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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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President Trump Faces His Hardest Truth: To Admit He Was Wrong

 

Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker
President Trump listens with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on March 17.© Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post President Trump listens with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on March 17.  

On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump.

He was wrong.

James B. Comey Jr. — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign.

Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.

But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.

FBI Director James B. Comey Jr., left, and Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20.© Matt McClain/The Washington Post FBI Director James B. Comey Jr., left, and Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20.  

Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.

Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.”

For Trump, Comey’s testimony punctuates what has been a troubling first two months as president. His approval ratings, which were historically low at his inauguration, have fallen even farther. Gallup’s tracking poll as of Sunday showed just 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, with 55 percent disapproving.

The Comey episode threatens to damage Trump’s credibility not only with voters, but with lawmakers of his own party whose support he needs to pass the health-care bill later this week in the House, the first legislative project of his presidency.

Furthermore, the FBI’s far-reaching Russia investigation shows no sign of concluding soon and is all but certain to remain a distraction for the White House, spurring moments of presidential fury and rash tweets and possibly inhibiting the administration’s ability to govern.

Some of Trump’s defenders said the impact of Comey’s testimony could easily be overtaken if the White House is disciplined enough to marshall its agenda, as well as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, through Congress.

“All that really matters this week is Gorsuch moving forward and the House passing step one of Obamacare repeal,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All the rest is noise.”

On the Russia issue, Trump and his aides were defiant Monday in the face of Comey’s testimony. Before Comey was sworn in at the hearing, Trump tried to set the tone with a series of early-morning tweets decrying the accusations of collusion with Russia as “FAKE NEWS” being pushed by defeated Democrats and arguing that the real scandal is the leaking of sensitive information from within the intelligence community.

“Must find leaker now!” he wrote in one tweet from his personal account.

During Comey’s testimony, Trump offered live commentary on his official presidential Twitter account, pushing the argument that Russia did not influence the election.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer picked up the torch in the afternoon, trying in a contentious briefing with reporters to deflect attention from Trump’s false wiretapping charges while steadfastly refusing to admit any wrongdoing.

“I think we’re going to test the outer limits of the Trump ‘fake news’ cult,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist. “The central contention that Barack Obama wiretapped Donald Trump in Trump Tower was blown out of the water and utterly dismissed.”

As always in Trump world, where the guiding ethos is winning at any cost, the worst sin is conceding defeat.

Jennifer Palmieri, who served as communications director on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said Trump’s wiretapping situation reminded her of his “death spiral” after lashing out at a federal judge over his Latino heritage.

“He just cannot let it go,” Palmieri said. “Except this time he is getting slapped down by the sitting FBI director. That’s a brutal blow to his credibility and a huge opportunity cost. He should be focused on salvaging his health care bill, not continuing to draw all of America’s eyes to the Russia investigation.”

A master showman, Trump surely could intuit the theatrical power of Comey trekking to Capitol Hill to testify for several hours about Russia, all broadcast live on national television.

“It just makes it much more vivid,” said Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, who has worked in the three previous Republican administrations. “It’s one thing to read statements from a transcript or a newspaper and that’s not unimportant, but when you see it on video, it carries a punch.”

Spicer’s defense strategy was in part to distance Trump from the figures under investigation by the FBI for their ties to Russia. In Spicer’s telling, Paul Manafort was a virtual nobody, saying he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort was actually Trump’s campaign chairman and de-facto manager for five months last year, from the end of the primaries through the summer convention and the start of the general election.

“Watching Sean Spicer twist himself into a pretzel yet again to try to pretend that Paul Manafort isn’t an influential figure is ludicrous,” Wehner said. “It’s like saying Aaron Rodgers isn’t a central figure for the Green Bay Packers.”

Brinkley, who has published biographies of such presidents as Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, said of Trump’s start, “This is the most failed first 100 days of any president.”

“To be as low as he is in the polls, in the thirties, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don’t know how it can get much worse,” Brinkley said.

But Trump’s supporters have proven largely impervious to the political winds, at least so far. The president jetted late Monday to Louisville, Ky., to rev up another mega-rally crowd — separating himself from the swamp of Washington by more than 600 miles.

