Special prosecutor to meet Senate committee leaders

In an Aug. 21, 2013 file photo, outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller speaks during an interview at FBI headquarters, in Washington.Special prosecutor Robert Mueller will hold talks this week with senior Senate Judiciary Committee members to ensure that there is no conflict between his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and the panel’s probe, two congressional aides said on Monday.Mueller, a former FBI director, will meet on Wednesday with the committee’s Republican chairman, Charles Grassley, and its top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

They will be joined by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon White house, the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, they added. The subcommittee is examining what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian campaign of influence was intended to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

The discussions will focus on ensuring that the subcommittee’s investigation is not interfering with Mueller’s probe, one source said.

Spokesmen for the committee and for Mueller declined to comment.

Mueller also was expected to meet sometime during the week with top members of the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee for a similar discussion.

A spokesman and a spokeswoman for the panel also declined to discuss the matter.

The special prosecutor met last week with the Republican chairman and the top Democrat overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of what U.S. intelligence agencies say

Russia denies that it conducted such a campaign, and Trump denies there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. (Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Trump acknowledges for first time he’s under investigation

President Donald Trump walks with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 16, 2017, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto Miami. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)President Donald Trump acknowledges for the first time Friday that he is under federal investigation as part of the expanding probe into Russia’s election meddling. He lashed out at a top Justice Department official overseeing the inquiry, reflecting his mounting frustration with the unrelenting controversy that has consumed his early presidency.

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the president wrote on Twitter.

His morning missive apparently referred to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general whose role leading the federal investigation has become increasingly complicated. The White House has used a memo he wrote to justify Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, but that Trump action may now be part of the probe. Thursday night, Rosenstein issued an unusual statement complaining about leaks in the case.

Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

Trump advisers and confidants describe the president as increasingly angry over the investigation, yelling at television sets in the White House carrying coverage and insisting he is the target of a conspiracy to discredit — and potentially end — his presidency. Some of his ire is aimed at Rosenstein and investigative special counsel Robert Mueller, both of whom the president believes are biased against him, associates say.

Dianne Feinstein, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire both Mueller and Rosenstein.

“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired,” Feinstein said. “That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office.”

Aides have counseled the president to stay off Twitter and focus on other aspects of his job. They have tried to highlight the positive reviews he received Wednesday when he made a statesman-like appearance in the White House to address the nation after Rep. Steve Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice.

Yet Trump’s angry tweets on Friday underscored the near-impossible challenge his advisers and legal team have in trying to get him to avoid weighing in on an active probe.

The president has denied that he has any nefarious ties to Russia and has also disputed that he’s attempted to block the investigation into his campaign’s possible role in Russia’s election-related hacking. It was unclear whether his tweet about being under investigation was based on direct knowledge or new media reports that suggest Mueller is examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey.

The tweets came shortly after Rosenstein issued his unusual statement that appeared to be warning about the accuracy of such reports.

“Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations,” Rosenstein said. “The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

The department would not comment on the record on whether Trump, who has repeatedly complained about leaks on the case, requested the statement. But a department official said no one asked for the statement and Rosenstein acted on his own. The official demanded anonymity because the official was not authorized to be named discussing the deliberations.

Trump has told associates he has the legal authority to fire Mueller, a move that might first require firing Rosenstein and would certainly intensify the uproar over the investigation. Though some in the White House have preached caution, fearing a repeat of the firestorm over Comey’s firing, many in Trump’s orbit — including his son Donald Trump Jr. and adviser Newt Gingrich — have deemed Mueller biased and worthy of dismissal.

Several White House officials and Trump associates insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the president’s views of the unfolding investigation.

Rosenstein has been overseeing the Russia probe since shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. But Rosenstein, too, may ultimately have to hand off oversight given his role in Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

Earlier this month, Rosenstein told The Associated Press that “if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there’s a need from me to recuse, I will.”

Trump’s tweets came after the top lawyer for his transition team warned the organization’s officials to preserve all records and other materials related to the Russia probe. An official of Trump’s transition confirmed the lawyer’s internal order, which was sent Thursday.

