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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

    Thursday's release of a 448 page redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections certainly did not end the questions about the investigation, as President Donald Trump labeled it, 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' and Democrats demanded even more answers about what was in the report. First, you can find a link to the report on the website of the Department of Justice. The report is divided into two parts. The first deals with questions of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia - the Special Counsel found evidence of 'numerous' contacts between them, but not enough to merit charges for any illegal activity. The second part of the report deals with questions about obstruction of justice. In that portion, investigators found that top aides, advisers, and friends of the President routinely ignored his orders to fire people like the Special Counsel and more. Here's more from the fine print of the Mueller report: 1. The first part of the collusion statement used by Barr. The release of the Mueller report allowed a full review of a sentence fragment employed by Attorney General William Barr in his late March letter, which (accurately) said, 'the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. Many reporters had wondered what was in the first part of that statement and why it was not included in Barr's letter. And, starting on page nine, it seemed clear. 'The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,' the Mueller report concluded. Then adding the start of the sentence used by Barr: 'Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benfeit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts...' 2. It wasn't just Comey writing memos after talks with Trump. After getting fired as FBI Director, James Comey made public memos which he had written after various talks with President Trump. It's also been reported that former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe did the same thing. Now the Mueller report shows others did, too. Deputy National Security Director K.T. McFarland saved a contemporaneous memo after a discussion with the President in which the Mr. Trump asked McFarland to 'write an internal email denying that the President had directed Flynn to discuss sanctions' with the Russian Ambassador, when McFarland knew the real answer was that Mr. Trump had done exactly that. Then there were top officials at the National Security Agency, who were so alarmed by a phone call with Mr. Trump - they wrote a memo and put it in an NSA safe - with the deputy NSA chief saying it was 'the most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service.' 3. Aides, advisers, friends, regularly ignore Trump requests. Whether it was on big items like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or sending messages to top officials, the Mueller report is chock full of examples where the President tells people to do something - and they refuse to do it - worried it's the wrong move. White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to fire Mueller. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus wouldn't tell Sessions he should leave. Corey Lewandowski wouldn't send a message for the President to Sessions, and even tried to get a White House aide to do it - but he also refused. Then there was this tidbit from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had lunch with President Trump, and was told to send along a message to James Comey. This was the same day that Mr. Trump told Comey - after clearing the Oval Office of other officials - that he wanted the feds to 'let this go' when it came to legal issues for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. 4. Rosenstein threatened to 'tell the truth' on Comey firing. After using a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a pretext to fire FBI Director James Comey - the White House pressed Rosenstein to further explain why Comey had been fired, 'to put out a statement saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey.' Rosenstein said that was a 'false story,' and after President Trump called on the phone to ask the Deputy A.G. to do a press conference about the Comey firing, the report says Rosenstein said he would 'tell the truth that Comey's firing was not his idea.' The Mueller report goes along with testimony released by Republicans in recent weeks which depicted Rosenstein as furious with the White House over the Comey firing, convinced that he was 'used' to get rid of the FBI Director. 5. Sarah Huckabee Sanders comments 'not founded on anything.' After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May of 2017, the White House repeatedly defended the move by saying that ousting Comey was supported by 'countless members of the FBI,' though the White House produced no evidence to reporters back up that assertion. Fast forward a bit over a year to July of 2018, when Sanders was interviewed by investigators, she admitted there was no truth to her assertion from the podium. 'Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue,'' the report stated. Asked about a comment in another press interview about how FBI agents had supposedly lost confidence in Comey, 'Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything.' 6. A series of unknown Mueller cases are still active. While Attorney General William Barr told Congress last month that the Mueller report 'does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public,' the details show a slightly different story. At the end of the report, there are lists of cases transferred to other prosecutors, and information on other matters - uncovered by Mueller - but referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. In those two lists, a series of cases were redacted - two cases transferred by Mueller - and 12 other cases in which referrals were made. All of them were redacted for the reason that publicity could damage ongoing investigations, what was officially known as, 'Harm to Ongoing Matter.' Maybe they are cases which have nothing to do with the Russia investigation or with President Trump. But one of the referrals which was not redacted involved Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Technically, these aren't Mueller cases - but they're also still secret. 7. Mueller discredits Wikileaks claim of Seth Rich DNC leak. Along with Pizzagate, the claim by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that a former DNC staffer was the source of leaked Democratic Party emails was one of the biggest conspiracy theories to emerge from the 2016 campaign. In the report, Mueller's team says file transfer evidence linking Wikileaks to Russian Intelligence lays waste to the claim that Seth Rich had leaked materials to Assange - and may have been murdered as a result. Assange has repeatedly denied any ties to Russian agents, but U.S. Intelligence has long regarded Wikileaks as a 'fence' for Russian Intelligence, and that the two tied themselves together to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. 8. Mueller says witnesses deleted potential evidence. In laying out the evidence put forward in the report, the Special Counsel's office made clear that the Russia probe was hampered because of information which could not be obtained - making it clear that some people under investigation had deleted texts and other electronic communications, 'including some associated with the Trump Campaign.' One example was between former White House aide Steve Bannon and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who were questioned about a secretive meeting in the Seychelles, which involved Russian figures. Bannon and Prince told different stories - but investigators couldn't see their text messages, because they had simply disappeared from their phones, as both men denied deleting the messages. 'Prince's phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages,' the report stated. 9. Mueller Report redactions - 'lightly redacted' or more? The evening before the release of the report, officials told a variety of news organizations that the report was 'lightly redacted.' One group looked at it and found redactions of over 170 pages, as there were examples where entire pages were blacked out. The very first redactions in the document came in the Table of Contents - and had to do wtih the 'Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Materials,' dealing with stolen Democratic Party emails and Wikileaks. Some items were redacted for grand jury information, investigative techniques, harm to ongoing matters, and third person privacy concerns. 10. Trump's answers to Mueller questions. At the end of the Mueller report, you can read the President's answers to a series of written questions posed by the Special Counsel's office, after they were unable to get the President to sit for an interview, in person. Critics of the President noted derisively that there was a theme in many of his answers. 'I don't recall,' or 'I don't remember,' were phrases found. 'I have no recollection,' and 'I do not remember.' 'I do not recall being aware during the campaign' of any contacts with Wikileaks, the President testified. 'I have no recollection' that any foreign government or entity wanted to support the campaign, Mr. Trump said. 'I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that Vladimir Putin' supported my bid for the White House, the President added.
