Trump says he doesn’t believe report of Israel spying on White House

US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not believe a report that Israel was likely behind the placement of devices in the vicinity of the White House that can capture cellphone calls.

“I don’t believe that, no, I don’t believe the Israelis were spying on us. I really would find that hard to believe,” Trump told reporters at the White House after being asked about the report.

The Politico news outlet reported Thursday that the FBI had determined Israel was responsible for the placement of cellphone surveillance equipment near the White House and at other sensitive locations in Washington, DC.

“My relationship with Israel has been great,” Trump said, listing some of his pro-Israel accomplishments. “Anything is possible,” he conceded, “but I don’t believe it.”

Earlier Thursday a senior US official also denied the report.

The story “is completely false. Absolutely false. I checked,” Noga Tarnopolsky, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, quoted the senior administration official as saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials swiftly rejected the accusation as a “blatant lie.” Netanyahu said it was absolutely false, without “a scintilla” of truth.

“There is a longstanding commitment, and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US. This directive is strictly enforced without exception,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.

Also, an Israeli spying operation against the United States government on American soil would represent a dramatic departure from decades-old Israeli policy, a former intelligence official said.

According to Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser, that was not a pro forma denial by a government caught doing something it shouldn’t, but a true description of Israeli policy.

“Can I tell you from personal knowledge that it’s not happening today? No. Could someone have lost it completely in some upper echelon of the government? I don’t know. But based on everything I know, it’s totally false,” Freilich told The Times of Israel.

A former senior US official with knowledge of the alleged Israeli operation told Politico it was assumed that the devices were installed to spy on US President Donald Trump and his top aides, although it was unclear whether the attempt was successful.

[Times of Israel]

Trump Quotes Lou Dobbs Going Off on FBI Over Comey: The Nation Is ‘Disgusted With the FBI’

President Donald Trump tonight watched and tweeted quotes from Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs going off on the FBI and the president’s critics.

Dobbs was speaking with Alan Dershowitz and asking about when people like James Comey will be held accountable.

At one point Dobbs said, “The ideal here is that we have a nation right now that is disgusted with the FBI. The corrupt leadership…”

Dershowitz said he agrees.

“We have a crisis of confidence in the number one law enforcement agency in this country,” Dobbs continued. “And they’re behaving as if it’s a game.”

Trump watched Dobbs tonight and tweeted that quote from the segment, as well as another quote from Dobbs railing against Democrats opposing the president who he said “choose to hate America”:

[Mediaite]

Trump Tweets Videos of Fox News Segments Trashing Comey, Decrying ‘Attempted Coup’

President Donald Trump‘s public complaints about Fox News this week have not stopped his his typical social media habit of sharing clips from the network.

Today he posted a number of videos from Fox News trashing former FBI director James Comey after the OIG report released yesterday. Comey was not charged, but he was criticized for setting a “dangerous example” with his actions.

This morning Trump shared a Fox & Friends segment with former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright saying “in 2016, we had effectively a coup” going on:

This afternoon, he shared clips of both Congressmen Doug CollinsPeter King (who railed against an “attempted coup” too), and Jim Jordan:

[Mediaite]

Trump accuses NYT reporter of breaking the law by alerting FBI to Kushner meetings with Russians

President Donald Trump accused a New York Times reporter of breaking the law by tipping off the FBI to developments in the Russia investigation.

Times reporter Michael Schmidt alerted the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs in March 2017 that he and some colleagues had found out Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn had met in December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who then set up a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law and a Russian banker.

Schmidt’s email was then forwarded to FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the bureau’s Russia investigation, and Jonathan Moffa, an FBI counterintelligence officer, reported the Washington Examiner.

Trump reacted with a pair of tweets suggesting that Schmidt had fed false information to the FBI.

“Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper. Is what they have done legal?”

[Raw Story]

White House claims without proof that FBI has ‘outrageous’ corruption Barr will uncover

The White House on Sunday brushed aside congressional Democrats’ concerns about Atty. Gen. William Barr being handed extraordinary powers to declassify sensitive intelligence as part of a probe into the origins of the investigation into Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election.

Reflecting his anger over unflattering depictions of his actions in the report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, including several episodes that might have constituted obstruction of justice, President Trump has authorized the attorney general to investigate the investigation. Trump and his allies have long insisted that the FBI improperly “spied” on his campaign.

Democrats already have accused Barr of trying to put the best possible face on Mueller’s findings and say they fear he will selectively release documents in an effort to undermine public confidence in the nation’s intelligence agencies and Mueller’s investigators.

