Tag Archives: russia

Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

Mother Jones

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On Thursday, mere hours after Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to fellow members of the House intelligence committee for his wild stunt the day before, White House flack Sean Spicer defended Nunes, mischaracterized what he’d revealed, and tried to perpetuate his boss’ bizarre claim that President Barack Obama had ordered “tapps” on his Trump Tower phones during the election season.

In case you missed it, Nunes, a California Republican who was on Trump’s transition team, called a press conference Wednesday to announce that he’d seen intelligence reports indicating that communications of Trump associates—maybe even Trump himself—may have been intercepted in the course of lawful intelligence-gathering on foreign targets after the election. Nunes was so “alarmed” by this that he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan, reporters (twice), and Trump himself before he shared the information with the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, which is investigating possible Trump-Russia collusion.

That Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, was incensed. In a statement Wednesday, Schiff said he’d expressed his “grave concerns” to Nunes, and told him that “a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.” Did Nunes intend to lead the Trump-Russia probe, Schiff said, “or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”

“The reality is that Nunes made a decision,” Spicer said at Thursday’s White House press briefing. “He briefed the press first…I don’t hear too much crying about that.”

Spicer said there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nunes going to Trump because the information had “nothing to do with Russia.” He then proceeded to mischaracterize that information, saying: “It was helpful for the president to know that the investigation as he had asked for was starting to bear fruit.” Spicer was referring to Trump’s March 5 request for Congress to investigate the president’s baseless wiretapping tweets. “What Chairman Nunes said is that there was evidence of surveillance that occurred during the election, and I think that’s important to note.”

As his boss might say: Wrong! Nunes never indicated that any Trump associates were under surveillance prior to the election. What Nunes said was that they might have been caught on tape incidentally during the transition—after the election. Nunes’ revelations in fact undermine the claim that Obama ordered Trump’s phones tapped. Ordering the illegal wiretap of an American citizen would be a serious crime. And Trump and Spicer, of all people, should know that falsely accusing someone of a serious crime is defamatory at best—if done with malicious intent, it’s also libelous.

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Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

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CNN: Trump Team Gave Russians "Thumbs Up" to Release Hillary Smears

Mother Jones

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CNN has some breaking news:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN….The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings.

….One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests “people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready.” But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it’s premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it’s largely circumstantial.

Apparently this is all “raising suspicions” among counterintelligence officers about ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

If everything we’ve heard today is true, members of the Trump team were (a) in frequent contact with the Russians to coordinate the release of smears against Hillary Clinton, and (b) in frequent contact with some other group of people who were under surveillance for…something. What busy beavers!

Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is pretending to be shocked that the NSA does stuff that everyone on the planet knows the NSA does. I can only assume he was hoping to distract everyone from what’s really going on, the way Trump does with his tweets. But Trump is a master, and Nunes is apparently an idiot. His attempt at misdirection was so barefaced and hamhanded that he probably just made things worse.

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CNN: Trump Team Gave Russians "Thumbs Up" to Release Hillary Smears

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The Republican in Charge of the Trump-Russia Probe Just Pulled a Crazy Political Stunt

Mother Jones

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the lawmaker overseeing one of the main investigations of the Trump-Russia scandal, went rogue on Wednesday when he told reporters that a source had provided him information that indicates that the US intelligence community collected intelligence on Trump associates—possibly Donald Trump himself—in the course of authorized surveillance aimed at other targets. Nunes, who chairs the House intelligence committee, said this happened during the transition period and was unrelated Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign or to Trump associates’ connections to Russia. Without revealing any real evidence of wrongdoing, Nunes suggested that something amiss had occurred when the identity of these Trump-related people were noted in reports disseminated in intelligence channels.

Nunes’ theatrical press conferences—not one but two!—indicated he was perhaps more concerned about politics than national security and the protection of civil liberties. At his first presser, held in the Capitol, Nunes described the materials he had been given as “normal incidental collection” and “all legally collected foreign intelligence.” Nonetheless, he said, he was “alarmed” by the fact that some of the Trump associates had been “unmasked” in the reports. (“Incidental collection” refers to Americans whose communications are monitored not because they are the target of the surveillance, but because the person they are communicating with is the target. The identities of these non-targeted Americans generally are supposed to remain hidden in intelligence reports, but there are rules that allow their identities to be unmasked in such reports when that provides needed context.)

Still, Nunes said he was rushing to the White House—without even having spoken to the Democratic members of his committee about this—to brief Trump immediately. “They need to see it,” Nunes told reporters before he dashed off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But when asked whether Trump was specifically and intentionally targeted—a sensational claim that would bolster Trump’s widely debunked March 4 tweets accusing former President Barack Obama of “wire tapping”—Nunes said he wasn’t sure. In fact, nothing Nunes said would back up Trump’s tweets. He was referring to legally authorized surveillance conducted under a court order that targeted a foreign intelligence source but that happened to also pick up Americans—not an uncommon occurrence.

At his White House press conference—following his meeting with Trump—a reporter asked, “But just to clarify, this is not intentional spying on Donald Trump?”

“I have no idea,” Nunes replied. “We won’t know that until we get to the bottom of: Did people ask for the unmasking of additional names within the president-elect’s transition team?”