  • In a redacted 448 page report delivered to Congress Thursday by Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed a series of actions by President Donald Trump to rein in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, clearly stating that while Mr. Trump tried to undermine the Russia investigation, his efforts were stymied mainly because top aides and other government officials ignored his demands for action. Prime among them was White House Counsel Don McGahn, who told investigators that the President ordered him to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June of 2017, soon after press reports emerged that the President was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice. 'McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,' referring to the  episode in the Watergate investigation where President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Later, when press reports emerged stating that the President has ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the report says the President then 'directed White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed.' McGahn again refused to follow the President's order - defying him in an Oval Office meeting. 'McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the President to be testing his mettle,' the report concluded. There were other stories of top aides similarly ignoring the President, such as Corey Lewandowski, who was told by Mr. Trump to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly state that the Russia investigation was 'very unfair' to Mr. Trump. First in June of 2017, then again a month later, Mr. Trump used a private meeting to press Lewandowski - an outside adviser - to get Sessions 'to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference.' But like the White House Counsel, Lewandowski balked, and refused to follow the President's request, going so far as to ask a senior White House official - Rich Dearborn - to do the dirty work for him. 'Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through,' the report stated. The report also details how the President tried to lobby senior leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community to help him limit the Russia probe, as Mr. Trump complained to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, his daily intelligence briefers, and top officials at the National Security Agency. In late March of 2017, the President complained directly to DNI Coats, who counseled that it would be best to allow the investigations to 'run their course,' and not interfere with the work of FBI Director James Comey. While Coats did not tell investigators that he felt directly pressured to act, his top aides told a different story, that 'Coats was upset because the President has asked him to contact Comey to convince him there was nothing to the Russia investigation.' Mr. Trump also called the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, to weigh in on the Russia investigation - a conversation that so alarmed Rogers and a top deputy that they immediately drafted a memo, and placed it in an NSA safe to memorialize the communications with the President, much as Comey had done after his own meetings with Mr. Trump. Intelligence officials also said the President complained about the Russia investigation during his daily briefings, and asking for messages of support in the news media. 'On at least two occasions, the President began Presidential Daily Briefings by stating that there was no collusion with Russia and he hoped a press statement to that effect could be issued,' the report said. NSA chief Rogers recalled a private talk with Mr. Trump where the President vented his frustration, 'and said something like the 'Russia thing has got to go away.'' In another example from July of 2017, President Trump was ready to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but encountered resistance from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. 'Even though Priebus did not intend to carry out the President's directive, he told the President he would get Sessions to resign,' the report stated. Priebus later told the President that Sessions could not be ousted, because other top officials - including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would also resign - setting off a Saturday Night Massacre type of situation for President Trump. In the end, the Mueller investigation found that top aides to the President had saved Mr. Trump from possible legal jeopardy, mainly by ignoring his demands on the Russia investigation. 'The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,' the Mueller report concluded. Top Democrats in Congress immediately made clear they want more information about the obstruction matters. 'As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. Not surprisingly, the White House saw things differently, as the redacted version of the Mueller report was issued. On the issue of collusion, the Mueller report stated the investigation 'identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign' - but that there was no evidence that the campaign had 'conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.' Mueller seems likely to be asked directly about his investigation in May, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said he would ask Mueller to testify next month. Attorney General Barr is already scheduled for two days of testimony before the House and Senate on May 1 and May 2.
