President Trump calls new FBI texts ‘bombshells’

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said hundreds of newly disclosed text messages exchanged between two FBI officials in 2015 and in the runup to the 2016 presidential campaign are “bombshells.”

Those texts were released Tuesday night by a Senate committee probing the FBI‘s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton‘s email practices. The committee said in a report that the texts confirm a need for further inquiry.

The texts include messages expressing disdain for then-presidential candidate Trump, references to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch allegedly knowing in advance that Clinton would not face criminal charges and comparisons of possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia with the Watergate scandal.

That tweet came 10 minutes after the scheduled start of Trump’s intelligence briefing at the White House.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the FBI’s investigation of possible coordination between officials in his campaign and Russian interests, and its probe of the Clinton emails.

The texts released were exchanged between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok was removed last summer from special counsel Robert Mueller‘s ongoing investigation of Russian meddling after Mueller was made aware of his texts with Page.

Strzok had headed the Clinton email investigation before it was closed — temporarily, as it turned out — in July 2016 without criminal charges being filed.

He then was tasked with investigating Russian efforts to influence that year’s elections.

On Sept. 2, 2016, Page texted Strzok confirming his suspicion that a scheduled meeting he was to have Sept. 7 was in connection with talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey.

“Yes, bc potus wants to know everything we are doing,” Page texted, referring to then-President Barack Obama.

It is not clear, however, if Obama wanted to know about the Clinton email probe, the Russia investigation or something else.

The text was sent more than a month after the FBI first closed its probe of Clinton’s email practices without recommending criminal charges. That probe was reopened temporarily in late September 2016 after the FBI learned that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded emails to a computer belonging to her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.

And the Sept. 2 text came in the midst of the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the upcoming presidential election.

Obama met three days after the Sept. 2, 2016, text with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in China.

In a December press conference, Obama said that at that summit he had confronted Putin about interference in the election.

“I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn’t,” Obama told reporters at that time.

“And, in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.”

The Republican majority of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on Tuesday said the raft of text messages raises “several important questions that deserve further examination.”

Those questions include if and to what extent any personal animus or political bias affected the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s emails, whether the Obama administration influenced that investigation and if any political bias affected the FBI’s actions toward Trump and his campaign.

“This report is not intended to answer these questions, but to demonstrate that the information received warrants further inquiry to examine possible bias and wrongdoing within the FBI and the Justice Department,” the GOP majority said.

“Any serious and impartial reader of this material should find it hard to deny the need for further inquiry.”

The committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., concluded that its report found:

The FBI did not use a grand jury to compel testimony and obtain the vast majority of evidence, choosing instead to offer immunity deals and allow fact witnesses to join key interviews.

There were substantial edits to former FBI Director James Comey’s public statement that served to downplay the severity of Secretary Clinton’s actions, and that the first draft of the memo was distributed for editing two months before key witnesses were interviewed.

Director Comey stated that he had not consulted with the Justice Department or White House, when text messages among FBI agents involved in the investigation suggest otherwise. Two key investigators discuss an “insurance policy” against the “risk” of a Trump presidency, and “OUR task.”

Messages discuss “unfinished business,” “an investigation leading to impeachment,” and “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” The messages strongly underscore the need to obtain still-missing text messages and other information regarding the FBI’s actions and investigations into the Clinton email scandal and Russian involvement in the November 2016 election.

Senior FBI officials — likely including Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — knew about newly discovered emails on a laptop belonging to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner for almost a month before Director Comey notified Congress.

Spokesmen for both the FBI and for Obama declined to comment on the report.

CNBC has requested comment from the Democratic members of the Senate committee.

[CNBC]

 

Trump’s gripes against McCabe included wife’s politics, Comey’s ride home

The day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI, he became so furious watching television footage of Comey boarding a government-funded plane from Los Angeles back to Washington that he called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, to vent, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

Trump demanded to know why Comey was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he had been fired, these people said. McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.

A White House official, who would not speak on the record, disputed the account, saying, “this simply never happened. Any suggestion otherwise is pure fiction.” The FBI declined to comment on the call.

The previously unreported exchange was one of a series of attacks Trump has aimed at McCabe that fueled tensions between the White House and the Justice Department and culminated Monday with McCabe stepping down as the FBI’s deputy director.