The order from the general counsel for the transition team casts a wide net on documents that could shed light on ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and representatives of Russia’s government. The order also covers separate inquiries into several key Trump associates including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign adviser Paul Manafort, foreign policy aide Carter Page and outside adviser Roger Stone.

The White House has directed questions for details to outside legal counsel, which has not responded.

Vice President Mike Pence has also hired a private lawyer to represent his interests in the expanding probe. Pence headed the Trump transition until Inauguration Day.

 

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Here are 3 things we want to know from Sessions’ testimony

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is set to testify publicly on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

Here’s what we hope to learn:

1. Tell us about Sergey Kislyak

Back in March, Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign after stories surfaced that he had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice, even though during his confirmation hearing with the Judiciary Committee, he denied having met with any Russians.

Additionally, Comey told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a closed session Thursday that Sessions may have had a third, previously unreported, meeting with the Russian ambassador, according to a Senate aide who was not authorized to disclose the information.

Expect senators — especially Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who sits on both Intelligence and Judiciary — to ask why he didn’t disclose the first two meetings and whether a third meeting happened.

2. What happened with Comey?

Senators will likely ask about the firing of Comey. The former FBI chief last week told senators that he was fired over the Russia investigation. Given that Sessions had recused himself from the investigation, but still recommended that Comey be fired, expect it to come up why Sessions would participate in Comey’s dismissal.

“The Senate and the American people deserve to know exactly what involvement with the Russia investigation he had before his recusal, what safeguards are in place to prevent his meddling, and why he felt it was appropriate to recommend the firing of Director Comey when he was leading that investigation,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said.

Our guess: Sessions will say he was Comey’s boss for everything, not just Russia, so he had a duty to be involved in firing Comey and finding his replacement.

3. Is there bad blood between him and the president?

Last week, during the buildup to Comey’s testimony, reports broke that there has been tension between the attorney general and President Trump. Per a New York Times report, things had “grown sour” between the two. ABC News reported Sessions offered to resign at one point.

Trump has criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which he believes led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the probe.

Senators will likely ask about whether Sessions offered to resign and whether he offered to step down.

Here’s why we might not learn everything that we hope to learn

Two words: Executive privilege. Last week, there was chatter that Trump may invoke executive privilege, the legal doctrine that allows the president and other members of the executive branch to withhold information from other branches of government, to keep Comey from testifying. In the end, Trump did not.

The question over whether Sessions will invoke executive privilege during his testimony is still up in the air, however.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that it was “premature” to discuss this hypothetical. Still, he did not exclusively rule it out: “I think it depends on the scope of the questions.”

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Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

Former U.S. attorney: 'Absolutely evidence' to begin obstruction of justice case

Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara on Sunday said he thinks there is evidence to start a case for obstruction of justice against President Trump.

“I think there’s absolutely evidence to begin a case — I think it’s very important for all sorts of armchair speculators in the law, to be clear that no one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

7 takeaways from Comey’s extraordinary testimony about what Trump told him to do

“It’s also true…that there’s no basis to say there’s no obstruction.”

Bharara also said during the interview that there is evidence from someone who is under oath that “on at least one occasion, the president of the United States, cleared the room of his vice president and his attorney general and told his director of the FBI that he should essentially drop the case against his former national security adviser.”

“Whether or not that is impeachable or that’s indictable, that’s a very serious thing and I’m not sure that people fully get that the standard is not just whether something is a crime or not,” Bharara said.

“Whether or not it can be charged as a crime or Congress will impeach, it is a very serious thing.”

He said there is a lot to be “frightened” and “outraged” about.

“That’s an incredibly serious thing if people think that the president of the United States can tell heads of law enforcement agencies, based on his own whim or his own personal preferences or friendships, that they should or should not pursue particular criminal cases against individuals,” he said.

“That’s not how America works.”

