REPORT: Schiff threatens to subpoena FBI for info on Russia probes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Intelligence Committee chairman is threatening to subpoena FBI Director Christopher Wray for information related to the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday that he has unsuccessfully sought more information about that investigation and any links to Donald Trump’s winning campaign, including whether that probe is still active. The investigation was first disclosed by then-FBI Director James Comey at a committee hearing in March 2017, and Schiff said he has received few answers about it since Comey was fired by Trump two months later.

While special counsel Robert Mueller did examine Russian interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign, Schiff wants to know whether the FBI is still conducting any related counterintelligence investigations. Such inquiries can take years and extend far beyond a criminal investigation.

“We are determined to get answers, and we are running out of patience,” Schiff said after a hearing on the counterintelligence implications of Mueller’s report. “If necessary, we’ll subpoena the director and require him to come in and provide those answers under oath.”

At the hearing, one of several that House Democrats are holding to shed more light on the Mueller report, former FBI officials told lawmakers that Russian meddling bore some of the textbook tricks of the trade of Kremlin spycraft, including the volume and breadth of contacts with Trump associates.

The two witnesses, Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, highlighted aspects of the Mueller report they said showed Russian efforts to screen and test Trump campaign associates, to establish back channels of communications and to spread their contacts around in hopes of maximizing their chances of getting what they wanted.

“It is an absolute classic tradecraft of Russia and Russian intelligence services. They’ll never have one point of failure,” said Anderson, a former FBI executive assistant director who used to supervise counterintelligence investigations. “If they’re looking to try to obtain or pass information or potentially even influence information, they’ll make sure that they have numerous aspects or points to where they can try to get that done.”

Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, but he did detail a series of interactions and outreach that have alarmed Democrats and accelerated calls from some in the party for impeachment proceedings and renewed investigations.

Schiff noted that Mueller detailed more than 100 contacts between Russia and associates of the president.

Among the interactions was a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower during which the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., expected to receive dirt on his father’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed Obama administration sanctions against Russia with the then-Russian ambassador in the weeks leading up to the president’s inauguration in January 2017.

“It immediately put the existing administration in a horribly conflicting position, and they didn’t know about the backchannel in advance of the inauguration,” said Douglas, a former FBI executive assistant director. “It also probably assured the Russians that they were going to get a more favorable treatment” by the incoming Trump administration.

She highlighted how Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, shared polling data during the campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate accused of having ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort also told Kilimnik he was willing to provide “private briefings” about the Trump campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I thought that that was very interesting, that they are tasking him and building upon that,” Douglas said. “And if he would have stayed with the campaign, I am sure they would have continued to task him.”

Also Wednesday, Trump Jr. spoke with the Senate Intelligence Committee for about three hours to clarify an interview with the committee’s staff in 2017. Senators wanted to talk to him again about the Trump Tower meeting and a Trump real estate project in Moscow.

The president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House committee in February that he had briefed Trump Jr. approximately 10 times about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow before the 2016 election. But Trump Jr. had told Congress he was only “peripherally aware” of the real estate proposal.

As he left the interview, Trump Jr. said he was happy to clarify his answers, but “I don’t think I changed any of what I said because there was nothing to change.”

The two ex-FBI officials who testified Wednesday retired from the bureau before it opened its investigation into the Trump campaign in summer 2016. By inviting them instead of agents involved in the investigation, Democrats are giving center stage to longtime career officials devoid of the political baggage that accompanies some of the Republican president’s more outspoken critics.

Even so, the partisan divisions surfaced again. Schiff said most Americans consider the Trump campaign’s embrace of Russian aid “to constitute plain evidence of collusion.” The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, described allegations of collusion to be a “hoax” and suggested Democrats should apologize.

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro contributed to the contents of this report.

schifftrump.jpg

 

‘LOCK HIM UP’: Dems raise prospect of impeachment, jail for Trump in wake of ‘hush money’ allegations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top House Democrats have raised the prospect of impeachment or the real possibility of prison time for President Donald Trump if it’s proved that he directed illegal hush money payments to women, adding to the legal pressure on the president over the Russia investigation and other scandals.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House intelligence committee. “The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, described the details in prosecutors’ filings Friday in the case of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as evidence that Trump was “at the center of a massive fraud.”

“They would be impeachable offenses,” Nadler said.

In the filings, prosecutors in New York for the first time link Trump to a federal crime of illegal payments to buy the silence of two women during the 2016 campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office also laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his Republican campaign by playing to both his political and personal business interests.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and has compared the investigations to a “witch hunt.”

Nadler, D-N.Y., said it was too early to say whether Congress would pursue impeachment proceedings based on the illegal payments alone because lawmakers would need to weigh the gravity of the offense to justify “overturning” the 2016 election. Nadler and other lawmakers said Sunday they would await additional details from Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign to determine the extent of Trump’s misconduct.

Regarding the illegal payments, “whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they’d be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office,” Nadler said.

