Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Czer, Jun 30, 2017.
Only posting this because wasserman schultz is awful
FBI director Christopher Wray threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure
Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
Wray's resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.
Sessions told White House Counsel Don McGahn about how upset Wray was about the pressure on him to fire McCabe, and McGahn told Sessions this issue wasn’t worth losing the FBI Director over, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Why it matters: Trump started his presidency by pressuring one FBI Director (before canning him), and then began pressuring another (this time wanting his deputy canned). This much meddling with the FBI for this long is not normal.
McGahn has been informed about these ongoing conversations, though he has not spoken with Wray about FBI personnel, according to an administration source briefed on the situation. Trump nominated Wray, previously George W. Bush's Deputy Attorney General, last June to replace James Comey as director.
Trump has also tweeted negatively about other senior FBI officials who are allies of Comey, including the former top FBI lawyer James A. Baker who was recently “reassigned” after pressure from Sessions.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said of Wray: “As we’ve said, the president has enormous respect for the thousands of rank and file FBI agents who make up the world’s most professional and talented law enforcement agency. He believes politically-motivated senior leaders including former Director Comey and others he empowered have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice. The president appointed Chris Wray because he is a man of true character and integrity and the right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI and give the rank and file confidence in their leadership.”
As I reported last night, Sessions has adamantly urged Wray to make a "fresh start" with his core team.
Trump and other Republicans have been hammering McCabe — who was selected by the White House as acting director after the Comey firing — for months on Twitter.
On July 26, Trump tweeted: "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got...big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!"
The latest: The New York Times — and others — reported in December that McCabe "is expected to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension [in] early ." But senior Justice officials are still not sure what McCabe plans to do.
The FBI declined to comment for this story. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores also declined to comment.
We are done for, this isn't something just the FBI, or a new presidency, or even a new political party can fix.
I didn't think it would be such a whimper, I expect the Generals want to go out with a bang.
Trump’s Voting Commission Wanted Data on Texans With Hispanic Last Names
In an alarming but hardly surprising revelation, the Washington Postreported on Monday that President Trump’s now-defunct voter commission attempted to gather data on Texas voters with Hispanic last names.
In buying nearly 50 million records from the state with the nation’s second largest Hispanic population, a researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity checked a box on two Texas public voter data request forms explicitly asking for the “Hispanic surname flag notation,” to be included in information sent to the voting commission, according to copies of the signed and notarized state forms.
A successful lawsuit filed by voting-rights advocates prevented the data from ever being transferred to the White House.
A Texas spokesman told the Post that the state gathers Hispanic names separately to fulfill state and federal laws that require the mailing of bilingual election notices. He said that about one quarter of Texas’s voting population, or 3.6 million people, have Hispanic last names.
From the moment it was formed in reaction to President Trump’s lie that he would have won the popular vote if not for illegal voters, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity fostered widespread fear that it would disenfranchise poor and minority voters. But officials who served on the committee, which was chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence, denied to the Post that their motives in Texas were impure.
“At no time did the commission request any state to flag surnames by ethnicity or race. It’s a complete surprise to me,” said voting commission vice-chairman Kris Kobach, whose longtime quest to prove the existence of rampant voter fraud has been dogged by the fact that the phenomenon barely exists. “Mr. Williams did not ask any member of the commission whether he should check that box or not, so it certainly wasn’t a committee decision.”
Trump disbanded his commission in early January amid several lawsuits requesting information on the data it had gathered. The commission got off to a rocky start last summer, when it requested voter data from all 5o states, and was loudly rebuffed by many of them.
The Texas request was made public when Missouri senator Claire McCaskill asked to see communication between the U.S. General Services Administration and the voting commission.
Jared Kushner Is China’s Trump Card
How the President’s son-in-law, despite his inexperience in diplomacy, became Beijing’s primary point of interest.
In early 2017, shortly after Jared Kushner moved into his new office in the West Wing of the White House, he began receiving guests. One visitor who came more than once was Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, a veteran diplomat with a postgraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University. When, during previous Administrations, Cui had visited the White House, his hosts received him with a retinue of China specialists and note-takers. Kushner, President Trump’s thirty-seven-year-old son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, preferred smaller gatherings.
