Justice Department seizes reporter’s phone, email records in leak probe

The Department of Justice reportedly seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump.

The Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized years’ worth of records from journalist Ali Watkins’s time as a reporter at BuzzFeed News and Politico before she joined The Times in 2017 as a federal law enforcement reporter, according to the report Thursday.

Watkins was alerted by a prosecutor in February that the DOJ had years of records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies such as Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her.

Investigators did not receive the content of the records, according to The Times.

The newspaper reported that it learned of the letter on Thursday.

“It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department — through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process,” Watkin’s attorney Mark MacDougall said in a statement to The Times.

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

FBI agents reportedly contacted Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, James Wolfe, as part of a probe into unauthorized leaks.

Watkins reportedly did not answer the agents’ questions, however. Watkins told The Times that Wolfe did not act as a source for information during their relationship.

She also said she informed editors at BuzzFeed, Politico and The Times of the relationship.

BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith declined to comment for the Times report, while Politico didn’t immediately respond for its request for comment.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year that the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.

[The Hill]

Trump: DOJ must not let Wasserman Schultz, aide ‘off the hook’

President Donald Trump on Thursday urged the Justice Department to not let Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and one of her former aides “off the hook,” suggesting the imbroglio over IT staffer Imran Awan allegedly committing fraud on a home equity loan is “a key to much of the corruption we see today.”

“Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook,” the president tweeted. “The Democrat I.T. scandal is a key to much of the corruption we see today.”

The remarks come amid reports Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, are poised to strike a plea dealover the investigation into their alleged conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Trump has publicly criticized his own Justice Department over the ongoing federal probe into Russian election meddling in 2016 and ties to his campaign while questioning why it has not more aggressively pursued alleged crimes by Democrats. “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues,” Trump tweeted of the investigation last week, adding, “Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?”

He has upended norms with his apparent attempts to pressure the Justice Department and has repeatedly denigrated Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe.

In a statement provided by her spokesman, Wasserman Schultz replied to the president’s tweet: “I’m focused on doing my job. Donald Trump should focus on doing his.”

Wasserman Schultz — part of the target of his most recent attack — was notably a vocal supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, during which she served as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Schultz resigned after the Democratic National Convention in 2016 amid criticisms of her handling of the primary bout between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and after the scandal surrounding the hacked DNC server.

Awan, a former House Democratic aide to Wasserman Schultz, was arrested on a bank fraud charge while trying to leave the country to travel to Pakistan in July. Accused of seeking to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a home equity loan for a rental property, in violation of the credit union’s policies, Awan pleaded not guilty to the charge.

In August, a grand jury widened the scope of the criminal indictment, with Awan and his wife facing new charges including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, making false statements on a loan or credit application, carrying out unlawful monetary transactions and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. They pleaded not guilty to the charges in September.

Conservative legislators and lawmakers have panned Wasserman Schultz for continuing to employ the IT staffer for months after he became the subject of criminal investigation. Awan was on the payroll for Wasserman Schultz until his indictment in July. Awan, who has worked for over two dozen House Democrats, has been at the center of a criminal probe related to alleged procurement theft on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans have raised questions over whether Awan’s work posed a national security threat.

Trump on Thursday implicated efforts to strike a plea deal in the Awan case as part of a conspiracy to obscure information on Democratic servers.

“They want to make a ‘plea deal’ to hide what is on their Server. Where is Server? Really bad!” Trump added on Twitter.

[Politico]

Trump slams Jeff Sessions, suggests a different attorney general would have stopped Russia probe

President Donald Trump is blaming his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for allowing the Russia investigation to continue. Trump tweets that he would have “picked someone else” for the top job at the Justice Department had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the probe.

It’s the latest salvo from Trump in his bid to discredit the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is investigating Russia’s attempts to sway voters in the 2016 election and whether Trump associates provided any help. He’s also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by taking steps to shut down the probe

Trump tweeted Tuesday: “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”

[CNBC]

Trump suggests political bias to blame in Clinton email report’s delay

President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that the release of a Justice Department inspector general report into the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information is being delayed in order to make it more sympathetic to those being investigated.

“What is taking so long with the Inspector General’s Report on Crooked Hillary and Slippery James Comey. Numerous delays. Hope Report is not being changed and made weaker! There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency!” Trump tweeted.

The much-anticipated report is not directed at reviewing Clinton’s actions, but will examine former FBI Director Comey and other senior officials at the Justice Department and FBI under the Obama administration. It will include a review of whether “certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper consideration.”

