Trump and Democrats blame Obama over Russia meddling

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 28, 2015.: Then-President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are shown at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2015.

President Donald Trump and senior Democrats joined in blaming Barack Obama for not doing more to stop Russia interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

In an early morning tweet, Trump appeared to acknowledge that Russia had meddled in the election. He has previously decried multiple investigations into alleged collusion between his officials and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Special prosecutor to meet Senate committee leaders

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as House and Senate committees, are investigating Russia’s interference in the election and the alleged complicity of Trump officials. The president encouraged greater scrutiny of the Obama administration, tweeting Thursday: “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?”

Trump’s Democrat rivals also criticized the former president on Friday, after the Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence briefed Obama in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered a campaign of interference to help elect Trump.

Democrat Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized Obama for being excessively cautious.

“(The response) was inadequate. I think (the administration) could have done a better job informing the American people of the extent of the attack,” he said.

Others accused Obama for failing to sufficiently sanction Russia once the election was over and the Trump administration was preparing to take power.

In October, the Obama administration accused Russia of hacking emails from Democratic Party servers in an attempt to discredit Hillary Clinton and sway the election. Two months later, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. in retaliation for the hacking, but, according to the Post report, the administration ruled out releasing information potentially embarrassing to Putin or enacting harsher sanctions. Democrat Jim Himes, another House Intelligence member, called the penalties “barely a slap on the wrist.”

In a previously undisclosed measure, the Post reported that Obama also authorized cyber attacks against Russian infrastructure when he left office in January.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, former director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said evidence of Russian hacking had been uncovered by the FBI last August, but said the Obama administration was reluctant to respond for fear of being accused of partisan attempts to influence the course of the 2016 election.

According to the PostObama and key advisers were concerned that Russia could launch a potentially crippling attack on U.S. voting systems before Election Day.


Trump Appears Unlikely to Hinder Comey’s Testimony About Russia Inquiry

James Comey is expected to testify on Thursday about discussions he had with President Trump, including one about the Michael Flynn investigation.

President Trump does not plan to invoke executive privilege to try to prevent James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, from providing potentially damaging testimony to Congress on statements the president made about an investigation into his former national security adviser, two senior administration officials said on Friday.

Mr. Trump could still move to block the testimony next week, given his history of changing his mind at the last minute about major decisions. But legal experts have said Mr. Trump has a weak case to invoke executive privilege because he has publicly addressed his conversations with Mr. Comey, and any such move could carry serious political risks.

One of the administration officials said Friday evening that Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Comey to testify because the president had nothing to hide and wanted Mr. Comey’s statements to be publicly aired. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a decision that had not been announced.

Sign Up For the Morning Briefing Newsletter

A White House spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment. Earlier on Friday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, would not say what Mr. Trump planned to do.

“The date for the hearing was just set,” Mr. Spicer said. “I haven’t spoken to counsel yet; I don’t know how they’ll respond.”

Mr. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump last month, has been called to testify Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into how the Russian government meddled in the presidential election and whether Mr. Trump’s associates colluded with the Russians.

On Friday evening, House Democrats sent a letter to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, saying there was no case for the president to exert the privilege on Mr. Comey.

Invoking executive privilege can be a politically treacherous move, recalling past scandals like Watergate, in which President Richard M. Nixon asserted the power in efforts to block congressional investigations. President Barack Obama used the legal authority once, during congressional inquiries after weapons ended up in the possession of Mexican gun cartels.

Presidents have often moved to keep their records and other communications with senior officials private until they leave office, on the theory that confidentiality is crucial to their ability to receive unvarnished advice on sensitive matters. But seeking a restraining order barring testimony by Mr. Comey, who is now a private citizen, would be unprecedented.

Mr. Comey is expected to testify about several conversations he had with the president, including one in which Mr. Trump encouraged him to stop investigating his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, according to a memo by Mr. Comey. In another conversation during a one-on-one dinner at the White House, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to pledge his loyalty, and Mr. Comey declined to do so, according to Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Comey, according to people close to him, recorded his discussions with Mr. Trump in memos he wrote shortly after each interaction.

Democrats have said Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Comey show that the president was trying to obstruct the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, who is under scrutiny for calls he had with the Russian ambassador and for work he did for a firm that had ties to the Turkish government.

Legal experts have said Mr. Trump’s tweets about Mr. Comey would damage any claim of executive privilege.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump said in one post, shortly after The New York Times reported the request for the loyalty pledge.


