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Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation

 

By MATT APUZZO, MAGGIE HABERMAN and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017© .Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.

In a statement, he said that Mr. Comey had put unnecessary pressure on the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy with Russia on matters such as Syria, Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr. Spicer said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

The day after firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in the Oval Office, along with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. The meeting ignited controversy this week when it was revealed that Mr. Trump had disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation.

A third government official briefed on the meeting defended the president, saying Mr. Trump was using a negotiating tactic when he told Mr. Lavrov about the “pressure” he was under. The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.

The president has been adamant that the meddling did not alter the outcome of the race, but it has become a political cudgel for his opponents.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have raised alarms that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by firing Mr. Comey. The Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was given the authority to investigate not only potential collusion, but also related allegations, which would include obstruction of justice.

The F.B.I.’s investigation has bedeviled the Trump administration, and the president personally. Mr. Comey publicly confirmed the existence of the investigation in March, telling Congress that his agents were investigating Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had been involved. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion and called the case a waste of money and time.

At first, the White House said Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey based on the recommendation of the Justice Department, and because of Mr. Comey’s handling of the F.B.I. investigation into Hillary Clinton last year. Officials said it had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

But the president undercut that argument a day later, telling NBC News, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”                (The New York Times)

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Yates: Alarm About Russian Blackmail Led To Warning On Flynn (Video)

 

By ERIC TUCKER and EILEEN SULLIVAN
Video by TIME

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress Monday she bluntly warned the Trump White House in January that new National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by the Russians because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.

The testimony from Yates, an Obama administration holdover fired soon after for other reasons, marked her first public comments about the concerns she raised and filled in basic details about the chain of events that led to Flynn’s ouster.

Her testimony, coupled with the revelation hours earlier that President Barack Obama himself had warned Trump against hiring Flynn shortly after the November election, made clear that alarms about Flynn had reached the highest levels of the U.S. government months before. Flynn had been an adviser to Donald Trump and an outspoken supporter of his presidential candidacy in the 2016 campaign.

Yates, appearing before a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the election, described discussions with Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn in which she warned that Flynn apparently had misled the administration about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

White House officials had insisted that Flynn had not discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions with Kislyak during the presidential transition period, but asked Flynn to resign after news reports indicated he had lied about the nature of the calls.

“We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said.

“To state the obvious,” she added later, “you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, right, and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing: "Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)© The Associated Press Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, right, and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on…

 

Yates’ questioning by a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the presidential election was just one portion of a politically charged day that began with combative tweets from Trump and continued with disclosures from Obama administration officials about a private Oval Office conversation between Obama and his successor.

Republican senators in the hearing repeatedly pressed Yates on an unrelated matter — her refusal to defend the Trump administration’s travel ban — and whether she was responsible for leaking classified information. She said she was not.

Trump shouldered into the conversation early in the morning, tweeting that it was the Obama administration, not he, that had given Lt. Gen. Flynn “the highest security clearance” when he worked at the Pentagon. Trump made no mention of the fact that Flynn had been fired from his high position by the Obama administration in 2014.

Yates filled in new details of the events of Jan. 26, describing contacting McGahn in the morning and telling him she had something sensitive to discuss in person. Later that day, at the White House, she told him there was an alarming discrepancy between how Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, were characterizing Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on recordings of those calls.

The pair spoke several times over the next two days, with McGahn asking Yates how Flynn had fared during an interview with the FBI earlier that week — she did not answer — and why it was the business of the Justice Department if White House officials had misled each other. Flynn’s forced February resignation followed media reports that he had discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Kislyak, which was contrary to the public representations of the Trump White House.

Yates herself, a longtime federal prosecutor, was fired by Trump on Jan. 30 after refusing to defend his travel ban. James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Obama, testified as well on Monday. He retired when Trump took office.

Separately on Monday, former Obama officials said he had raised general concerns about Flynn with Trump and had told the incoming president there were better people for the national security post. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said in response that if Obama “was seriously concerned” about Flynn’s connections to Russia or other foreign countries, he should have withheld Flynn’s security clearance. Flynn served under Obama as defense intelligence chief before Obama dismissed him.

Trump repeatedly has said he has no ties to Russia and isn’t aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian interference in the election. He’s dismissed FBI and congressional investigations into his campaign’s possible ties to the election meddling as a “hoax” driven by Democrats bitter over losing the White House.

The Associated Press reported last week that one sign taken as a warning by Obama officials about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak was a request by a member of Trump’s own transition team made to national security officials in the Obama White House for the classified CIA profile of Kislyak. The AP interviewed a host of former U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive national security information.

Yates’ warning about Flynn in January capped weeks of building concern among top Obama officials, former officials told the AP. Obama himself that month told one of his closest advisers that the FBI, which by then had been investigating Trump associates’ possible ties to Russia for about six months, seemed particularly focused on Flynn.

Yates, a longtime federal prosecutor and Obama administration holdover, had been scheduled to appear in March before the House intelligence committee, but that hearing was canceled.

The subcommittee meeting Monday is one of multiple congressional probes into the Russia interference, along with House and Senate intelligence panels. All the committees are led by Republicans.          (AP)

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US Sanctions: We Will React Adequately Russia Promises |The Republican News

Russia on Thursday pledged “adequate reprisals” over US sanctions and accused Washington of trying to destroy ties by making “unfounded” allegations of interference in the US election.

The United States wants to “definitively destroy US-Russia relations which have already reached a low” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Russia will “react in an adequate manner based on the principles of reciprocity.”

Washington announced a series of measures against Russia, including tough sanctions on Russia‘s top two intelligence agencies, the expulsion of 35 agents and a decision to shut down two Russian compounds in the US.

“We categorically reject the unfounded assertions and accusations made about Russia,” Peskov said, according to the Ria-Novosti news agency.

“The American sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 35 diplomats in 72 hours are proof of a real paranoia,” said Leonid Slutsky, the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs.

“They are once again taking very aggressive measures against our country,” he said, according to Ria-Novosti.

President Barack Obama had all but accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering an audacious cyber hack that many Democrats believe damaged Hillary Clinton’s chances in November’s closely fought election with Republican foe Donald Trump.

The US intelligence community has concluded that a hack-and-release of Democratic Party and Clinton staff emails was designed to put Trump — a political neophyte who has praised Putin — into the Oval Office.

The US government is also declassifying technical information on Russian cyber activity to help companies defend against future attacks.

AFP

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