  • Official Washington is focused primarily today on the release of a redacted version of a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed almost two years ago by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections, a probe which has generated fierce criticism since the outset by President Donald Trump and many of his political allies. First, this is the link to the 448 page Mueller report. There are two parts to the report - Volume 1 covers questions about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  Volume 2 covers matters related to possible obstruction of justice by the President on the Russia probe. Here's where we stand: + 1:20 pm - The Mueller report raises the specter that associates of the Trump campaign and/or allies of the President may have deleted emails and other electronic evidence, which impeded the Mueller investigation. + 1:10 pm - While the Special Counsel was never able to get an in-person interview with the President, this report does include his written answers to questions submitted by the Mueller legal team. + 1:00 pm - The report goes into a lot of detail about the interactions between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, which ultimately resulted in Comey's firing in May of 2017.   + 12:50 pm - While Attorney General Barr talked earlier today of all the cooperation that the White House had provided in the investigation, the Mueller reports paints a different picture, especially when it comes to the question of getting testimony from President Trump.  The Special Counsel's office determined that an effort to subpoena the President would require an enormous amount of legal effort and time, even though simple written responses from President Trump were viewed as insufficient.  “We viewed the written answers to be inadequate,” the report stated. + 12:30 pm - The report details a number of contacts and calls made by the President to top intelligence officials, asking for their help in refuting the Trump-Russia story.  Top officials at the National Security Agency were so alarmed that they immediately wrote out a memo after the conversation, and put it in a safe.   Like White House aides, intelligence officials basically ignored the President's demand for help. + 12:10 pm - The Mueller report basically says that because top aides to the President consistently refused to carry out his orders to rein in - or even terminate - the Russia investigation, they saved the President from committing illegal acts, and obstruction of justice. + 12:00 pm - As mentioned earlier, President Trump had ordered his White House Counsel to fire Robert Mueller.  Don McGahn had refused.  Months later, the issue surfaced in the press, and the Mueller report says the President then demanded that McGahn deny the reports.  McGahn refused. + 11:55 am - The Mueller report says President Trump personally intervened to change a statement from his son, Donald Trump, Jr., about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, deleting a reference to how the meeting was to offer information about Hillary Clinton, and instead saying the meeting was about adoption policies.  + 11:50 am - After telling the White House Counsel to fire Mueller in June of 2017, President Trump kept pressing aides to help limit the Russia probe.  He asked Corey Lewandowski to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare the Russia probe, “very unfair.”  Lewandowski said he would do that, but refused - and tried to get another aide to do the same thing, who also refused. + 11:40 am - As the Mueller report was being released, President Trump was making comments about it during a White House event with wounded warriors.  + 11:35 am - In testimony from White House Counsel Don McGahn, the Mueller report spells out how President Trump ordered his top lawyer to fire the Special Counsel in 2017, once stories emerged that the President was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation. + 11:30 am - A reminder in the report from the Special Counsel that a number of people connected to the Trump campaign lied about their contacts during and after the election when questioned by the feds. + 11:25 am - Here is the conclusion of Special Counsel Mueller when it comes to whether President Trump should have been charged with Obstruction of Justice: + 11:20 am - While there were indications the report was 'lightly redacted,' that's not the case in some areas, where entire pages were blacked out. + 11:10 am - The redactions give us little new information on links between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. + 11:06 am - The first redaction is in the table of contents, dealing with materials linked to Wikileaks and the Trump Campaign. + 11:05 am - The Mueller report has been released.  It is 448 pages. + 11:00 am - Don't forget, this report is not just about President Trump.  It also will spill into the race among Democrats to try to replace him. + 10:55 am - My ten year old kid asks me, “Have they released the Mueller report yet?”  Soon, I tell him. + 10:50 am - President Trump's scheduled 10:30 am event with Wounder Warriors at the White House still has not started.  With the Mueller report scheduled to be delivered to Congress at 11 am, it will be interesting to see if the President is speaking at that moment.  A President has the power to dominate the airwaves in a way that no other person can in the United States. + 10:45 am - As we await the exact details of the Mueller report, it is a good time to remember how important actual documents are in any investigation, and how politicians deal with public discussion of that material.  This from one House Democrat from Florida: + 10:40 am - Donald Trump Jr. did not mention his initial reaction to the offer of 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton, which he welcomed.  + 10:35 am - President Trump's son is echoing the declarations of his father as the Mueller report is released. + 10:30 am - Democrats are furious about the news conference of Attorney General Barr, claiming it was nothing more than Barr acting like President Trump's defense lawyer. + 10:25 am - Not long after the Attorney General said he had no opposition to the idea, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are now officially asking for public testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. + 10:20 am - Here is how the Barr news conference ended. + 10:15 am - The Trump White House is ready for today.  This was tweeted out soon after the end of the Barr news conference. + 10:10 am - Even on Fox News, there were not universally good reviews for the Attorney General. + 10:05 am - Here's some of the Attorney General's news conference. + 10:00 am - The news conference ends on a somewhat testy note, as the Attorney General sparred with reporters over how he characterized the impact of the investigation on President Trump, labeling the probe an 'unprecedented situation.' + 9:55 am - Barr says he has no opposition to the idea of Special Counsel Mueller testifying before Congress. + 9:50 am - Barr confirms that the President's legal team was allowed to see the Mueller report before Congress. + 9:45 am - Here is a link to Barr's statement he is giving to reporters. + 9:40 am - In his news conference, the Attorney General keeps repeating a main theme over and over again - that there was no collusion or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.  “The Special Counsel did not find any conspiracy,” Barr says. “So, that's the bottom line.” + 9:35 am - Attorney General William Barr says the redacted report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be delivered to Congress at 11 am, and then it will be posted on line for the public to read. + 9:25 am - As we wait for the news conference of Attorney General William Barr, Democrats are denouncing Barr, ridiculing his decision to hold this session with reporters before the report is even released. + 9:20 am - President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is making his own noise today, saying he's ready to fill in any of the blanks left by redactions in the Mueller report.  Cohen's lawyer - Lanny Davis - was emphasizing the same as well. + 9:10 am - A quick reminder of what we know so far about the Russia investigation.  We know the basics already from the charges brought - or not brought by the Special Counsel.  Russian intelligence agents hacked Democratic Party emails and documents, and gave them to Wikileaks during the campaign. There were numerous contacts between Russians and people affiliated with the Trump campaign, both before and after the elections. But we also know that no indictments were ever returned for any Trump-Russia conspiracy, or collusion.  + 9:05 am - Congress is not in session this week, but the miracle of social media will make it very easy for lawmakers to weigh in on today's events as they transpire.  Republicans are backing the President, while Democrats are raising questions about the actions of Attorney General William Barr, who is scheduled to hold a news conference at 9:30, before the release of the report. + 9:00 am - It's been a busy morning on Twitter for President Trump, who has been again voicing his displeasure with the Mueller investigation, and re-tweeting items related to Hillary Clinton and the investigation of her emails from her time as Secretary of State.
