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Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation

Mother Jones

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How did the FBI’s investigation into the Trump-Russia connection get started, anyway? Former CIA director John Brennan says he was the one who got the ball rolling:

I encountered . . . intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see conclusive evidence of collusion but feared that Trump associates were wittingly or unwittingly being used to advance the interests of Moscow.

….Brennan testified that he was disturbed by intelligence that surfaced last year showing a pattern of contacts between Russian agents or representatives and people with links to the Trump campaign. “That raised concerns in my mind,” Brennan said….With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began in July — the first time a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe.

That’s from the Washington Post. Brennan was testifying before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the New York Times adds this disheartening tidbit:

On Aug. 4, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Mr. Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., not to meddle in the election. Not only would interference damage relations between the two countries, he said, it was certain to backfire.

“I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Mr. Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.”

Mr. Brennan’s warning proved futile. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered with the election, it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion. President Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.

I don’t blame Brennan for thinking that Russian interference in the election would outrage everyone regardless of party. I suppose I might have thought the same thing. But it ain’t so anymore:

As always, click the link for the whole story.

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Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation

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Another Trump Bombshell Hits: New York Times Reports He Asked FBI Chief to Drop Flynn Investigation

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, according to a bombshell report published by the New York Times that was based on a memo Comey wrote following the conversation.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey in a private one-on-one meeting at the White House in February, the day after Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the Times reports. Comey supposedly felt uncomfortable with the exchange and wrote a memo detailing the discussion. From the Times:

The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: “I agree he is a good guy.”

The Times included a denial from the White House:

While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.

After the Times published the story late Tuesday afternoon, the White House sent the same statement to members of the White House press corps.

The Times notes that Andrew McCabe, Comey’s deputy and the current acting director of the FBI, told a Senate panel last week that there hadn’t been any interference in the FBI’s investigation so far.

The story also reported that Trump had asked Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave the room so he could speak to Comey by himself. In this private conversation, Trump also reportedly pressed Comey to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information.

The Times‘ explosive story came at the end of a day that was already full of White House chaos, with Flynn’s successor, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster trying to defend Trump in the face of the previous day’s Washington Post‘s report that Trump had disclosed highly sensitive classified information during his Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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Another Trump Bombshell Hits: New York Times Reports He Asked FBI Chief to Drop Flynn Investigation

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House Democrats Demand Investigation of Comey Firing

Mother Jones

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Every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee signed a letter Thursday afternoon to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), demanding an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey. The letter calls for hearings featuring testimony from Comey and from two high-ranking Trump administration officials who were involved in Comey’s termination: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In explaining why such hearings are necessary, the letter highlights the disjointed and contradictory explanations put forth by the White House over the past two days.

“The dismissal of Director Comey demands a clear and compelling explanation,” the letter states. “To date, the Administration has provided none.” It goes on to note that the administration’s initial justification for Trump’s actions—Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails—would have necessitated Comey’s firing months ago. And it notes that while the White House initially portrayed Rosenstein as the person behind the decision, Trump himself acknowledged in an interview with NBC Thursday that “I was going to fire him regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation.”

The demand by the judiciary committee’s 17 Democrats echoes calls from Senate Democrats, who have requested hearings over Comey’s abrupt dismissal and the appointment of a special prosecutor of oversee the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

It’s possible that at least some House Republicans will be more willing to investigate the firing than their colleagues in the Senate. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House oversight committee, on Wednesday asked the inspector general for the Justice Department to look into the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing. “Previously I asked Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review the FBI’s actions in advance of the 2016 election,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “Today I sent a letter urging IG Horowitz to expand the scope of his review to include the decision to fire Director Comey. I look forward to receiving the IG’s findings.” But Chaffetz did not go so far as to schedule a hearing.

Here’s the Democrats’ letter:

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House Democratic Letter (PDF)

House Democratic Letter (Text)

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House Democrats Demand Investigation of Comey Firing

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Obstruction of Justice Getting Closer All the Time

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump has now admitted on national TV that he directly asked James Comey three times if he was under investigation. I will allow my attorney pal bmaz to comment:

I failed to take bmaz seriously enough when he told me that James Comey’s July 5 press conference about the Hillary Clinton investigation was way out of bounds, and it’s time to make up for that. The president of the United States cannot call the director of the FBI and ask if he is under investigation, especially when the threat of firing the FBI director is obviously hanging in the air. This is indeed fucking bananas.

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Obstruction of Justice Getting Closer All the Time

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Trump Defends Decision to Fire Comey and Accuses Democrats of Hypocrisy

Mother Jones

In a series of early morning tweets Wednesday, President Donald Trump angrily defended his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, taking aim at Democrats for criticizing the stunning development.