“My gut is that he’s bulletproof with his base,” said Austin Barbour, a Mississippi-based Republican strategist. “There’s just this massive distrust of Washington, and whether that’s fair or not — of Washington, of the intelligence community, of Congress, of the judicial branch. It’s just the reality outside of the Beltway.”

(The Wsahington Post)

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Trump Offers No Apology For Claim On British Spying | The Republican News

By PETER BAKER and STEVEN ERLANGER

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on Thursday.      © Al Drago/The New York Times Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on Thursday.  

WASHINGTON — President Trump refused to back down on Friday after his White House aired an unverified claim that Britain’s spy agency secretly monitored him during last year’s campaign at the behest of President Barack Obama.

Although his aides in private conversations since Thursday night had tried to calm British officials who were livid over the claim, Mr. Trump made clear that he felt the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for. He said his spokesman was simply repeating an assertion made by a Fox News commentator.

“We said nothing,” Mr. Trump told a German reporter who asked about the matter at a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Mr. Trump, who has stuck by his unsubstantiated assertion that Mr. Obama ordered his telephone tapped last year despite across-the-board denials, wryly used Ms. Merkel’s visit to repeat his contention. Ms. Merkel was angry during Mr. Obama’s administration at reports that the United States had tapped her cellphone and those of other foreign leaders. Turning to her, Mr. Trump said, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”

After the news conference Mr. Spicer echoed Mr. Trump’s defiant tone. “I don’t think we regret anything,” he told reporters. “As the president said, I was just reading off media reports.”

Shortly afterward, Fox backed off the claim made by its commentator, Andrew Napolitano. “Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary,” the anchor Shepard Smith said on air. “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said on Friday that the White House had backed off the allegation. “We’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said, on the condition of anonymity in keeping with British protocol. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated.”

Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, spoke with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, at a St. Patrick’s Day reception in Washington on Thursday night just hours after Mr. Spicer aired the assertion at his daily briefing. Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, spoke separately with his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said on the condition of anonymity to confirm private conversations. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Other White House officials, who also requested anonymity, said Mr. Spicer had offered no regret to the ambassador. “He didn’t apologize, no way, no how,” said a senior West Wing official. The officials said they did not know whether General McMaster had apologized.

The controversy over Mr. Trump’s two-week-old unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama had wiretapped his telephones last year continued to unnerve even fellow Republicans. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said on Friday that Mr. Trump had not proven his case and should apologize to Mr. Obama.

“Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling truth, I think President Obama is owed an apology,” Mr. Cole told reporters. “If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”

The flap with Britain started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s original accusation against Mr. Obama, on Thursday read from the White House lectern comments by Mr. Napolitano asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Mr. Napolitano said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.

The GCHQ quickly and vehemently denied the contention on Thursday in a rare statement issued by the spy agency, calling the assertions “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” By Friday morning, Mr. Spicer’s briefing had turned into a full-blown international incident. British politicians expressed outrage and demanded apologies and retractions from the American government.

Mr. Trump’s critics assailed the White House for alienating America’s ally. “The cost of falsely blaming our closest ally for something this consequential cannot be overstated,” Susan E. Rice, who was Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, wrote on Twitter. “And from the PODIUM.”

Mr. Trump has continued to stick by his claim about Mr. Obama even after it has been refuted by a host of current and former officials, including leaders of his own party. Mr. Obama denied it, as did the former director of national intelligence. The F.B.I. director has privately told other officials that it is false. After being briefed by intelligence officials, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have in the last few days said they have seen no indication that Mr. Trump’s claim is true.

Mr. Spicer tried to turn the tables on those statements during his briefing on Thursday by reading from a sheaf of news accounts that he suggested backed up the president. Most of the news accounts, however, did not verify the president’s assertion, while several have been refuted by intelligence officials.

For instance, Mr. Spicer read several articles from The New York Times, which has written extensively on an investigation into contacts between associates of Mr. Trump and Russian officials. The Times has reported that intelligence agencies have access to intercepted conversations as part of that investigation. But it has never reported that Mr. Obama authorized the surveillance, nor that Mr. Trump himself was monitored.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week that “it’s possible” that Mr. Trump or others were swept up in the course of other surveillance. But when it came to the president’s assertion that Mr. Obama authorized tapping of Trump Tower, he said, “clearly the president was wrong.”