This was a disingenuous response. Nunes had earlier acknowledged he was only referring to officially authorized surveillance, which could not be ordered by a president. (There’s a whole process through which the FBI and other intelligence agencies go to a special court to receive permission to conduct surveillance.) Yet here was Nunes slyly hinting that well, just maybe, this would back up Trump’s fact-free charge. This was the tell. If he were only concerned with the unmasking of Americans caught up in incidental collection, Nunes could have instructed his committee staff to examine the matter and worked with Democrats on the committee on how best to handle the matter. Instead, he ran to the White House to share his information with the fellow who is the subject of an investigation Nunes is overseeing. Nunes was pulling a political stunt to provide Trump some cover.

And Trump took the cover. After Nunes’ briefing, the president told reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by what Nunes reported to the public on Wednesday. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.” The revelations, though, don’t vindicate Trump at all; he accused President Obama of directing the phones in Trump Tower to be tapped in October. Nunes’ new information refers to incidental collection after the election. Trump compared the situation to “Nixon/Watergate,” and called Obama a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Nunes made clear the surveillance was legal. Trump suggested Obama had somehow broken the law.

Adding to the political nature of what Nunes did is the fact that he didn’t consult with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House committee, before he briefed Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, reporters (twice), and the White House.

“I’m going to be meeting with Mr. Schiff at some point to talk about where we go with this investigation,” Nunes told reporters when the issue came up after he briefed the president. “I had to brief the speaker first, then I had to talk to the CIA director, the NSA director, and I’m waiting to talk to the FBI director…Then I went and talked to all of you…and then I voted, and then I said I was coming here to brief the president, and then I’ll be glad to talk to others later.”

Schiff issued a statement Wednesday afternoon slamming Nunes’ actions.

“This information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,” Schiff said. “Indeed it appears that committee members only learned about this when Nunes discussed the matter this afternoon with the press. Nunes also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with Nunes that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”

Schiff added that Nunes told him that most of the names within the intelligence reports were, in fact, masked, “but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties.” This means that the intelligence agencies followed the law, Schiff said, and “moreover, the unmasking of a US Person’s name is fully appropriate when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), accused Nunes of leaking classified information.

Jeremy Bash, who formerly served as chief counsel for the Democrats on the committee, said Wednesday that what Nunes did was unprecedented and very concerning.

“I don’t think in the 40 years of the committee’s existence, since the post-Watergate-era reforms, with the Church and Pike committees that emerged from those scandals, I have never heard of a chairman of an oversight committee going to brief the president of the United States about concerns he has about things he’s read in intelligence reports,” Bash told MSNBC Wednesday afternoon. “The job of the committee is to do oversight of the executive branch, not to bring them into their investigation or tip them off to things they may be looking at. I’ve got to believe that other members of the committee are horrified at what they just witnessed.”

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The Republican in Charge of the Trump-Russia Probe Just Pulled a Crazy Political Stunt

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Sean Spicer Is Brilliant

Mother Jones

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I was looking forward to the next White House press briefing, knowing that whoever ran it would be inundated with questions about President Trump’s dimwitted suggestion that President Obama had him wiretapped. That would be fun! But I underestimated the cleverness of Sean Spicer:

In a statement from his spokesman, Mr. Trump called “reports” about the wiretapping “very troubling” and said that Congress should examine them as part of its investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election.

“President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in the statement.

No comment until the “investigation” is finished! That’s brilliant. I don’t know if it will work, but it’s brilliant. I wonder how aggressive the press corps will be about calling out this obvious artifice?

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Sean Spicer Is Brilliant

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Jeff Sessions Will Recuse Himself From Russia Probe

Mother Jones

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any investigations into contact between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Sessions announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon. Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’ spokeswoman, told Mother Jones that neither the attorney general nor any of his staff would take part in any internal discussions on whether or not an independent special prosecutor would be appointed to investigate the 2016 campaign. That decision would presumably be left to acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente.

The hastily called press conference came as lawmakers from both parties called for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s role in the election. During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked him what he would do if reports that Trump campaign associates and Russian officials had been in contact during the campaign turned out to be true. Sessions responded by denying that he had any contact with the Russians: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians.” But on Wednesday, news broke that Sessions had twice met with the Russian ambassador.

As reporters waited for Sessions to begin his press conference at DOJ headquarters Thursday, televisions tuned to CNN replayed the exchange with Franken—followed by a segment with the chyron, “Calls grow for attorney general to resign.”

When he took the podium shortly after 4 pm ET, Sessions claimed that he was innocent of any wrongdoing and had not purposefully misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing. “My reply to the question of Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” he said.

Sessions said that he would be writing to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next day or two to explain his testimony. He added that his decision to remove himself from any investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign came following his review of ethics rules and input from his staff. “In the end, I have followed the right procedure, just as I promised the committee I would,” he said.

As for his September meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office, Sessions said he didn’t recall many details, before naming terrorism and Ukraine as topics that came up. Sessions also said that he and Kislyak had discussed a visit Sessions paid to a Russian church in the 1991 and that Kislyak had told him he was not religious. “I thought he was pretty much in an old-style Soviet ambassador,” Sessions said.

When asked by reporters whether he and the ambassador had discussed the 2016 presidential campaign during their meeting, Sessions joked that “most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy” but then switched into lawyer mode and said, “I don’t recall.”

This is a developing news story that will be updated.

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Jeff Sessions Will Recuse Himself From Russia Probe

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