In the past, Trump had also reportedly asked McCabe how he voted in the 2016 election and repeatedly made public references to campaign donations his wife had received from an ally of Hillary and Bill Clinton.

In an impromptu exchange last week with reporters who had been speaking with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Trump said he did not recall asking McCabe who he voted for in 2016. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the big deal with that because I would ask you … who did you vote for?”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the White House was not part of McCabe’s decision-making process about stepping down.

In recent weeks the White House has agitated for McCabe’s exit, saying he is part of a broader pattern of bias against the president in the highest levels of federal law enforcement. Defenders of the Justice Department’s leadership say the charges of bias are part of the president’s effort to try to undermine the federal probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump’s repeated criticism of McCabe, both in public and private, made the FBI’s deputy director the leading example of concerns Republicans have increasingly raised about potential impartiality at the Justice Department.

The phone call between Trump and McCabe after Comey’s firing last May underscores the president’s continued fixation on where the loyalties of people around him may lie and his frustration with autonomous arms of the government — particularly ones involved in the Russia investigation. It’s also emblematic of his early and persistent distrust of top Justice Department officials.

The combination of those sentiments whipped the president into such a fury over Comey last year that he wanted his firing to abruptly strip him of any trappings that come with the office and leave him across the country scrambling to find his own way home.

McCabe detailed his conversation with Trump after Comey’s firing to several people at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter said.

In 2015 McCabe’s wife, Jill, had run for state office in Virginia. She accepted nearly $500,000 in campaign donations from the super PAC of Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally and former governor of Virginia. She lost by just over 2,000 votes.

Andrew McCabe was not involved in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton while his wife was running for office. He became involved in the probe in February 2016.

Comey was criticized by many Democrats for his handling of the Clinton inquiry. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating.

Trump had publicly suggested that McCabe should not remain in FBI leadership at different times over the past year. Last July, the president questioned why Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t replace McCabe, whom the president described as “a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation.”

Last month the president also wrote on Twitter: “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” The amount the president said McCabe’s wife received was incorrect.

After he fired Comey, Trump met with McCabe in the Oval Office, and, according to The Washington Post, asked McCabe whom he voted for in the 2016 election. McCabe said he did not vote, the Post reported.

More recently, when reports surfaced last month that McCabe planned to retire in March after he’s eligible for full benefits, Trump seized on the news. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” the president wrote on Twitter.

McCabe’s exit comes in the middle of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in Russia investigation. Given his position at the FBI and his interactions with the president, McCabe is likely to be of use to Mueller in the obstruction inquiry.

Mueller was named to oversee the Russia investigation after Comey’s firing, which became a catalyst for the obstruction investigation.

The firing sent shock waves across Washington, including within the Trump administration.

Comey’s dismissal on May 9, 2017, was hastily executed and even took many senior White House officials by surprise. As it was unfolding, some of them quietly discussed how Comey would get back to Washington, a senior White House official who was there at the time said.

“I don’t think anybody had thought about how he’d get home,” the official said.

Trump thought Comey should not have been allowed to take the FBI plane he had taken to California, according to people familiar with the matter. The president’s longtime bodyguard and aide, Keith Schiller, delivered the news of Comey’s firing in envelope he brought to FBI headquarters while Comey was in California. Trump believed any privileges Comey had received as FBI director should have ceased at that moment, the people familiar with the matter said.

Comey learned of his termination from news reports broadcast on a TV in the room where he was addressing FBI agents in the bureau’s Los Angeles office. He had been in Los Angeles to speak at a recruiting event later that evening. But after learning he was fired, Comey skipped the event.

Instead he went to Los Angeles International Airport. Images of Comey on the tarmac boarding the government plane for the flight back to Washington were among the first the public saw of him after he was fired.

[NBC News]

Trump ‘asked acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe how he voted’

After firing James Comey as director of the FBI, US President Donald Trump asked the agency’s deputy director whom he had voted for, US media report.

Andrew McCabe, who had just become the agency’s acting chief after the surprise dismissal last year, said that he did not vote in the 2016 election.

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Mr Comey’s firing was an attempt to obstruct justice.

