In extraordinary meeting, Trump gets involved in congressional oversight of Russia probe

President Trump met with top law enforcement and intelligence officials Monday to pressure them to turn over to Congress information about the origins of the FBI investigation into his own campaign.

The hour-long meeting in the Oval Office ended with an agreement to have the Justice Department’s inspector general investigate any “irregularities” in the investigation into the Trump campaign, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will also meet with congressional leaders and administration officials to mediate the dispute over documents, she said.

The White House characterized the meeting as routine, and said it was scheduled last week. But it came a day after Trump demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI spied on his campaign for president in 2016.

The episode underscores the unique position Trump finds himself in: As president, he has the constitutional power to give orders to officials overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — even though his own campaign is the subject of that investigation.

Trump’s lead lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, said Monday that Trump called the meeting in his official capacity as president.

“He wants to make sure that the relevant members of Congress get a chance to see what they are entitled to see,” he told USA TODAY. But he also said that whether Trump agrees to an interview with investigators could turn on the release of those documents, which would show the original sources of information that led to the probe.

“I think they could help us, if they show there is no original basis for the investigation,” Giuliani said.

He added, “Every time we move in the direction of an interview, something weird happens.”

Law enforcement and intelligence officials have resisted, saying it could compromise their investigation and imperil covert sources.

In the Oval Office Monday, Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Sanders said. The meeting lasted less than an hour.

The meeting was scheduled last week, Sanders said — before Trump made his demand Sunday.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s demand was a reference to a New York Times report that a secret FBI source met with Trump campaign official several times during the 2016 campaign. The informant was working for the FBI as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the American election.

Following that demand, the Justice Department announced that it was referring the matter to Justice’s inspector general to determine whether there was “any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted it counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

[USA Today]

Reality

We have never had before an american president who has used the Justice Department as his own private investigators.

Not even Nixon went this far. This is your democracy.

All this over a Fox News conspiracy theory that we know is false.

Trump goes rogue on phone security

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

President Barack Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers for hacking and other suspicious activity, according to an Obama administration official.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but a senior West Wing official said the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations. Because of the security controls of the Twitter phone and the Twitter account, it does not necessitate regular change-out.”

Trump’s call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements. The GPS location tracker, however — which can be used to track the president’s whereabouts — is disabled on Trump’s devices.

The West Wing official refuted the idea that the presence of a camera and microphone on the president’s phone posed any risk, telling POLITICO, “Due to inherent capabilities and advancement in technologies, these devices are more secure than any Obama-era devices.”

Trump’s reluctance to submit to White House security protocols that would limit his ability to tweet or contact friends freely is a case of the president’s personal peculiarities colliding with the demands of his office — a tension created in part because of society’s growing attachment to mobile technology over the past decade.

Obama, who relied on email and text messages, was the first president to speak publicly about his desire to hang on to his cellphone in office and to be photographed repeatedly with it in hand. Trump, who doesn’t use email in office, entered the White House eight years later with a long-established Twitter habit and a lifelong attachment of doing business, dealing with the press and gabbing with associates over the phone.

Former national security officials are virtually unanimous in their agreement about the dangers posed by cellphones, which are vulnerable to hacking by domestic and foreign actors who would want to listen in on the president’s conversations or monitor his movements.

“Foreign adversaries seeking intelligence about the U.S. are relentless in their pursuit of vulnerabilities in our government’s communications networks, and there is no more sought-after intelligence target than the president of the United States,” said Nate Jones, former director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council in the Obama administration and the founder of Culper Partners, a consulting firm.

While the president has the authority to override or ignore the advice provided by aides and advisers for reasons of comfort or convenience, Jones said, “doing so could pose significant risks to the country.”

Trump campaigned in part on his denunciations of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state — a system that made classified information vulnerable to hacking by hostile actors.

“Her server was easily hacked by foreign governments, perhaps even by her financial backers in communist China — sure they have it — putting all of America and our citizens in danger, great danger,” Trump said in a June 2016 speech in which he called Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to run for president.” He repeatedly vowed on the trail to “lock her up.”

Dozens of Trump’s friends and advisers testify to his frequent cellphone use. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trump confidant, told POLITICO in April that he hears from the president either late at night or early in the morning, sometimes from a blocked number and sometimes from “a 10-digit number that starts with a 202 area code.”