  • With a political battle ready to boil over at any minute on how much is going to be revealed to the public about the Russia investigation, and both political parties fully ready to press their case to the public on how to digest what's being released by the Trump Administration, the Justice Department on Thursday morning is set to release some of the details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 elections. Here's the basic run down on what to expect on Thursday: 1. Attorney General starts first with a news conference at 9:30 am EDT. Even before the redacted report from the Special Counsel is made public, U.S. Attorney General William Barr will hold a news conference at the Justice Department. News organizations were told that Congress would get the report between 11 am and 12 noon - and around that time, the report will be posted on the website of the Special Counsel. President Trump also suggested that he might hold a news conference before he leaves for his Florida retreat to spend the Easter weekend. 2. Redactions are certain to be a big issue. There were reports Wednesday night that the redactions were not going to black out a significant part of the Mueller report, but no one will know that until we get to read the report with our own eyes. Four specific types of information would be redacted as spelled out by Attorney General William Barr - 1) Materials from grand jury proceedings, 2) Classified information, 3) information related to ongoing prosecutions, and 4) Materials which touch on third parties who are not directly involved in the Russia investigation. Barr says the redactions will be 'color coded,' allowing people to know why certain passages or words were not made public.  You can listen to Barr's explanation from his testimony to a House panel last week: 3. We already know a lot about the Russia investigation. Even before some of the details from the Mueller report are released to the public, the Special Counsel has put a lot on the record. There clearly was an effort by Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections. Russian intelligence agents were indicted for hacking Democratic Party emails and documents, and providing those materials to Wikileaks. A series of people who worked for the campaign, or were foreign policy advisers, have come under scrutiny for contacts with Russians - both during and after the elections. A number of people have plead guilty to lying to the feds about such contacts. But the Special Counsel never tied it all together into any indictments which alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, something the President has trumpeted repeatedly in recent days. 4. President Trump and the question of obstruction of justice. In his March 24 letter to Congress, the Attorney General clearly stated that Special Counsel Mueller did not make a final conclusion about whether President Trump obstructed justice during the Russia investigation. 'The Special Counsel states that 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'' It will be interesting to see how the report deals with this matter, and how much of the Mueller evidence - and his own internal deliberations about obstruction - will be made public by the Attorney General. 5. Is Congress really getting the Mueller report on a CD? According to news organizations on Wednesday, the Justice Department is sending Congress the redacted version of the Mueller report on a CD. Needless to say, many of you reading this probably don't have a CD drive on your laptop or home computer - let alone on your cell phone. Many of you probably forgot that CD's could be used for something other than music. In 1998, Ken Starr's investigation delivered its report in both written form and - wait for it - on a CD. And of course, I still have my copy.
  • As lawmakers wait for the details of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Republicans in the U.S. House are stepping up their efforts to make public dozens of transcripts of interviews conducted when the GOP was in charge of the investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In a letter sent April 10 to the Director of National Intelligence, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) - who have led Republican efforts to investigate the Russia investigators - asked for quicker action to declassify 53 interview transcripts done by the House Intelligence Committee. 'As the Justice Department prepares the Special Counsel's report for public disclosure, full transparency demands the public disclosure of (the panel's) witness interviews on the same subject matter,' the two Republicans wrote. The GOP pressure to publicly release more interview transcripts comes as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), has been slowly releasing individual transcripts of interviews done by Congress in 2018. 'I am committed to making sure the American people understand what went on in the investigation of the FBI and the Department of Justice,' Collins said as he released the second part of an interview with the former General Counsel of the FBI. 'Transparency matters. We will continue to release these transcripts,' Collins added, as Republicans have cheered the unilateral moves. So far, Collins has released closed door interview transcripts with a group of very familiar names from the FBI and Justice Department who were involved in the Russia investigation: DOJ official Bruce Ohr, his wife Nellie Ohr, who worked on Russian research for the group Fusion GPS, which was bankrolling the author of the Steele Dossier, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, FBI counterintelligence head Peter Strzok, FBI legal counsel Jim Baker and top FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap. What have the details of those interviews shown?  Like a lot of things in Washington, D.C., it depends what side of the ball you're on. 1. The idea of Russian interference alarmed FBI/DOJ officials. One theme which is readily apparent from all of the transcripts released so far is that law enforcement officials felt the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 elections - and the chance that of possible Russian ties to members of the Trump campaign, or people tied to President Trump - clearly merited investigation. 'Extremely serious,' said ex-FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, as the threat of Russia obviously worried officials. 'It doesn't get much more serious or grave than that,' said Peter Strzok. 'And if there is somebody on his team who wittingly or unwittingly is working with the Russians, that is super serious,' said FBI lawyer Lisa Page. 'I was very concerned,' said Bruce Ohr. 2. Republicans question Steele; FBI stands behind him. For Republicans, there is little in the way of credibility attached to former British Intelligence agent Christopher Steele, as they see him peddling false information to the FBI, which spurred an investigation of President Trump. But it's very clear FBI and DOJ officials are on the other side of that coin. 