predecessor of “wire tapping” him, without any proof
So far, no single piece of evidence has been made public proving that the Trump campaign joined with Russia to steal the US presidency – nothing.
But the FBI Director, James Comey, told a hushed committee room in Congress last week that this is precisely what his agents are investigating.
Stop to let that thought reverberate for a moment.
“Investigation is not proof,” said the president’s spokesman.
Trump’s supporters are entitled to ask why – with the FBI’s powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice – nothing damning has emerged.
Perhaps there is nothing to find. But some former senior officials say it is because of failings in the inquiry, of which more later.
The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6.
He wrote a series of reports for political opponents of Donald Trump about Trump and Russia.
Steele’s “dossier”, as the material came to be known, contains a number of highly contested claims.
At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”
There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin.
One of Trump’s allies, Roger Stone, said to me of Steele, scornfully: “If 007 wants to be taken seriously, he ought to learn how to spell.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kalugin was head of the embassy’s economics section.
He had gone home in August 2016 at the end of a six-year posting.
The man himself emailed journalists to complain about a “stream of lies and fake news about my person”.
If anyone looks like a harmless economist, rather than a tough, arrogant KGB man, it is the bland-faced Kalugin.
But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.
It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele’s report on the “diplomat”, as early as May 2016.
But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.
A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.
In addition, State Department staff who dealt with Russia did not come across Kalugin, as would have been expected with a simple diplomat.
“Nobody had met him,” one former official said. “It’s classic. Just classic [of Russian intelligence].”
Last month, the McClatchy news website said he was under “scrutiny” by the FBI as he left the US. They did not report, as my sources say, that he was a member of one of Russia’s spying organisations, the SVR or GRU.
Steele’s work remains fiercely controversial, to some a “dodgy dossier” concocted by President Trump’s enemies.
But on this vitally important point – Kalugin’s status as a “spy under diplomatic cover” – people who saw the intelligence agree with the dossier, adding weight to Steele’s other claims.
But then they knew him already.
I understand – from former officials – that from 2013-16, Steele gave the US government extensive information on Russia and Ukraine.
This was work done for private clients, but which Steele wanted the US authorities to see.
One former senior official who saw these reports told me: “It was found to be of value by the people whose job it was to look at Russia every day.
“They said things like, ‘How can he get this so quickly? This fits exactly with what we have.’ It was validated many times.”
with this material in government said: “Sometimes he would get spun by somebody. [But] it was always 80% there.”
None of these reports touched on the nature of Trump’s relationship with Russia.
But last June, Steele began sending pages of what would later be called his dossier.
In light of his earlier work, the US intelligence community saw him as “credible” (their highest praise).
The FBI thought the same; they had worked with Steele going back to his days in MI6.
He flew to Rome in August to talk to the FBI.
Then in early October, he came to the US and was extensively debriefed by them, over a week.
He gave the FBI the names of some of his informants, the so-called “key” to the dossier.
But the CIA never interviewed him, and never sought to.
This comes from several people who are in a position to know.
They are alarmed at how the investigation is going, and worry it is being fumbled.
One said: “The FBI doesn’t know about Russia, the CIA knows about Russia.
“Any sources Steele has in Russia, the FBI doesn’t know how to evaluate.
“The Agency does… Who’s running this thing from Moscow? The FBI just aren’t capable on that side, of even understanding what Chris has.”
Another reflected growing frustration with the inquiry among some who served in the Obama administration: “We used to call them the Feebs. They would make the simple cases, but never see, let alone understand and go after, the bigger picture.”
(My editors have asked me to explain, for readers outside North America, that feeb is slang for someone feeble-minded, used above as a contraction of the initials FBI.)
I understand that Steele himself did not ask to brief the CIA because he had a long-standing relationship with the FBI.
The Russia people at the CIA had moved on and he felt he did not have the personal contacts he would need.
The CIA and the FBI would not comment on any of this. But the FBI is said to have a large presence at the US embassy in Moscow and has long experience of investigating Russian organised crime in the US.
The FBI director, Comey, also said in his testimony to Congress: “This investigation began in late July, so for counter-intelligence investigation that’s a fairly short period of time.”
President Trump takes a very different approach to the environment from Mr Obama. The former president argued that climate change was “real and cannot be ignored”.
Among the initiatives now rescinded is the Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions, to meet US commitments under the Paris accord.
The regulation has been unpopular in Republican-run states, where it has been subject to legal challenges – especially from businesses that rely on burning oil, coal and gas.
Last year the Supreme Court temporarily halted the plan, while the challenges are heard.
The Trump administration says that scrapping the plan will put people to work and reduce America’s reliance on imported fuel.
