlin-hired operatives using fictitious names as if they were legitimate Russian-American pensioners. That “ruse” was designed to give Russia “plausible deniability,” Steele’s reports suggested. However, Russia does not operate a consulate in Miami.

Steele, who had worked previously with the FBI and was well-regarded, fed the bureau information in July and September suggesting collusion between Trump associates and Moscow in the hacking of Democratic computers, they said. Eventually, he met in Italy with an FBI official to share more information alleging that a top Trump campaign official had known about the hacking as early as last June, the sources said. About a month after the election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave FBI Director Comey a copy of a 35-page compilation of Steele’s reports.

BuzzFeed posted the 35 pages of allegations online, acknowledging the report had obvious errors and had not been corroborated. Several news organizations, including McClatchy, had the document earlier but had resisted publishing any of the allegations because of the lack of verification.

Trump and Putin have branded Steele’s dossier as “fake news.” On Jan. 11, at his only news conference as president-elect, Trump dismissed it as “nonsense” and “crap.” On Tuesday, Putin accused soon-to-depart Obama administration officials of trying to undermine Trump’s “legitimacy,” suggesting that the White House had released Steele’s dossier. The Russian leader said those who had prepared the dossier were “worse than prostitutes.”

Steele’s information has been treated as unverified intelligence by the working group because most of it came from purported Kremlin leaks and virtually all of it is extremely difficult to corroborate, the people familiar with the investigation said.

The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney for the National Security Agency who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she had no knowledge that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant had been issued. However, she stressed that such warrants are issued only if investigators can demonstrate “probable cause” that a crime has been committed and the information in Steele’s dossier couldn’t have met that test.

“If, in fact, law enforcement has obtained a FISA warrant, that is an indication that additional evidence exists outside of the dossier,” she said.

One episode that Steele’s reports described from multiple sources referred to a late-summer meeting in Prague between Russian government representatives and Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, the president-elect’s vast business operation. But the FBI has been unable to establish that Cohen was in Prague during that period, the two sources familiar with the working group said.

Cohen has denied ever traveling to the Czech Republic, although he told The Wall Street Journal that he did so in 2001.

For months, Trump has voiced positive sentiments toward Putin. In early January, he tweeted that “only ‘stupid’ people, or fools” would think it’s bad to have good relations with Russia.

“When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!” he tweeted last week. During the campaign in July, he displayed ignorance that Russian-backed separatists had invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and he called on Russia to hack away to uncover thousands of emails that Clinton had never made public after using a private server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, Trump’s campaign associates successfully changed the Republican Party’s platform to weaken a provision advocating more military support for the Ukrainian government in its fight to defend itself against the Russian-backed incursion in Crimea.

___

(Stone is a McClatchy special correspondent.)  (Tribune Washington  Bureau)

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Unsubstantiated Report Has Compromising Information On Trump, Intelligence Chiefs Say

 

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and ADAM GOLDMAN
President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in Manhattan.© Kevin Hagen for The New York Times President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in Manhattan.  

WASHINGTON — The chiefs of America’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald J. Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Mr. Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.

The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.

The summary was presented as an annex to the intelligence agencies’ report on the Russian hacking of the election, the officials said. The material was not corroborated, and The New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims. But intelligence agencies considered it so potentially explosive that they decided Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump and congressional leaders needed to be told about it and that the agencies were actively investigating it.

Intelligence officials were concerned that the information would leak before they informed Mr. Trump of its existence, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the summary is classified and talking about it would be a felony.     (The New York Times)

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U.S. To Blacklist 5 Russians, A Close Putin Aide Among Them |The republican News

 

By MARK LANDLER
Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, Russia’s chief public investigator, is the biggest name on the Obama administration’s sanctions list.© Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik, via Associated Press Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, Russia’s chief public investigator, is the biggest name on the Obama administration’s sanctions list.  

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to blacklist five Russians, including the government’s chief public investigator who is a close aide of President Vladimir V. Putin, for human-rights abuses, throwing down a gauntlet to President-elect Donald J. Trump, nearly two weeks before he takes office with a promise to thaw relations with Russia.

The sanctions, which the Treasury Department plans to announce later on Monday afternoon, are not related to allegations of Russian hacking during the presidential election, according to a senior official. But they will carry symbolic weight at a charged moment, as perhaps the last visible act the United States will take against Russia before power is transferred in Washington.

Read also: U.S. Intel Report: Putin Directed Cyber Campaign To Help Trump Win | The Republican News
The biggest name on the administration’s sanctions list is Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, who reports directly to Mr. Putin and has carried out an array of political investigations on his behalf. Mr. Bastrykin, officials said, was complicit in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in detention in November 2009 and who became the namesake for the Magnitsky Act.

Under the 2012 law, which was passed by Congress with Democratic and Republican support, the Treasury and Justice Departments must investigate and sanction Russian individuals who were involved in that case and subsequent cover-ups, or in other cases of human-rights abuses.

The sanctions to be imposed Monday include a ban on travel to the United States and a freezing of any assets held by American financial institutions or transactions with those institutions.

Read also: U.S. Intercepts Capture Senior Russian Officials Celebrating Trump Win |The Republican News

The Obama administration has enforced the law with varying degrees of enthusiasm, depending on the state of relations between the United States and Russia. But its final list of names, particularly with the inclusion of Mr. Bastrykin, is considered unusually robust, said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public.

The Magnitsky Act has long antagonized the Russian government, setting off a series of tit-for-tat actions.