Three White House aides confirmed that Trump’s cellphone number changes from time to time. Several aides close to the president also carry secure devices from which he can place calls — a standard practice in any presidential administration.

Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly has cracked down on personal cellphone use by White House staff, citing security risks.

Personal cellphones were banned from the West Wing in January in order to “protect White House information technology infrastructure from compromise and sensitive or classified information from unauthorized access or dissemination,” according to a memo sent to staff.

The memo was sent after Kelly’s own phone was apparently compromised during the Trump transition. At the time, according to a senior administration official, he was told to replace the phone — his own personal device — though he didn’t do so until October, after POLITICO reported the potential hacking.

Though it was unclear whether Kelly’s phone was compromised by a foreign government, cybersecurity experts pointed to sophisticated adversaries like Russia and China as the biggest threats, and expressed shock over the president’s refusal to take measures to protect himself from them, particularly when engaged in delicate negotiations.

“It’s baffling that Trump isn’t taking baseline cybersecurity measures at a time when he is trying to negotiate his way out of a trade war with China, a country that is known for using cyber tactics to gain the upper hand in business negotiations,” said Samm Sacks, a China and technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Former government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations expressed astonishment that any White House would issue the president a cellphone that posed a security threat.

“This would be the case of a president overruling literally the most rudimentary advice given by the communications agencies,” said Andrew McLaughlin, who served as deputy chief technology officer under Obama and helped develop the former president’s specialized phone.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has warned of the threats posed by unsecured devices and is considering banning personal cellphones as well as exercise trackers from the Pentagon. “It’s about electronics, GPS-enabled electronics. You have to also consider the fact that we have been attacked, bases have been attacked. Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us,” Mattis spokeswoman Dana White told reporters in early February.

Trump is not the first president to struggle with the relative isolation of the Oval Office and cling to his cellphone as a way to stay connected with friends and family outside of Washington. Three days before his inauguration in 2001, George W. Bush sent a wistful message to friends announcing that he would no longer use email. “Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me,” he wrote them.

Eight years later, Obama begged advisers to find a way for him to keep his beloved BlackBerry after his election and said publicly he used the phone as a way to reach beyond the Washington bubble.

A notorious text and email junkie who was frequently spotted on the campaign trail with headphones plugged in his ears listening to music streaming from his phone, Obama tasked his transition team with developing a phone that complied with the White House’s stringent electronic security guidelines. “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry,” he told CNBC in January 2009, days before his inauguration.

The Obama transition team produced a military-grade phone without a microphone, camera, or location tracker that could not make or receive calls.

“I get the thing, and they’re all like, ‘Well, Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work … you can’t play your music on it,’” Obama told Jimmy Fallon in 2016. “Basically, it’s like, does your 3-year-old have one of those play phones?”

[Politico]

Trump Throws Chuck Schumer a Shoutout on China Trade Talks: We ‘Have Long Agreed’

The White House announced over the weekend that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had come to an agreement that would see China reduce its trade deficit with the US, and in exchange the US would remove tariffs.

The halt on tariffs cooled off a potential trade war between the two countries, but it’s not clear that the new agreement is much of a win for Trump.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “They did NOTHING!”

“With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue!” he added. “Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

[Mediaite]

Reality

China intellectual property theft was actually a big deal with Obama.

Trump even continued with Obama’s anti-hacking policies toward China.
(https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/08/trump-obama-china-hacking-deal-244658)

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “hasn’t seen” intel showing Russia pushed for Trump win

Following a classified election security briefing for all House members, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she “hasn’t seen” a conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia’s intent in meddling in the 2016 election was to help Donald Trump win the presidency and to hurt Hillary Clinton. Nielsen was pressed about the January Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, endorsed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion, that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I’m not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment,” Nielsen told reporters following the briefing. Nielsen joined FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Nielsen added, “What we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides. So we’ve seen them encourage people go to a protest on one side; we’ve seen them simultaneously encourage people to go to that same protest on the other side. So I think what they’re trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what’s happening. It’s an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American’s behavior in what they’re voting for.”

Her comments contrast with the intelligence community’s report that Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

“We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment,” the report’s conclusion found.

[CBS News]

Trump ‘demands’ probe of alleged spying on his campaign

Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump sharpened Sunday his accusations that his presidential campaign was “infiltrated” or spied on for political purposes, saying he would officially “demand” a Justice Department investigation.

