Judge orders State Dept. to search state.gov accounts for Clinton aides’ Benghazi emails

A federal judge has ordered the State Department to search the “state.gov” email accounts of Hillary Clinton aides Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jacob Sullivan for records related to Benghazi, as part of a watchdog’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

 

U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbi

Trump Finds That Demolishing Obama’s Legacy Is Not So Simple

a Amit Mehta made the call Tuesday, describing the FOIA lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch in March 2015 as “a far cry from a typical FOIA case.”

He noted that “Secretary Clinton used a private e-mail server located in her home, to transmit and receive work-related communications during her tenure as Secretary of State.”

“The sole remaining dispute in this case is the adequacy of State’s search for responsive records,” Mehta wrote in his opinion and order, noting the State Department has argued the search through Clinton aides’ emails “is likely to be unfruitful.”

But Mehta wrote that the State Department “has not, however, searched the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov email server.”

FAVOR FACTORY? HUMA EMAILS REVEAL CLINTON ALLIES SEEKING JOBS, MEETINGS

“If Secretary Clinton sent an email about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov email address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an email,” Mehta wrote. “State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.”

The conservative watchdog group is engaged in numerous FOIA lawsuits seeking records pertaining to the actions of the last administration — including, in this case, records regarding the response to the 2012 terror attack in Libya.

The court ordered that the State Department conduct a “supplemental search” of Abedin, Mills and Sullivan state.gov email accounts, and set a deadline of Sept. 22 for the department to update the court on the status.

“This major court ruling may finally result in more answers about the Benghazi scandal—and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it –as we approach the attack’s fifth anniversary,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “It is remarkable that we had to battle both Obama and Trump administrations to break through the State Department’s Benghazi stonewall.”

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Grand jury subpoenas issued in relation to Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. meeting

Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer, two sources told Reuters on Thursday, in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is gathering pace.

The sources added that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington to help investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Russia has loomed large over the first six months of the Trump presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to tilt the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, is leading the probe, which also examines potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, while regularly denouncing the investigations as political witch hunts.

Mueller’s use of a grand jury could give him expansive tools to pursue evidence, including issuing subpoenas and compelling witnesses to testify. The impaneling of the grand jury was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesman for Mueller declined comment.

A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, considers evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decides whether charges should be brought.

“This is a serious development in the Mueller investigation,” said Paul Callan, a former prosecutor.

FILE PHOTO: Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013.© REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst FILE PHOTO: Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013.Given that Mueller inherited an investigation that began months ago, it would suggest that he has uncovered information pointing in the direction of criminal charges. But against whom is the real question.”

U.S. stocks and the dollar weakened following the news, while U.S. Treasury securities gained.

DAMAGING INFORMATION

News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father’s presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign’s dealings with Moscow.

The Republican president has defended his son’s behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.

Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he was not aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said: “With respect to the news of the grand jury, I can tell you President Trump is not under investigation.”

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.

Lawyers for Trump Jr. and Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One source briefed on the matter said Mueller was investigating whether, either at the meeting or afterward, anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign since March 2016.

Another source familiar with the inquiry said that while the president himself was not now under investigation, Mueller’s investigation was seeking to determine whether he knew of the June 9 meeting in advance or was briefed on it afterward.

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The standoff between Trump and Sessions escalates

In this March 6, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in Washington. Christopher Anders, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint against Sessions with the Alabama State Bar over his testimony during his Senate confirmation process regarding contact he had with Russia. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground.

Trump was asked at a Rose Garden news conference if he would fire the attorney general, who angered the president by recusing himself from the criminal probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ said Trump — a potentially ominous choice of phrase, considering the president used the same expression when talking to FBI Director James B. Comey before he was fired.

“I’m disappointed in the attorney general,’’ Trump said. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked somebody else. It’s a bad thing not just for the president, but also for the presidency. I think it’s unfair to the presidency.”

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He said he wanted Sessions “to be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before. . . . You can’t let that happen.’’

It is unheard of for a Cabinet-level official to be subjected to such visceral and public criticism, which has now gone on for a week. But Sessions showed no sign of buckling Tuesday, and in fact his position was bolstered by support from prominent conservatives taking his side in the fight with Trump.