A draft of the report has been completed, sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN last month, and has been sent to lawyers for the various individuals criticized in it so that they can review it with their clients and submit rebuttal points for consideration. Many submitted their feedback to the inspector general last week, the sources said.

Its public release is expected any day.

The report, which is headed by Inspector General Michael Horowitz and was launched in January 2017, has the potential to deliver the stiffest blow for officials who formerly occupied the highest positions within the FBI and Justice Department.

One potential preview of Horowitz’s findings on decisions by Comey was already outlined in a blistering memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which detailed the ways Comey broke with long-standing department protocols and customs in the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein’s memo, controversial in its own regard, was initially used to rationalize firing Comey, but then Trump later said he would have done it regardless of Rosenstein’s memo, and has since defended his decision as a “great honor.”

[CNN]

Trump Pardons Dinesh D’Souza, Who Pleaded Guilty To Campaign Finance Fraud

President Trump has pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions in other people’s names.

On Twitter on Thursday, Trump said D’Souza was “treated very unfairly by our government.”

The White House later issued an official statement saying D’Souza was, “in the president’s opinion, a victim of selective prosecution” — an opinion that was roundly rejected by a federal judge when D’Souza was sentenced. The White House also noted that D’Souza “accepted responsibility for his actions” and completed community service.

D’Souza has been an outspoken supporter of President Trump.

This is the fifth pardon of Trump’s presidency. He told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday that he is considering using his clemency power in other high-profile cases, as well.

He said he is weighing a pardon for Martha Stewart, who served time for conspiracy and lying to federal investigators but has been free for more than a decade. Trump said she was “unfairly treated” and “used to be my biggest fan in the world.”

And the president said he was considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to more than a decade in prison for corruption after he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by former President Barack Obama.

Trump said Blagojevich was put in jail “for being stupid and saying things that … many other politicians say.” He also noted that Blagojevich is a Democrat.

“I don’t know him other than that he was on The Apprentice for a short period of time,” Trump said, referring his former reality TV show. Blagojevich was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2010.

D’Souza is a best-selling author and successful filmmaker who served as an adviser in the Reagan administration. He’s also a prominent Christian activist; he used to be the president of a Christian college but resigned after he became engaged to one woman while still married to another. He is also a former commentator on NPR.

In 2014, when he was charged with violating federal election campaign laws, D’Souza alleged that he was the victim of selective prosecution, targeted for his conservative beliefs. He had been sharply critical of Obama, whose administration prosecuted him.

A judge rejected that defense, calling it “all hat, no cattle.” Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted the case, emphatically denied any political motivation.

“As our office’s record reflects, we will investigate and prosecute violations of federal law, particularly those that undermine the integrity of the democratic electoral process, without regard to the defendant’s political persuasion or party affiliation,” he said in 2014. “That is what we did in this case and what we will continue to do.”

D’Souza ultimately admitted to donating tens of thousands of dollars to a U.S. Senate campaign, well above the individual contributions limit of $5,000, by funneling money to other people and donating in their names.

As part of his guilty plea, D’Souza admitted that he “knew what he was doing was wrong and something the law forbids,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

D’Souza was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months’ confinement in a community center.

He has continued to protest his prosecution as political, and celebrated when Bharara was pushed out of office by the Trump administration.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood blasted Trump’s pardon of D’Souza.

“President Trump is undermining the rule of law by pardoning a political supporter who is an unapologetic convicted felon,” Underwood said in a statement.

In addition to the five people pardoned, Trump has granted one commutation since taking office.

All the cases have involved public figures or received media attention — from Scooter Libby to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump is moving to grant pardons much more quickly than his most recent predecessors. At this same point in their presidencies, former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton had not issued any pardons.

While issuing pardons used to be more common, presidents in the past few decades have waited until closer to the end of their terms before granting large amounts of pardons, particularly those that might be considered controversial.

Clemency advocates have noted that high visibility in the press — on Fox News in particular — and personal appeals from celebrities seem to help when seeking clemency from Trump.

Actor Sylvester Stallone successfully lobbied for a posthumous pardon for legendary boxer Jack Johnson.

On Wednesday, reality star Kim Kardashian West met with Trump at the White House to make the case for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother serving life in prison for a first-time drug offense.

Kardashian West tweeted after the meeting that she hopes Trump will act on Johnson’s case.

[NPR]

Trump: Wish I picked someone other than Sessions to head DOJ

President Trump on Wednesday said he regrets his decision to pick Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the latest sign of his growing anger over the Russia investigation.