Trump’s response comes hours after he similarly railed against Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), after the Senate Minority Leader appeared to suggest the White House was orchestrating a cover-up by firing the man charged with leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by Trump associates.

Trump’s stated justification for the firing, which cites Comey’s unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton, has been lambasted by Democrats. After all, Trump frequently praised Comey’s actions, saying it “took guts” to reopen the bureau’s probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server less than two weeks before the election. And as recently as last month, the president indicated he supported the former director.

According to reports, however, Trump had been increasingly furious over the ongoing investigations into possible ties between Trump associates and Russia and what he saw as Comey’s failure to defend him.

Dozens of lawmakers, including some Republicans, are now calling for an independent prosecutor to move forward with the probe.

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Trump Defends Decision to Fire Comey and Accuses Democrats of Hypocrisy

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More Than 100 Lawmakers Respond to Comey Firing by Calling for Independent Russia Probe

Mother Jones

More than 100 members of Congress—including a few Republicans—have responded to President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey by calling for an independent investigation or a special prosecutor to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with Trump campaign associates. Comey was in charge of the Russia investigation, and now Trump will have the opportunity to choose his replacement—a situation that presents an obvious conflict of interest.

Among those calling for an independent probe are at least three Republicans—Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida—as well as nearly every senior Democrat in the House and Senate, including Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, and Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the second-ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee.

Here are some of the notable reactions to Comey’s firing:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.):

“Today’s extraordinary decision raises many questions all of which must be answered. Congress and the American people need a transparent explanation as to how this decision was reached and why it was executed at this time. It is critical that the FBI can continue all of its pending work with independence and integrity – especially the investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to influence our last election and undermine American democracy. Today I reiterate the need for Congress to establish a Select Committee with full investigatory powers to thoroughly examine this matter.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.):

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY):

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House select intelligence committee:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.):

Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii):

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY):

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas):

Meanwhile, a number of other congressional Republicans downplayed the news of Comey’s firing:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine):

Some took shots at their Democratic colleagues:

Or ignored the news altogether:

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More Than 100 Lawmakers Respond to Comey Firing by Calling for Independent Russia Probe

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The Alabama Governor’s “Inappropriate Relationship” Wasn’t the Whole Scandal

Mother Jones

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican whose relationship with a former aide earned him the nickname “Love Gov,” is expected to resign this week under threat of impeachment. But Bentley’s departure won’t resolve every scandal plaguing his administration.

On Friday, the special counsel leading the impeachment investigation released a 130-page report, which found that Bentley had improperly used law enforcement officials to cover up his “inappropriate relationship” with the former aide, Rebekah Mason. “Bentley directed law enforcement to advance his personal interests and, in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the report says. The findings come days after the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe Bentley committed multiple felony violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws.

Apart from Bentley’s fate, the report shed some light on an episode that brought national scorn and a federal civil rights investigation to Alabama—an episode that also involves the state’s junior US senator, Luther Strange (R).

In 2015, the Bentley administration announced it would shutter 31 driver’s license offices. The closures—which were portrayed as a cost-saving measure—hit rural, minority counties the hardest, leaving 8 of the state’s 11 majority-African American counties without an office that issues driver’s licenses. The move was especially problematic given that Alabama requires voters to present photo identification to cast a ballot.

The closures drew widespread condemnation from civil rights activists. The NAACP filed a lawsuit, which led to an investigation by the US Department of Transportation. The department found that the closures violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In December 2016, the state of Alabama agreed to expand hours of operations for some offices—a partial reversal of the 2015 closures.

According to Friday’s report, former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer Collier told investigators that it was Mason who asked him to shutter driver’s license offices. Collier alleged that at a budget meeting in 2015, Mason proposed closing offices and asked his agency to come up with a plan for doing so. Collier also said he contacted that state attorney general’s office because he thought the proposal might violate federal law; Strange was the attorney general at the time.

“It was Collier’s understanding that Mason intended the plan to be rolled out in a way that had limited impact on Governor Bentley’s political allies,” the report states. “Collier claims he reported this to the Attorney General’s office because he was concerned about a Voting Rights Act violation.”

Ultimately, Collier came up with a plan to close offices with the smallest workloads—which hit rural and minority communities the hardest. Bentley approved the plan but, according the report, took an office in the district of a Republican state senator off the closure list.

In an email, Bobby Segall, an attorney for Mason, declined to address Mason’s involvement in the closures but added, “I will say generally there is a good bit in the report with which we do not agree.”

In February, Bentley appointed Strange to the US Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions (R) became US attorney general.