In a recent conversation, Sessions’s chief of staff, Jody Hunt, told White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the attorney general had no intention of stepping down. Hunt, according to people familiar with the conversation, made it clear to Priebus that Sessions “plans to move forward with his agenda in the department and he has no plans for resigning,’’ according to one person familiar with the exchange. Priebus, for his part, did not say Trump planned to fire Sessions if he did not leave, these people said.

Trump’s reluctance to act on his anger and fire Sessions may be based in part on the lack of an immediate plan for a successor at the Justice Department. While Trump has discussed potential candidates to replace Sessions, senior White House officials have not settled on anyone, and may not anytime soon, administration officials said. If Sessions were to be fired without even a temporary replacement lined up, the deputy attorney general who oversees the Russia probe, Rod J. Rosenstein, would assume authority over the entire Justice Department.

One Republican close to the White House said a number of senior aides, including newly hired communications director Anthony Scaramucci, have urged Trump to sit down with Sessions and work through their differences. So far, there has been little enthusiasm for that suggestion, the Republican said.

One informal adviser to the Trump White House said there is another reason Trump has yet to fire Sessions: “The president doesn’t want to be seen as firing another law enforcement official.’’

After Trump fired Comey, one unintended consequence was the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump had tweeted that Sessions was “very weak’’ on investigating Hillary Clinton’s “crimes’’ and had not aggressively hunted those who have leaked intelligence secrets since he has been in office.

The president’s insistence that Clinton be investigated runs contrary to his own past statements, and the decision by the Justice Department and the FBI last year to close the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Sessions has recused himself from Clinton-related matters, citing his involvement with the presidential campaign as one of Trump’s major advisers.

The public humiliation of Sessions at the hands of the president he helped get elected was galling to many conservatives, who see Sessions as the Cabinet official who has most assiduously pursued Trump’s policy goals, from cracking down on illegal immigration to targeting street gangs.

Officials said Sessions is due to announce in coming days a number of criminal leak investigations based on news accounts of sensitive intelligence information. And within hours of Trump’s public broadside, the Justice Department announced it would change a police funding program to add new requirements that cities help federal agents find undocumented immigrants to receive grants.

On Tuesday, Republicans publicly rallied to Sessions’s defense. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Sessions “is among the most honorable men in government today … I have full confidence in Jeff’s ability to perform the duties of his office and, above all, uphold the rule of law.’’

And Breitbart, the conservative website, posted an article saying the president’s public attack on Sessions “only serves to highlight Trump’s own hypocrisy” and it warned that the president’s stance could “fuel concerns from his base [which sees] Sessions as the best hope to fulfill Trump’s immigration policies.’’

Even among Democrats, Trump’s treatment of Sessions raised concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “What’s happening is just terrible. The attorney general did the right thing. The attorney general was nothing but loyal to Donald Trump. He took an oath of office to represent the Constitution, the law and the people.’’

Current and former Justice Department officials said they hope Sessions holds out, refusing to resign as a means of defending the department’s independence.

One former Justice Department official said the president’s anger seems to stem from a misunderstanding about how the department actually works. The White House, he said, should not be interfering with criminal investigations.

“For those of us that want this administration to succeed, this is incredibly self-destructive behavior,’’ the official said.

Justice Department employees said the president’s comments are damaging the reputation and morale of the department.

“It’s just insanity,’’ said one employee who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Another official said there was still hope in the building that Sessions could survive, and that Trump’s fury might abate. “This might be the one instance where everyone else just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on,’’ the official said.

The surge of support for Sessions is remarkable, considering how isolated he has been within the government. Sessions is viewed warily by many at the FBI for his role in Comey’s firing, and he is increasingly distant from the White House, despite the fact that some of his former Senate staffers serve there.

Administration officials said the president and his staff are also upset that Sessions held a news conference last Friday, in which he said he planned to remain on the job. Some in the White House saw that statement as unnecessarily antagonizing the president.

“Can you imagine any other president having to go this far to tell someone you need to go?’’ said a person informally advising the White House. “When Sessions said he wouldn’t resign, it’s like poking fire. You know who you’re dealing with.”