Three months earlier, Cui had been in near-despair. Like many observers, he had incorrectly predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election; his botched forecast, he told a friend, was precisely the kind of error that dooms the careers of ambassadors in the Chinese diplomatic system. To make matters worse, Cui knew almost nobody in the incoming Administration. Donald Trump had won the election in part by singling out China for “raping” the United States.
In Kushner, Cui found a confident, attentive, and inexperienced counterpart. The former head of his family’s real-estate empire, which is worth more than a billion dollars, Kushner was intent on bringing a businessman’s sensibility to matters of state. He believed that fresh, confidential relationships could overcome the frustrations of traditional diplomatic bureaucracy. Henry Kissinger, who, in his role as a high-priced international consultant, maintains close relationships in the Chinese hierarchy, had introduced Kushner to Cui during the campaign, and the two met three more times during the transition. In the months after Trump was sworn in, they met more often than Kushner could recall. “Jared became Mr. China,” Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon aide on Trump’s transition team, said.
But Cui’s frequent encounters with Kushner made some people in the U.S. government uncomfortable. On at least one occasion, they met alone, which counterintelligence officials considered risky. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,” a former senior U.S. official who was briefed on the meetings said. “I’m sorry, Jared—do you think your background is going to allow you to be able to outsmart the Chinese Ambassador?” Kushner, the official added, “is actually pretty smart. He just has limited life experiences. He was acting with naïveté.”
By now, Americans are accustomed to reports of Russia’s efforts to influence American politics, but, in the intelligence community, China’s influence operations are a source of equal concern. In recent years, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. have dedicated increased resources to tracking efforts by the Chinese government to spy on or to enlist Western officials in pursuit of their policy goals. (The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. declined to comment on this.) “The Chinese influence operations are more long-term, broader in scope, and are generally designed to achieve a more diffuse goal than the Russians’ are,” Christopher Johnson, a former C.I.A. analyst who specializes in China, said. “To be unkind to the Russians, you’d say they are more crass.”
Kushner often excluded the government’s top China specialists from his meetings with Cui, a slight that rankled and unnerved the bureaucracy. “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,” a former member of the National Security Council said. Some officials who were not invited to Kushner’s sessions or briefed on the outcomes resorted to scouring American intelligence reports to see how Chinese diplomats described their dealings with Kushner. Other U.S. officials spoke to Cui directly about the meetings. Kushner was “their lucky charm,” the former N.S.C. member said. “It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.” (A spokesman for Kushner said that none of the China specialists told him that “he shouldn’t be doing it the way he was doing it at the time.”)
Kushner was still getting an education in the world of national security. His transition from business to public service had been abrupt; even as he took on the responsibilities of a statesman, with a portfolio that ranged from China to the Middle East to Mexico, he was waiting to receive a permanent security clearance. Shortly after Trump won the election, disagreements emerged inside the transition about whether to seek the type of clearances, overseen by the F.B.I. and other agencies, that would allow Kushner; his wife, Ivanka Trump; Donald Trump, Jr.; and Eric Trump to receive classified briefings. Some transition officials thought it was inappropriate to dispense such clearances until the Trump children’s roles in government became more defined. On November 16th, after multiple news organizations reported the impending requests, President-elect Trump disputed them in narrow terms, tweeting, “I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children. This was a typically false news story.” (A Kushner spokesman said that Kushner was unaware of any such requests made on his behalf.)
On January 9th, Trump announced that Kushner would join the Administration, and two days before Trump’s Inauguration an aide submitted Kushner’s request for a security clearance. The application was troubled from the start. After failing to list any contacts with foreign governments, among other incomplete sections, Kushner’s office filed a supplement the next day, citing numerous contacts and promising to assemble a complete list. (Kushner blamed a “miscommunication,” which caused the aide to file a “draft” prematurely.) In May, Kushner’s office sent another supplement, listing more than a hundred contacts from more than twenty countries.
