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Offline Surly1

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Sleeper Agent individual-1?
« Reply #75 on: January 12, 2019, 07:47:14 AM »
F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia


Following President Trumpís firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, the bureau grew increasingly concerned about whether the presidentís actions constituted anti-American activity.CreditCreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly twoinstances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.

The F.B.I. investigated whether the firing of Mr. Comey was a national security threat.CreditErik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock
Image
The F.B.I. investigated whether the firing of Mr. Comey was a national security threat.CreditErik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.

No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials. An F.B.I. spokeswoman and a spokesman for the special counsel’s office both declined to comment.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, sought to play down the significance of the investigation. “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Mr. Giuliani said on Friday, though he acknowledged that he had no insight into the inquiry.

The cloud of the Russia investigation has hung over Mr. Trump since even before he took office, though he has long vigorously denied any illicit connection to Moscow. The obstruction inquiry, revealed by The Washington Post a few weeks after Mr. Mueller was appointed, represented a direct threat that he was unable to simply brush off as an overzealous examination of a handful of advisers. But few details have been made public about the counterintelligence aspect of the investigation.

The decision to investigate Mr. Trump himself was an aggressive move by F.B.I. officials who were confronting the chaotic aftermath of the firing of Mr. Comey and enduring the president’s verbal assaults on the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”

A vigorous debate has taken shape among some former law enforcement officials outside the case over whether F.B.I. investigators overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a tumultuous period at the Justice Department. Other former officials noted that those critics were not privy to all of the evidence and argued that sitting on it would have been an abdication of duty.

The F.B.I. conducts two types of inquiries, criminal and counterintelligence investigations. Unlike criminal investigations, which are typically aimed at solving a crime and can result in arrests and convictions, counterintelligence inquiries are generally fact-finding missions to understand what a foreign power is doing and to stop any anti-American activity, like thefts of United States government secrets or covert efforts to influence policy. In most cases, the investigations are carried out quietly, sometimes for years. Often, they result in no arrests.

Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.

Other factors fueled the F.B.I.’s concerns, according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked as an F.B.I. informant, had compiled memos in mid-2016 containing unsubstantiated claims that Russian officials tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him.

In the months before the 2016 election, the F.B.I. was also already investigating four of Mr. Trump’s associates over their ties to Russia. The constellation of events disquieted F.B.I. officials who were simultaneously watching as Russia’s campaign unfolded to undermine the presidential election by exploiting existing divisions among Americans.

“In the Russian Federation and in President Putin himself, you have an individual whose aim is to disrupt the Western alliance and whose aim is to make Western democracy more fractious in order to weaken our ability, America’s ability and the West’s ability to spread our democratic ideals,” Lisa Page, a former bureau lawyer, told House investigators in private testimony reviewed by The Times.

“That’s the goal, to make us less of a moral authority to spread democratic values,” she added. Parts of her testimony were first reported by The Epoch Times.

And when a newly inaugurated Mr. Trump sought a loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey and later asked that he end an investigation into the president’s national security adviser, the requests set off discussions among F.B.I. officials about opening an inquiry into whether Mr. Trump had tried to obstruct that case.

But law enforcement officials put off the decision to open the investigation until they had learned more, according to people familiar with their thinking. As for a counterintelligence inquiry, they concluded that they would need strong evidence to take the sensitive step of investigating the president, and they were also concerned that the existence of such an inquiry could be leaked to the news media, undermining the entire investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election.

After Mr. Comey was fired on May 9, 2017, two more of Mr. Trump’s actions prompted them to quickly abandon those reservations.

The first was a letter Mr. Trump wanted to send to Mr. Comey about his firing, but never did, in which he mentioned the Russia investigation. In the letter, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Comey for previously telling him he was not a subject of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.

Everyone Who’s Been Charged in Investigations Related to the 2016 Election

Thirty-seven people have been charged in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Even after the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, wrote a more restrained draft of the letter and told Mr. Trump that he did not have to mention the Russia investigation — Mr. Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation would suffice as a fireable offense, he explained — Mr. Trump directed Mr. Rosenstein to mention the Russia investigation anyway.

He disregarded the president’s order, irritating Mr. Trump. The president ultimately added a reference to the Russia investigation to the note he had delivered, thanking Mr. Comey for telling him three times that he was not under investigation.

The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interviewtwo days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.

“I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

Mr. Trump’s aides have said that a fuller examination of his comments demonstrates that he did not fire Mr. Comey to end the Russia inquiry. “I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people,” Mr. Trump added. “He’s the wrong man for that position.”

As F.B.I. officials debated whether to open the investigation, some of them pushed to move quickly before Mr. Trump appointed a director who might slow down or even end their investigation into Russia’s interference. Many involved in the case viewed Russia as the chief threat to American democratic values.

“With respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans, Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life,” Ms. Page told investigators for a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigation into Moscow’s election interference.

F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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Trump concealed details of his encounters with Putin from senior officials
« Reply #76 on: January 12, 2019, 04:12:41 PM »
Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration


President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Trump’s continued secrecy underscore the extent to which little is known about his communications with Putin since becoming president.

[A beefed-up White House legal team prepares for battle with special counsel]

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 had an undisclosed meeting that followed a first conversation during the G-20 summit in Hamburg.(Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Evan Vucci/The Washington Post)

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”

A White House spokesman disputed that characterization and said that the Trump administration has sought to “improve the relationship with Russia” after the Obama administration “pursued a flawed ‘reset’ policy that sought engagement for the sake of engagement.”

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin, and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terror plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job,” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes, and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

 

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