The president has repeatedly cast the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by his campaign as a politically driven “witch hunt,” while offering no evidence.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes,” he tweeted, “and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Trump’s angry tweet came amid building pressure from the year-old investigation and reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2016 sent a Britain-based American professor to speak separately with three Trump campaign advisers.

A New York Times report described the professor as “an informant” but not a spy, saying the federal agency was looking into evidence that Carter Page, Sam Clovis and George Papadopoulos had suspicious contacts with Russia.

The Washington Post called him “a longtime US intelligence source,” used by both the FBI and the CIA.

But Trump and his supporters have cast the man as a mole possibly sent by the Obama administration to burrow into his campaign. “If so, this is bigger than Watergate!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.

While Trump allies in Congress have demanded more information about the informant, law enforcement officials have refused, saying the source — not yet officially identified — could be in danger if named.

Democrats say the president’s real objective is to undermine the Mueller inquiry.

Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, a former Justice Department prosecutor and assistant attorney general, told CNN on Friday that it was not clear whether an FBI informant had been embedded in the campaign, while adding that the spy agency “should tell us if there was.”

[Yahoo News]

Update

The worst part is, FBI Deputy Directory Rod Rosenstein agreed to the demand, instead of resigning and keeping any integrity.

So we can see Rosenstein is less Archibald Cox and more Robert Bork.

Trump Rails Against ‘Failing and Crooked’ NY Times For ‘Boring’ Report on Gulf Prince Offering Campaign Assistance

President Donald Trump went on a Twitter tirade Sunday against a New York Times exposé revealing his son and other campaign officials met with a Gulf emissary who offered a hand in winning the 2016 election.

Trump blasted the report, calling the publication “Failing and Crooked,” while adding in a jab at Hillary Clinton. He contended that the report was merely “a long & boring story” showing Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation “has found nothing on Russia & me.”

But it didn’t stop there. Launching into one of his trademark tweetstorms, Trump railed against Mueller’s probe as being the work of a bunch of angry democrats, and suggested that they re-focus the investigation onto the Clinton emails.

The Times reported that during the meeting arranged by Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, Donald Trump Jr. was assured by emissary George Nader that leaders in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were hopeful Trump would secure the election, and they wanted to help. Nader has been cooperating with the the special counsel’s investigation in recent months, CNN reported.

While Trump was quick to dismiss the report and again bash the Mueller probe, the investigation has already resulted in more than a dozen indictments along with five guilty pleas.

The president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, believes there is a chance Trump could be subpoenaed in the probe, and has begun preparing him in the event that he’s interviewed, Politico reported.

[Mediaite]

Trump welcomes Melania home from hospital by misspelling her name

President Donald Trump welcomed first lady Melania Trump home from the hospital Saturday, but initially misspelled her name as “Melanie” in a tweet.

“Great to have our incredible First Lady back home in the White House. Melania is feeling and doing really well. Thank you for all of your prayers and best wishes!” he wrote after initially tweeting and deleting the same message with a typo of the first lady’s name.

The first lady returned home on Saturday following a Monday procedure, her office confirmed in a statement.

“The first lady returned home to the White House this morning. She is resting comfortably and remains in high spirits,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director. “Our office has received thousands of calls and emails wishing Mrs. Trump well, and we thank everyone who has taken the time to reach out.”

Trump has been recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since she underwent a kidney embolization procedure on Monday. Grisham said Monday that the first lady was expected to stay in the hospital for the duration of the week.

Pressed for more information about the first lady’s condition and why she stayed in the hospital five nights after what was possibly a routine kidney procedure, Grisham pushed back on reports speculating about Trump’s health.

“Every patient is different,” she told CNN. “The medical professionals who have been giving opinions to the media based on one statement are uninformed. Mrs. Trump has a medical team that is comfortable with her care, which is all that matters. Her recovery and privacy are paramount and I will have no further comment beyond this. Anyone else who chooses to speak with the media will only be speculating.”

He visited his wife multiple times following the procedure.

“She’s doing great. Doing great,” he told a reporter after delivering remarks at a prison reform event Friday at the White House.

On Tuesday, the President tweeted that she was “doing really well” and would be leaving the hospital in “2 or 3 days.” It’s unclear why the hospital stay lasted longer than expected.

Earlier in the week, the first lady’s office declined to offer further details about the extended hospital stay and asked for privacy.

“I am not going to expand beyond the statement I put out,” Grisham, told CNN Tuesday when asked why the routine procedure would require a multi-day hospital stay. “The first lady is in good spirits and she is resting. There are HIPAA laws to consider, but she also deserves personal privacy.”