Mueller has not said when he will complete a report of any findings, and it isn’t clear that any such report would be made available to Congress. That would be up to the attorney general. Trump on Friday said he would nominate former Attorney General William Barr to the post to succeed Jeff Sessions.

Nadler indicated that Democrats, who will control the House in January, will step up their own investigations. He said Congress, the Justice Department and the special counsel need to dig deeper into the allegations, which include questions about whether Trump lied about his business arrangements with Russians and about possible obstruction of justice.

“The new Congress will not try to shield the president,” he said. “We will try to get to the bottom of this, in order to serve the American people and to stop this massive conspiracy — this massive fraud on the American people.”

Schiff, D-Calif., also stressed a need to wait “until we see the full picture.” He has previously indicated his panel would seek to look into the Trump family’s business ties with Russia.

“I think we also need to see this as a part of a broader pattern of potential misconduct by the president, and it’s that broad pattern, I think, that will lead us to a conclusion about whether it rises to the level to warrant removal from office,” Schiff said.

In the legal filings, the Justice Department stopped short of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime. But it said Trump told Cohen to make illegal payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago.

In separate filings, Mueller’s team detail how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’” Cohen said he never followed up on that meeting. Mueller’s team also said former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called the latest filings “relevant” in judging Trump’s fitness for office but said lawmakers need more information to render judgment. He also warned the White House about considering a pardon for Manafort, saying such a step could trigger congressional debate about limiting a president’s pardon powers.

Such a move would be “a terrible mistake,” Rubio said. “Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, cautioned against a rush to impeachment, which he said citizens could interpret as “political revenge and a coup against the president.”

“The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections,” King said. “I’m a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it’s a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation. We may get there, but we’re not there now.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut urged Mueller to “show his cards soon” so that Congress can make a determination early next year on whether to act on impeachment.

“Let’s be clear: We have reached a new level in the investigation,” Murphy said. “It’s important for Congress to get all of the underlying facts and data and evidence that the special counsel has.”

Nadler spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Rubio was on CNN and ABC’s “This Week,” and Schiff appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Murphy spoke on ABC, and King was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

——-

Hope Yen of the Associated Press contributed to the contents of this report.

Schiff-Trump-750x398

DOWN TO THE WIRE: Dems fight back on Republican efforts to release FISA memo as vote looms

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats on Monday stepped up their efforts to prevent House Republicans from revealing the contents of a FISA memo which Republican leaders have referred to as “shocking”.

The contents of the memo, which those who have read claim to be “worse than Watergate”, allegedly details government surveillance abuses against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and what role the now discredited anti-Trump “dossier” played in the securing a surveillance warrant on at least one Trump associate, Carter Paige. Further, it is alleged that officials who secured the warrant unlawfully failed to disclose that the dossier in question was financed by Democrats.

South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who helped write the four-page memo, said Sunday the American people deserve to see what’s in it.

“If you want to know whether or not the dossier was used in court proceedings, whether or not it was vetted before it was used. … If you are interested in who paid for the dossier … then, yes, you’ll want the memo to come out,” Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday.”

Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs, also dropped several hints as to what else may be contained in the document.

“I can’t prove that they were the final decision makers,” Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday.” “But I don’t have to. Two really important people hated (Trump) and would have done anything to protect” (Hillary Clinton).

“Did they have the power to protect her?” Gowdy asked of the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for illegally storing classified emails on a home server during her tenure as Secretary of State. “The decision not to charge (Clinton) was made even before they interviewed her. How would you like that deal?”

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said when asked about the controversy that the issue goes far beyond government surveillance of Trump. What’s worse, he said, is unlawful spying on the American citizen.

“Let the American people decide,” said Napolitano (http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/01/29/judge-andrew-napolitano-calls-release-fisa-memo-documents). “If Congress knew of the alleged abuses of FISA — that’s the government’s ability to spy on us — by the NSA, our domestic spies, and by the intelligence division of the FBI, they might not have expanded FISA the way they did.”

Rep. Rodney Davis said Monday that he, too, is for the memo’s release.

“I am for more transparency. Let’s start with four pages,” Davis, an Illinois Republican, told CNN. “Then let’s talk about releasing more.”

So far, Democrats have fought hard against the memo’s release.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said last week that Republicans on the committee are seeking to “selectively and misleadingly characterize classified information” in an effort to “protect” President Trump.

Calling the memo a “desperate attempt” by Republicans “to distract attention from the Russia probe” Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Republicans are trying to “put the federal government on trial” by intentionally making “scandalous accusations.”

Former secret service agent Dan Bongino slammed Schiff’s comments during an appearance on Fox News, however, calling Schiff “the slimiest of the slimy in the swamp”.

“This is nonsense. Trump has constitutional rights too… The government was unleashed on him during the Obama years,” Bongino said. “Schiff has lied about this memo multiple times now. He’s deliberately manipulating the American public.”

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is expected to take a vote Monday afternoon to decide whether or not the memo should be released.

releasethememo12918