Some of Kushner’s meetings during the campaign and the transition have caused problems for him. In June, 2016, he attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Donald Trump, Jr., had arranged after he was told that she was aware of information, possessed by the Kremlin, that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton. (Kushner updated his security forms once more, in June, 2017, to include the meeting.) On December 1, 2016, at Trump Tower, Kushner and Michael Flynn, a retired general and Trump’s designated national-security adviser, met with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, who, according to Kushner, offered to deliver information about the war in Syria over a secure line. Kushner asked if the Russian Embassy had a communications channel that “we could use, where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.” (Members of Congress harshly criticized Kushner for suggesting the use of Russian channels.)
As months passed, some members of the White House received their permanent security clearances, but Kushner continued to wait. For high-level appointees, the process is normally “expedited,” a former senior U.S. official said. It can be completed in several months, unless “derogatory information” pops up during the review.
Kushner had an interim clearance that gave him access to intelligence. He was also added to a list of recipients of the President’s Daily Brief, or P.D.B., a top-secret digest of the U.S. government’s most closely held and compartmentalized intelligence reports. By the end of the Obama Administration, seven White House officials were authorized to receive the same version of the P.D.B. that appeared on the President’s iPad. The Trump Administration expanded the number to as many as fourteen people, including Kushner. A former senior official said, of the growing P.D.B. distribution list, “It got out of control. Everybody thought it was cool. They wanted to be cool.”
Some people in the office of the director of National Intelligence questioned the expansion, but officials who reported to Trump didn’t want to risk irritating him by trying to exclude his son-in-law and other new additions. David Priess, a former C.I.A. officer who delivered the P.D.B. during the George W. Bush Administration and is the author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” said that Kushner’s situation was unprecedented: “Having studied the President’s Daily Brief’s six-decade history, I have not come across another case of a White House official being a designated recipient of the P.D.B., for that length of time, without having a full security clearance.”
Among national-security specialists, Kushner’s difficulty obtaining a permanent security clearance has become a subject of fascination. Was it his early failure to disclose foreign contacts? Or did it have something to do with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? As the Administration finished its first year, some clues to Kushner’s security troubles have come into sharper focus, giving a new perspective on his encounters with China.
Before arriving in Washington and taking up his unusual role as son-in-law, confidant, and free-ranging foreign-affairs counsellor, Kushner had no particular familiarity with diplomacy. “My experience was in business, not politics, and it was not my initial intent to play a large role in my father-in-law’s campaign,” he said, in testimony before congressional committees last July, as part of the Russia investigations. Since 2008, he had served as the C.E.O. of the Kushner Companies, the family firm, which has an office in Florham Park, New Jersey. Its assets included commercial real estate and twenty-two thousand apartments from New Jersey to Maryland.
Through his work, Kushner had established links to China. A Kushner project in Jersey City, which opened in November, 2016, reportedly received about fifty million dollars, nearly a quarter of its financing, from Chinese investors who are not publicly named, through a U.S. immigration program known as EB-5, which allows wealthy foreigners to obtain visas by investing in American projects. Kushner was also an investor, alongside prominent Chinese and Hong Kong businessmen, in multiple companies. He and a brother, Joshua Kushner, co-founded Cadre, a real-estate investment firm, which received funding from Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba. (The scope of investors behind Kushner projects is unknown, because the company does not disclose the names.) Ivanka Trump has her own business endeavors in China, where some of her branded handbags, shoes, and clothes are manufactured.
During the campaign, Trump asked Kushner to be “a point of contact for foreign government officials.” Kushner, who was largely uninvolved with the transition team, devoted little attention to how he would handle those contacts in the event that Trump won.