His Senate counterpart, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, issued a joint statement on Thursday with Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, saying they saw “no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

In pointing the finger at Britain on Thursday, Mr. Spicer read from comments made by Mr. Napolitano on Fox this week. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Mr. Spicer read. “He didn’t use the N.S.A., he didn’t use the C.I.A., he didn’t use the F.B.I., and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.”

“What is that?” Mr. Spicer continued. “It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘The president needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”

In London, outrage quickly followed. “It’s complete garbage. It’s rubbish,” Malcolm Rifkind, a former chairman of Parliament’s intelligence committee, told BBC News.

GCHQ was the first agency to warn the United States government, including the National Security Agency, that Russia was hacking Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign. That warning stemmed from internet traffic out of Russia containing malware, British officials said.

British officials and analysts were surprised at the tough language in the GCHQ response, especially from an agency that traditionally refuses to comment on any intelligence matter.

There was some annoyance and eye rolling as well. Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the last British coalition government, described Mr. Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Mr. Trump was “compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”

Dominic Grieve, the current intelligence committee chairman in Parliament, noted that no president can instruct the GCHQ to act. He pointed to elaborate safeguards that prevent spying on the United States and require “a valid national security purpose” for any monitoring. “It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described,” he said in a statement.

But Downing Street clearly wanted to avoid adding to any embarrassment in Washington while making it clear that Britain had no part in any such wiretapping, and that Britain would not be a party to circumventing the laws of a closely allied country. “We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”

British officials said that London had initiated calls of complaint and denial to the White House after Mr. Spicer’s briefing. They also said that British officials had discussed responding earlier, after Mr. Napolitano’s comments were made on air, but acted quickly after those remarks were repeated by the president’s official spokesman.

“I doubt if there will be any long-term damage — the intelligence links between the U.S. and the U.K. are just too strong,” said Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States. “It was unfortunate that the White House spokesman repeated what he’s heard on Fox News without checking the facts. But once he’d done so, GCHQ had no choice but to set the record straight.”

The New York Times

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Trump Owes Obama Apology For ‘Reckless, False’ Wiretap Claim

Taylor Lorez

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) on Friday called for President Trump to apologize to former President Obama for accusing him of “wiretapping” Trump Tower without evidence.”I see no indication that’s true. It’s not a charge that I would ever have ever made, and frankly unless he can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think President Obama is owed an apology in that regard,” Cole said.

“If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”

Cole is the first GOP lawmaker to call for an apology, although other Republicans have questioned why Trump made the accusation without proof.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday defended Trump, saying: “The president has already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false premise. That’s not what he said. He was very clear when he talked about it yesterday.”

Spicer said Trump stood by his claim, after the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier Thursday said it sees “no indication that Trump Tower was a subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

Trump earlier this month wrote in a series of early Saturday morning tweets that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” during the campaign, calling his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy!”
Donald-Trump-vs-Barack-Obama-2

(The Hill)

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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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U.S. Lawmakers Want Wiretapping Evidence By Monday

 

Daniel Arkin
Composite image of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.© Composite image of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Composite image of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.  

The clock is ticking.

The top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee have asked the Justice Department to turn over by Monday any evidence showing Trump Tower was wiretapped during the 2016 presidential race — an explosive accusation President Trump leveled at former President Obama without providing any proof.

The request came in a letter sent last week to the acting deputy attorney general by the committee chairman, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and its ranking Democratic member, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), congressional aides told NBC News. FBI chief James Comey, who reportedly asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim, was also sent a copy of the letter.

Related: Senate Panel To Probe Trump’s Wiretap Claim 

Nunes has promised his panel would look into potential surveillance of political parties as part of its broader investigation of Russian meddling in the election.

Trump did not offer evidence to support his infamous March 4 tweets, in which he compared the alleged wiretapping to the Watergate scandal and called Obama a “bad (or sick) guy.” Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, said “any suggestion” that the former president ordered surveillance on Trump was “simply false.”

Democrats have criticized Trump for his unsubstantiated claims, and several congressional Republicans have been leery of them.