Flynn agrees to provide documents to Senate panel

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2017 file photo, then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn sits in the East Room of the White House in Washington. A member of Donald Trump's transition team asked national security officials in the Obama White House for the classified CIA profile on Russia's ambassador to the United States. The unusual request appears to signal that Trump's own team had concerns about whether his pick for national security adviser, Mike Flynn, fully understood that he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

Flynn’s decision Tuesday came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a House intelligence committee request for information, and former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the House investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded similar tones as they criticized the ongoing U.S. scrutiny of Russia’s attempts to sway the presidential election.

Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.

Flynn had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in declining an earlier subpoena from the committee, which sought a wide array of documents and information related to his contacts with Russia. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.

In response, the Senate panel narrowed the scope of its request. It also issued subpoenas seeking records from Flynn’s businesses.

One of the businesses, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did consulting work for a Turkish businessman that required Flynn to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent earlier this year. The other, Flynn Intel Group LLC, was used to accept money from Flynn’s paid speeches. Among the payments was more than $33,000 Flynn received from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network that U.S. intelligence officials have branded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn said he will turn over documents related to the two businesses as well as some personal documents the committee sought in the narrower request. Flynn plans to produce some of the documents by next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.

While the Senate committee awaits documents from Flynn, Putin and Trump both dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic emails.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. Putin also said the allegations are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.

Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

Meanwhile, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, told the AP that he turned down a request for information from the House intelligence committee looking into the Russian interference.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”

Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported, citing a congressional aide, that the House intelligence committee had subpoenaed Cohen. The aide later retracted the statement. Cohen said if he is subpoenaed, he will comply.

Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.

Cohen told ABC News that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.

Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.

The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.

Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.

In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.

Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.

Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.

The House intelligence committee has also sought information from Epshteyn, a former staffer in the Trump White House.

Epshteyn said in a statement that he has asked the committee questions to better understand what information it is seeking and will determine whether he can reasonably provide it.

Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.


Jared Kushner defended by Trump amid ‘secret Russia line’ questions

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) sits alongside U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (2nd L)

Donald Trump has come out in support of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, following reports the aide tried to set up a secret communication line with Moscow.

In a statement given to the New York Times, Mr Trump praised the “great job” Mr Kushner is doing.

But he did not directly address allegations made against the man married to his eldest daughter, Ivanka.

It is claimed Mr Kushner discussed setting up a back channel with the Russian ambassador in December.

The New York Times and Washington Post said he wanted to use Russian facilities to avoid US interception of discussions with Moscow. He is reported to have done so before Mr Trump assumed the presidency, so would have been a private citizen at the time.

The allegations came after Mr Kushner was said to be under scrutiny as part of the FBI inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Reports in the US say investigators believe he has relevant information, but is not necessarily suspected of a crime.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump arrive at Rome
Mr Kushner is married to Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka

Mr Trump – who is said to have met with attorneys at the White House on Sunday – did not falter in his support for Mr Kushner, who has taken a role as a senior White House aide.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him,” he said in the statement to the New York Times.

“He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

Mr Trump’s comments came after senior administration officials had moved to play down the allegations, without addressing whether or not they were true.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told ABC News on Sunday it was “normal” and “acceptable” to establish back channels with foreign powers.

“Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organisations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing and, again, it comes back to whatever the communication is, comes back into the government and shared across the government.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster said, generally speaking, “we have back-channel communication with a number of countries”.

Mr Trump had earlier taken to Twitter to vent his frustrations with the “fake news media”.

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” he wrote.

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #Fake News is the enemy!”


In Words, and Actions, Tough Posturing From Trump to Allies

President Trump and the United States delegation met with European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday.BRUSSELS — President Trump on Thursday punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe, declining to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge and lashing out at fellow members for what he called their “chronic underpayments” to the alliance.On a tense day when Mr. Trump brought the “America first” themes of his presidential campaign to the very heart of Europe, he left European leaders visibly unsettled, with some openly lamenting divisions with the United States on trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.

The discord was palpable even in the body language. When Mr. Trump greeted Emmanuel Macron, France’s new president, the two leaders, jaws clenched, grabbed each other’s hands in an extended grip that turned Mr. Trump’s knuckles white. When the leaders lined up to pose for the traditional photograph of leaders at NATO headquarters, Mr. Trump appeared to push aside the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, to get to his assigned place in the front.

Sign Up For the Morning Briefing Newsletter

The split was starkest at NATO headquarters, where Mr. Trump used the dedication of a soaring new building to lecture allies on their financial contributions. Far from robustly reaffirming NATO’s mutual defense commitment in the way that many members hoped he would, Mr. Trump repeated his complaint that the United States was shouldering an unfair burden.

“Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense,” Mr. Trump declared, as the leaders shifted uncomfortably behind him, shooting one another sidelong glances.

“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” he added. “And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.”

Standing before a large piece of twisted wreckage from the World Trade Center that will serve as a memorial at the headquarters, Mr. Trump promised to “never forsake the friends that stood by our side” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks — a pledge that White House officials later said amounted to an affirmation of mutual defense.

But to European allies, Mr. Trump’s words fell far short of an explicit affirmation of NATO’s Article 5 clause, the “one-for-all, all-for-one” principle that has been the foundation of NATO since its establishment 68 years ago, after World War II.

“I think he was stingy with the U.S. commitment and very generous with his criticisms,” said Fabrice Pothier, a former head of policy planning at NATO and a senior associate at Rasmussen Global, a political consulting firm.

President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France at the United States Embassy in Brussels.Emmanuel Macron of France at the United States Embassy in Brussels.White House officials said Mr. Trump’s message on financial contributions had galvanized NATO to confront the issue of financial contributions. At a closed meeting after his speech, they said, the leaders unanimously approved a resolution on burden-sharing and on fighting terrorism.

“To see unanimous support for the two main priorities of the president is a great way to start it off,” said Sean Spicer, the press secretary. “When you have an entire meeting that is focused on the president’s agenda, that shows the power of his message.”

Publicly, though, the other leaders appeared less gratified than bewildered. During a photo-taking session, none of them spoke to Mr. Trump, except for the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. Afterward, several surrounded Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has emerged as the strongest counterweight to the president.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump, a blunt critic of the European Union during his campaign, received a chilly reception from his European counterparts as they began meetings in Brussels.

His first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to each other. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.

Donald Tusk, who represents leaders of the bloc’s 28 member states as president of the European Council, made it clear after the morning meeting that there had been several areas of disagreement.

“Some issues remained open like climate and trade,” Mr. Tusk said after the meeting at the European Union’s lavish new headquarters. “And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia.”

In the talks, Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk differed over the intentions and policies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private. That reflects growing anxiety in Europe over what appear to be Russia’s efforts to meddle in elections here and in the United States.

The subject of Russia did not come up in a broader meeting between American and European officials, said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council. But Mr. Anton said he could not speak for a smaller meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Tusk and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The White House put a more positive spin on the day, saying the leaders discussed ways to deepen cooperation in fighting the Islamic State and reaffirmed “the strong bond between the United States and Europe, anchored in shared values and longstanding friendship.”

Climate change is another bone of contention, however. European leaders are turning up the pressure on Mr. Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord that was ratified last year.

The campaign began on Wednesday at the Vatican, when Pope Francis gave Mr. Trump a copy of his influential encyclical on protecting the environment, and the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, urged the president not to withdraw from the accord.

Mr. Trump told Vatican officials that he had not made a final decision about the issue and that he was not likely to do so until after a Group of 7 meeting this weekend in Taormina, Italy, according to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. The president’s senior advisers have been deadlocked for months over whether the United States should withdraw

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada was among those who said he planned to press Mr. Trump on climate change.

“One of the things that we understand in Canada is that investing in clean energy and investing in fighting against climate change is going to help us,” Mr. Trudeau said, citing efforts by governments and businesses to find ways to avoid polluting the planet.

Mr. Trump’s handling of Article 5 epitomizes the gulf between him and other leaders. His steadfast refusal to endorse it as a candidate, and later as president, has raised fears among NATO allies about whether the United States would come to their defense in the event of an attack.

Other American officials have offered reassurances. Mr. Tillerson told reporters traveling on Air Force One this week, “Of course we support Article 5.” But until Mr. Trump speaks those words, leaders of other NATO nations seem bound to remain concerned.

Instead, Mr. Trump criticized the other leaders for not contributing 2 percent of their countries’ gross domestic product to their defense, as they have agreed to do but have often fallen short. He even took a shot at the new headquarters, a vast glass-and-steel edifice that looks like a series of interconnected airplane hangars.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” Mr. Trump said. “I refuse to do so. But it looks beautiful.”

In 2014, NATO members agreed to increase their defense spending gradually to meet the 2 percent of G.D.P. goal, with 20 percent of that spending on military equipment. Those commitments have not changed, and after flat defense spending in 2015, spending increased last year among non-American alliance members.

The alarm in Europe over Mr. Trump’s presidency has diminished since the days immediately after his election, in part because emissaries like Mr. Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have reaffirmed American support for NATO and the European Union.