Citing Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who said earlier on CBS that Trump “could have picked somebody else” to lead the Justice Department, the president responded, “I wish I did!”

Gowdy was asked whether Trump obstructed justice when he reportedly asked Sessions early last year to reverse his decision to rescue himself from the Russia probe, an interaction reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

In comments later quoted by Trump, Gowdy said Trump was merely “expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward.”

“There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!” Trump wrote, quoting Gowdy.

The president has lashed out at a variety of targets as the Russia investigation has moved closer to his inner circle, including special counsel Robert Mueller and now Sessions.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator and top Trump campaign backer, decided to recuse himself from the probe after it was revealed he had not disclosed contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the 2016 presidential race.

That decision angered Trump, who viewed it as the ultimate betrayal. The president has said publicly he wants an attorney general who will shield him legally and politically.

“If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you,’” Trump told the Times in July 2017. “It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

The Times reported that Mueller is probing the interaction between Sessions and the president in his effort to determine whether Trump obstructed the investigation into ties between Moscow’s election interference and the Trump campaign.

Trump, however, has not shied away from attacking Sessions, blasting him as “weak” for not heeding his calls to launch an investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

Aides say the president has not fired Sessions, however, because he understands it would draw even more legal and political backlash.

Instead, Trump has chosen to attack Mueller and his investigators in an effort to undermine the credibility of the probe.

Gowdy rebutted one of the president’s main line of attacks, that the Obama administration embedded a spy on his campaign in order to benefit Clinton. In fact, the FBI used a confidential source who met with several Trump associates suspected of having contacts with Russians.

“I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia,” Gowdy said on CBS.

Trump did not cite those remarks on Twitter.

[The Hill]

Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from Russia probe

President Donald Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, according to a report in The New York Times.

The meeting is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team, which is seeking to find out whether Trump has made attempts to obstruct the probe, the Times said. It’s also an indication that Mueller’s obstruction probe into Trump is more extensive than previously thought.

The recusal kept Sessions from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation into possible Russian involvement with the Trump campaign, ceding responsibility to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

At a meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in March 2017, the president berated Sessions for recusing himself and asked him to change his mind, saying he needed a loyalist overseeing the investigation, the Times reported. Sessions refused, the article said.

A representative for the attorney general did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. The special counsel’s office declined to comment, and the White House referred inquiries to the president’s outside counsel.

Later Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that he wished he had picked another person to be attorney general.

Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s attorneys in the Russia probe, told CNBC that Trump still seems frustrated over Sessions for the recusal “because he believes he should not have in the first place.”

Ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Trump has attacked sessions both in public and in private. The president has frequently taken to Twitter to slam Sessions.

The Times, citing a source, also reported that Trump, in July, had told his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to convince Sessions to resign. Priebus then informed the attorney general’s chief of staff, who told Priebus that the president himself would have to ask Sessions to quit, which did not end up happening, the report said.

Priebus was out as chief of staff by the end of July, replaced by John Kelly. The Times reported that Mueller’s team wants to ask Trump about his discussions with Priebus regarding Sessions.

Read the full report in The New York Times.

[CNBC]

Trump tweets lie: Why didn’t FBI tell me about ‘phony Russia problem’ during campaign

President Trump questioned on Saturday why the FBI never informed him that it was examining Russian interference in the 2016 election when the bureau began using an informant to meet with his campaign advisers.

“With Spies, or ‘Informants’ as the Democrats like to call them because it sounds less sinister (but it’s not), all over my campaign, even from a very early date, why didn’t the crooked highest levels of the FBI or ‘Justice’ contact me to tell me of the phony Russia problem?” Trump tweeted.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that a top-secret FBI informant met with at least three Trump campaign advisers in 2016. The meeting took place in the early days of the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential election.

Trump and his allies have suggested in recent days that the informant was used to spy on his campaign for political reasons. No evidence has surfaced to suggest that that was the case.

Former intelligence officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have pushed back on Trump’s allegations, saying that the informant was deployed as the intelligence community sought to determine whether Russia was taking active measures to influence the election.

It was also reported in late 2017 that the FBI did, in fact, warn the Trump campaign of possible Russian meddling.

Select lawmakers met with top Justice Department officials this week in a pair of classified meetings to discuss the use of the informant, who has been identified in media reports as American professor Stefan Halper.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report released last year that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the presidential election and sought to help Trump’s campaign.

That conclusion has become the subject of a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has denounced that probe as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” intended to undermine his presidency.

[The Hill]

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 ‘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.

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