Shortly before the election, aides prepared a memo for Chris Christie, at that time the head of the transition team, concerning the sensitive matter of conversations with foreign powers. “Because the current President is still in office, calls made during the transition period should be high level, non-substantive, and consist largely of diplomatic pleasantries,” they wrote. Trump would be “inundated with requests for thousands of calls from around the world,” they warned, through “campaign staff, outside advisers, and other third parties.” He must not accept them. Requests must be “methodically returned” in “a sequence of calls that will not create any diplomatic incidents or negative press stories.” The President-elect must have a classified intelligence briefing before conversations with foreign leaders, and then conduct the meetings only when a note-taker and a national-security aide are present. The aides suggested that Trump make five “waves” of calls over a number of days, starting with the United Kingdom and ending with Pakistan.
“Obviously, all that just got tossed aside,” a senior transition official recalled recently, because Trump was “excited that important people were calling him.” Trump spoke to more than two dozen heads of state before his campaign contacted the State Department. The freewheeling access extended to in-person meetings. On November 17th, Trump had his first meeting with a foreign leader, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. According to a transition official, the meeting had come about after Abe’s government contacted Ado Machida, a policy director for the Trump transition, whose father had served as one of Japan’s representatives to the United Nations. (Machida declined to comment.) In another break with protocol, Trump was accompanied to the meeting by his daughter and son-in-law, while they were still running their respective businesses.
During the transition, Kushner met with a range of foreign officials to discuss the incoming Administration. At the same time, as the head of his family’s business, he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2007, the Kushner Companies had bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a forty-one-story office tower, for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. The deal turned out to be a potential disaster for Kushner. Demand for office space had fallen short, and he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building’s finances.
On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu’s possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.
In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business. On December 13th, at the recommendation of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank. Kushner and the White House have said that he was acting as a Trump adviser and did not discuss his business. But Representative Adam Schiff, of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has raised concerns that Kushner was discussing business while serving the transition. Schiff pointed to statements by V.E.B. and a spokesman for Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, which suggest that Kushner held the meeting in his capacity as head of the Kushner Companies. On January 9, 2017, shortly before beginning work at the White House, Kushner said that he was stepping down as C.E.O. He sold his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue to a family trust, while retaining ownership of many of his assets.
As Trump prepared to enter the White House, he took a sudden measure that unnerved officials in Beijing. On December 2nd, encouraged by the fiercest anti-China hawks among his advisers, including Steve Bannon, at that time his chief strategist, Trump took a telephone call from the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, breaking with nearly four decades of American diplomatic practice. The U.S. has friendly relations with Taiwan, but Presidents since Ronald Reagan have avoided speaking directly with Taiwan’s President, because, as part of its “One China” policy, the U.S. formally recognizes only the Beijing government. Then, in an interview, Trump mused about giving up the “One China” policy and recognizing Taiwan’s government, in Taipei.
Chinese officials turned to the man that Kissinger had recommended to them: Jared Kushner. Kushner later told others that he took on the China portfolio reluctantly, after “clamoring” Chinese officials called Trump Tower and asked for him by name.
On December 9th and 10th, Cui Tiankai and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, visited Kushner at his office at 666 Fifth Avenue. Unlike officials from Japan and the United Arab Emirates, who were secretive about contacts with Trump’s transition team, the Chinese diplomats kept the Obama Administration informed. After visiting Trump’s transition team, Yang called the White House to report the encounter.
At times, Flynn and others joined the meetings. Laying out China’s hopes and ambitions for its relations, Cui urged the U.S. to expand military-to-military exchanges and to endorse the Belt and Road Initiative, a foreign infrastructure campaign intended to expand Chinese influence abroad. According to a participant in the discussions, Flynn welcomed the overture, praising the Belt and Road Initiative and saying that, although the U.S. had just one government at a time, he appreciated “beginning dialogue now.”
After Trump’s Inauguration, on January 20th, Kushner’s contacts with Cui intensified. They met again on February 1st, and, that day, Ivanka took her daughter, Arabella, to a lunar New Year celebration at the Chinese Embassy. Later that month, Kushner persuaded Trump to back off his threat to abandon the “One China” policy. Kushner also passed along proposals from Cui to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who made his first official trip to Beijing in March. During the visit, Tillerson startled China experts by adopting some of Beijing’s official phrases, including “mutual respect,” which is often interpreted as reinforcing China’s claims over disputed waters in Asia.