'I think any attempt by a foreign power to gain influence over a Presidential campaign would be troubling,' said Bruce Ohr, who met with Steele multiple times, and turned materials over to the FBI for him - warning them who Steele was working for. 'I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias,' Ohr testified. Lisa Page testified that the FBI ran the traps immediately on Steele's information. 'And to the best of my knowledge, we were never able to disprove any statement in it,' she said. 3. FBI/DOJ: We didn't leak about the Russia investigation. As Republicans used these interviews to accuse various officials of conducting a biased investigation against President Trump, one counterpoint comes up repeatedly - the feds never leaked the existence of the Trump investigation during the 2016 campaign, knowing full well it could have been lethal for the President's bid for the White House. 'That would have been improper,' said Peter Strzok, who speculated that a leak about the Russia probe would have had an 'adverse impact' on the President's chances. 'That's not how the FBI operates,' said Lisa Page, who said, 'we all had had and still have incredibly damning information which could have been released.' And there was one more point. 'The answer is no, I am not aware of an effort to put a spy in the campaign,' said Jim Baker. 4. GOP lawmakers press repeatedly for info on Steele Dossier. From the transcripts, GOP lawmakers clearly believe that the Steele Dossier was given much too much importance by the FBI. Lisa Page said she first read parts of the dossier in mid-to-late September 2016. Republicans claimed the CIA had the dossier in August. 'Totally surprises me,' Page said when told that by GOP lawmakers. 'As of August of 2016, I don't know who Christopher Steele is,' Page added. Some officials testified about how they were given the Steele Dossier - but not by Steele; Jim Baker received it from reporter David Corn. 'I know that David was anxious to get this into the hands of FBI,' Baker said. 'And being the person at the FBI that he knew the best, he wanted to give it to me.' Bruce Ohr said Steele kept after him to get information to the FBI, because he felt like U.S. officials weren't heeding his warnings about Trump-Russia connections. 'I think he was very alarmed by the information that he had provided to me about contacts between the Russian Government and the Donald Trump campaign,' Ohr said of Steele, who warned that Russia 'had Trump over a barrel.' 5. A growing alarm within the FBI over Trump-Russia ties. The transcripts show that as Election Day neared in 2016, top officials were getting increasingly worried about what they were seeing in terms of the Russia investigation. 'I grew more alarmed over time,' said ex-FBI Counsel Jim Baker. Peter Strzok said, 'the menace that I saw was primarily the interference of the Government of Russia in the Presidential elections.' And the fact that Russia was involved made it more explosive - Lisa Page called Moscow, 'our most treacherous adversary.' But Page also had something very to interesting to say about the investigation and how it related to the candidate himself - 'at the time that we opened the investigation, I don't have any reason to believe that it is Donald Trump himself who was colluding with the Russians.' 6. GOP lawmakers frustrated by refusal to answer questions. The specter of the Mueller investigation hung over most of the proceedings in the transcripts which have been released so far, as various officials - backed by FBI legal counsel in the room - refused to answer questions which might touch on the Russia investigation. 'I'm not at liberty to talk about the topic,' Bill Priestap said. 'I can't answer that question at this time, sir,' said Lisa Page. 'I don't think it's appropriate for him to answer that question,' one lawyer said of a question to Bruce Ohr. 'I can't answer that question,' Peter Strzok said when asked about the Russia probe. 'It's answerable, but I, under advice of agency counsel, I can't answer that.' And then there were instances where the questions got into possible legal problems for the witness, like former FBI counsel Jim Baker. 'You're saying he's under criminal investigation?' asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). 'That's why you're not letting him answer?' At some points, the frustration boiled over. 'So if Mr. Jordan asks the witness, 'Have you ever met Robert Mueller?' are you going to allow him to answer that question?' asked a frustrated Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). 7. Those working at the FBI really don't like the Russians. One theme from these interviews is a deep-seated belief at the FBI that Russian Intelligence is not sending flowers to the United States. 'I mean, most everybody who works counterintelligence at the FBI has pretty strong feelings about the Russian Federation,' Lisa Page told GOP lawmakers. 'Russia poses the most severe existential threat to Western democracy in the world,' she added. 'I think it is demonstrably true that a foreign nation clandestinely putting themselves into a Presidential election, it doesn't get much more serious or grave than that,' said Peter Strzok. 'If the Russian Government was attempting to influence the Trump campaign in some way, I would think that would be a national security threat,' said Bruce Ohr, whose focus had been on Russian organized crime. 8. Little detail on talk of wire or 25th Amendment.  While Republican lawmakers were obviously alarmed by testimony that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire to talk with the President - and/or invoking the 25th Amendment to move him out of office - top FBI officials made clear it was all talk.  FBI Counsel Jim Baker said, “it was just not something that made any sense to do.”  GOP lawmakers wanted to know what kind of review the FBI did on the ideas.  The answer - nothing.  “To my recollection, we didn't do any legal research or anything of that nature,” said Baker.   “So then what happened?” asked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “You just dropped it, like, okay, no big deal?”  Baker's answer was the same - “it just was one of these things that didn't make sense from a commonsense perspective.”  From the transcripts, it seems clear that both Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) clearly didn't believe that it had just been dropped - but no other evidence has surfaced so far to show that it was anything other than something mentioned by Rosenstein. Here are the links to the testimony referred to in this story: + Bill Priestap + Bruce Ohr + Jim Baker, day one + Jim Baker, day two + Nellie Ohr + Peter Strzok + Lisa Page, day one. + Lisa Page, day two.