In an interview on Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, implored Trump to show his cards.

Related: Phone Tapping: Trump Asks U.S. Congress To Probe Obama

“The president has one of two choices — either retract or provide the information that the American people deserve,” McCain said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I have no reason to believe that the charge is true, but I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute.”

In an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” broadcast Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had not seen anything suggesting Obama wiretapped Trump, joking that Trump’s wiretapping tweet storm “wasn’t really part of the health care marketing campaign.”   (NBC News)

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Trump And Republicans See A ‘Deep State’ Foe, Says Obama

 

David Weigel
Former President Barack Obama leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Sunday, March 5, 2017.© AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana Former President Barack Obama leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Sunday, March 5, 2017.  

President Trump’s weekend allegations of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to wiretap his 2016 campaign confused intelligence analysts, befuddled members of Congress and created fresh work for fact-checkers. Within 24 hours of his allegations, made on Twitter, the administration conceded that the president was basing his claim not on closely held information, but on a Breitbart News story quoting the conservative radio host and author Mark Levin.

But in conservative media, where the claim originated, Trump has gotten credit for cracking open a plot by a “deep state” of critics and conspirators to bring down his presidency. And the perpetrator is former president Barack Obama.

“It would [seem] that the ‘Russia hacking’ story was concocted not just to explain away an embarrassing election defeat, but to cover up the real scandal,” wrote Breitbart’s senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak.

“Trump confounds these people because he’s always a step or two ahead,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on Monday. “It’s a direct line to the Democrat Party and Obama and members of the Obama administration that Trump is signaling, ‘You don’t face the usual feckless bunch of opponents who never fight you back.’”

Trump’s wiretap allegations completed a feedback loop that started during the presidential campaign and has gotten sturdier since. The president’s media diet includes cable television news shows, like “Fox and Friends,” where guests and hosts regularly defend him. On Twitter, he frequently elevates stories that grew in conservative talk radio, or on sites like Breitbart News and InfoWars, out of view of a startled mainstream media. Monday’s news cycle demonstrated just how strong the loop was, as Levin himself appeared on Fox News for 12 barely interrupted minutes to share his theory that the alleged wiretapping was a political hit job.

“Donald Trump is the victim. His campaign is the victim,” said Levin, as a Fox News “alert” scrolled over the screen. “These are police state tactics. If this had been done to Barack Obama, all hell would break loose. And it should.”

A spokesman for the former president denied that Obama or a White House official requested surveillance of a U.S. citizen. And FBI Director James B. Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement this weekend refuting President Trump’s charge (it has not thus far).

Republicans in Congress tend to give the president the benefit of their doubt. In interviews and comments since Saturday, they have suggested that Trump overstated what was known — conflating, for example, media reports on wiretapping with a growing theory that the Obama administration seeded operatives throughout the government to undo his presidency. But they have paired that critique with promises to study what he’s alleged.

“The president has at his fingertips tens of billions of dollars in intelligence apparatus,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in a Monday interview with CBS News. “I think he might have something there, but if not, we’re going to find out.”

“The good news is there’s a paper trail, there’s a warrant, there’s an application, there’s judicial review,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in a Monday interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, a die-hard Trump supporter. “And right now the Justice Department is not controlled by President Obama. It’s controlled by Jeff Sessions.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), in a tweet to the president, went even further, saying that Trump “needs to purge Leftists from executive branch before disloyal, illegal and treasonist (sic) acts sink us.”

That story line was building long before Trump embraced it. Its origins were relatively banal. One week after the 2016 election, Obama told members of his campaign group, Organizing for America, that the Trump years would be boom times for activism.

“Now is the time for some organizing,” Obama said, according to a transcript published by the White House at the time. “An election just finished, so it’s not going to be straight political organizing, but it is going to be raising awareness; it’s going to be the work you’re doing in nonprofits and advocacy and community-building.  And over time, what’s going to happen is, is that you will reinvigorate and inform our politics in ways that we can’t anticipate.”

Since then, OFA, which has spent years as a punching bag for Democrats who thought it diverted resources from the party, has earned surprising new status as a boogeyman. The rebuilt group has helped promote and organize protests and raucous town hall meetings to pressure Republican members of Congress. On Feb. 18, New York Post columnist Paul Sperry tied together what was publicly known to pin the protests on Obama and OFA.