Not a shy guy, President Donald Trump is claiming he didn’t know James Comey well enough to ask for his allegiance. But Trump had had more dealings with his FBI chief in a few months than President Barack Obama had with Comey in three years. Trump also says he found vindication in Comey’s testimony to the Senate this past week, though none was offered.

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7 takeaways from Comey’s extraordinary testimony about what Trump told him to do

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

 

Fired FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his conversations with President Trump on Russia can be summed up in one word: Newsworthy. Here are seven major takeaways from his testimony.

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

Here are six major takeaways from his testimony so far.

1) Comey is pretty sure Trump inappropriately interfered in the investigation — but he didn’t ask the FBI to drop it entirely

The way Comey understood his conversations with the president, Trump asked Comey for three things:

  1. His loyalty while appearing to threaten his job security
  2. To “lift the cloud” of any perception the president was under investigation
  3. To drop the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“The ask was to get it out that I, the president, am not personally under investigation,” Comey said. But, Comey testified, Trump did NOT ask him to drop the FBI’s broader investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign helped.

Comey also declined to give a legal judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice or whether he colluded with Russia, saying that’s up for the FBI and special counsel to investigate.

2) Comey thinks the president is a liar

Comey knocked the Trump administration in an opening statement at the hearing. Comey said the Trump administration “chose to defame” him and the FBI after he was fired. (Reuters)

The way Comey tells it, the first time he met Trump — to brief him on all things Russia shortly before Trump’s inauguration —  Comey got the heebie-jeebies, for a whole bunch of small reasons but nothing in particular.

“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said, as to why he left Trump Tower, hopped in an FBI car, opened a laptop and started writing down every detail he could recall about his first meeting with the president. “It led me to believe that I gotta write it down, and I gotta write it down in a detailed way. … I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and FBI and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.”

Comey also said the president lied about why he fired him:

“The administration then chose to defame me — and, more importantly — the FBI by saying the organization was in disarray and that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”

 

3) The way Trump handled Comey’s firing is what prompted Comey to speak out

First, Comey found out he was fired by watching TV.

Second, Comey said he was confused about why he was fired. The president changed his narrative several times, ultimately settling on “that Russia thing.” Then, Comey read in the press that the president told Russians Comey was a “nut job.”

Then, Trump tweeted this:

James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

Up until then, Comey said he and senior leaders in the FBI had decided to “keep … in a box” everything they had learned about the president’s inappropriate questions about the investigation. But after Trump’s tweet, Comey said he couldn’t stay silent.

“I woke up in the middle of the night Monday (thinking) that there might be corroboration for our conversation,” Comey testified. “And my judgment was that I needed to get that out in the public square. So I asked a friend of mine to share the content of [my memos] with a reporter.”

4) Democrats are pretty sure Comey’s firing is the key to what the president did wrong

“I believe the timing of your firing stinks,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Comey’s firing “ultimately shocking.”

“As director of the FBI, Comey was ultimately responsible for conducting the investigation, which might explain why you’re sitting down as a private citizen,” Warner said.

Comey agreed that he thinks his firing was tied to the president’s frustrations with how Comey was handling the Russia investigation.

“Something about the way I was conducting, it created pressure, and he wanted me to leave,” Comey said.

5) Republicans aren’t really trying to defend the president

As close as they got was one GOP senator trying to argue that: Okay, what Trump did was wrong, but is it really obstruction of justice?

“He said: ‘I hope’ (when he asked you to drop the Flynn investigation),” said Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), a Trump ally.

“You don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something?”

Comey said he didn’t.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) made the point that the Trump’s third ask — for Comey to “lift the cloud” by saying publicly the president was not under investigation — is a reasonable one. Comey agreed but said the president didn’t seem to understand it could create a “boomerang effect” where if Trump ever was under investigation, the FBI would have to retract its public statement.

6) Republicans are critical of why Comey didn’t speak up sooner

“The president never should have cleared the room,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said of a key Oval Office private meeting between Comey and Trump.

“And he never should have asked you to let (the investigation into Flynn) go.”