Kushner and Cui also met repeatedly to prepare for Trump’s first meeting with China’s President, Xi Jinping, on April 6th, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Daniel Russel, who, until last March, was the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and is now a diplomat-in-residence at the Asia Society, in New York, said, “It was clear that heated arguments were taking place among the President’s advisers.” On one side, hard-liners, including Bannon, who has said he believes that China is “bent on world domination,” advocated a confrontational stance on trade and other issues. On the other, according to Russel, “Jared Kushner was described as adamant that Mar-a-Lago should be exclusively about bonding.” Russel continued, “We were told that the theory was to first establish a warm family friendship, using meals and Trump’s personal charisma.”
In the event, China overwhelmingly achieved its objectives: a soft-focus summit with regal photo ops and little talk of trade and other touchy subjects. It was also an auspicious occasion for the Kushner family. While Xi met with Trump, Beijing regulators approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, to sell bags, jewelry, and spa services. Ivanka is also an adviser to the President, and her deals with the Chinese were hardly unusual. Since Trump assumed office, the Chinese government has approved scores of trademark applications by the Trump Organization.
Kushner was proud of his role in the summit, telling a person close to him, “People say we ought to do things the way they always have been done, with the same approaches. Somebody with more experience, tied to the old ways, may not have necessarily been able to pull off the Mar-a-Lago summit like we did.” He added that the officials who have criticized his approach to foreign affairs “usually get pretty uncomfortable when they’re not in control of something and it doesn’t go the way they want.”
By the spring of 2017, investigators in charge of evaluating whether to give Kushner a permanent security clearance had new information to consider. U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including Cui’s reports to Beijing about his meetings in the United States.
According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner’s business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner’s views. The intelligence wasn’t conclusive, according to those briefed on the matter. “I never saw any indication that it was successful,” a former senior official said, of Chinese efforts to compromise Kushner. The Chinese could have mischaracterized their discussions with Kushner. But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner’s close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time. “They’re in it for the long haul,” the former official said. (A spokesman for Kushner said, “There was never a time—never—that Mr. Kushner spoke to any foreign officials, in the campaign, transition, and in the Administration, about any personal or family business. He was scrupulous in this regard.”)
In March, 2017, Bill Priestap, the F.B.I.’s chief of counterintelligence, visited the White House and briefed Kushner about the danger of foreign-influence operations, according to three officials familiar with the meeting. Priestap told Kushner that he was among the top intelligence targets worldwide, and was being targeted not only by China but by every other major intelligence service as well, including those of the Russians and the Israelis. Priestap said that foreign spy agencies could use diplomats and spies masquerading as students and journalists to collect information about him. (An F.B.I. spokesperson declined to comment.)
Priestap and Kushner discussed some of Kushner’s contacts, including Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. Kushner and Ivanka Trump had known her for about a decade, and she was a regular guest at their Washington home. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch’s ties to the Chinese government. Internally, some Chinese officials spoke about her in ways that suggested they had influence over her, the former senior official, who was briefed on the intelligence, said. Other officials said that the intelligence was inconclusive.
The allegations against Wendi Murdoch are complicated by her divorce from Rupert Murdoch. On January 15th, some of the allegations were published in the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. (A spokesperson for Wendi Murdoch said, “The idea that she is involved in anything covert is so absurd, it could only have come from an unnamed source.” A spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch said that Murdoch does not believe Wendi is a spy.)
When Kushner was briefed by the F.B.I., he saw little cause for alarm, according to a person close to Kushner. He had no doubt that China and other countries were trying to persuade him to do things or to provide information, but he was, despite his inexperience in diplomacy and intelligence, confident in his ability to navigate these situations. After all, he told others, New York real estate is not “a baby’s business.”