Beyond Bentley’s strange saga, the report raises the question of whether Strange’s office green-lighted a plan that the federal government found discriminatory. Collier first noted in the fall of 2015—amid a public backlash over the closures—that he had discussed the plan with Strange’s office. Spokespeople for Strange and the Alabama attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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The Alabama Governor’s “Inappropriate Relationship” Wasn’t the Whole Scandal

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In One Executive Order, Trump Revoked Years of Workplace Protections for Women

Mother Jones

In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. It required companies with federal contracts to heed 14 different labor and civil rights laws, including ones aimed at protecting parental leave, weeding out discrimination against women and minorities, and ensuring equal pay for women and fair processes surrounding workplace sexual harassment allegations.

Last week, Trump revoked this order, leaving workers at thousands of companies much more vulnerable to a host of abuses from their employers—and undoing protections meant to create more equitable workplaces for women.

“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discriminate against them—with their own tax dollars,” Noreen Farrell, the director of Equal Rights Advocates, told NBC. “It’s an outrage.”

One provision of the now-revoked order required paycheck transparency by companies holding federal contracts, in which they had to provide all employees with detailed statements of their hours and compensation—a measure that’s particularly important for protecting workers against wage theft. A second provision that was jettisoned banned the use of forced arbitration clauses by federal contractors in handling sexual harassment or discrimination claims in their workplaces. These types of clauses—which require allegations to be settled privately outside of court in usually secret proceedings—are a way for companies to preemptively keep sexual harassment allegations out of the public eye.

Trump’s order also revokes the requirement that companies seeking federal contracts disclose three year’s worth of violations of the Equal Employment Opportunity executive order, first signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson and since amended to include protections surrounding gender. The order now states that companies with federal contracts “will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.”

Nor will companies bidding on federal contracts be required to reveal their last three year’s worth of violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires that many companies provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents.

The day before President Trump signed this order, it was reported that his daughter Ivanka—who has regularly spoken about her father’s plans to improve protections for working moms, and who is currently pushing a child care tax credit as part of the administration’s upcoming tax reform initiative—would represent the United States at an upcoming women’s empowerment summit in Berlin. Here is her tweet:

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In One Executive Order, Trump Revoked Years of Workplace Protections for Women

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Watch the Top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee Explain the Trump-Russia Scandal

Mother Jones

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The US Senate intelligence committee on Thursday convened its first hearing in its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In stark contrast to the House intelligence committee’s investigation—which has been brought to a halt by the partisan brinksmanship of the panel’s chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)—the leaders of the Senate investigation say they are trying to keep things as bipartisan and transparent as possible. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, used his opening statement to sum up Russia’s election interference—and the ways that Trump associates may have been connected to this Kremlin operation. “We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there’s clearly a lot of smoke,” Warner said. Read his full statement below:

Today’s hearing is important to help understand the role Russia played in the 2016 presidential elections.

As the U.S. intelligence community unanimously assessed in January of this year, Russia sought to hijack our democratic process, and that most important part of our democratic process, our Presidential elections. As we’ll learn today, Russia’s strategy and tactics are not new, but their brazenness certainly was.

This hearing is also important because it is open, as the chairman mentioned—which is unusual for this Committee. Due to the classified nature of our work, we typically operate behind closed doors.

But today’s public hearing will help, I hope, the American public writ large understand how the Kremlin made effective use of its hacking skills to steal and weaponize information and engage in a coordinated effort to damage a particular candidate and to undermine public confidence in our democratic process.

Our witnesses today will help us to understand how Russia deployed this deluge of disinformation in a broader attempt to undermine America’s strength and leadership throughout the world.

We simply must – and we will – get this right. The Chairman and I agree it is vitally important that we do this as a credible, bipartisan, and transparent a manner as possible. As was said yesterday at our press conference, Chairman Burr and I trust each other, and equally important, we trust our colleagues on this committee that we are going to move together and we are going to get to the bottom of it and get it right.

As this hearing begins, let’s take a minute to review what we know: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.

First, Russia struck at our political institutions by electronically breaking into the headquarters of one of our political parties and stealing vast amounts of information. Russian operatives also hacked emails to steal personal messages and other information from individuals ranging from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

This stolen information was then “weaponized.” We know that Russian intelligence used the “Guccifer 2.0” persona and others like WikiLeaks and seemingly choreographed times that would cause maximum damage to one candidate. They did this with an unprecedented level of sophistication about American presidential politics that should be a line of inquiry for us on this committee and candidly, while it helped one candidate this time, they are not favoring one party over another, and consequently should be a concern for all of us.

Second, Russia continually sought to diminish and undermine our trust in the American media by blurring our faith in what is true and what is not. Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik successfully produced and peddled disinformation to American audiences in pursuit of Moscow’s preferred outcome.