It says the president will be “moving forward on energy production in the US”.
“The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work.”
During the president’s maiden visit to the Environmental Protection Agency, he signed the Energy Independence Executive Order, which cuts EPA regulations in order to support Mr Trump’s plan of cutting the agency’s budget by a third.
This order signed by President Trump is both a practical and a philosophical attempt to change the US narrative on climate change.
His supporters say it will create thousands of jobs in the liberated oil and gas industries. His opponents agree the new order will be a job creator – but they’ll be jobs for lawyers, not in the coal fields.
Front and centre is practical action on the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama project to cut fossil fuels from energy production. Although it has long been tied up in the courts, the new administration will leave it to fester there while they come up with a much weaker replacement.
There will also be new, less restrictive rules on methane emissions from the oil and industry and more freedom to sell coal leases from federal lands.
President Trump is signalling a significant change in the widely held philosophy that CO2 is the enemy, the main driver of climate change.
US environmentalists are aghast but also enraged. They will be queuing up to go to court. But in many ways that’s playing into the hands of President Trump and the fossil fuel lobby.
“Delay is what they want,” one green source told me, “delay is winning.”
President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama talk on the East front steps of the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
With the collapse of the House health-care bill, the cause of repealing Obamacare, a right-wing obsession for seven years and a day, has died. The flame will never be fully extinguished in the hearts of the true believers — after all, in right-wing think tanks and other places far removed from electoral politics, anti-government zealots still dream of phasing out Social Security or Medicare. But the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.
Conservatives have already collapsed into mutual recriminations for their failure. Reporters have blamed Trump’s deal-making skills. Trump’s loyalists are loudly blaming Paul Ryan. “I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing site Newsmax and a longtime friend of Trump’s, tells Bloomberg. “The president had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.” David Brooks blames both Trump and Congress. “The core Republican problem is this,” he writes. “The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided.”
The American Health Care Act is a truly horrendous piece of legislation. But it did not become the vehicle for the Obamacare repeal effort because Trump, or Ryan, or anybody insisted on it over some other option. It became the repeal bill because nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea.
Reforming the health-care system is an inherently daunting project. What makes health care so resistant to change is that, the worse the system gets, the harder it is to change. More waste means more profit centers with an interest in protecting their income. And more uninsured people means more anxiety for those who do have insurance about losing it, and hence more resistance to change. The political miracle of Obamacare was its ability to design a way to cover the uninsured and to pay for the coverage in a politically viable fashion. The law found a way to solve a political problem that had frustrated would-be reformers for decades.
And they accomplished it against the ruthless opposition of a united party that has used every demagogic method to undermine it — in Washington, in the states, and in the courts. If Republicans had not launched a legal battle to allow states to deny Medicaid coverage to their citizens, and then cruelly taken up the opportunity to do so; sabotaged small but crucial risk-corridor payments to encourage insurer participation; and denied funds for outreach to exchange customers, it would be functioning better than it is. Still, it is functioning. As the Congressional Budget Office found last week, the exchanges are not in a death spiral. Insurers have found a stable price point.
Republicans have spent eight years fooling themselves about Obamacare. They have built a news bubble that relentlessly circulates exaggerated or made-up news of the law’s shortcomings and systematically ignores its successes. The smartest members of the conservative-wonk set played a more clever game to retain their influence. No serious conservative analyst could argue that Obamacare had actually made the health-care system worse. How could they, when the federal government is now spending less money on health care than it was projected to spend before Obamacare passed, medical inflation is at the lowest level since the government began recording it 50 years ago, and 20 million more Americans have insurance? But admitting Obamacare constituted an improvement in the health-care system, even an imperfect one, would be tantamount to expulsion from the conservative movement, and with it any hope of influencing Republican policy. The closest they might come is pleading that repealing Obamacare was “not enough,” that they must also replace it with something better. This formulation allowed them to neatly sidestep the question of whether repeal alone would make the system better or worse.
So instead of comparing Obamacare to what it replaced, they compared it to the plan Republicans would have passed, if only they had the chance. The existence of the mythical Republican health-care plan was the foundation for every serious critique of the law. And now that that plan has finally appeared, virtually the entire conservative intelligentsia has been forced to admit it is worse than Obamacare. The single data point that conservatives have repeated with the most relentless frequency is that Obamacare is unpopular. It is true that, for most of its life, the law has polled in the 40s. Republicans deemed all disapproval of Obamacare to be approval for their stance, never acknowledging that much of this disapproval came from those who wanted the law to do more, not less. Now that there is a Republican alternative, it is polling at an astonishing 17 percent. Comically, repeal efforts have pulled Obamacare’s polling above water. The slim reed of public opinion upon which they built their manic repeal crusade snapped immediately under the weight of political implementation.