Mr Mueller leads the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

During Mr McCabe’s introductory meeting with the president after he took over the federal law enforcement agency, Mr Trump also allegedly expressed anger with Mr McCabe over his wife’s ties to the Clinton family.

Mr McCabe reportedly found the conversation “disturbing”, according to the Washington Post.

Jill McCabe, a failed Democratic candidate for the Virginia state senate, had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a political action committee controlled by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally.

Last July, Mr Trump told the New York Times: “We have a director of the FBI, acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton.”

He also erroneously claimed in a subsequent tweet that Mr McCabe had led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email during her time as US secretary of state.

Mr McCabe had recused himself from any investigations involving Virginia political figures, but Republicans have questioned why he was allowed to be involved in the investigations into Mrs Clinton’s emails, claiming he has a conflict of interest.

The FBI has said that Mrs McCabe’s campaign had ended months before Mr McCabe became involved in that investigation, which he later recused himself from as the date of the presidential election neared.

[BBC News]

Trump appears to call out Samsung over missing FBI text messages

President Trump appeared to call out Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung for a missing trove of text messages between two senior FBI officials that was not retained by the agency.

“Where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

The text messages between the two FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, are among a larger trove of messages that were not saved by the FBI because of a software glitch on some Samsung 5 phones.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that the Justice Department’s inspector general is reviewing why the messages were not retained and whether they are capable of being recovered.

Trump’s tweets came after Fox News host Sean Hannity addressed the issue on his Tuesday night show, though it is unclear if that is what prompted him to tweet. Trump is known to be an avid watcher of Fox News and often comments on matters shortly after they are addressed on air.

The text messages have come into focus as some Republicans raise concerns about political bias among the ranks of the FBI.

Strzok and Page reportedly exchanged text messages during the 2016 election expressing anti-Trump sentiments, and were both involved in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

[The Hill]

Update

The text messages were recovered a few hours after this tweet by the FBI using forensic tools.

FBI director Chris Wray replaces Comey holdover with Trump loyalist amid pressure from AG Sessions to ‘clean house’

FBI Director Christopher Wray has announced the replacements for two top FBI jobs that worked under ex-director James Comey, amid pressure from the attorney general and White House to “clean house” during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was named as the replacement for former FBI general counsel James Baker, who “was reassigned late last year.” He also appointed Zachary J. Harmon, a colleague from the law firm he worked for prior to taking the helm of the bureau, as his new chief of staff after his old one, Jim Rybicki, left to take a private sector job.

Baker’s reassignment in December came amid right-wing media speculation that he “leaked” information from the bureau and was an ally to Comey, who defended him on Twitter in the days after he was moved to a different position.

Boente, the Post noted, may be seen as a loyalist for President Donald Trump despite being appointed to his U.S. attorney position President Barack Obama. After acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to back Trump’s travel ban, Boente stepped forward to defend it.

The announcement of the filled positions came after reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pressuring Wray to reshuffle positions in the bureau. Yesterday, Axios reported that Wray threatened to quit if he were forced to fired Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a foe of the Trump administration despite being appointed as acting director of the bureau following Comey’s firing.

[Raw Story]

Trump’s FISA tweets throw Washington into chaos

President Donald Trump’s sunrise tweet casting aspersions on the domestic surveillance program his own intelligence officials have called essential set off a thunderclap of concern in Washington — and underscored the pitfalls of the President’s morning television tweet-alongs.

Phones at the White House began ringing almost immediately after Trump wrote at 7:33 a.m. ET that the FISA program up for reauthorization in the House on Thursday may have been used to “badly surveil” his campaign.

On the blinking lines: Republican lawmakers and top intelligence officials perplexed that Trump had appeared to contradict more than a week of public statements from the administration in support of the reauthorization, which allows the government to conduct warrantless spying on US soil.

Ultimately, the measure passed handily. But not until after a 101-minute long scramble to clean up the President’s position ahead of the midday vote, which Republican leaders had been eying with optimism after spending weeks rounding up votes and batting down demands from the conservative and libertarian elements of their conference.

“(Chief of staff John) Kelly’s phone was ringing off the hook,” said one senior Republican official close to intelligence matters on Capitol Hill.

“No one could believe it,” another Republican supportive of the FISA reauthorization said.