Yet within the Justice Department, that reaction was viewed as another indication of how little White House officials appear to understand what the Justice Department does. The news conference had been scheduled a week earlier based on an arrest overseas, and a senior European law enforcement official had flown in to participate.

Canceling the news conference, Justice Department officials reasoned at the time, would be a bigger problem than going forward. Sessions tried to keep his answers low-key, they added.

Officials at Justice said the standoff is beginning to affect the department’s work. One official said the pace of meetings with senior leaders has slowed, and the dust-up has distracted from some policy goals.

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Brian Benczkowski, a former Sessions aide and a nominee for assistant attorney general, said he had “every confidence” that his ex-boss made the right decision to recuse himself on the Russia investigation, and forcefully asserted that Mueller — whose work he said he did not consider a “witch hunt” — would do the right thing.

“He is someone who is widely understood to be a man of integrity, a man of independence, and someone who I believe will conduct his investigation with those characteristics right at the forefront, and I also believe he’ll insist on those same things from the people who work for him,” Benczkowski said.

Matt Zapotosky, Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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Trump Finds That Demolishing Obama’s Legacy Is Not So Simple

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence inspected a front loader at a “Made in America” showcase at the White House on Monday.

Determined to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy, Mr. Trump in the space of a couple of hours on Monday night reluctantly agreed to preserve President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and failed in his effort to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program.

The back-to-back events underscored the challenge for a career developer whose main goal since taking office six months ago has been to raze what he sees as the poorly constructed edifices he inherited. Mr. Trump has gone a long way toward that objective through executive action, but as Tuesday dawned, he faced the reality that Mr. Obama’s most prominent domestic and international accomplishments both remained intact.

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In neither case has Mr. Trump given up. He instructed his national security team to keep rethinking the approach to Iran with a view toward either revising or scrapping the nuclear agreement. And he publicly called on Congress to simply repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program without trying to immediately pass a replacement.

“We will return!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning about the collapse of his health care effort.

Yet there is little appetite among America’s partners to revisit the Iran deal, nor much eagerness among lawmakers to cancel the existing health care program without a new system to install in its stead.

Indeed, the latter notion seemed to die almost immediately on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, leaving the president to throw up his hands and say he would simply let Mr. Obama’s program die of its own weight. “I’m not going to own it,” he told reporters. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Nearly every president arrives in office promising a new direction, especially those succeeding someone from the other party. But few if any have spent as much of their early months focused on undoing what the last president did rather than promoting their own proactive ideas, as Mr. Trump has.

Where the president has succeeded so far, it has largely been in cases where he could act on his own authority. He approved the Keystone XL pipeline that Mr. Obama had rejected. He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate change accord that his predecessor had negotiated. And he began repealing environmental and business regulations that were imposed during the last administration.

But reversing the Iran and health care initiatives both require building support among other political players at home and abroad, a task for which Mr. Trump has yet to show much proclivity. At home in the worlds of real estate and entertainment, Mr. Trump is accustomed to giving orders and proclaiming, “You’re fired!” But the art-of-the-deal negotiating skills he boasted about on the campaign trail last year have not closed the deal with fellow world leaders or with fellow Republicans.

“The problem in Washington, besides every piece of legislation having its own special interest group, is that bills are purposely written to be complicated,” said Michael Dubke, who served as White House communications director under Mr. Trump. “And complicated is hard to unwind.”

Mr. Trump could, of course, simply abandon the Iran deal as he did with the trade and climate agreements, and he may yet. But while that may be satisfying, he has been told by advisers that the United States would find it harder to pressure the clerical regime in Tehran without allies, and so he has not risked alienating them with a unilateral move.

John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and strong critic of the nuclear deal, said time is on Iran’s side and Mr. Trump should find a way to convince the allies. “We need to explain this to the Europeans,” he said. “They may find it hard to accept, but plain speaking is still an American virtue, occasionally even in diplomacy.”