Shortly after the law was passed, the Russian Parliament voted to ban the adoption of Russian children by Americans. In 2013, Russia released a list of Americans banned from traveling to Russia for purported human-rights violations.

Just before Christmas, the Treasury Department put sanctions on 15 Russian individuals and companies for their dealings in Crimea and Ukraine. Mr. Trump is widely expected to ease that economic pressure campaign. But it may be harder for him to ignore the requirements under the Magnitsky Act, since it was passed with bipartisan support and requires the executive branch to submit a list of names on an annual basis.

Read also: Key Steps: US Response To Alleged Russia Hacking |The Republican News

In addition to Mr. Bastrykin, the administration is targeting Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitri Kovtun, two Russian intelligence officers who were identified by British authorities as the men who poisoned a fellow Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006. Also on the list are Stanislav Gordievsky and Gennady Plaksin, two lower-level officials whom the United States said were involved in the cover-up of Mr. Magnitsky’s death.

The New York Times

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U.S. Intel Report: Putin Directed Cyber Campaign To Help Trump Win | The Republican News

Yara Bayoumy and Warren Strobel

WASHINGTON  – Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Republican Donald Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, U.S. intelligence agencies said in an assessment on Friday.Russia’s objectives were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former secretary of state Clinton, make it harder for her to win and harm her presidency if she did, an unclassified report released by the top U.S. intelligence agency said.

Read more: Trump Calls Storm Over Hacking A ‘Witch Hunt’ |The Republican News

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the report said. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

The report, although it omitted classified details, was the U.S. government’s starkest public description of what it says was an unprecedented Russian campaign to manipulate the American body politic.

Reports of Russian interference in the already divisive election have roiled Washington, even as the U.S. Congress on Friday certified Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.

In this photo released by the Kremlin Press service via Sputnik agency, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an undated recording of his annual televised New Year's message in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.© Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Press Service, Sputnik, via AP In this photo released by the Kremlin Press service via Sputnik agency, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an undated recording of his annual televised…  

The report neither assessed “the impact Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election” nor did it provide details on the evidence underpinning its conclusions, a fact likely to keep alive the controversy over what Moscow may have done.

Russia denies the U.S. government’s allegations of hacking during the election campaign.

RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

The report said U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russian military intelligence, the GRU, used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and the Guccifer 2.0 “persona” to release emails that it had acquired from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and top Democrats as part of the effort.

The release of the emails led to embarrassing media coverage for Clinton and triggered the resignation of the DNC’s chief.

Read more: U.S. Intercepts Capture Senior Russian Officials Celebrating Trump Win |The Republican News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he did not receive emails stolen from the DNC and top Clinton aide John Podesta from “a state party.” However, Assange did not rule out the possibility that he got the material from a third party.

Russian actors were not found to have targeted U.S. systems that are involved in tallying votes, the report said. The report was produced by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.

Also on Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated U.S. election infrastructure as critical infrastructure, widening the options the government has to protect voting machines from cyber attacks.

While the report found Russia had conducted cyber attacks on both the Democratic and the Republican parties, it made clear that the primary aims were to harm Clinton whether or not she won the election and evolved over time.

“When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency,” it said.

“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,” it said. The CIA and FBI had high confidence in this judgment and NSA moderate confidence, the report said.

Neither the Russian embassy in Washington, nor Clinton aides immediately responded to requests for comment.

The report suggested Putin was motivated in part by personal animus toward Clinton.

“Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him,” it said.

‘TROUBLING CHAPTER IN ONGOING STORY’

The report’s conclusions, though lacking details of how the Russians may have relayed the material to Wikileaks and others, will give ammunition to Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress who want tougher action against Russia, setting the scene for a potential showdown with Trump.

Trump, who has developed a rocky relationship with U.S. spy agencies and at times disparaged their work, defended the legitimacy of his election victory after receiving a nearly two-hour briefing Friday on the report.

In a statement, Trump did not squarely address whether he was told of the agencies’ belief Russia carried out the hacking.

Read more: Russia’s Hack Followed By Years Of Paranoia Toward Hillary Clinton |The Republican News

Instead, he said: “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations” including the DNC.

“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.

The businessman, who is to be inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, also said he would appoint a team to give him a plan within 90 days of taking office on how to prevent cyber attacks but suggested that he would keep their recommendations secret.

The report did not reveal how the intelligence agencies collected the evidence underpinning their conclusions or the evidence itself, including the means by which Russian military intelligence “relayed” the materials filched from the DNC and other hacking targets to Wikileaks and others, omissions likely to leave the report open to criticism.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who was briefed on the report on Friday, took issue with Trump’s comments.

“The President-Elect’s statement that the Russian hacking had ‘absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election’ is not supported by the briefing, report, or common sense,” Schiff said.

“It is one thing to say that there was no tampering with vote tallying – which is true – it is another thing to say that the daily dumping of documents disparaging to … Clinton that was made possible by Russian cyber operations had no effect on the campaigns,” he said. “The consequence of these disclosures was hugely beneficial to the President-Elect and damaging to the Clinton campaign, just as the Russians intended.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said his panel would continue to compile “facts surrounding Russia’s active measures,” adding: “This is a troubling chapter in an ongoing story.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Mark Hosenball, Yara Bayoumy and Warren Strobel in Washington; additional reporting by Amy Tennery, Patricia Zengerle, Dustin Volz, David Alexander, Susan Heavey; Writing by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool)

REUTERS

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