Mueller Is Said to Be in Talks With White House About Interviewing Officials

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in last year’s election, visited Capitol Hill in June.

In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump’s decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.

That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

Legal Expert Says Trump’s Texts to Mueller Could Be Construed as Intimidation

No interviews have been scheduled, but in recent weeks Mr. Mueller’s investigation has appeared to intensify. Late last month, he took the aggressive step of executing a search warrant at the home of Paul J. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, in Alexandria, Va. Legal experts say Mr. Mueller may be trying to put pressure on Mr. Manafort to cooperate with the investigation.

Although it has been clear for months that Mr. Mueller would interview Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, Mr. Mueller’s recent inquiries come as Mr. Trump is heading into the fall pushing his priorities in Congress, including a tax overhaul, with the constant distraction of a federal investigation.

Ty Cobb, a special counsel to the president, declined to comment, saying only that the White House would “continue to fully cooperate” with Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. He has frequently said that the White House will cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation and that he hopes it will be completed quickly. Mr. Priebus did not return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Mueller has expressed interest in speaking with other administration officials, including members of the communications team. But Mr. Trump’s allies are particularly concerned about Mr. Mueller’s interest in talking to Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who worked closely with Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s confidants at the White House say Mr. Trump was never fully convinced that Mr. Priebus would be loyal to him.

Shortly after the November election, Mr. Priebus was made chief of staff, and he was involved in the major decisions the president made during the transition and in the first six months of the administration. Mr. Priebus made a point of being in most meetings and tried to be aware of what the president was doing. Mr. Trump fired him last month.

Mr. Priebus can potentially answer many questions Mr. Mueller has about what occurred during the campaign and in the White House. Mr. Priebus appears on the calendar of Mr. Manafort on the same day in June 2016 that Mr. Manafort and other campaign officials — including Mr. Trump’s eldest son and son-in-law — attended a meeting with Russians who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to two people briefed on the matter. It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus and Mr. Manafort did meet that day.

According to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation, Mr. Comey met with Mr. Priebus at the White House on Feb. 8 — a week before Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump cornered him in the Oval Office and asked him to end an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. In Mr. Comey’s meeting with Mr. Priebus, Mr. Comey told Mr. Priebus about a Justice Department policy that largely bars discussions between White House officials and the F.B.I. about continuing investigations in order to prevent political meddling — or at least the appearance of it — in the bureau’s work, according to the law enforcement official.

It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus ever relayed that message to the president. Mr. Trump’s Republican allies — including the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan — have said Mr. Trump may have asked Mr. Comey to end the investigation because he was a new president who did not understand the subtleties of how the commander in chief should interact with the F.B.I.

Mr. Priebus may also be able to help prosecutors verify crucial details about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Comey. According to testimony Mr. Comey provided to Congress, Mr. Priebus knows that Mr. Comey had the one-on-one encounter with Mr. Trump on Feb. 14, when Mr. Comey has said Mr. Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation. Mr. Trump has said that the meeting did not occur and that he did not ask Mr. Comey to end the inquiry.

Mr. Comey said in his testimony to Congress that on Feb. 14, Mr. Trump had Mr. Priebus, the attorney general, the vice president and other senior administration officials removed from the Oval Office after a counterterrorism briefing.

“The president began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the vice president,” Mr. Comey said.

“The president then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information — a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The president waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.”

Right after the door closed, Mr. Comey said, Mr. Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation.

Mr. Trump and his lawyers have tried to cast the search warrant on Mr. Manafort as an unusual measure and an abuse of power. The president said he was surprised to learn about the search, saying it was something federal authorities “very seldom” do. John Dowd, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said the search was similar to tactics used in Russia.

“The search warrant here was obtained by a gross abuse of the judicial process by the special counsel’s office,” Mr. Dowd told The Wall Street Journal in an email. “In addition, given the obvious unlawful deficiencies, this extraordinary invasive tool was employed for its shock value to try to intimidate Mr. Manafort.”

He added, “These methods are normally found and employed in Russia not America.”

