Tag Archives: russia

Trump’s CIA Director Just Called WikiLeaks a "Hostile Intelligence Service"

Mother Jones

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Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo on Thursday denounced WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” and he singled out Russia as one of the anti-secrecy organization’s top collaborators. Pompeo is the latest top official in the Trump administration to note that Russia hacked into the emails of Democratic staffers with the intention of influencing the 2016 presidential election. Thousands of those emails were subsequently released by WikiLeaks. The intelligence community has concluded this operation was mounted with Vladimir Putin’s approval and was done to benefit Donald Trump.

Pompeo’s remarks were particularly striking because Trump praised WikiLeaks during the campaign and repeatedly referenced the emails it made public. In other words, Pompeo was saying that his boss encouraged an entity he now considers “hostile” to the United States. Trump has repeatedly referred to the Russia scandal as a hoax, yet Pompeo’s comments are predicated on the assumption there is nothing hoax-y about the Russian attack on the 2016 campaign.

Pompeo’s attack on WikiLeaks was also a touch awkward given that during the 2016 campaign, he cited WikiLeaks to attack the credibility of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party—which was just what Russia wanted. This led to an awkward moment in January, when Pompeo testified before the Senate Intelligence committee:

Pompeo was also caught in a hack-related contradiction. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the committee, pointed to a tweet Pompeo sent out in July declaring, “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by Wikileaks.” King didn’t say this, but his point was obvious: With this tweet, the incoming CIA chief had helped a secret Russian intelligence operation to change the outcome of the presidential election. King did ask Pompeo, “Do you think WikiLeaks is a reliable source of information?” Pompeo replied, “I do not.” So, King inquired, why did he post this tweet and cite WikiLeaks as “proof”? Pompeo was busted. Pompeo repeated that he had never considered WikiLeaks a “credible source.” King pushed on and asked Pompeo how he could explain his tweet. Pompeo stammered and remarked, “I’d have to go back and take a look at that.” Uh, right.

In his remarks Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Pompeo said that “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.” He then cited various examples of WikiLeaks working against the interests of the United States, including working with Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents in 2010.

“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is—a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s remarks coincide with an apparent shift in the Trump administration’s approach to its relationship with Russia. The White House abruptly adopted a tough stance on Russia’s alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad following Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians last week. The foreign policy reversal comes amid multiple investigations examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Trump associates and Russians.

During the election, Trump praised WikiLeaks and frequently referred to the organization in his attacks against Hillary Clinton.

“I love WikiLeaks,” he told supporters during an October rally.

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Trump’s CIA Director Just Called WikiLeaks a "Hostile Intelligence Service"

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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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How Devin Nunes Is Threatening the Constitution

Mother Jones

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With his bizarre antics and partisan-driven decisions the past week and a half, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the under-siege chairman of the House intelligence committee, has not only triggered a breakdown in the congressional oversight process; he has nearly sparked a constitutional crisis. This may sound hyperbolic, yet Nunes is undermining one of the core principles of the American republic: checks and balances. And there perhaps is no area of government where counterbalance is more needed than national security.

At the heart of the US political system is a bargain. The fundamental notion of the Constitution is that the government serves the citizenry and is accountable to the voters. Yet with the development of the modern national security state—and even before—the executive branch gained the power to engage in secret actions. The spies, covert operators, and eavesdroppers of the intelligence community and the military could perform their duties far from the prying eyes of citizens. This means a vast part of the government operates in secrecy and is free from public scrutiny. How can a democracy allow this? The answer is simple: congressional oversight. In theory, the common folks who are kept in the dark elect senators and representatives who monitor all the secret stuff on their behalf. The Capitol Hill overseers preserve the secrets, but they act as surrogates for the rest of the nation and ensure the covert warriors, spooks, and snoops are acting effectively, honorably, and lawfully in pursuit of the public interest.

That’s the rosy-eyed version. True congressional oversight of the intelligence community didn’t kick in until the 1970s, after a variety of spy-related scandals—secret assassination plots, coups, Watergate, and more. And in the decades since, Capitol Hill monitoring of the intelligence community has sometimes been lackadaisical. (It is almost an impossible task for the House and Senate intelligence committees to track the vast intelligence community, which now consists of 17 agencies.) At other points, there have been conflicts between the committees and the spies. In the 1980s, the late-Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican chair of the Senate intel committee, repeatedly clashed with Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s free-wheelin’, law-breakin’ CIA chief. Three years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the committee, had an explosive confrontation with John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, over her committee’s investigation of CIA torture. But in each case, oversight continued, with the House and Senate panels often displaying a bipartisanship not found in other corners of Congress.

It’s been an imperfect system. In 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper misled the Senate intelligence committee when he publicly testified that US intelligence did not collect data on Americans. (The Edward Snowden revelations showed otherwise, revealing a massive operation to collect metadata regarding the phone records of Americans.) But at the least, the pretense of intelligence oversight from the legislative branch allows for the clandestine operations conducted by the executive branch through intelligence agencies and the military. And this is but one element of the overall oversight Congress is supposed to mount as a check on the president and executive power. Oversight, an implied obligation within the Constitution, is a crucial function of the House and Senate.