  • The first year of a divided Congress got off to an inauspicious start on the federal budget, as the House and Senate both failed to approve a budget framework for 2020 before going home for a two week Easter break, continuing a less than stellar bipartisan record of action on spending and deficits on Capitol Hill in recent years. 'Last year was a historically bad year for the Congressional budget process,' said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, noting it was the first time since 1976 that neither the House nor the Senate voted on a budget resolution. 'Unfortunately, this only adds to a poor budget record,' the group added.  One important point before we get too deep into Legislative Nerd Territory - the term 'budget' does not relate to actual spending, but rather to what's known as the 'budget resolution,' which is a budget outline - a framework - for what Congress will do later in the year, filling in the blanks with the specifics of spending choices. As the CFRB notes, this year is not getting off to a good start on the budget, which is even more troublesome given the divided nature of Congress, with Democrats in charge of the House, and Republicans leading the Senate. And the forecast is for a difficult budget year - which many believe might end up in another government shutdown in October, and a possible across-the-board sequester soon after. Here's just some of what gone on, and what to look for on Capitol Hill. 1. Divided House Democrats punt on 2020 budget. Just like Republicans in the House struggled for years to balance the interests of more conservative members of the Freedom Caucus and more moderate GOP lawmakers, Democrats have the same balancing act. More liberal members want to do big things in the budget. More moderate 'Blue Dog' Democrats want a more middle ground on spending. And so, Democrats had to give up plans last week to vote on a bill to raise the caps on federal spending for the next two years by nearly $350 billion. Progressives didn't like it because it spent too much on defense, at $733 billion. Meanwhile, some more moderate Democrats were talking about a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The internal Democratic Party dustup was music to ears of Republicans, who chortled about the Democrats running into the Legislative Ditch. 2. Senate Republicans didn't vote on their budget outline either. While Republicans chuckled at the failure of Democrats to force a vote on their budget plan for 2020, GOP Senators didn't even try to act on their budget resolution before the April 15 deadline. The Senate GOP budget resolution would reduce future planned spending increases by over a half billion dollars, but it wouldn't come close to the defense spending levels backed by President Trump - who wants $750 billion for defense. House Democrats have proposed $733 billion, while the Senate Republican budget would have funding for the military set at $643 billion, well below the President's request. And so, for a second straight year, there was no budget vote-a-rama in the Senate on the non-binding budget resolution. 3. The Defense Budget Gimmick used by both parties. With budget caps in place that limit how much you can spend on the military and non-defense items in the budget, Congress is still doing its best to get around those limits, especially for the military, by using an extra fund known as OCO - which stands for Overseas Contingency Operations. For example, President Trump's 2020 budget would put $174 billion in the OCO fund - more money than almost all other federal agencies - in order to get to a $750 billion budget for the Pentagon. Democrats have $69 billion in OCO, with Senate Republicans at $67 billion. If there's no deal on raising the budget caps, then the most money which could be spent on the Pentagon is $576 billion - unless, you get around that with the OCO $174 billion. 'OCO would be the 2nd largest federal agency, if it was an agency,' grumbled the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, as many say it's nothing but a slush fund. 4. McConnell, Pelosi want to negotiate a new budget deal. Even as Democrats were running aground on their effort to pass a bill which increases the spending caps, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to start talks on a budget agreement, as both parties know full well they need to get going now in order to have any chance of an across-the-board budget cut known as the sequester. If you look at graphic just above this bullet point, you will see the figure of $576 billion for the Pentagon, and $542 billion for non-defense spending - those are the 'spending caps' set in law by a 2011 bipartisan budget deal. Current funding is much more than that, at $716 billion for the Pentagon and $605 billion for non-defense spending. The last three deals on the budget caps have raised the amount of spending each time - and the President may not go for that this time around. 5. Looming over all of this is a sequester. The reason lawmakers want to reach a 'spending caps' agreement is that the Budget Act of 2011 is still on the books, and if there is no agreement on the amount of money to spend in 2020, then an across-the-board budget cut known as the 'sequester' will kick in. And that would be a very big deal. If a sequester hits, the military budget would technically have go down from $716 billion to $576 billion - a cut of $140 billion. If the sequester kicks in, domestic spending would be trimmed from $605 billion to $542 billion. Ironically, because of the big increase that the GOP Congress was able to give to the Pentagon in 2017 and 2018, a sequester would hurt the military more than non-defense spending in 2020 and beyond. This is where the OCO funding (look above) comes into play - President Trump could allow the sequester to kick in, but still funnel more money to the Pentagon through that extra fund. One problem with that game plan is the GOP probably would not have 60 votes in the Senate to get that done. This may get pretty messy in the months ahead.