“It’s a radical [Saul] Alinsky group,” Sperry told Fox News’s Sean Hannity after the story ran. “It’s got a lot of money. And they’re training an army of agitators to sabotage Trump and his policies, while at the same time protecting Obama’s legacy, like ‘Obamacare’ and the DREAMers. And here is OFA listed prominently on Obama’s new Web site, OFA Organizing for Action.”

In the days after that broadcast, as OFA watched, its Facebook page started to receive angry comments and threats.

“If they ever come to my town I’ll be eagerly awaiting with my 12 gauge loaded with ball and buck,” wrote one commentator, Gary Whitson.

“This site is an American Terrorist site degrading our intelligence with misinformation,” wrote a critic named Don Whitehall. “No shadow government in America”

“OFA is a nonprofit group dedicated to grassroots organizing, which is exactly what we’ve been doing since 2013,” said communications director Jesse Lehrich. “We have volunteer-led chapters around the country who are working to engage their friends and neighbors to enact positive change in their communities. These conspiracy theories swirling through the conservative media-verse aren’t just perplexing, they’re dangerous.”

The former president has given his blessing to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a project created to help his party undo Republican-drawn legislative maps. He made calls to help his former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez become chair of the Democratic National Committee, and congratulated him when he won. And he recorded a video for his post-presidential foundation, telling supporters “true democracy is a project that’s bigger than any one of us.”

Apart from that, Obama has maintained a low profile in the post-election world, with allies acknowledging that he’s been absent as protests have built against his successor. At the NRDC’s Tuesday media briefing, former Attorney General Eric Holder said that the former president was ready to become a “more visible” supporter of the project.

“It’s coming. He’s coming,” said. “And he’s ready to roll.”

That comment caused a minor frenzy with the online right. InfoWars, the conspiracy news site run by Alex Jones, republished a story about the comment, and followed it with rumors about the new activity. “Obama’s goal to ‘oust’ Trump from presidency via impeachment or resignation,” wrote InfoWars commentator Paul Joseph Watson on Thursday. On Friday, the site blew up a report about banks settling with nonprofit groups after fraud lawsuits to tell readers that Obama had “funneled billions to liberal activist groups.”

More mainstream sites have also stoked theories that Obama was pulling strings. Last Wednesday, the Daily Mail published an interview with an unnamed “close family friend,” who claimed that former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett had moved into Obama’s Kalorama home to help “mastermind the insurgency” against Trump.

“The Daily Mail story is completely false,” said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president.

But the Jarrett story went viral on the right; on a Fox Business segment over the weekend, the radio host Tammy Bruce cited as an “under-covered” revelation that demonstrated the forces arrayed against Trump. In her Monday interview with Gowdy, Ingraham argued that a Watergate-level scandal was building — but at one point, she suggested, hopefully, that the president was not simply basing his rhetoric on what was in conservative media.

“He must know something beyond what’s on Breitbart,” Ingraham said.

“I would hope,” said Gowdy, “given the fact that he’s the leader of the free world.”                (The Washington Post)

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Senate Panel To Probe Trump’s Wiretap Claim |The Republican News

 

Jordain Carney
Grassley probes FBI's ties to British spy who investigated Trump         © Provided by The Hill Grassley probes FBI’s ties to British spy who investigated Trump  

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that a panel he oversees will look into President Trump’s claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him.

“He’s challenged the Congress to look into this and I will, along with Sen. Whitehouse, look into whether or not there was any lawful warrant requested and received on the Trump campaign and whether or not there was any illegal activity regarding the Trump campaign,” Graham told reporters.

Graham and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) are the top two members on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

Trump appeared to catch lawmakers off guard over the weekend when he tweeted that his predecessor “had my ‘wires tapped.'”

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

GOP lawmakers have called on Trump to explain his tweets, which were offered without evidence to back up his claims.

Trump aides have also called on Congress to investigate if the Obama administration wiretapped the Trump campaign as part of a larger probe into Russia and the 2016 election.