“But I remain puzzled by your response. Your response was: ‘I agree that Michael Flynn was a good guy.’ You could have said: ‘Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate, this response could compromise the investigation.'”

Comey testified that he was “stunned” the president was asking him to drop an investigation and, in retrospect, he probably should have been more firm with the president.

But he just wanted to say something — anything — to end the “awkward” conversations. And, Comey said, he doesn’t regret keeping the president’s conversations within a tight circle: “No action was the most important thing I could do to make sure there was no interference in the investigation.”

7) No side comes off well in Comey’s telling of events

To hear Comey tell it, when Republicans are in charge and the FBI was investigating Republicans, he was pressured by Republicans to shape his investigation.

And when Democrats were in charge and he was investigating Democrats, he was pressured by Democrats to shape his investigation. This is new — and significant. It suggests that no side was immune to meddling in the FBI’s independent investigations.

Comey testified that when he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch (a President Barack Obama appointee) “directed me not to call it an investigation but instead to call it a matter.”

That, plus Lynch’s private tarmac meeting with former president Bill Clinton ahead of the FBI’s impending decision on whether Clinton may have criminally mishandled classified information, raised Comey’s ethics radar and persuaded him to announce the FBI’s findings ahead of schedule.

“That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude: I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly,” Comey said.

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White House Pushed to Drop Russia Sanctions—Even After Firing Michael Flynn

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony of naming of a new Russian Arctic LNG tanker on a side of International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 3, 2017.

The White House explored unilaterally easing sanctions on Russia’s oil industry as recently as late March, arguing that decreased Russian oil production could harm the American economy, according to former U.S. officials.

State Department officials argued successfully that easing those sanctions would actually hurt the U.S. energy sector, according to those former officials and email exchanges reviewed by The Daily Beast.

In one email exchange, a State Department official feels the need to explain that lowering punitive sanctions on the Russian oil industry would be rewarding Moscow—without getting anything from the Kremlin in return.

“Russia continues to occupy Ukraine including Crimea—conditions that led to the sanctions have not changed,” the official wrote.

The continued discussion of unilaterally lifting sanctions on Russia came after the dismissal of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as White House national security adviser. Flynn is now in the crosshairs of congressional and Justice Department investigators looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded carried out a year-long campaign to influence the 2016 elections in Trump’s favor.

The Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine, supporting the Syrian regime, and later, for alleged cyber attacks meant to influence the U.S. election. European nations imposed similar sanctions over Ukraine in 2014 and renewed them late last year.

Just after Trump took office, it sounded like he was going to change all that. “They have sanctions on Russia—let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in January to the Times of London. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.”

True to his comments, NSC officials then working for Flynn considered how they might lift all sanctions on Russia almost immediately, one of the former officials said—a charge first reported by Yahoo News, but denied as false by a senior administration official speaking to The Daily Beast.

But the March NSC request to the State Department, asking its experts to consider the possible damage of U.S. sanctions on the Russian oil industry, came under the tenure of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, long after Flynn resigned because of misleading the vice president about conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington about lifting sanctions.

It was also before relations with Moscow took a turn for the worse, after Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad used another volley of chemicals against his own people, Trump responded with a volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian base where Russian troops were stationed.

This query was a snapshot of administration thinking in mid-March, according to the emails obtained by The Daily Beast.

A senior Trump administration official said NSC strategist Kevin Harrington was simply examining the sanctions on Russia and trying to determine their impact, as part of the review of overall policy toward Russia.

“He did an economic analysis of what the Russian sanctions are doing. He said according to his analysis, they weren’t causing any significant pain,” the official said, speaking anonymously to provide context on NSC policy. “His view was, if these sanctions are harming our economy without putting any pressure on Russia, what’s the point?”

So that’s why the query was made.

“He got the answer the back and it didn’t go anywhere,” the official said, griping about the U.S. media’s portrayal of the Team Trump being in league with Moscow.

But on the receiving end, in the State Department sanctions office that had originally crafted the punishments, the query seemed suspect—especially given the swirling backdrop of charges of Trump campaign collusion with Russia, the two former U.S. officials said.

