Trump officials caught seeking State Department purge

Two top House Democrats allege that high-level political appointees in the State Department and senior White House officials have worked with conservative activists to purge from the agency career officials deemed insufficiently loyal to President Trump.

A letter sent Thursday to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan alleges that political appointees at the State Department have characterized career officials in “derogatory terms.”

Among the descriptors used for certain career officials were “a leaker and a troublemaker” and a “turncoat,” the letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) reads, citing documents obtained from a whistleblower.

Those documents also contain communications with high-profile conservative activists, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and David Wurmser, a former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In one email forwarded by Gingrich to Trump-appointed officials at the State Department, Wurmser wrote that “a cleaning is in order here,” apparently referring to removing career employees believed to be disloyal to Trump.

“I hear [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson actually has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind,” Wurmser wrote.

The allegations highlight what critics have said is Trump and his aides’ intense concern about loyalty within the government, particularly in the State Department. The president and his allies have in the past suggested the existence of a “deep state” bent on undermining his agenda.

The State Department has seen a particularly significant exodus of career officials since Trump took office last year. While some of those departures were attributed to planned retirements, others have reportedly left amid dwindling morale.

The letter from Cummings and Engel points to one case, in particular — that of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh.

Nowrouzzadeh, an Iran expert and civil servant, raised concerns to her boss, Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, last year after she was targeted by an article in a conservative news outlet.

“I am and have been a career civil servant for nearly 12 years now,” she wrote in an email to Hook, noting that she began her government career under the Bush administration. “I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I’ve worked for.”

In the email, she asked Hook for advice on how to “correct the record.”

But Hook, according to the lawmakers’ letter, instead forwarded Nowrouzzadeh’s email to White House officials, and it later served as the basis for an internal discussion about her loyalty to the Trump administration that touched on her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

One email from Julia Haller, a White House liaison to the State Department at the time, falsely claimed that Nowrouzzadeh was born in Iran and alleges that she “cried when the President won” the 2016 election.

Nowrouzzadeh was eventually removed from her detail on the State Department’s policy planning staff three months early, Cummings and Engel said.

The letter requests a trove of documents and communications about the actual or proposed reassignments of career employees at the State Department related to “alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities.”

The lawmakers have asked for those materials to be turned over by March 29.

Heather Nauert, the acting undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, said on Thursday that the State Department would comply with the lawmakers’ requests, but noted that she had never witnessed any kind of disloyalty on the part of career officials at the agency.

“I have found my colleagues to be extremely professional,” Nauert said at a department press briefing. “Those on staff who have been here for many years, I have found them almost blind to politics.”

[The Hill]

Trump: ‘Little Adam Schiff’ one of the ‘biggest liars and leakers in Washington’

President Trump on Monday lashed out at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), calling him “one of the biggest liars” in Washington and accusing him of leaking confidential information.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with [James] Comey, [Sen. Mark] Warner, [John] Brennan and [James] Clapper!” Trump tweeted, referring to the former FBI director, the Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman, a former CIA chief and a former national intelligence chief, respectively.

Trump also accused Schiff of leaving committee hearings to “illegally leak confidential information,” something the White House has previously suggested Schiff has done.

Schiff, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has denied such accusations and fired back later Monday morning, saying Trump was spreading “false smears.”

“Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or…really anything else,” Schiff tweeted.

The California lawmaker has been a vocal critic of Trump and in recent days has been a central figure in objecting to the release of a Republican-crafted memo that alleges the Department of Justice abused a surveillance program to target the Trump campaign in 2016.

The four-page memo was released Friday after Trump declassified the document. The president tweeted that it “totally vindicates” him in the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Schiff, however, said the memo does “quite the opposite.” Multiple Republicans said Sunday that the memo does not vindicate Trump.

Schiff also warned Sunday that Trump is trying to turn the Justice Department into a “personal political tool.”

The Intel panel is scheduled to meet on Monday to consider whether to declassify a Democratic memo that counters the Republican’s release.

[The Hill]

Reality

There is no evidence Adam Schiff leaked anything. Even Fox News had nothing, interviewing Devin Nunes who said he was responsible for 100 leaks, but provided no evidence. A common theme with Nunes.

Trump Administration Looking Into Jailing Journals For Publishing Leaks

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, taking up an issue that has infuriated President Donald Trump, went on the attack against leaks on Friday, and said that the government was reviewing policies on compelling journalists to reveal sources.

“One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” Sessions told reporters as he announced administration efforts to battle what he called a “staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country.”

“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” he said.

A media subpoena is a writ compelling a journalist to testify or produce evidence, with a penalty for failure to do so. The fact the administration is reviewing its policy leaves open the possibility of sentencing journalists for not disclosing their sources.

Trump has repeatedly voiced anger over a steady stream of leaks to the media about him and his administration since he took office in January. Some have been related to probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, others have concerned infighting in the White House.

Speaking to reporters after the media event with Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the department was just starting to review the policy on media subpoenas and could not say yet how it might be changed. But he did not rule out the possibility of threatening journalists with jail time.

Under U.S. law, a government attorney must seek the attorney general’s approval before issuing a subpoena to attempt to force a member of the news media to divulge information to authorities.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed in 2005 for refusing to reveal a source about stories on Iraq, but she cut a deal with prosecutors before she was formally charged.

In addressing the wider issue of leaks, Sessions said the Justice Department has tripled the number of investigations into unauthorized leaks of classified information and that four people have already been charged.

“We are taking a stand,” said Sessions, who in recent weeks has been publicly criticized by Trump for his performance in the job, including for what Trump called his weakness on the issue of going after leakers. “This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said.

It is not illegal to leak information, as such, but divulging classified information is against the law.

Some of the more high-profile leaks in the Trump administration have revealed White House infighting in articles that would appear not to involve divulging classified information.

Sessions did not immediately give the identities of the four people charged, but said they had been accused of unlawfully disclosing classified information or concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers.

Rosenstein did not give the exact number of leak investigations the Justice Department is currently handling, only that this number has tripled under the Trump administration.

In the latest major leak to the media, the Washington Post published transcripts on Thursday of contentious phone calls that Trump had in the early days of his administration with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders,” Sessions said of that case.

One tool Sessions has for prosecuting leakers is the Espionage Act, a World War One-era law that was designed to stop leaks to America’s enemies. Federal prosecutors have used it 12 times to charge individuals for disclosing information to the media, eight of them under Democratic former President Barack Obama.

The most recent case, and the first under Trump, was the Justice Department’s indictment in June of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a U.S. intelligence contractor accused of leaking a classified National Security Agency report about Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

[Reuters]