As for health care, Mr. Trump chastised Democrats on Tuesday for not going along — “Dems totally obstruct,” he wrote on Twitter — but he made no serious effort to reach out to them, nor might it be realistic to expect them to join a drive to repeal what they consider to be one of their proudest achievements. While he did lobby Republicans, some said he did not make a serious enough effort to do so. The White House devoted its public message this week to buy-America themes rather than health care.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that lawmakers should either repeal Mr. Obama’s program outright or return to the legislation that has now failed. “Either way, inaction is not an option,” he said in a speech to members of the National Retail Federation in Washington. “Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job and Congress needs to do their job now.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed weariness of the health care debate and seemed ready to turn to other priorities, like cutting taxes. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, vowed to hold a vote to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care program without a replacement, but it was quickly clear there were not the votes for that. In the House, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin on Tuesday focused on tax cuts, energy production and budget balancing.

At the White House, that Rose Garden rally when Mr. Trump prematurely celebrated the passage of a health care bill in the House before it had gone to the Senate now seems long ago.

Mr. Trump has been left to contemplate his next move. He could try to find another way to get the bulldozer to work. Or he could move on to another property.

President Trump’s demolition project just got shut down, at least for now.

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Senator wants more information on Trump’s ‘digital’ activities during campaign

US Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. gestures during his debate with Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, in Richmond, Va., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014.  Steve Helber/AP The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for more investigation into the digital activities of Donald Trump’s campaign, amid concerns about Russian-directed misinformation efforts to influence the election, even as the president’s lawyer vigorously defended his client.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said he wants to look into the activities of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that advised Trump’s campaign, as well as Trump’s digital efforts during the election because of the way false election stories about Hillary Clinton were circulated and targeted online.

Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probe

“The ability to manipulate these search engines and some of these social media platforms is real, it’s out there,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We need information from the companies, as well as we need to look into the activities of some of the Trump digital campaign activities.’’

Separately, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Warner said there was a series of “trolls” or paid individuals who worked for Russian services that tried to interfere in the election and disseminate fake news.

The comments came as FBI and congressional committees continue to investigate Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and whether members of Trump’s campaign cooperated. Questions intensified after revelations last week that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer whom Trump Jr. believed to have information damaging to Clinton. Also at the meeting was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

No Violation

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, appeared on multiple Sunday talk shows to say the meeting didn’t violate the law and that the president wasn’t aware of the meeting and didn’t participate.

“I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”

On CNN, Warner pointed to what he called a “convenient pattern” of Kushner, now a senior White House adviser, and other members associated with the Trump administration having to amend disclosure forms to add meetings with Russians that they had neglected to report earlier.

“I’m not sure why we take anybody in the senior level of the Trump administration at their word,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we’re going to get a chance to question these individuals and try to actually nail down the truth.’’

Warner has said Trump Jr. is likely to be called to testify, and he said on CNN that he would also like to hear from Kushner and others.

Ty Cobb

After the younger Trump published emails related to the meeting on Twitter, preempting their release by The New York Times, a former Russian counterintelligence officer also said he was present at the meeting. The emails contradicted months of White House contentions that investigations of possible campaign collusion with Russia were nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

As Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller deepens his probe into campaign activities, the White House on Saturday confirmed it had hired Ty Cobb, a veteran Washington lawyer, as a special counsel. Cobb is expected to oversee the White House’s legal and media response to investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Attention to the unfolding scandal has diverted attention from other issues, including health care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Saturday that he’s delaying plans to begin debating a controversial health-care bill after Republican Senator John McCain said he’ll be home in Arizona recovering from unexpected surgery.

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Trump Jr meeting controversy: The key players

Emin Agalarov, Donald Trump and Aras Agalarov attend the red carpet at Miss Universe Pageant Competition 2013 on November 9, 2013 in Moscow
Emin (left) and Aras Agalarov with Mr Trump during a Miss Universe event in Moscow in 2013

It is the meeting everyone is talking about: Donald Trump Junior, his brother-in-law and the chairman of Donald Trump Senior’s election campaign talking to a Russian lawyer who had allegedly offered damaging material about Hillary Clinton.

It was an encounter proposed by a British music publicist and allegedly arranged by an Azerbaijani-Russian businessman, whose pop star son once featured Mr Trump Sr in a music video.

Feeling lost? Here are the key players explained.


Donald Trump Jr

Donald Trump Jr speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland on 19 July 2016

The center piece of it all is Donald Trump’s eldest son from his first marriage to Ivana, who is now executive vice-president of the Trump Organization.