This Russian “propaganda on steroids” was designed to poison the national conversation in America. The Russians employed thousands of paid Internet trolls and bot-nets to push-out disinformation and fake news at high volume, focusing this material onto your Twitter and Facebook feeds and flooding our social media with misinformation.

This fake news and disinformation was then hyped by the American media echo chamber and our own social media networks to reach – and potentially influence – millions of Americans.

This is not innuendo or false allegations. This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us, and understanding all aspects of this attack is important.

Russia continues these sorts of actions as we speak. Some of our close allies in Europe are experiencing exactly the same kind of interference in their political processes. Germany has said that its Parliament has been hacked. French presidential candidates right now have been the subjects of Russian propaganda and disinformation. In the Netherlands, their recent elections, the Dutch hand-counted their ballots because they feared Russian interference in their electoral process.

Perhaps, most critically for us, there is nothing to stop them from doing this all over again in 2018, for those of you who are up, or in 2020, as Americans again go back to the polls.

In addition to what we already know, any full accounting must also find out what, if any, contacts, communications or connections occurred between Russia and those associated with the campaigns themselves.

I will not prejudge the outcome of our investigation. We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there’s clearly a lot of smoke. For instance:

• An individual associated with the Trump campaign accurately predicted the release of hacked emails weeks before it happened. This same individual also admits to being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, the Russian intelligence persona responsible for these cyber operations.
• The platform of one of our two major political parties was mysteriously watered-down in a way which promoted the interests of President Putin — and no one seems to be able to identify who directed that change in the platform.
• A campaign manager of one campaign, who played such a critical role in electing the President, was forced to step down over his alleged ties to Russia and its associates.
• Since the election, we have seen the President’s national security advisor resign — and his Attorney General recuse — himself over previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian government.
• And, of course, in the other body, on March 20th, the Director of the FBI publicly acknowledged that the Bureau is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”

I want to be clear, at least for me: This investigation is not about whether you have a “D” or an “R” next to your name. It is not about re-litigating last fall’s election. It is about clearly understanding and responding to this very real threat.

It’s also, I believe, about holding Russia accountable for this unprecedented attack against our democracy. And it is about arming ourselves so we can identify and stop it when it happens again. And trust me: it will happen again if we don’t take action.

I would hope that the President is as anxious as we are to get to the bottom of what happened. But I have to say editorially, that the President’s recent conduct — with his wild and uncorroborated accusations about wiretapping, and his inappropriate and unjustified attacks on America’s hard-working intelligence professionals — does give me grave concern.

This Committee has a heavy weight of responsibility to prove that we can continue to put our political labels aside and get to the truth. I believe we can get there. I have seen firsthand, and I say this to our audience, how seriously members on both sides of this dais have worked so far on this sensitive and critical issue.

As the Chairman and I have said repeatedly, this investigation will follow the facts where they lead us .If at any time I believe we’re not going to be able to get those facts, and we’re working together very cooperatively to make sure we get the facts we need from the intelligence community, we will get that done.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for your commitment to this serious work and your commitment to keeping this bipartisan cooperation, at least, if not all across the hill, alive in this committee. Thank you very much.

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Watch the Top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee Explain the Trump-Russia Scandal

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Holocaust Survivor Slams Top Immigration Official: "History Is Not on Your Side"

Mother Jones

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On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at a White House press briefing to announce that the Justice Department would begin cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities that fail to comply with federal immigration laws. If local governments refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to detain undocumented immigrants, Sessions said, as much as $4 billion in grants across the country could be withheld.

Despite the stark warning this week, many residents opposing Trump’s anti-immigration policies don’t appear to be deterred. In the case of Sacramento County, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan was invited to speak at a town-hall style meeting Tuesday, hundreds of people turned out to blast the ongoing sweeps targeting undocumented immigrants in the state. The most powerful moment arrived when an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor named Bernard Marks took to the mic to warn Homan and Sheriff Scott Jones that “history was not on their side.”

The remarks, as noted by CBS Sacramento, below:

When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled off by the Nazis. And for no other reason I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz. And I am a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau.

I spent five and a half years in concentration camps, for one reason and one reason only—because we picked on people, and you as the sheriff, who we elected as sheriff of this county—we did not elect you for sheriff of Washington, DC. It’s about time you side with the people here. And when this gentleman stands up there and says he doesn’t go after people, he should read today’s Bee. Because in today’s Bee, the Supreme Court Justice of California objected to ICE coming in and taking people away from the courts. Don’t tell me that this is a lie.

You stand up here Mr. Jones. Don’t forget—history is not on your side.

The remarks were met with loud cheers from the audience. Homan responded to the speech by saying his agency will continue to arrest undocumented immigrants inside courthouses.

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Holocaust Survivor Slams Top Immigration Official: "History Is Not on Your Side"

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