[CNN]

Reality

Trump was simply responding to a segment of Fox and Friends, a TV show he retweets regularly.

Sarah Sanders: Russia Investigation a ‘Hoax,’ But We Have ‘No Intention’ to Fire Mueller

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took some new shots at the Russia special counsel today, even as she insisted the Trump Administration doesn’t plan on firing Robert Mueller.

In an interview for America’s Newsroom, Sanders was asked by Bill Hemmer about recent questions surrounding Mueller’s probe. Sanders proceeded to dismiss the investigation as a “hoax” which shows that Democrats have no agenda beyond attacking and trying to undermine the president.

“For the 1,000th time, We have no intentions of firing Bob Mueller,” Sanders said. “We are continuing to work closely and cooperate with him. We look forward to seeing this hoax wrap up very soon.”

Hemmer followed up by asking about what Senator Rand Paul suggested earlier today about former Obama officials colluding to stop Trump from being president. Sanders responded with more jabs at Democrats and the “liberal media,” and responded that Ryan’s claims could be worth looking into.

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump asks why ‘deep state authorities’ aren’t investigating Clinton emails

President Trump on Tuesday asked why “deep state authorities” aren’t looking into the handling of the investigation into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, referencing a guest who had just appeared on Fox News.

“Charles McCullough, the respected fmr Intel Comm Inspector General, said the public was misled on Crooked Hillary Emails,” Trump tweeted. “Why aren’t our deep State authorities looking at this? Rigged and corrupt?”

McCullough, who was appointed to his post by former President Obama, said in an interview on Monday with Fox News that he experienced pushback from Democrats when he tried to explain the seriousness of the investigation into Clinton’s emails.

“I’ve heard people say this is overblown, I’ve heard people say this is much ado about nothing. Had the information been released, there would have been harm to national security,” McCullough said in the interview.

“There was personal blowback. Personal blowback to me, to my family, to my office,” McCullough told Fox News.

McCullough appeared Tuesday on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to reiterate his claims, roughly an hour before Trump’s tweet.

The FBI concluded last year that it would not pursue criminal charges against Clinton for her “extremely careless” handling of classified materials while she was secretary of State.

Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign said Clinton should be prosecuted for using a personal server to handle classified emails.

Republican lawmakers have in recent weeks pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special prosecutor to look into how the email case was handled.

[The Hill]

Interior Secretary: One-third of employees ‘not loyal to the flag’

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly said Monday that nearly a third of his department’s employees are not “loyal to the flag” or President Trump.

“I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Zinke told the National Petroleum Council during a speech, according to The Associated Press.

“We do have good people” Zinke added. “But the direction has to be clear and you’ve got to hold people accountable.”

Trump and some of his allies have complained of an entrenched federal bureaucracy that they say has worked to stop — or at least slow — the president’s agenda.

The Interior secretary’s comments about the American flag came amid a feud between Trump and the NFL over the president’s criticism of players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

Trump sparked the controversy during a campaign rally in Alabama last Friday, saying that professional athletes who protest during the anthem should be fired.

Many NFL teams responded by asserting players’ right to free speech, and many players kneeled during the anthem during Sunday’s games. Some teams, like the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, refused to appear on the field for the anthem altogether.

Some critics have claimed that the president’s comments are racially motivated.

But Trump has stood by his criticism and sought to cast his rhetoric only as a defense of the U.S. and its flag.

“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” he tweeted Monday. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”

[The Hill]

Reality

This should be very troubling that a government department head who oversees tens of thousands of non-partisan positions claims that there will be a loyalty test, and people will lose their job if they do not swear loyalty to Donald Trump.

This is third-world authoritarian stuff.

State Dept. Official Reassigned After Conspiracy Theory Attacks From Breitbart

The Trump administration has moved a second career government employee out of a top advisory role amid pressure from conservative media outlets that have publicly targeted individual staffers, questioning their loyalty to the new administration.

Some State Department officials believe the individual, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, was shifted because of the media attacks and are alarmed at the message such a move sends to civil service and foreign service employees, who are supposed to be protected by law from political retaliation.

“It puts people on edge,” said a State Department official familiar with Nowrouzzadeh’s situation.