Here is how it unfolded: he received an email from British music publicist Rob Goldstone promising documents from Russia that would incriminate Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The meeting was allegedly arranged by Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, whose son Emin is a pop star who was managed for a time by Mr Goldstone (more on all of them later).

One email from Mr Goldstone said the information they had been promised was “obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

Mr Trump Jr’s response to it was: “If it’s what you say I love it”.

The meeting took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York. When news of it emerged, he denied that the meeting had anything to do with the campaign (we explain what he said below).

He then told Fox News Ms Veselnitskaya had provided them with nothing of use and it had only lasted 20 minutes.


Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s father-in-law and White House adviser

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during a meeting on 30 June 2016

The husband of Ivanka, the president’s eldest daughter, and a long-time adviser to Mr Trump, who played a key role in his campaign.

Despite having no diplomatic credentials, he has found power with Mr Trump at the White House, being tasked with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also serves as the president’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico and Canada.

He has yet to comment on the case.

Who is who in the Trump clan


Paul Manafort, Trump ex-campaign chairman

Paul Manafort takes part in meeting on 17 August 2016

At the time of the meeting, he was a newcomer to the Trump team, brought in to professionalist the campaign. He quit in August, under fire for his ties to Russian interests and a former Ukrainian president.

He has also not commented on the case. But Politico website, citing an unidentified source close to him, said that Mr Manafort had not read the email exchanges to the end on his phone and that he had not even known who was going to be in the meeting.


Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian lawyer

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview in Moscow on 8 November 2016

Known for her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which enables the US to withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials thought to have been involved with human rights violations. In reaction to this controversial act, Russia barred Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

Mr Trump Jr had initially said the discussion of this ban was the subject of their meeting. That was before his email exchange with Mr Goldstone was revealed.

Ms Veselnitskaya was married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, the New York Times says. Her clients included state-owned companies and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the US when the meeting took place.

Her work and connections had drawn the FBI’s attention, an unnamed former senior law enforcement official was quoted by the Times as saying.

She told the paper: “Nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign… I have never acted on behalf of the Russian government and have never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Trump-Russia inquiry: How did we get here?

Russian cloud hangs over White House


Rob Goldstone, publicist

Publicist Goldstone attends the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow

The man who set up the meeting.

The publicist has worked closely with world-renowned stars such as Michael Jackson, BB King and Richard Branson. But, despite all of those big names, he was little known to the world until now.

Mr Goldstone’s posts on social media suggest he has spent several days in Russia and Azerbaijan on different trips in recent years, including in the months before last year’s US presidential election.

Media outlets report that shortly after Mr Trump’s win, he posted a picture on his Instagram account in which he wore a T-shirt with “Russia” in big letters on it. The account was made private after the reports emerged.

He is a former journalist – media reports say he used to work in tabloids. Most recently, he managed pop star Emin Agalarov.

He has not commented.

Why is this British guy emailing Trump Jr?


Aras Agalarov, billionaire

Often called the “Donald Trump of Russia”, with an estimated fortune of about $1.9bn (£1.4bn), according to Forbes.

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, he is the owner of Crocus Group, a major Russian property development company, and was Mr Trump’s business partner in taking the Miss Universe competition to Moscow in 2013.

He was also working to partner with Mr Trump in bringing Trump Tower to Russia, a project that never materialised. Crocus, meanwhile, is currently building two stadiums in preparation for the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia.

Reacting to the news, the billionaire denied any intention to damage Mrs Clinton.

“These are just fantasies! I do not know who invents them and what Hillary Clinton has to do with it. I do not know, I don’t even properly know Rob Goldstone. He worked with Emin, probably, as a manager for a certain period of time, or he may have promoted something in the USA, I don’t know.”


Emin Agalarov, singer

Singer Emin Agalarov, son-of-law of the president, performs during the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 May 2012

The Baku-born singer is a music star in Russia and Azerbaijan. In 2013, Mr Trump featured in one of his music videos with that year’s Miss Universe contestants – the clip has been watched almost 2m times on YouTube.

In 2006, he married Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev’s daughter, Leyla. The couple had two boys and adopted a girl, but have since divorced.

Mr Goldstone said in the emails that the meeting was set up at the request of the singer. Emin Agalarov has not commented.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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

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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.

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