Enter Nunes. He has recently demonstrated he cannot function in an independent, nonpartisan, or forthright manner when conducting intelligence oversight. As chair of the House intelligence committee, he is in charge of the panel’s investigation of Vladimir Putin’s attack on the 2016 campaign and the interactions between the Trump camp and Russia. This is a tough and sensitive assignment. Nunes was on Donald Trump’s presidential election team, and now he is probing the actions of Trump’s associates—and perhaps Trump himself—in an exercise that could produce information that threatens the Trump presidency. He is doing so while Trump is essentially waging war on the investigation. (For months, Trump has dismissed or downplayed the intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow assaulted the election to help Trump. On Monday night, Trump tweeted that the Russia story is a “hoax.”) In such a highly charged political environment, it would be challenging for anyone to lead an effective and independent investigation.

Still, Nunes has underperformed. He initially was reluctant to examine contacts between the Trump gang and Moscow. Then, during the committee’s first public hearing (when FBI chief James Comey undercut Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama had illegally spied on him and revealed the bureau was investigating Trump associates for possibly coordinating with Russians), Nunes behaved as a partisan. As if he were channeling Trump, he said virtually nothing about the main issue: Putin covertly intervening in a presidential election. Instead, he fixated on the (bad!) leak that had exposed former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a liar and forced his resignation. Nunes also repeatedly asked Comey if he would investigate Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign, if evidence of contacts between the campaign and Russia emerged. (There has been no evidence of that.) After the hearing, Nunes inexplicably claimed he had never heard of two key figures in the Trump-Russia scandal: Roger Stone and Carter Page.

All of this raised questions about Nunes’ ability to handle an investigation that was scrutinizing people and actions related to the president he supports. Then things got worse. Two days later, Nunes held a surprise press conference—without consulting his staff or fellow members of the intelligence committee—to declare he had reviewed documents indicating that classified intelligence reporting based on lawfully authorized collection aimed at foreign targets might have revealed the identities of Trump transition team members (perhaps Trump himself) who were picked up via what’s known as “incidental collection.” Nunes rushed to the White House to brief Trump, who subsequently declared this “somewhat” validated his claim that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. (It had not.)

The episode appeared to be a stunt designed to provide Trump cover for his baseless charge against Obama—and perhaps to change the channel after the hearing that revealed the FBI investigation. And in the wake of his initial presser, Nunes kept bumbling his descriptions and explanations. It remained unclear if he had uncovered any wrongdoing. He ended up apologizing to his fellow committee members and essentially acknowledged he had gone off half-cocked. He came across as amateurish and erratic. (Three weeks earlier, Nunes had worked with the White House to counter news stories reporting on ties between Trump associates and Russia.)

And there was more. In the middle of this imbroglio, Nunes announced he had canceled the committee’s next public hearing, scheduled for March 28, which was going to feature Clapper, former CIA chief John Brennan, and former Justice Department official Sally Yates, who in January had privately informed the White House that Flynn had lied when he said he had not spoken to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia as punishment for its hacking-and-leaking operation targeting the Clinton campaign. Nunes offered no good explanation for the scheduling move. (He claimed the committee could not fit in the hearing because of a private session scheduled with Comey and NSA chief Mike Rogers. But when that closed-door hearing was canceled, Nunes did not revive the Clapper-Brennan-Yates hearing.) Democrats on the committee concluded that Nunes had killed the public hearing to spare the Trump White House further embarrassment. That did seem a likely assessment.

By now, Democrats were calling for Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation or quit his post as committee chair, and a handful of Republicans—namely Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham—were questioning Nunes’ actions and ability to handle this probe. It was a shit storm, and it was hard to see how the House committee could proceed with a credible investigation or perhaps continue to function at all. Nunes blew up the bond of trust within the committee. He had acted in an impetuous manner. He seemed to care more about Trump’s political standing than about the investigation. (On Fox News, he explained his actions by saying that Trump has “been taking a lot of heat in the news media.”) He also undermined the committee’s credibility. Citizens looking for answers about the Trump Russia scandal will find it hard to accept any conclusions from Nunes at face value.

So Nunes has harmed one of the key oversight mechanisms in the US government: his own committee. This means the check-and-balance process is weaker. That’s not good at a time when the country faces serious national security issues and other matters and when the overall credibility of government is low. Whether Nunes recuses himself or not—for now, he says he won’t—his committee’s investigation is on the verge of irrelevancy, with its credibility shot. (On Tuesday, Nunes announced he was postponing further witness interviews until Comey returned for a private hearing, putting his probe on hold. This week, he also canceled regular committee meetings.) That leaves only the Senate intelligence committee in the driving seat for the Russia investigation. Its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was also reluctant to assume this mission, but so far there has been no open conflict within the committee, and Democratic members say the probe is moving forward. (The Senate committee will hold its first hearings related to this inquiry on Thursday.) The FBI investigation is also proceeding, but whether this is a counterintelligence probe or a criminal inquiry—or both—the investigation is not designed to yield a public accounting. (The FBI does not produce public reports.) That is the job of the congressional committees. Unfortunately, Nunes has essentially and maybe intentionally sidelined his own probe. In doing so, he renders it less likely the American public will learn the full truth. Moreover—and perhaps worse—he has demonstrated that the system designed to provide accountability for secret government might now be unworkable.

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How Devin Nunes Is Threatening the Constitution

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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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