According to one of those officials, State argued that such unilateral U.S. government action would discourage other countries from joining the U.S. in tougher sanctions against Iran and North Korea in future.

The State Department’s sanctions office also explained that lowering Russian oil prices would be harmful to the U.S. energy industry, according to the unclassified email exchange reviewed by The Daily Beast.

“He asked us to ‘determine whether U.S. national interests were being harmed by sanctions on Russian oil, which were bad for the world economy and therefore bad for the U.S. economy,’” according to the former U.S. official.

A second former U.S. official confirmed that Harrington “was very aggressively pushing this out of the gate,” from the time he was brought to the White House by Flynn.

“Apparently, there was not only interest from a geopolitical perspective, but also a sense that it would open up major opportunities in Russian energy projects in eastern Russia, post-sanctions,” the former official said.

(The Treasury Department has already nixed one of those possible deals, after the Wall Street Journalreported that Exxon Mobil sought a waiver from sanctions in April to continue a previously signed deal with Russian state energy giant Rosneft.)

Harrington came to the White House without significant government experience, but he did have a powerful patron: Silicon Valley investor and Trump ally Peter Thiel. Flynn and deputy K.T. McFarland found the former hedge-fund director to be intellectually impressive and enthused about what his economics background could add to the NSC’s strategic planning office. Harrington also became close with an ally of Flynn’s, NSC intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom McMaster and the CIA subsequently sought, unsuccessfully, to oust.

Not all of Harrington’s colleagues were as bowled over, finding his work superficial, according to one former NSC official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe working with Harrington.

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On climate change, John Kerry compares Trump to OJ Simpson

Former Secretary of State John Kerry. - Michel Euler/AP

If the deal doesn’t fit, Trump must quit?

Former Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday mocked President Trump’s claims that he will handle climate change — likening it to O.J. Simpson hunting for his ex-wife’s murderer.

“When Donald Trump says we’re going to negotiate a better deal — you know, he’s going to go out and find a better deal?” Kerry said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“That’s like O.J. Simpson saying he’s going to go out and find the real killer…Everybody knows he isn’t going to do that because he doesn’t believe in it.”

Trump on Thursday announced his plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, making it one of the few counties in the world to not support the first international agreement to cut back on pollution.

Trump framed it as a mostly economic decision, claiming he planned to “negotiate” a climate deal that would not burden the United States with as many costs and regulations.

But hundreds of business leaders argued that the deal, written as is, would have been a boon to the American economy, and the leaders of France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement the Paris deal “cannot be renegotiated.”

Trump has publicly wavered about global warming, hinting that he believes in some climate change while never going back on his prior claims that it is a “hoax.” It is unclear if he and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt even discussed climate change before leaving the Paris deal.

Kerry said Trump’s exit says everything one needs to know about where the President stands.

“If he did believe in it, he wouldn’t have pulled out of Paris,” he said.

“America has unilaterally ceded global leadership on this issue.”

Trump abandoned the deal despite its support from some of his top advisors — including Kerry’s successor, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson is a former CEO of ExxonMobil, the energy company that snuffed climate change awareness for years but, even so, came out in support of the Paris accord.

Kerry wondered what made Trump think he knows better.

“I mean, what does Donald Trump know that Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, doesn’t know?” he asked.

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Senators Propose Stronger U.S. Sanctions Against Russia

Two Russian Federation flags fly on a road leading to the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Russia is realistic about limits on the prospects for an immediate improvement in relations with the U.S. after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, according to President Vladimir Putins spokesman.: 1482925852_Russia-flag

(Bloomberg) — Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Banking Committee announced a plan Wednesday to strengthen sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and Syria, as well as internet intrusions in the U.S.

The proposal is a signal that some in Congress intend to push back on the Trump administration’s moves to explore an improvement in relations with Moscow.

Panel Chairman Mike Crapo of Idaho and top Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio said their bill would authorize “broad” new sanctions targeting sectors of Russia’s economy including mining, metals and railways.