It is true that other conservative health-care ideas do exist in the universe. It is also true that the GOP’s lack of a supermajority forced it to pursue fiscal-only repeal measures, and prevented the full rewriting of Obamacare regulations that right-wing purists would have liked. But those ideas would also have failed. Indeed, many of them are even more politically fatal than the ones Paul Ryan wrote. The original version of Ryan’s plan would have financed its tax credits by scaling back the tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. That is a sound idea, but one that would have jeopardized employer insurance for 150 million Americans, making any such bill radioactive.
The right’s insoluble problem is that people who have insurance like it. Employer-sponsored insurance is popular. Medicare is popular. Medicaid is popular. To the extent that the exchanges in the ACA are not that popular, it is because they are less like those forms of insurance and more like the kind of insurance conservatives prefer — they have higher deductibles, more price discrimination between old and young, and more market competition. Any employer-sponsored insurance plan is going to cover essential health benefits. It’s going to charge the same price to the young and the old alike. In other words, it is going to spread the risk of needing medical care throughout the population it covers.
Conservatives disagree philosophically with the very concept of insurance as most Americans experience it. Insurance means spreading risk, which is a form of redistribution. Republicans postured against Obamacare from the left, denouncing its high deductibles and premiums, and promising a better, cheaper plan that would cover everybody. Their plan, inevitably, did the opposite. All politicians overpromise, of course. But the Republicans did more than overpromise. They delivered a policy directionally opposed to their promises.
It is not possible to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of conservative ideology. It is possible — just barely — to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health insurance coverage within the parameters of liberal ideology. The form taken by Obama’s health-care reform will change over the decades to come. But its central triumph, creating a federal right to access to basic medical care, will never be taken away.
Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!
The Freedom Caucus is a hard-right group of House members who were largely responsible for blocking the bill to undo President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The bill was pulled from the House floor Friday in a humiliating political defeat for the president.
Trump initially focused his blame on Democrats for the failure and predicted a dire future for the current law.
Before the bill was pulled, Trump tweeted at the Freedom Caucus, saying Planned Parenthood funding would continue if they blocked the legislation.
How much has Trump achieved so far?
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, a Trump tweet promoted a Fox News show that somewhat attacked Speaker Paul Ryan — the biggest backer of the health care bill. On Sunday morning, Ryan’s advisers told NBC News that was merely “a fluke, not a conspiracy.” They also said that “Speaker Ryan and the president are in a great place.”How bad was Friday’s defeat of the American Health Care Act in the House of Representatives? Bad. Very bad.
Multiple reports suggested that between 28 and 35 Republicans were opposed to President Trump’s draft American Health Care Act (AHCA).
Some were said to be unhappy that the bill cut health coverage too severely, while others felt the changes did not go far enough.
The bill also appeared unpopular with the public – in one recent poll, just 17% approved of it.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the AHCA would reduce the deficit by $336bn between 2017 and 2026.
However, the number of Americans without health insurance would stand at 52 million by the same time – an extra 24 million compared with Obamacare.
Speaking after the withdrawal, Mr Trump repeatedly said Obamacare would “explode”, without explaining why.
However, he refrained from critizised Mr Ryan, whose job as speaker of the House involves rallying support for controversial bills.
Mr Trump said: “I like Speaker Ryan. I think Paul really worked hard.”
Mr Ryan also told reporters the president had been “really been fantastic”.
How disastrous is this for Trump? Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter
How bad was Friday’s defeat of the American Health Care Act in the House of Representatives? Bad. Very bad.
The AHCA was the first major piece of legislation pushed by the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress, a key political test early in the president’s term, when he should be at the height of his power and party cohesion at its strongest.
In spite of all of this, Mr Trump, Mr Ryan and the Republicans running Washington could not get the job done.
For Republicans Friday wasn’t just bad. It was a disaster.
President Trump said the Republicans would probably focus on tax reform for now.
“We have to let Obamacare go its own way for a little while,” he told reporters at the Oval Office, adding that if the Democrats were “civilised and came together”, the two parties could work out a “great healthcare bill”.
“We learned about loyalty; we learned a lot about the vote-getting process,” he said.
Earlier Mr Ryan told reporters: “We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.
“I will not sugar-coat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard.
“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” he said, adding that it was difficult to get “people to agree with each other in how we do things”.
US President Donald Trump has demanded a make-or-break vote in the House of Representatives on Friday on his troubled healthcare bill.
The American Healthcare Act is intended to replace parts of President Barack Obama’s signature “Obamacare” law.