Nowrouzzadeh, a civil service employee who helped shape the controversial Iran nuclear deal, had been detailed since last July to the secretary of state’s policy planning team, where she handled ongoing issues related to Iran and Gulf Arab countries. Her yearlong assignment was cut short earlier this month, after critical stories about her and others appeared in the Conservative Review and on Breitbart News, according to the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Nowrouzzadeh did not want to be reassigned, according to the official.

The State Department said in a statement that Nowrouzzadeh has returned to the Office of Iranian Affairs, but it would not specify her new role or address questions about why she was shifted. The department’s statement noted that Nowrouzzadeh “has an outstanding reputation in the department and we expect her to continue to do valuable work in furtherance of U.S. national security. We’ll decline additional comment on the internal [human resources] matters of career employees.”

Nowrouzzadeh declined to comment for this story.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A second person familiar with the situation confirmed that the conservative media attacks on Nowrouzzadeh had rattled people in the upper ranks of the Trump administration.

Nowrouzzadeh is an U.S.-born American citizen of Iranian descent who joined the federal government in 2005, during the George W. Bush administration. Stories published recently on conservative websites have questioned whether she should remain in her position, calling her a loyalist to former President Barack Obama and mentioning her past links to the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group that has come under criticism from the right.

Nowrouzzadeh is at least the second career staffer to be shifted after conservative media criticism.

Earlier this month, administration officials said Andrew Quinn, who had been appointed to the National Economic Council, was being sent back to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. No reason for the reassignment was given, but Quinn’s appointment to the NEC had drawn fire from Breitbart News and other conservative corners that noted the career government employee had helped the Obama administration negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal from which President Donald Trump has withdrawn.

Conservative media outlets first wrote about Nowrouzzadeh during the Obama years, when she served on the National Security Council and helped usher through the Iran nuclear deal, which was heavily criticized by many Republicans. Her name, which gives away her Iranian ethnicity, attracted attention from reporters, unusual for a lower-level staffer.

Multiple stories on Breitbart and other conservative sites pointed out that she once worked for the National Iranian American Council, which some critics allege has links to the Iranian government. But Nowrouzzadeh’s defenders note that she was merely an intern at NIAC as a college undergraduate, and that the advocacy group did not take positions on U.S. policy while she was there. NIAC, which is now more politically active, has denied working on behalf of Iran’s government.

Nowrouzzadeh is “very smart, deeply knowledgeable about Iran,” said Philip Gordon, who served as a top Middle East adviser to Obama and who has publicly defended Nowrouzzadeh in the past. “Like many civil service experts and career foreign service officers, she possesses just the sort of expertise political leaders from either party should have by their side when they make critical and difficult foreign policy decisions.”

Since Trump took office, a fresh round of stories in the Conservative Review, Breitbart and other outlets have raised questions about Nowrouzzadeh, as well as several other career government officials who have dealt with sensitive issues such as Iran, Israel and trade. Some stories have questioned why Trump kept the career staff in their roles, singling them out as “Obama holdovers,” even though some joined government years before Obama became president.

In general, U.S. law is supposed to protect career government employees from politically motivated firings and other retaliation not related to work performance. However, the political appointees of incoming administrations have wide latitude in terms of where to assign people or whom to promote, so it’s possible to shuffle people around without breaching their legal protections.

The State Department official familiar with the situation said there’s been no announcement about a replacement for Nowrouzzadeh on the policy planning team, which acts as an in-house think tank for the secretary of state.

When asked about the media attacks against her and others several weeks ago, a State spokesman said the stories in the conservative press contained a slew of misleading information. Some of the conservative media reports about Nowrouzzadeh, for instance, relied on Iranian state-run media, which often publishes “propaganda and falsehoods,” the spokesman said at the time.

Gordon said the conservative media attacks on individual government staffers may be roundabout attempts by some on the right to influence Trump’s policy agenda, especially on some sensitive issues that animate the Republican base.

“If people writing these pieces are not happy with the Trump foreign policy that may be because the president and vice president and Cabinet officers decided not to do things that are not in their interest,” Gordon said. “If Donald Trump hasn’t torn up the Iran nuclear deal, it may be because he realized that would be a bad idea. And it’s not because one of his policy planning staffers has a family of Iranian origin.”

(h/t Politico)