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Pressure builds on Trump at home over pledge for closer Moscow ties

In this June 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

During his presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “strong leader” with whom he would like to reset tense U.S.-Russian relations.

But as Trump heads to his first face-to-face meeting as president with Putin on Friday at the G20 summit in Germany, he is under pressure at home to take a tough line with the Kremlin.

Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election have alarmed both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who are pushing to extend tough sanctions placed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula belonging to Ukraine.

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

Lawmakers including Republican Senator Cory Gardner are also concerned Russia has prolonged the civil war in Syria by backing its President Bashar al-Assad, a strongman whose forces have used chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians. The chaos has fueled instability in the region and a flood of migrants to Europe.

“President (Trump) needs to make it clear that the continued aggression by Russia around the globe … is unacceptable, and that they will be held accountable,” said Gardner, who was among six lawmakers invited by the White House last month to discuss foreign policy with Trump over dinner.

Meanwhile, the appointment of a special counsel who is investigating potential links between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign has weakened the president’s ability to maneuver with Russia, foreign policy experts say.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia sponsored hacking of Democratic Party groups last year to benefit Trump over his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied those allegations while Trump has repeatedly dismissed the idea of any coordination between his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Still, just the optics of Trump meeting with Putin, a former KGB agent, are fraught with risk, foreign policy experts say.

“If (Trump) smiles, if he wraps his arm around Putin, if he says, ‘I’m honored to meet you, we’re going to find a way forward,’ … I think Congress is going to react extremely negatively to that,” said Julie Smith, a former national security aide in the Obama administration.

EVOLVING U.S. POLICY

Trump has signaled an interest in cooperating with Russia to defeat Islamic State in Syria and to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

The White House has been mum on what Trump would be willing to give Russia in exchange for that help. But there has been speculation he could ratchet down sanctions, or even return two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and Long Island. President Barack Obama seized those facilities and expelled 35 Russian diplomats just before he left office as punishment for the election hacks.

While some administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also support engagement, others, such as Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have taken a hawkish line on Russia.

The lack of a unified strategy has left U.S. allies anxious. And it has lowered expectations for American leadership to help resolve crises in Syria and Ukraine, where Russian cooperation would be critical.

“Trump is like a horse with his front legs tied,” said a German diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He can’t make any big leaps forward on Russia. If he tried people would immediately suspect it was all part of some big conspiracy.”

Trump’s administration is still reviewing its Russia policy, a process that may not be wrapped up for a couple of months, a U.S. official said.

Speaking with reporters last week about Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said his boss would like “the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia. But he’s also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”

THIRD TRY AT A RESET

Trump is just the latest president to grapple with the complicated U.S.-Russia dynamic.

George W. Bush and Obama sought to improve the U.S. relationship with Russia early in their administrations only to see relations deteriorate later.

Among the concerns for this president is Trump’s apparent lack of interest in policy details and his tendency to wing it with foreign leaders.

McMaster told reporters that Trump has “no specific agenda” for his meeting with Putin and that topics would consist of “whatever the president wants to talk about.”

Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, said he feared Trump might be headed to the meeting without clear objectives.

“I hope that he would think about first: what is our objective in Ukraine? What is our objective in Syria? And secondarily, how do I go about achieving that in my meeting with Putin?” McFaul said.

Other Washington veterans say Trump won’t be able to make meaningful progress with Russia on anything until he confronts Putin about the suspected election meddling.

“(Trump) really has to raise the Russian election hacking last year, and has to say something like, ‘Vladimir, don’t do this again. There will be consequences,'” said Steve Pifer, a long-time State Department official focused on U.S.-Russia relations.

So far Trump has shown little inclination to do so, a situation that has heightened speculation about the potential impact from his coming encounter with the Russian leader.

“The shadow of all these investigations hangs over this,” said Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University and former National Intelligence Officer for Russia.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Arshad Mohammed, Warren Strobel, Richard Cowan, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott in Washington; John Irish in Paris; Noah Barkin in Berlin; Christian Lowe in Moscow; Editing by Caren Bohan and Marla Dickerson)

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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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