But Mr. Trump — who once described Brussels as a “hellhole” overrun with radicals — remains an object of deep suspicion in the city. For some of the European leaders, testing Mr. Trump seemed to be as important as finding common ground with him.


Lawmakers Declare Trump Budget ‘Dead on Arrival’

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers rejected President Donald Trump’s proposed budget blueprint even before it was formally released Tuesday, saying that the cuts are too steep and the accounting is too unrealistic. Lawmakers said the document, which reflects the president’s broad vision, will go nowhere in Congress.

Trump’s proposal, which is the more complete version to the “skinny budget” the White House released in March, seeks to dramatically cut programs for low-income Americans while exponentially increasing defense spending. It also makes drastic cuts to environmental protection programs, agriculture and a host of other programs that senators say go too far.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, called it “dead on arrival.”

“Almost every president’s budget proposal is basically dead on arrival, including President Obama’s,” Cornyn said, making the point that such proposals are more statements of priorities than legislation. He added that Trump’s budget “may find a similar fate.”

Image: Senator John Cornynbetween a series of votes at the U… Image: Senator John Cornyn

Democrats immediately criticized Trump and his budget, saying the president who ran as a populist has gone against his campaign promises to help the most in need.

“It’s not good for West Virginia,” Sen. Joe Manchin, R-W.V., said of the proposal. “All the cuts for all the services for some of the neediest people in this country — I have quite a large delegation in my state. They’re going to be hurt.” Trump won West Virginia by nearly 42 percent in November.

Related: Trump Budget Would Cut Safety Net Programs, Boost Defense Spending

The budget disproportionately impacts lower-income Americans. It proposes an additional $600 billion in cuts to Medicaid, beyond the proposed $800 billion worth of cuts to low-income health program proposed in the Republican American Health Care Act, which passed the House this month. Trump pledged not to cut Medicaid as a candidate last year.

Additionally, Trump’s proposal adds one-quarter of a trillion dollars of cuts over ten years to low-income assistance programs, such as food stamps; the food program for women, infants and children, WIC; health insurance for low-income children, known as S-CHIP; and welfare, or TANF. It also adds work requirements for all three programs, saying it will “replace dependency with dignity of work.”

Another rural state Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, said Trump’s budget is “not good” for rural residents. “It’s especially cruel, quite frankly, to people who are up against it and need a hand up.”

Tester acknowledged that Trump won the majority of votes among rural Americans last year, saying the proposed proposal creates “an interesting dichotomy.”

Republicans are also taking issue with some of the cuts. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that despite the proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending, the proposed 29 percent cut to the State Department budget is a major security concern.

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world or put a lot of people at risk — a lot of Benghazi’s in the making if we actually implemented the State Dept cuts,” said Graham. “So this budget is not going to go anywhere.”

Sen. John Hoeven, D-N.D., criticized the proposed reductions to agriculture programs. He said Congress has already cut $100 billion to such programs for the next ten years and that further reductions will harmful.

“It has some good ideas but we’ll write our own budget,” Hoeven said. “I’ll call this a starting point.”

And Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, criticized cuts to a flood protection system that Louisiana relies on.

“I strongly oppose,” the proposed reductions, Cassidy said. “Our coast line — we just need to that to keep another Katrina from bashing our state.”

Despite Trump’s massive proposed cuts to Medicaid, he kept the two other major entitlement programs – Social Security and Medicaid – largely untouched. (He did proposed cuts to recipients who receive Social Security because of a disability, however.)

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said that the deep cuts are a good start and that Trump has started “a very important discussion,” but he believes Social Security and Medicare should also be looked at.

“I think that right now those all fall into a group of things that are unsustainable. We gotta figure out how we help people who need help,” Tillis said.

The proposal claims that it will save $1.2 trillion dollars in the next ten years with the help of three percent growth to achieve that, something lawmakers say is overly optimistic.

“It’s looking a little light on that right now,” Manchin said of the prospects of 3 percent growth.

House Speaker Paul Ryan refrained from criticism but said that he supports the president’s broader objective.

“Clearly Congress will take that budget and work on our own budget, which is the case every single year. But at least we now have common objectives — grow the economy, balance the budget. So now we are on common ground and we will have a great debate on the details of how to achieve that,” Ryan said.

The entire document wasn’t criticized, however. Republicans largely support a $54 billion in crease in military spending. And Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., chair of the transportation subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, praised a proposed $200 billion in infrastructure spending.

“I am very interested in what he’s doing with the $200 billion in transportation,” In hofe said.


Senate’s Russia investigation is moving faster than its Watergate counterpart 44 years ago

Analysis | Believe it or not, Senate’s Russia investigation is moving faster than its Watergate counterpart 44 years agoSen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), left, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) confer during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday.