  • Hours after White House officials said the idea was not being considered, and ignoring the legal advice of the Department of Homeland Security, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon threatened to send illegal immigrants captured at the Mexican border to urban areas known as 'sanctuary cities.' On Twitter, the President first criticized Democrats over stalled efforts on immigration legislation, and then went against officials in his own administration by saying, 'we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities.' Asked by reporters about the plan, Mr. Trump made clear he was ready to do it, especially in California. “They want more people in their sanctuary cities - well, we'll give them more people,” Mr. Trump said.  “We can give them an unlimited supply.” Democrats said the idea smelled of political retribution by a President who is frustrated that he cannot unilaterally impose his will on immigration policy, without first getting approval in Congress. 'Trump’s plan to release migrants into “enemy” cities as if they are some kind of contagion is reprehensible,' said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). 'It seems there is no limit to how far Trump will go to degrade the office he holds,' said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who noted in a tweet, 'here in California, we're proud' of sanctuary cities. 'It demonstrates an unimpeded desire to divide Americans against one another and again conveys once more his utter lack of fitness to serve as the leader of our nation,' said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). Republicans have long chafed at 'sanctuary cities,' jurisdictions which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
  • It may be a prized goal of President Donald Trump, but the idea of Congress spending extra money to set up a new arm of the Air Force to deal with military operations in space continues to be as inviting to lawmakers as choosing vacuum packed astronaut ice cream as a daily dessert. 'I'm having a real hard time understanding why we need this other agency,' said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). 'It just doesn't make any sense to me at all, I'm sorry.' 'I guess we need some convincing that there is a need for a sixth branch in our armed services,' said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), as a Senate hearing on the idea turned into a parade of bipartisan skepticism. 'To create a new bureaucracy that's going to cost us half a billion dollars a year, I've got to be convinced there's some incremental value there,' said Sen. Angus King (I-ME).  'All I see is how a new Space Force will create one more organization to ask Congress for money,' said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). At a Thursday hearing with Senators, a panel of top military leaders tried their best to convince lawmakers that now is the time to start setting up such a plan, which has been repeatedly championed by President Trump. 'We're going to have a Space Force some day,' said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. 'I think what the committee has to decide when that is going to happen.' It's an idea which certainly has received a lot more attention because of President Trump's support for a Space Force. 'That's the next step, and we have to be prepared,' President Trump said about space in a February event in the Oval Office. 'Our adversaries and, whether we get along with them or not, they're up in space.' But the President's moves to create a Space Command, to sign a Space Force Directive, plug it repeatedly at political rallies, and talk about it with top defense officials has not changed the political dynamic on it for lawmakers in the House and Senate. 'Everybody is excited,' Mr. Trump said of the Space Force in October of 2018 during a visit to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Everybody it seems, except many members of Congress - as all systems are not 'go' at this point. 'You can tell that we're all wrestling with it, we're kind of struggling with it,' said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told military leaders.
  • After repeatedly embracing the actions of the Wikileaks website in leaking Democratic Party emails during the 2016 elections, President Donald Trump on Thursday offered little to reporters about the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was charged with conspiring with ex-U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning in efforts to hack into secret Pentagon computer systems. 'I know nothing about Wikileaks,' the President told reporters during an Oval Office photo op. 'It's not my thing.' 'I know nothing really about him,' Mr. Trump said of Assange. 'It's not my deal in life,' as the President said Attorney General William Barr would be the one in charge of any legal action against the Wikileaks founder. But it was a different story out on the campaign trail in 2016 in the final weeks before the election, as Assange and Wikileaks made almost daily releases of emails hacked from John Podesta - a top aide to Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton - and those were warmly welcomed by Mr. Trump. 'Boy, I love reading those Wikileaks,' President Trump said just days before the 2016 elections during a stop in Wilmington, Ohio, as he joked with the crowd about going back on the plane to read the latest Podesta emails. 'I wanted to stay there, but I didn't want to keep you waiting,' Mr. Trump added. A few days earlier during a stop in Florida, President Trump again noted the releases from Wikileaks, and his excitement about the details. 'This Wikileaks is like a treasure trove,' Mr. Trump said approvingly. While Wikileaks had attracted attention in the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller - labeled as 'Organization 1' in different cases brought in the Russia investigation - nothing in today's indictment had anything to do with the Mueller probe. Instead, the focus of the charges went back to 2010, as federal prosecutors alleged that Assange tried to help Chelsea Manning crack passwords in order to gain access to a 'government network used for classified documents and communications.' 'It was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to Wikileaks, including by removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between Assange and Manning,' the indictment stated. But it appeared that Assange was not successful in helping Manning gain access to the secret computer network. 'Assange indicated that he had been trying to crack the password by stating that he had 'no luck so far,'' prosecutors stated. It wasn't clear if Assange could face additional legal challenges, though some news organizations were reporting Thursday that federal officials indicated more charges against the Wikileaks founder were possible. In 2017, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo labeled Wikileaks a 'hostile intelligence service,” as the U.S. regards Assange as nothing more than a pawn for Russian Intelligence. Asked about that opinion of Wikileaks from U.S. Intelligence, President Trump on Thursday seemed unaware. “I don’t know much about it,” Mr. Trump said.
  • Hours after being removed from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he had been holed up for seven years, U.S. prosecutors unveiled charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, alleging that he helped former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning try to access a trove of classified computer documents which were then transferred to Wikileaks and released to the public. “The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers,” prosecutors announced in the Eastern District of Virginia. In the indictment unsealed on Thursday morning, federal prosecutors charged that Assange 'was not authorized to receive classified information of the United States.' The indictment says Assange 'agreed to assist Manning' around March 8, 2010 in cracking the password, as Manning was downloading materials to send to Wikileaks. The indictment of Assange includes quotes from exchanges between Manning and the Wikileaks founder, using the “Jabber” online chat service. The indictment was dated March 6, 2018. The indictment does not charge Assange with any crimes for releasing the documents provided by Manning - only in the effort to hack into U.S. military computers to access more information. In Congress, lawmakers in both parties called for a quick extradition of Assange to the United States. “While President Trump may ‘love Wikileaks’ for flooding the airwaves with information stolen by the Russian government, Mr. Assange is in fact a tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence service,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). “Under the guise of transparency, Julian Assange and Wikileaks have effectively acted as an arm of the Russian intelligence services for years,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

News

  • A 19-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department is accused of assaulting a homeless man who was allegedly shoplifting pants from a Walmart, KNXV reported. >> Read more trending news  Roger Moran, 22, was arrested Dec. 8, and his mugshot shows several cuts and bruises on his face, the television station reported. According to Maricopa County court documents, Moran is accused on three occasions of resisting arrest and trying to assault an officer. The officer, Tim Baiardi, is accused of delivering “23 knee strikes to (the suspect's) face,' KNXV reported. The Phoenix Police Department has recommended Baiardi be charged with aggravated assault, the television station reported. The report, written by a different responding officer, added '(Moran) attempted to escape again and the officer was able to deliver 45 closed fist strikes,' the television station reported. When Moran continued to resist arrest, Baiardi allegedly 'struck (the suspect) about 23 more times with a closed fist,' according to the incident report. Phoenix Police Department officials said they have launched an internal investigation, KNXV reported.