Mueller’s report itself documents activities during the 2016 presidential campaign that caught the attention of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including information passed along by Australian officials concerning a Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, who told an Australian diplomat that Democratic emails had been stolen by the Russians before the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer system became public knowledge.

Democrats already have accused Barr of trying to put the best possible face on Mueller’s findings and say they fear he will selectively release documents in an effort to undermine public confidence in the nation’s intelligence agencies and Mueller’s investigators.

Mueller’s report itself documents activities during the 2016 presidential campaign that caught the attention of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including information passed along by Australian officials concerning a Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, who told an Australian diplomat that Democratic emails had been stolen by the Russians before the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer system became public knowledge.

When Republicans had the majority in the House, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) spent nearly two years investigating the same issues without producing evidence to back up Trump’s claims.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted Sunday that the administration is not prejudging Barr’s findings, but expressed confidence, without offering proof, that he would be able to document “outrageous” corruption at the FBI.

“I’m not going to get ahead of what the final conclusion is, but we already know that there was a high level of corruption that was taking place,” Sanders, in Tokyo with the president on a state visit to Japan, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Questioned by host Chuck Todd about whether Barr could be trusted not to cherry-pick information, Sanders defended the decision to give Barr declassification powers that have traditionally been jealously guarded by intelligence agencies.

“That’s the reason that he’s granted the attorney general the authority to declassify that information – to look at all the documents necessary…so that we can get to the very bottom of what happened,” she said. “Once again, we already know about some wrongdoing.”

Congressional Democrats have sharply questioned whether the administration is acting in good faith. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who presently chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the president’s decision, announced on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, allowed Trump and Barr to “weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies.”

Trump allies denied that the president’s actions in any way undermined the core missions of the intelligence community.

“We’re not compromising national security here,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has emerged as one of Trump’s staunchest congressional defenders. Graham, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” said that he believed Barr “can be trusted” not to manipulate information in the president’s favor.

“The people who are worried about this are worried about being exposed for taking the law into their own hands,” said Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump himself defended Barr’s review, saying before he left for Japan that it was not meant to avenge himself on political opponents.

“It’s not payback – I don’t care about payback,” he told reporters. “I think it’s very important for our country to find out what happened.”

The push by the White House to investigate those who investigated the president comes against the backdrop of across-the-board resistance by Trump to congressional oversight. At least a dozen separate battles are playing out over congressional subpoenas of documents and individuals on matters including the Mueller report and Trump’s tax returns.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco so far has resisted calls by some Democratic lawmakers to open impeachment proceedings against the president, especially if he continues to reject Congress’ authority to carry out investigations of the president’s conduct and finances. She argues that impeachment remains premature, although she has accused Trump of a “cover-up.”

An early backer of impeachment, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Sunday she believed that Pelosi eventually would relent.

“I think it’s moving toward that,” she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding that “the traditional congressional oversight process isn’t working.”

The chairman of the Democratic caucus, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, defended Pelosi’s go-slow approach, saying that for now, investigating Trump “methodically yet aggressively” was the best approach, while simultaneously working to advance the Democrats’ legislative agenda.

“Democrats can sing and dance at the same time, just like Beyonce,” he said on NBC. “We will not overreach. We will not over-investigate,” he added.

On the Republican side, however, there was increasing willingness to echo Trump’s call for drastic punishment of law enforcement figures who helped move the investigation forward.

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” said the origins of Mueller’s investigation were suspect because statements by FBI agents during the 2016 campaign sounded “a whole lot like a coup.”

She was referring in part to texts critical of Trump that were exchanged by two bureau officials, including former agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from the Mueller probe when the messages came to light and subsequently forced out, and lawyer Lisa Page, who has also left the FBI.

“It could well be treason,” Cheney said.

Cheney’s comments drew an irate riposte on Sunday from Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Legal experts have pointed out that the Constitution says treason consists of “levying war against” the United States or giving “aid and comfort” to its enemies.

“Elected officials keep making casual, ignorant, idiotic accusations of ‘treason.’ … Just saw Liz Cheney do it,” Bharara wrote on Twitter. “Read the Constitution.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump gives Barr sweeping new powers to undercut Mueller probe

President Trump has handed off his own intelligence powers to a man who increasingly looks like the most powerful figure in the Trump administration, Attorney General Bill Barr.

MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent, Ari Melber, breaks down how the White House is not even claiming this move is for national security purposes, but admitting this is all about strengthening Barr’s hand in reviewing the Mueller probe.

Trump Decries Dem ‘Fishing Expedition’ in House: ‘They Want a DO OVER’

President Donald Trump went on another Twitter tear tonight over the White House showdown with the Democratic-controlled House for witnesses and documents.

The White House has already rejected several requests from multiple committees, and Trump today said multiple times that he considers a lot of this an attempt at a Democratic “do-over” of the Mueller report:

Trump went on to quote former CIA Director John Brennan‘s walk-back of some of his previous Russia speculation:

That walk-back from Brennan was from March 25th. It’s unclear why the president shared it today, though it’s worth noting the clip was played on Fox News earlier tonight (in the context of Brennan’s appearance on Capitol Hill today):

[Mediaite]

Barr Defends Trump’s Attacks on Mueller Probe: If Falsely Accused, I Would Call It a ‘Witch Hunt’

Attorney General Bill Barr said during his confirmation hearings that he doesn’t personally believe Robert Mueller “would be involved in a witch hunt.” He has since said it’s understandable why President Donald Trump would express that frustration.

In his Fox News interview today, Barr was asked by Bill Hemmer if he agrees with the “witch hunt” label.

“He was saying he was innocent and that he was being falsely accused,” Barr said. “And if you’re falsely accused, you would think that something was a witch hunt.”

He said for two and a half years Trump’s been hammered for allegedly “conspiring with the Russians, and we now know that was simply false.”

Hemmer asked again if he’s comfortable with the “witch hunt” label personally. Barr said, “I use what words I use… but I think if I had been falsely accused I’d be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.”

[Mediaite]

Trump says campaign was ‘conclusively spied on,’ calls it ‘treason’

President Trump on Friday asserted that his 2016 campaign had been “conclusively spied on” by the Obama administration while calling the charge akin to “treason” and demanding jail time for those behind it.

In a tweet, the president said “nothing like this has ever happened” while calling for prison sentences.

“A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!” he continued.

The president’s tweet comes days after Attorney General William Barrannounced the appointment of a U.S. attorney to review the decisions that led to the establishment of an investigation into Trump’s campaign and Russian election interference.

The attorney general infuriated many Democrats on Capitol Hill earlier this year when he asserted that “spying” on the Trump campaign had occurred in 2016, while declining to take a position on its legality. His choice of language has earned rebukes from former members of the Justice Department including former FBI chief James Comey.

Barr told The Wall Street Journal and Fox News in interviews published Friday that he had received insufficient answers from Justice Department personnel about the reasons why an investigation had been launched into the Trump campaign in the first place.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Barr told the Journal on Friday. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

“I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together, in a sense I have more questions today than when I first started,” Barr added in his interview with Fox.

“People have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale.”

[The Hill]

Barr names Connecticut prosecutor to investigate Russia probe’s origins

Attorney General William Barr has reportedly assigned a federal prosecutor in Connecticut to examine the origins of the investigation into Russia’s election interference and alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

The New York Times, citing two people familiar with the matter, reported on Monday night that John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, had been tapped by Barr to look into the probe’s inception. The newspaper reported the inquiry is the third publicly known investigation focused on the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign. 

Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz is reviewing how investigators used wiretap applications and informants as well as whether political bias motivated decisionmaking. 

John W. Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, is also examining aspects of the investigation. 

A spokesman for Durham’s office and the DOJ declined a request for comment from the Times. The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Durham was nominated by Trump in 2017 and has served as a lawyer within the Justice Department for nearly 40 years, according to the Times. He has a history of performing special investigations. 

Former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Durham to conduct a probe of the CIA in 2008 over the agency destroying videotapes that showed terrorism suspects being tortured. 

Bloomberg News reported in April that Barr had formed a team to review the actions of the Justice Department and FBI leading up to the Russia investigation. He told Congress around that time that he was “reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016.”

He also testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that he believed “spying” took place. 

“The question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that,” he said. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week that he wouldn’t use “spying” to describe lawful investigative activities taken up by the FBI. 

Durham’s new assignment comes just weeks after the Justice Department released special counsel Robert Mueller‘s report, which detailed the findings of his 22-month investigation into President Trump

Mueller’s investigation did not uncover evidence to conclude that a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow took place. But the report noted that Mueller could not come to a conclusive determination with regard to whether the president obstructed justice. 

[The Hill]

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