Graham on Monday backed the push, saying that whether the wiretapping happened legally through a warrant approved by the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court or illegally, it merits looking into.

“It would be earth-shattering if the former administration illegally wire tapped a campaign … If the FISA court issued a warrant that would be pretty stunning to because they’d have to have probable cause,” he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is separately conducting an investigation into allegations that Moscow meddled in the White House race to help Trump, including any contacts between his campaign and Russia.

Two sources told CNN that FBI director James Comey asked the Justice Department to shoot down Trump’s latest comments over the weekend.

Graham sidestepped weighing in on Comey’s alleged request, but noted that a forthcoming letter from himself and Whitehouse would include asking him to confirm or deny the report.

Source: The Hill

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This Former British Lawmaker Is At the Heart Of The Trump Wiretap Allegations

 

Karla Adam
Louise Mensch in 2012.                           © Stefan Wermuth /AFP via Getty Images Louise Mensch in 2012.  

LONDON — A former British legislator is at the heart of the Trump administration’s explosive allegation that President Barack Obama was spying on him during the 2016 campaign.

But who exactly is Louise Mensch?

For starters, the politician-turned-journalist is the writer behind an article published on the eve of the election titled: “EXCLUSIVE: FBI ‘Granted FISA Warrant’ Covering Trump Camp’s Ties To Russia.”

The article, published on the right-leaning, libertarian website Heat Street, did not create much of a stir at the time. But it has come under the spotlight after Trump, in a tweetstorm over the weekend, accused Obama of wiretapping his offices during the election campaign. Trump compared the alleged bugging to the Watergate scandal, but he has not offered any evidence to back up his claims.

In tweets on Monday, Mensch emphasized that her reporting does not back up Trump’s wiretapping claim, even though the White House cited her article to justify the allegation. She stressed that her reporting refers to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant and does not mention anything about wiretapping.

Over the weekend, the White House cited reports “from BBC, Heat Street, New York Times, Fox News, among others” to justify the claims. Former Obama administration officials and aides have denied the accusation.

After combing through these news reports, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler concluded that the piece by Mensch in Heat Street was “the most important” of the lot.

In her report, published Nov. 7, Mensch said the FBI was granted a FISA court warrant in October “giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”

She cited “two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community” as evidence for those claims.

Mensch, who is based in New York, said her sources contacted her because of her outspoken backing for the intelligence community. She has, for instance, called Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents, “a loathsome traitor.”

“They gave me one of the most closely guarded secrets in intelligence,” she said, referring to her sources. Speaking to the Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, she added: “People are speculating why someone trusted me with that. Nobody met me in a darkened alley in a fedora, but they saw me as someone who has political experience and is their friend. I am a pro-national security partisan. I don’t have divided loyalties.”

Mensch, 45, is a force on social media and describes herself on Twitter as a “Conservative. Feminist. Optimist. Patriot.”

Anyone who follows her on Twitter — and more than 170,000 people do — knows that she is not a Trump supporter and has been probing Trump-Russia links for some time.

Her name also appeared in the hacked emails of John Podesta, the former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In an email she sent to the Creative Artists Agency that was forwarded to Podesta, Mensch described herself as a “committed Republican” who was concerned about a Trump presidency and offered a suggestion for a campaign ad for Clinton.

In Britain, Mensch is best known for her stint as a Conservative lawmaker and for her work as a successful chick-lit novelist under her maiden name, Louise Bagshawe.

She resigned as a lawmaker in 2012, saying it “proved impossible to balance the needs of my family.” The mother of three moved to New York to live with her husband, Peter Mensch, manager of the bands Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Although she served as a member of Parliament for only two years, she quickly became a high-profile figure, partly because of her leading role in a parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.

Mensch was one of four Conservative lawmakers on the committee who refused to endorse the panel’s conclusions. The committee’s description of Murdoch as “not a fit person” to run a major international company, Mensch said, was “partisan” and unjustified. She also apologized to the broadcaster Piers Morgan after falsely accusing him of admitting to phone hacking.

Mensch was regularly featured in the news when she was a politician. She was once contacted by an investigative journalist who claimed to have pictures proving that Mensch had taken drugs in a nightclub in the 1990s with the violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Mensch responded in a statement by saying it was “highly probable” and apologized for her dancing.