It would codify and strengthen existing sanctions included in executive orders affecting Russian energy projects and debt financing in key economic sectors, the senators said in a press release.

“Despite existing sanctions, Russia remains a hostile, recalcitrant power, deploying its military, cyber-enabled information espionage activities, and economic tactics to harm the United States and drive a wedge between it and its allies,” the committee statement said. “There is significant congressional interest in ensuring sanctions on Russia are effective and proportionally enhanced, particularly in light of continuing Russian intransigence in these areas.”

The text will be released later, according to the statement.

The question of Russian sanctions has been raised by a number of senators in both parties after the intelligence community announced in January its conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of President Donald Trump.

Former FBI Director James Comey will testify before a Senate committee next Thursday as part of a probe into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said on Thursday it would hear from Comey, who was fired by Trump on May 9, first in an open session and then behind closed doors, which would afford senators a chance to discuss classified information.

The former FBI chief is expected to testify on conversations he had with Trump in which the president reportedly pressured him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, one of several Trump associates who are drawing scrutiny in a series of probes about Russia and last year’s U.S. election.

Russia has repeatedly denied any effort to interfere in the U.S. election, and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said some Russians might have acted on their own without their government’s involvement.

 

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Trump ally Roger Stone blasts president’s Saudi meeting

Trump ally Roger Stone blasts president's Saudi meeting

Roger Stone blasted President Trump’s meeting with Saudi leaders on Saturday, arguing part of the royal reception that included the presentation of a gold medallion to Trump made him “want to puke.”

“Instead of meeting with the Saudis @realDonaldTrump should be demanding they pay for the attack on America on 9/11 which they financed,” Stone tweeted.

He later shared a picture of Trump getting a royal welcome, tweeting, “Candidly this makes me want to puke.”

View image on Twitter

Saudi Arabia King Salman placed the gold medallion, the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar, around Trump’s neck during a ceremony in the country’s capital of Riyadh. The medallion is considered the kingdom’s highest civilian honor.

Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, has been one of the president’s closest allies and has frequently defended him from criticism.

Saudi Arabia was Trump’s first stop on a nine-day overseas trip, his first as president. He is also slated to visit Israel and the Vatican in what aides have said will include a message stressing religious unity, before attending a Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations summit in Italy.

The president’s Saudi Arabia visit culminated with a joint pledge to “counter violent extremism, disrupt the financing of terrorism and advance defense cooperation” between Saudi Arabia and U.S. The two nations also agreed to a defense deal worth nearly $110 billion.

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It’s far from case closed on Trump, Russia

FILE - In this May 10, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump talks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump, in an apparent warning to his fired FBI director, said Friday, May 12, 2017, that James Comey had better hope there are no "tapes" of their conversations. Trump's tweet came the morning after he asserted Comey had told him three times that he wasn't under FBI investigation. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) President Donald Trump is decidedly premature in claiming everyone’s convinced his presidential campaign and Russia did not collude before the election.Investigations into contacts between Russians and people with the Trump campaign are still going on, so there’s no exoneration to be found.

Over the past week, Trump stretched a variety of facts on trade, taxes and economic theory. But his firing of FBI Director James Comey was far and away the source of the most tumult. Contradictions cascaded from the White House.

Here are some statements by the president and his spokespeople on the FBI, Russia, economics and more:

TRUMP, on whether people in his campaign and Russian officials were in any way in cahoots: “Clapper is convinced, other people are convinced … Everybody’s convinced. … They’re all saying, there’s no collusion. There is no collusion.” — Fox interview broadcast Friday

THE FACTS: That’s untrue both generally and with respect to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until Trump took office Jan. 20. Clapper has not said he’s satisfied there was no wrongdoing. In a report published at the end of the Obama administration, Clapper said no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia had been established from a review of evidence available to him by that point. But his report focused on what was known by then about Russia’s cyber actions and propaganda against Hillary Clinton, not about contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

Clapper expanded on that point Sunday, saying he did not know at the time that the FBI was digging deeply into “potential political collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” and he was unaware of what the bureau might have found.