“What did the president know, and when did he know it?” was the famous question posed by Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) early on in the Watergate hearings, a defining phrase still invoked today when a politician is caught in scandal.

Since those hearings, just about every congressional committee conducting a high-profile investigation has had to live up to the legacy of Baker and Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), the leaders of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. It’s an almost impossible standard to meet — and also one that often gets lost in myth rather than facts.

Comey willing to testify, but only in public

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are the latest to stand in the long shadows of the Watergate committee. They regularly face questions about why they aren’t moving faster to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

In fact, they’re moving more quickly than Ervin and Baker did 44 years ago. If it doesn’t seem that way, that’s got more to do with the insatiable appetites of social media and cable news than with reality.

Back in December, as revelations mounted about Russian hacking, there were bipartisan calls to sidestep the intelligence panel and create a select committee modeled on the one that Ervin and Baker led in the investigation of President Nixon. After President Trump’s stunning dismissal Tuesday of James B. Comey as FBI director, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reiterated his demand for a such a committee, contending that Burr and Warner weren’t able to meet the gravity of this moment.

Yet, when you talk to experts in congressional oversight, they have quite different advice for the Intelligence Committee: Slow down, hold on, don’t get tricked into rushing yourself just because we live in an era of instant gratification through social media.

“It’s a huge mistake to get going too soon,” said Loch Johnson, who served as a top adviser to what was known as the “Church Committee”, a special panel in 1975-76 that investigated intelligence abuses and led to the creation of the Intelligence Committee.

He worries that Burr and Warner might be moving too quickly in the probe. “I was a little surprised Burr got his start off so quickly,” Johnson, a distinguished professor of international affairs the University of Georgia, said.

Despite the sometimes carefree demeanor that Burr gives off, his panel is off to a fast start compared to other major congressional investigations.

Burr — who holds the same Senate seat once occupied by Ervin — has already led three public hearings focused largely on Russia meddling. Committee members have reviewed thousands of pages of raw intelligence material, according to aides to Burr and Warner. Investigators have now completed interviews with more than 30 individuals involved in the intelligence community’s analysis of Russian attempts to tip the election to President Trump.

Members of the Trump campaign and transition team have been put on notice to deliver documents, and last week the committee issued its first subpoena since 2005, for records from former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The Watergate Committee was created in early February 1973, after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose brother defeated Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, offered legislation to investigate what began as a mere break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

It took another 3 1/2 months for Ervin and Baker to hold public hearings. They spent that time hiring their lead counsels, Samuel Dash and Fred Thompson, fully staffing up and conducting interviews. Baker didn’t utter his immortal “when did he know it” line until late June 1973.

And the committee didn’t issue a final report until June 27, 1974, more than two years after the initial DNC break-in.

The House investigation into Nixon also moved at a slower pace than today’s on-again-off-again-on-again probe by the House Intelligence Committee. Only after the “Saturday Night Massacre” — Nixon’s October 1973 firing of top Justice Department officials and the special prosecutor conducting the criminal investigation — did the House Judiciary Committee agree to begin hearings that would lead to its July 1974 votes to recommend impeachment.

The committee investigating the CIA, led by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) in the mid-1970s, took shape in January 1975 and didn’t hold a public hearing for another seven months. Church put together a staff that poured through documents and interviewed witnesses in private.

“The hearing will be 10 times more authentic and informative if you’ve done your research ahead of time,” said Johnson, who has written more than 30 books on the CIA and national security. “Otherwise you won’t know what questions to ask.”

Those investigators, digging through unrelated documents, happened upon information about CIA-directed assassination attempts of foreign leaders, Johnson said. The implication is clear: If Burr and Warner rush to meet the demands of the 24-7 cable news age, such evidence could be overlooked.

McCain took this long-game approach himself overseeing a corruption investigation involving lobbyists bilking tribal casino clients. A few days after The Washington Post broke the initial story in February 2004, McCain pushed the Indian Affairs Committee to launch an investigation. But the first public hearings came seven months later.

Now, however, Burr and Warner face a very different climate driven by social media. Even Trump took to Twitter recently to mock the Russia investigations as a “taxpayer funded charade.”

There’s always the risk that by moving deliberatively, Senate investigators will allow witnesses to conceal documents. But the Comey firing appeared to light a small fire under Burr, who spent the next several days defending the ousted FBI director, vowing to ramp up the investigation and issuing the panel’s first subpoena.

“We’re willing to go to whatever basket of tools we feel is necessary,” Burr told reporters Thursday.