“Since I was in my twenties, I’m sure it was not the only incident of the kind; we all do idiotic things when young. I am not a very good dancer and must apologise to any and all journalists who were forced to watch me dance that night at Ronnie Scott’s,” she said.

She works as an executive for News Corp., a media company owned by Murdoch. She helped to launch Heat Street last year but left that role in December and is focusing on creating digital media projects for the company.

Source: (The Washington Post)

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Comey Asks Justice Department To Reject Trump’s Wiretapping Claim

 

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
President Trump at the White House on Friday.          © Doug Mills/The New York Times President Trump at the White House on Friday.  

 

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump levelled his allegation on Twitter. Mr. Comey has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down Mr. Trump’s claim because there is no evidence to support it and it insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment. Sarah Isgur Flores, the spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also declined to comment.

A statement by the Justice Department or Mr. Comey refuting Mr. Trump’s allegations would be a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement officials in the position of questioning the truthfulness of the government’s top leader. The situation underscores the high stakes of what the president and his aides have set out by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration.

The White House showed no indication that it would back down from Mr. Trump’s claims. On Sunday, the president demanded a congressional inquiry into whether Mr. Obama had abused the power of federal law enforcement agencies before the 2016 presidential election. In a statement from his spokesman, Mr. Trump called “reports” about the wiretapping “very troubling” and said that Congress should examine them as part of its investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election.

Along with concerns about the potential attacks on the bureau’s credibility, senior F.B.I. officials are said to be worried that the notion of a court-approved wiretap will raise the public’s expectations that the federal authorities have significant evidence implicating the Trump campaign in colluding with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

One problem Mr. Comey has faced is that there are few senior politically appointed officials at the Justice Department who can make the decision to release a statement, the officials said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself on Thursday from all matters related to the federal investigation into connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey’s behind-the-scenes manoeuvring is certain to invite contrasts to his actions last year when he spoke publicly about the Hillary Clinton email case and disregarded Justice Department entreaties not to.

In his demand for a congressional inquiry, the president, through his press secretary, Sean Spicer, issued a statement on Sunday that said, “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”

Mr. Spicer, who repeated the entire statement in a series of Twitter messages, added that “neither the White House nor the president will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”

A spokesman for Mr. Obama and his former aides have called the accusation by Mr. Trump completely false, saying that Mr. Obama never ordered any wiretapping of a United States citizen.

“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Kevin Lewis, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday.

Mr. Trump’s demand for a congressional investigation appears to be based, at least in part, on unproven claims by Breitbart News and conservative talk radio hosts that secret warrants were issued authorizing the tapping of the phones of Mr. Trump and his aides at Trump Tower in New York.

In a series of Twitter messages on Saturday, the president seemed to be convinced that those claims were true. In one post, Mr. Trump said, “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

On Sunday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, said the president was determined to find out what had really happened, calling it potentially the “greatest abuse of power” that the country has ever seen.

“Look, I think he’s going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential,” Ms. Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.”

The claims about wiretapping appear similar in some ways to the unfounded voter fraud charges that Mr. Trump made during his first days in the Oval Office. Just after Inauguration Day, he reiterated in a series of Twitter posts his belief that millions of voters had cast ballots illegally — claims that also appeared to be based on conspiracy theories from right-wing websites.

As with his demand for a wiretapping inquiry, Mr. Trump also called for a “major investigation” into voter fraud, saying on Twitter that “depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!” No investigation has been started.

Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials who worked in the Obama administration have said there were no secret intelligence warrants regarding Mr. Trump. Asked whether such a warrant existed, James R. Clapper Jr., a former director of national intelligence, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, “Not to my knowledge, no.”

“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign,” Mr. Clapper added.

Mr. Trump’s demands for a congressional investigation were initially met with scepticism by lawmakers, including Republicans. Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he was “not sure what it is that he is talking about.”

“I’m not sure what the genesis of that statement was,” Mr. Rubio said.

Pressed to elaborate on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Rubio said, “I’m not going to be a part of a witch hunt, but I’m also not going to be a part of a cover-up.”   (New York Times)

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