Though she isn’t expected to make any public appearances in the coming days, Trump expressed her appreciation for Walter Reed medical staff earlier this week.

“A sincere thank you to Walter Reed Medical Unit @WRBethesda & to all who have send good wishes & prayers! I am feeling great & look forward to getting back home @WhiteHouse soon,” she tweeted Wednesday.

Trump, who turned 48 last month, had been experiencing an issue with her kidney that her office described as benign but requiring medical attention.

She is the first US first lady to undergo such a serious medical procedure while in the White House since Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy in October 1987. Rosalynn Carter underwent surgery to remove a benign lump from her breast in April 1977. Weeks after Betty Ford became first lady, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy in September 1974.

[CNN]

Trump Jr. Met With Foreign Group Offering to Help Trump Win Election

Donald Trump Jr. met with an Israeli social media expert who pitched a multimillion dollar campaign to help his father win the 2016 presidential election just months before the vote, The New York Times reports. Blackwater founder Erik Prince reportedly arranged the August 2016 meeting, which was also attended by George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russia probe. Nader is said to have informed Trump Jr. that the crown princes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to offer as much support as they could to help the older Trump win.

The social media expert, Joel Zamel, reportedly attended the meeting at Trump Tower on behalf of a company that specializes in online manipulation and had already drawn up a massive campaign to elect Trump that involved using thousands of fake social media accounts. The company, Psy-Group, whose motto is “Shape Reality,” reportedly went so far as to consult an American law firm about the legality of its proposal. The meeting has come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, with investigators now trying to determine whether these offers were connected to Russia in any way.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump Calls on Justice Department to Release Mueller Probe Documents: ‘Drain the Swamp!’

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to tout his latest theory that the “FBI or DOJ was infiltrating” his campaign during the 2016 election in order to sabotage it and allow for a Hillary Clinton victory.

This latest theory is based on a New York Times report that revealed the FBI launched an incredibly secretive investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 and used an informant to glean info from four campaign affiliates: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos.

That report was seized on by the Russia investigation’s chief critics in the media who argued it was evidence the FBI spied on the Trump campaign with the malicious intent of setting then-candidate Trump up and bringing him down (they clearly did not do a very good job of it, but that’s apparently beside the point). Trump himself has enjoyed this narrative, tweeting about it often, if always in the conditional.

Trump tweeted — erroneously, as no one reported that the informant was “implanted” into his campaign — on Friday:

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

Trump again wheeled out the “If” in his latest tweet Saturday evening:

“If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal,” he wrote. “Only the release or review of documents that the House Intelligence Committee (also, Senate Judiciary) is asking for can give the conclusive answers. Drain the Swamp!”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has been engaged in a tense showdown with the Department of Justice over documents he has demanded that relate to special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties.

The DOJ has refused to hand over the documents, arguing they could endanger an intelligence source, Politico reported.

Now, while the New York Times and the Washington Post have omitted the name of that intelligence source from their reporting, it has become abundantly clear who he is. Hell, the Daily Caller reported on him three months ago, so the cat’s pretty much out of the bag.

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump warns NATO members will be ‘dealt with’ if they refuse to pay more for military alliance

Donald Trump singled out Germany in renewing his criticism of Nato members he accuses of not contributing enough, saying laggards would be “dealt with”.

Speaking alongside Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the White House, Mr Trump reiterated a longstanding charge that America bears a disproportionate share of supporting the military alliance’s activities.

Germany “has not contributed what it should be contributing and it’s a very big beneficiary”, said the president, who has long had a frosty relationship with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The president’s world view is rooted in a belief that the US has consistently been taken advantage of by international pacts and organisations – a scepticism that fuels his unilaterally focused “America First” stance.

During the presidential campaign, he suggested America might only defend Nato allies if they had “fulfilled their obligations to us”.

Despite Mr Trump’s wariness, Mr Stoltenberg praised the president for impelling other nations to augment defense spending, saying “it is impacting allies because now all allies are increasing defense spending”.

During the presidential campaign, he suggested America might only defend Nato allies if they had “fulfilled their obligations to us”.

Despite Mr Trump’s wariness, Mr Stoltenberg praised the president for impelling other nations to augment defence spending, saying “it is impacting allies because now all allies are increasing defence spending”.

[The Independent]

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