And Warner defended questions about the “pace” because the committee is in the “uncharted territory” of prodding the intelligence community to share such critical information, which takes a lot of time.

Johnson approves of that sentiment. Getting it right often requires patience. He also noted that during the Church Committee’s dark period, when there were no cable news outlets or social media, they faced some of the same pressures.

“’What’s wrong with these guys?’” Johnson recalled thinking about one headline. “Even in 1975 we had our critics.”


There is “whole lot of interfering” in Russia investigation

Director of the FBI James Comey testifies to the House Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTS5O7D: jamescomeyrts5o7d.jpg

Although President Trump has now stated and written that fired FBI Director James Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not the subject of an investigation, sources cast doubt on that claim.

It would be out of character for Comey to have made that statement even once, much less three times, to the president, one law enforcement source told CBS News. Along with his firing, the source noted a high level of “interfering” in the Russia probe.

Watch: Comey asked for more Russia investigation resources

As for the White House assertions that “countless” FBI rank-and-file employees wanted Comey out, the source said that was a “load of cr*p” to think that agents wanted to see him ousted. That sentiment is shared by acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in less colorful language. He told a congressional panel Thursday, “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. We are a large organization. We are 36,500 people across this country, across this globe. we have a diversity of opinions about many things, but I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

This was the case in spite of the divi

ded opinion within the agency over Comey’s July 2016 announcement that he would not recommend Hillary Clinton be charged for mishandling classified information, in the investigation into her use of a private server for her email.

Within the FBI, the Russia investigation is considered to be “a crisis,” the source said, and “there is a whole lot of interfering.” The succession of events surrounding Comey’s firing is not considered to be a coincidence by the agency. In the week before he was terminated, Comey asked Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein for additional resources to pursue the Russia investigation.

Further, his firing came a day after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had testified before a Senate panel that she had warned the White House that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Russian Envoy Sergey Kislyak.

On the same day that Comey was fired, federal prosecutors probing Russian meddling issued grand jury subpoenas for business records of Flynn associates.

And a day later, President Trump held his highest-level meeting with a Russian official, an Oval Office sit-down with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Also present — Sergey Kislyak — who was at the center of the conversations leading to Flynn’s firing in February. No U.S. press were allowed into the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak. U.S. reporters were forced to look at the Kremlin’s social media feeds for posted photos of the president conversing with Lavrov and shaking hands with Kislyak.

The images, especially the photo of Kislyak and Mr. Trump shaking hands, “were laughed at” by law enforcement, the source said.  Even without Comey, the Russian investigation continues at a heightened pace. “FBI Agents are good at keeping their heads down and taking the evidence where it leads,” the source said.  I asked, “Even now” are they working at this? The response came back:  “Yes, they are now.”


Top Senate Intel Republican ‘Troubled’ By Comey Firing

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), released one of the most critical statements yet from any member of his party on Tuesday’s shocking announcement that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey.

Burr, who is leading the Senate’s investigation into alleged coordination between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, called Comey a “public servant of the highest order,” and said his firing was “a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”

Burr said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination,” and noted that he “has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.”

Like many other lawmakers, Burr expressed concern about the future of the investigation into Russian influence in the U.S. election that Comey was leading at the time he was fired.

Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since inauguration

This article was written by Alice Ollstein from Talking Points Memo and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he told President Trump that his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey was a “big mistake.”

“Earlier this afternoon President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “I told the president, ‘Mr. President with all due respect you are making a big mistake.'”

During an appearance on MSNBC, Senator Elizabeth Warren made her opinion of Donald Trump firing James Comey very clear.

She took aim at the Trump administration’s claims that it was Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation that led to his ouster, making mention of how he praised Comey for it a few months ago. Comey was helming an investigation into Trump’s possible Russian ties.

“Comey was not fired because of Hillary. Comey was fired because of the Russians,” she asserted. “The timing makes this, I think, entirely clear. The fact that all during the campaign, Donald Trump kept citing Comey and using Comey — once he was elected, he embraced Comey — and now to turn around months later and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was just terrible.’ There’s nobody left in America who believes Donald Trump fired James Comey in order to try — because James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton.”

She’s not alone in being suspicious, either. Twitter users, government officials, and political commentators have all spent the last few hours opining about the shocking events out of the White House.


Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since inauguration

President Donald Trump.

President Trump, who has struggled to press his agenda in Washington but has shown a knack for unsettling opponents and triggering protests, has also become an unprecedented lightning rod for federal lawsuits filed by plaintiffs across the country seeking court relief on an unusually broad array of issues.

Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since he was sworn into office, according to a Globe tally based on federal court databases, nearly three times the number of his three predecessors in their early months combined.

Trump condemns CIA Russia hacking report

The lawsuits include green card holders trying to get into the United States after his travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries; cities like San Francisco, Richmond, and Seattle suing over a plan to withhold funds from ”sanctuary’’ cities; and even a woman from Quincy, Mass., who went to court contending that the president’s actions have caused “loss of enjoyment of life.”

The dramatic uptick in litigation – Barack Obama faced 26 suits at this point in his first year, while George W. Bush had seven, and Bill Clinton, 15 – is further evidence of the unsettled era ushered in by Trump’s election and the intense fallout stemming from his early executive actions. Court filings may not be as visible as demonstrations on the National Mall, but they ultimately could exert a more lasting check on his executive power.

“In a courtroom, its not the loudest voice that prevails. You can’t tweet your way out of the courtroom,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat who achieved one of the biggest legal victories against Trump by halting a travel ban targeting the seven majority-Muslim countries.

Almost all presidents become targets for litigation after implementing controversial policies. What’s different now is how widely and often Trump is being challenged, and so soon in his administration. Besides the novelty of the sheer volume of cases, the nature of these actions also spans a broad gamut of grievances, some based on his unique position as a real estate titan who also occupies the Oval Office.

A wine bar near the Trump hotel in Washington has sued him, saying he is exercising an unfair competitive advantage because diplomats and lobbyists are booking functions at his hotel to curry favor with him. A group of prominent lawyers filed a separate suit, saying Trump, by retaining ties to his family firm, which operates his hotels and other properties, was violating a constitutional clause that prevents presidents from accepting money from foreign governments.

Mostly, though, major constitutional issues dominate the burgeoning docket. With Republicans in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, interest groups, attorneys general, and individuals have been increasingly turning toward the judicial branch to impede a president they believe is pushing the legal limits of his office.

The result is a series of fierce court battles that raise strong constitutional questions but which Trump and his allies — as they have been handed a series of defeats in the early rounds — have portrayed as partisan bias in the courts.

The frenzied court action also highlights the stakes for any future Supreme Court nominations. Trump has appealed several of the early federal District Court decisions against him, which could wind up before the high court. His selection of Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia maintained the status quo in the court’s ideological balance; future vacancies may present him with an opportunity to tilt the balance further to the right.

“You have a Republican executive branch, and Republicans control Congress,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, a Democrat who successfully challenged Trump’s revised travel ban. “Right now it seems like the courts are the only place we can go to uphold the Constitution or the laws of the United States.”

The lawsuits have been filed from every corner of the United States. The biggest driver was Trump’s move, in his first week in office, to try to ban immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Attorneys flocked to airports in Boston and New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and began filing lawsuits on behalf of Iranians, Syrians, and Iraqis who were trying to get into the United States.

The lawsuit Ferguson filed in Washington state — which his staff was preparing for even before Trump took office, given his threats of a Muslim ban during the campaign — resulted in a judge’s order that halted the travel ban.

For civil rights attorneys, it was a moment that mobilized them in a way that they haven’t seen even in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Bush administration expanded its use of surveillance, torture, and no-fly lists.

“While there was some pushback then, there wasn’t the level of pushback we’re seeing right now, both in terms of the number of courts and people willing to go to the courts and file challenges,” said Ajmel Quereshi, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “I don’t think it’s going to die down.”

Even conservative legal specialists are concerned that Trump’s early moves may have resulted in a legal morass that will tie a big part of his agenda up in the courts for months, if not years.

“They rolled out an executive order that was poorly drafted, then poorly executed, then poorly defended,” said Jonathan Turley, a conservative legal scholar who was the lead counsel in a suit filed by the US House challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s health care law.

“It was a perfect storm and it caused lasting damage to the administration,” he added. “And because of the lack of a strategy it triggered more lawsuits. It was a target-rich environment . . . and the Justice Department was thrown into court with very little warning.”

Several cities challenged an executive order Trump signed aimed at denying federal grants to so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse local cooperation to federal immigration authorities from going after undocumented immigrants.

A federal judge in San Francisco last month issued a temporary ruling that blocks the Trump administration from moving forward with the policy, finding merit in the cities’ argument that Trump was exercising power beyond the legal authority of his office.

“This is why we have courts — to halt the overreach of a president and an attorney general who either don’t understand the Constitution or chose to ignore it,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a Democrat, said after the ruling.