  • A woman driving along a Nevada highway had a scary moment when a ladder bounced off her windshield, KTNV reported. >> Read more trending news  Madi Nelson was driving on U.S. 95 near Las Vegas when a van ran over a ladder on the highway, the television station reported. Video obtained by KTNV shows the ladder going airborne after a van drove over it and bouncing off Nelson’s windshield, cracking it. 'From across the right lane, the ladder kind of rolls and everyone else kind of rolls over it. I was in the far left lane, so I was just able to get over to the emergency lane. I threw my hazards on and I was just trying to figure out what just happened,' Nelson said. 
  • Easter is a day to spend with family and friends.  And if you don’t want to spend that time in the kitchen rushing to get a meal together, plenty of restaurants will be opening their doors Sunday. If you are going to take the day off from cooking and want to relax with family and friends at a local restaurant, here are a few deals that you might want to consider.  Some restaurants require reservations, and some locations may not be open. Call ahead to your local restaurant to make sure they will be open. Here are some restaurants open on Easter: Baskin-Robbins  Bob Evans   Boston Market >>Easter 2019: When is it; what is it; why isn't it on the same date every year? Buca di Beppo   The Capital Grille  Claim Jumper  Cracker Barrel  Eddie V’s Prime Seafood  >>Easter 2019: How to make perfect hard-boiled eggs for Easter egg dyeing Fleming’s  Hometown Buffet   Krispy Kreme    Legal Sea Foods   Maggiano’s Marie Callender’s   McCormick & Schmick’s   Mimi’s Cafe Country Buffet  Ruth’s Chris Ryan’s  >>How did crucifixion kill Jesus? Shoney’s  Waffle House 
  • A woman is accused of assaulting a 70-year-old Houston parking enforcement volunteer who was writing her father -- a double amputee -- a ticket for not having a disabled permit placard, KTRK reported. >> Read more trending news  Jade Williams, 18, was charged with misdemeanor assault for the Tuesday incident, according to the Harris County Pct. 5 Constable's Office.  David Hansen said he was writing a citation when the SUV owner and his daughters confronted him about it, KPRC reported. 'Then she wanted to fight me,' Hansen told KTRK. 'She's walking around going, 'Come on, let's fight.' I kept retreating all the way back to my truck, and when I got to my truck, she, with an open hand, slapped my face and that's when I called 911.'  Williams’ father, Byron Williams, was wearing a prosthetic leg at the time of the incident, KTRK reported. He also lost his arm in a motorcycle accident. 'He started swinging,' Williams told the television station. 'Yes, he pushed my dad and when he pushed my dad, my dad backed up, like my dad was about to fall, and I said, 'Don't put your hands on him.''  In a statement, Houston city officials said they were “very upset to hear about this incident,” KPRC reported. Williams denies she hit Hansen.  'He's trying to make it seem like since I'm young, I assaulted an elderly person,' Williams told KTRK. 'That's not me. I'm a very respectful person.' 
  • Three people, including a 1-year-old boy, were shot early Friday morning at a South Fulton apartment complex, police said.  Officers responded to the triple shooting at the Hickory Park Apartments shortly after midnight, according to South Fulton police spokesman Lt. Derrick Rogers. Investigators at the scene in the 4900 block of Delano Road learned there was an argument about a burglary at one of the apartments inside the complex. “The argument became very heated and at some point, gunfire erupted resulting in the three victims receiving a gunshot wound,” Rogers told Channel 2 Action News in a statement. A stray bullet hit the 1-year-old boy in the leg, according to the news station. He is expected to be OK. The others are stable at a hospital, Lt. Marcus Dennard told Channel 2 from the scene. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening.  “I have no details on suspect(s) at this time and no names of the victims,” Rogers said in the statement.  We’re working to learn more. —Please return to AJC.com for updates. In other news:
  • Who will sit on the Iron Throne when “Game of Thrones” ends its run later this year? You can -- well, sort of. >> Read more trending news  A student at a Kentucky welding school built a 200-pound replica of the Iron Throne as a wedding gift for his wife, WLKY reported. He is also renting it out, the television station reported. Michael Hayes is a student at the Knight School of Welding in Louisville. He and his instructors spent nearly 110 hours over two months to craft the throne, which includes 400 swords, WLKY reported. The school funded the project, which cost $7,000. The throne is not made of iron or steel, but aluminum, otherwise “it would pretty much stay wherever it sat,' Hayes told the television station. Hayes said he made the throne as a wedding gift for his wife, Kacie Hayes. 'The show is one of the first things my wife and I bonded over,” Michael Hayes told WLKY. “It's a really important thing to us.” >>  Social media reacts to season premiere of ‘Game of Thrones’ The throne was a centerpiece at the Hayes’ wedding, and the couple struck a pose similar to ones by “Game of Thrones” characters Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. 'Besides the awesome fact that my wife pretty much does look like Daenerys, especially when she's in her get-up,” Michael Hayes told WLKY. “It made it all the more awesome when I could see her sitting in the throne and doing her thing. It's just been awesome.” Hayes said if you want to rent the throne, email him at mqhayes1@yahoo.com, WLKY reported.