“There was no evidence of any collusion included in that report,” he told ABC’s “This Week,” meaning his report. “That’s not to say there wasn’t evidence.”

More broadly, it’s obvious on its face that not everyone is convinced that Trump and his people are vindicated in the matter. Senate and House investigations continue, as does the FBI’s, which Comey wanted to intensify before his dismissal last week. Acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe said the probe remains a high priority for the agency.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not convinced of anything in his panel’s inquiry, except that “boy, oh, boy, there’s an awful lot of smoke. I’m not saying there’s fire at this point, but we’re going to follow the facts wherever they lead.”

___

WHY FIRE COMEY?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor, on the reason for firing Comey: “This has nothing to do with Russia.” — Tuesday on CNN

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House spokeswoman, on the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government: “We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity … and we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.” — Thursday White House briefing

THE FACTS: The initial White House explanation for the firing, that Comey had bungled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices, persuaded no one. Trump was delighted with Comey’s disclosures about the Clinton investigation during the campaign and praised him.

Sanders, though, acknowledged in general terms what was obvious — that by firing Comey, the White House hoped to hasten the conclusion of an aggressive FBI investigation.

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WHO INITIATED THE DISMISSAL?

TRUMP, in letter firing the FBI chief Tuesday: “I … concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

WHITE HOUSE statement Tuesday: “President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

SEAN SPICER, White House spokesman, laying the impetus for the firing on Rosenstein and his memo building the case against Comey: “It was all him. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” — Tuesday

SANDERS, Wednesday: “People in the Justice Department made a very strong recommendation, the president followed it and he made a quick and decisive action to fire James Comey.” — MSNBC interview

TRUMP, Thursday: “Oh, I was going fire regardless of recommendation.” — NBC interview

THE FACTS: The early attempts to deflect responsibility on to others were a diversion; Rosenstein had been asked by the White House to put the memo together. Trump’s unvarnished assertion that he wanted Comey gone has the ring of truth, even without the whole story known.

He appeared to consider himself his own best spokesman in a tweet Friday that raised the prospect of discontinuing the long White House tradition of daily press briefings.

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump tweeted. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

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TRUMP UNDER FBI INVESTIGATION?

TRUMP: “First of all, when you’re under investigation you’re giving all sorts of documents and everything. I knew I wasn’t under and I heard it was stated at the committee, at some committee level, that I wasn’t.” — NBC interview

THE FACTS: An absence of document requests can’t be read as an indication that he isn’t under investigation, as Trump suggests. Investigations begin with interviews and document searches that are steps removed from the subject of the probe. Direct contact with the subject wouldn’t become known to that person until late in the process.

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TRUMP’s letter to Comey: “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” In an NBC interview Thursday the president elaborated, saying Comey had told him this at a dinner and in two separate phone calls. “I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation’.”

THE FACTS: Comey hasn’t responded publicly to Trump’s claims. But even if he did make such assurances, those answers months or weeks ago would be ephemeral because the investigation into Russia’s meddling in U.S. presidential election continues and hasn’t reached conclusions.

That’s why investigators make it a practice not to circumscribe a probe in that fashion. It would also breach protocol for an FBI chief and president to discuss an investigation bearing on the president. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told senators Thursday it’s not standard practice for the FBI to tell people they’re excluded from an investigation.

In congressional testimony March 20, Comey refused to say whether Trump himself was under investigation when asked directly. “I’m not gonna answer that,” he told the House Intelligence Committee. “I’m not gonna answer about anybody, in this forum.” He added that he had privately briefed the top Republican and Democrat on the committee “in great detail on the subjects of the investigation and what we’re doing.”

Publicly, he said, he would not identify those being investigated “so we don’t end up smearing people” who may end up not being prosecuted. But he described casting a wide net, “investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

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COLLEGE DAZE

TRUMP: “The Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win. Very hard.” — NBC interview

THE FACTS: History disagrees. Over the past century, the party victory split is dead even: 13 for Democrats, 13 for Republicans. If you add the total electoral votes amassed by the candidates of each party over that time, Republicans actually come out ahead — 7,159 to 6,607.