The White House and the Department of Justice both declined to comment for this article. But previously, administration officials have minimized the decisions from the courts, and in some cases they are continuing to pursue appeals. After the sanctuary cities ruling, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the Ninth Circuit in California was “going bananas.”

Presidents are often forced to defend their actions in court, challenges to their interpretation of executive powers, enforcement of regulations, and laws passed by Congress. Obama was challenged on the constitutionality of his health care law by well-organized groups of Republican lawyers and attorneys general.

“I go to the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go Mr. Trump’s 100th day in office home,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was previously attorney general of Texas, used to frequently say.

Scott Pruitt, when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, led challenges to a series of Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to combat climate change. He is now the Trump administration’s head of the EPA.

One key distinction is that while Obama often used executive powers to expand rights to more Americans, many of Trump’s policies have taken them away. That makes it easier for groups and individuals to have legal standing in a courtroom to allege that they are being harmed.

“The Obama litigation, there were fewer cases but they tended to be more substantive. They tended to be brought by states,” Turley said. “Trump is facing a different situation. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. Every group, every aggrieved person, is filing lawsuits.”

Some of the lawsuits filed against Trump are frivolous, and will likely be tossed out by the courts. So far, 69 out of the 134 lawsuits have been dismissed, although nearly half of the dismissed cases were related to the travel ban. Many of those cases became moot when the Trump administration said the executive order would not apply to those with green cards.

“Courts sometimes play the role of a Hail Mary pass in football,” Turley said. “Once people lose an election some people try to achieve the same results through the courts.”

One Maryland resident filed a suit saying that the new president was going to prevent him from getting the health care he needs to treat a wide range of ailments.

A prisoner in Oregon filed a suit saying that, as a result of the election, “my health has deteriorated, I now have anxiety issues, depression, can’t sleep through the night.” He wants $1 billion from Trump “so as to act as a deterrent towards this type of behavior by the defendant or others like him that want to make a mockery out of the United States of America, its Constitution and laws, and its political process.”

“The person occupying the White House is a Russian spy,” Jordan J. Glogau of Nanuet, N.Y., charges in a suit filed in March. “I want the election overturned.”

Rossi Wade of Quincy, Mass., accused Trump of violating her rights with “mental cruelty, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional damages and abuse of power.” She has gone from sleeping four hours a night to two, she claims.

“I have experienced loss of enjoyment of life,” she wrote, in her complaint filed six weeks ago in federal court. “I have been tormented by the thought of him, as well as sight and the sound of his voice frightens me. I am unable to sleep, focus, or believe in a secure future for myself and daughter.”

Wade has requested a jury trial. She did not return several messages seeking comment.

A notable absence from the list of plaintiffs is Trump himself. He came into office as the most litigious president in history. He was involved with nearly 4,100 lawsuits, according to a USA Today tally, and often used the courts as an arm of his business empire. He sued journalists for challenging his net worth, fought off allegations of sexual misconduct, and even sued two brothers who were using their own last name — Trump — for their business.

“When I get sued, I take it right — just take it all the way,” Trump said during the campaign. “You know what happens? If you settle suits, you get sued more.”

Some of the suits filed since his inauguration have challenged his business ties. A suit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics alleges that Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits presidents from accepting payments from foreign governments. Trump has called their case “totally without merit.”

“We’ve never had a president with the kind of foreign financial entanglements that we have with Donald Trump,” said Deepak Gupta, one of the lead attorneys on that case. “And then you compound that with the secrecy surrounding those entanglements.”

Even if they don’t prevail, Gupta said, the legal challenge could force Trump’s businesses to provide further details about its foreign dealings, or Trump to release his tax returns, which he has refused to do.

“Some of these are quite serious and they go to fundamental questions of the legitimacy of the presidency and the actions that he’s taken,” Gupta said. “You’d be hard-pressed to identify a president in American history who was as quickly and comprehensively checked by the judiciary as this one.”

Ferguson, the Washington attorney general, said that he met with his staff before Trump’s inauguration to tell them he had four areas he wanted to focus on challenging the new president: immigration, civil rights, the environment, and consumer protections. After winning the initial case on the travel ban, his team is now examining another executive order, about reviewing national monuments like the vast swath of Maine woodlands officially protected by Obama’s order. He said he is in regular contact with other Democratic attorney generals, who are largely following a playbook used by their Republican counterparts over the past eight years.

“I think it’s the new normal for attorneys general, regardless of political affiliation . . . that we’ll see AGs closely scrutinizing actions by every president,” Ferguson said. “I don’t see that being dialed back in the future. Is it a change from 10 years ago? You bet. But I don’t think that gets dialed back.”