A vote on Thursday was delayed because of opposition from some Republicans.
Mr Trump reportedly warned fellow Republicans that they had a choice between voting for his bill on Friday or being stuck with Obamacare for good.
The president made the warning during a closed-door meeting at the White House, US media reported.
Republican and House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “For seven-and-a-half years we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding.”
Meanwhile, Chris Collins, New York’s Republican representative, said: “The president has said he wants a vote tomorrow, up or down. If for any reason it is down, we are just going to move forward with additional parts of his agenda.”
Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a major plank of Mr Trump’s election campaign, but his replacement has stalled amid Republican infighting. The party is unable find a compromise: the current reforms go too far for some and not far enough for others.
The postponement of Thursday’s vote was a setback for the president, who had insisted he would win the numbers to pass it through the lower chamber of Congress on that day.
He needs a minimum of 216 Republicans to vote for the bill. If 22 Republicans join the Democrats in voting against the bill it will fail, and an Associated Press tally late on Thursday suggested that at least 28 Republicans opposed it.
The administration’s hope is that Mr Trump’s ultimatum will force Republicans opposed to the bill to vote Yes if the alternative is the preservation of Mr Obama’s healthcare legislation.
Earlier on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Mr Trump had made a “rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready”.
The bill needs 215 votes to pass but ran into opposition mainly from conservative Republicans who believed it did not roll back enough of Mr Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Mr Trump has made unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower
Post-election communications of Donald Trump’s team were swept up in an “incidental collection” by intelligence agencies, a Republican lawmaker says.
House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes said individuals were named in “widely disseminated” reports, which he said was “totally inappropriate”.
Mr Nunes said this did not back Mr Trump’s claim Barack Obama had ordered Trump Tower wiretapped before the poll.
But when asked if he felt vindicated, Mr Trump said: “I somewhat do.”
Mr Nunes also insisted the collected information was not linked to an FBI investigation into alleged links between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election campaign.
A political row followed Mr Nunes’ announcement, with the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, criticising him for not consulting the committee before going public.
“This is not how you conduct an investigation. You don’t take information that the committee hasn’t seen and present it orally to the press and to the White House before the committee has a chance to vet whether it’s even significant,” he said.
Analysis: BBC North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher
US intelligence agencies regularly monitor foreign individuals of interest, so if a member of the Trump transition team – or Donald Trump himself – communicated with a person under surveillance, it’s likely those interactions would be recorded.
That would constitute “incidental”, legal surveillance as described by Devin Nunes in his press conference on Wednesday afternoon. What that means, however, is open to interpretation.
Trump supporters may point to this “startling revelation”, in press secretary Sean Spicer’s words, as evidence that the president correctly suspected his communications were being intercepted. They will also probably question who “unmasked” the names of Trump advisers, when the default is to avoid revealing the identities of US citizens communicating with monitored foreign nationals.
Mr Trump’s critics are sure to wonder what kind of interactions the Trump team was having with individuals worthy of US intelligence surveillance. Were these communications authorised, and what topics did they cover? It was just such intelligence intercepts that revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been lying about the nature of his phone discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, after all.
This story is like a spinning top, impossible to know which way it will next turn.
Mr Nunes said the incidental collection was legal but his main concern was that people involved had been unmasked in the reports.
However, Mr Schiff said it was “fully appropriate” to give the names of US citizens “when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information”.
What Mr Nunes had revealed did not indicate that there was any flaw in the procedures followed by the intelligence agencies, Mr Schiff added.
The intelligence collection, which took place mainly in November, December and January, was brought to the attention of Mr Nunes by an unnamed source or sources.
When Mr Trump was asked if he felt vindicated for his explosive accusations against his predecessor, he answered: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”
Trump campaign advisers are currently the subject of an FBI investigation and two congressional inquiries.
Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates co-ordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election campaign to damage Mr Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
FBI director James Comey has confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
However, Mr Comey said his agency had seen no evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that his phones had been tapped by the Obama administration.
He was giving evidence to the congressional intelligence committee.
The Trump administration said nothing had changed and there was “no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion”.
Russia has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election.
Monday’s hearing as it happened possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.
The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.
Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.
But White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested the administration was not concerned, saying: “You can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn’t exist doesn’t matter.”
National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.
He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.
Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher
What FBI director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.
“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.
All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.
While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line – that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.
If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.
Meanwhile, Adm Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Sean Spicer.
The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.
GCHQ had described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.
Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Adm Rogers added.
However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.
What are the allegations?
In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”
However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.
Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.
Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.
Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.
Which campaign members have been accused of deception?
Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.
He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.