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TAX TALK

TRUMP: “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.” — interview with The Economist magazine

THE FACTS: Trump has repeatedly made variations on this false claim. The overall U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26.4 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2015, according to the OECD. That’s far below Denmark’s tax burden of 46.6 percent, Britain’s 32.5 percent or Germany’s 36.9 percent. Just four OECD countries had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: South Korea, Ireland, Chile and Mexico.

Trump qualified his claim later in the interview by saying the top marginal corporate tax rate, specifically, is higher than in similar industrialized countries. That’s more or less true, although the higher rate is moderated by tax breaks not available in some of those other countries.

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TRADING PLACES

TRUMP: “Right now the United States has … about a $15 billion trade deficit with Canada.” — Economist interiew

THE FACTS: His numbers are upside down. The United States actually ran an $8.1 billion trade surplus with Canada last year, according to the latest numbers available from the Census Bureau. A $24.6 billion U.S. surplus with Canada in the trade of services, including tourism and software, outweighed a $16.5 billion deficit in the trade of goods, including autos and oil.

Trump, who regularly decries the loss of American manufacturing jobs, tends to emphasize trade in goods and ignore trade in services. His comment about Canada came as his administration seeks a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. last year ran a deficit of $750 billion in goods with the rest of the world but recorded a $249 billion surplus in services.

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ECON LINGO

TRUMP: “You understand the expression ‘prime the pump’? … I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do. We have to prime the pump.” — Economist interview

THE FACTS: He didn’t coin that phrase. It’s a well-worn metaphor for generating faster growth, first made popular as an economic analogy more than 80 years ago during the Great Depression.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary people quickly tweeted that the phrase “priming the pump” has been around since the early 1800s. Literally, it’s about pouring water into a pump to allow it to create suction. The phrase was commonly used by mining publications during the 1920s, but it took on new significance after the economy cratered during the Depression.

By 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promoted the idea of flushing money into the economy to stimulate stronger growth with his New Deal policies. Such policies rankled Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover. “One of the ideas in these spendings is to prime the economic pump,” Hoover said in a 1935 post-presidential speech. “We might abandon this idea also, for it dries up the well of enterprise.”

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WEEKENDS AWAY

TRUMP tweets, concerning his May 5-7 weekend: “Rather than causing a big disruption in N.Y.C., I will be working out of my home in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend. Also saves country money!” ”The reason I am staying in Bedminster, N.J., a beautiful community, is that staying in NYC is much more expensive and disruptive. Meetings!”

THE FACTS: True, less disruption in the New Jersey countryside than in the metropolis and almost certainly less cost to taxpayers.

But his weekends away, whether at his Florida resort or in New Jersey, are much more expensive than weekends at the White House, where security is already in place.

The White House doesn’t make it easy for taxpayers to know anything about these costs. The administration is mum when asked for an accounting, and past attempts by government auditors to gauge the costs of presidential travel are sketchy, fragmentary or outdated.

A law Trump signed provides nearly $120 million to reimburse law enforcement agencies for their costs of protecting his homes outside Washington and to house Secret Service agents in New York and Florida through September.

Bedminster town officials estimate local costs of $12,000 a day for heightened security when Trump stays there. Palm Beach County, Florida, spends more than $60,000 a day when the president visits, mostly for law enforcement overtime. The New York City Police Department has said it spends up to $146,000 a day to protect first lady Melania Trump and son, Barron, living at Trump Tower until the school year ends. That cost at least doubles when the president is there.

Those comparisons are inexact but they suggest a Manhattan weekend would be pricier to taxpayers.

Local enforcement is only one segment of costs, though. It costs roughly $200,000 an hour to fly Air Force One, the president’s armored limousine is flown separately to his destinations, and the Secret Service faces multiple other expenses associated with his travel. Trump has spent about half his weekends away since becoming president.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Paul Wiseman, Josh Boak, Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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