Largely away from view, the U.S. and China are engaged in a heightened competition to steal sensitive information from each other and to manipulate foreign officials. Since 2016, Chinese authorities have expanded public warnings about the threat posed by American espionage. (In November, the Chinese Society of Education issued a video quiz for primary-school students, which included the question “What number should you dial when you spot spying activities?”) China’s intelligence services have demonstrated greater sophistication in seeking to compromise foreign officials, sometimes by using hacked information. In 2014, Chinese hackers copied a vast database from the Office of Personnel Management. Officials said that Beijing appeared particularly interested in identifying Chinese-Americans who were working for the U.S. government, so that China could try to manipulate them into being of assistance.
For its 2017 budget, the Obama Administration requested nineteen billion dollars for cybersecurity, an increase of more than thirty-five per cent from the previous year. Earlier this month, the F.B.I. arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former C.I.A. officer, and charged him with unlawful possession of defense information. In addition to countering classic espionage, the U.S. is considering new ways of managing how foreign powers lobby and seek to affect the American political system. A 2016 law has established an interagency unit to coördinate “counter-propaganda,” and bills proposed in October expand requirements of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which regulates foreign influence in Washington.
American intelligence officials describe their Chinese counterparts with grudging respect. At the end of the Obama Administration, Russia and China topped the White House’s list of counterintelligence threats, largely because of their proficiency in electronic surveillance—intercepting phone calls and e-mails. The Chinese were not yet on the level of the Russians in the area of “human intelligence,” or spies and informants, a senior Obama Administration official said, “but they’re certainly improving, and they’ve been quite aggressive in recent years.” Michael Bahar, a former staff director and general counsel for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, said, “They are a professional service. They do their homework.”
In the months after Priestap briefed Kushner on the counterintelligence threat, Kushner and Ivanka Trump made some adjustments. In May, the Kushner Companies issued an apology after reporters observed Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared Kushner’s sister, speaking about his White House position while promoting real estate to potential investors in China. In September, Kushner and Ivanka declined an invitation to visit China, amid criticism from some American scholars that they were ill-equipped to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the United States.
Other plans remained unchanged. In November, Kushner travelled to China as part of the President’s delegation for a summit with Xi Jinping. In Beijing, Kushner had lunch at the home of Wendi Murdoch, an occasion that went unmentioned in briefings and public schedules. (A White House spokesman said that Kushner attended the lunch “in a personal capacity,” after the President’s official business was complete.) Kushner saw no reason to curtail their friendship. In the seven months since Kushner’s meeting with Priestap, Wendi Murdoch had done nothing that raised his suspicions, according to a person close to Kushner. “Why do I have more of a risk of telling her state secrets than anyone else?” Kushner asked recently. “Either I’m qualified to handle state secrets or I’m not qualified to handle state secrets. I think I understand my responsibilities.”
In December, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed a wider circle of officials, saying that “a member of the president’s family” was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation, echoing earlier warnings. It was not clear if that family member was Kushner or someone else.
The President’s children resist the argument that their undivested assets, their behavior, and their willingness to mix government service and personal profit present a target to adversaries and allies alike. The senior transition official believes that’s a mistake. “They’re going to slowly, over time, get what they want out of him, and it’s not going to be obvious,” the official said. “Sure, you’ll take the meeting, but you’re giving them a real investment opportunity that’s ‘good for them,’ and ‘everyone wins.’ Meanwhile, they’re just trying to get their teeth into him.”
Kushner enters his second year in Washington facing increasing political and legal pressures. He has already testified before congressional committees about his meetings with the lawyer from Moscow, the Russian Ambassador, and the head of V.E.B. The F.B.I., too, is reportedly investigating Kushner’s Russian meetings. As details of his dealings with China come to light, they expose him to additional questions about the wisdom of his diplomatic efforts and the recurring risk that his work in government cannot be disentangled from his family’s business interests. This month, it emerged that the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York had issued subpoenas to the Kushner Companies, for details about its use of the EB-5 visa program.
Kushner’s once expansive role in the White House has narrowed, and he no longer meets frequently with Ambassador Cui. Still, by his own description, he is as confident as ever that his instincts, honed in the family business, can serve him, and the country, well. In the White House, he has a lofty but precarious status. Henry Kissinger, who had encouraged Kushner’s dialogue with Cui, described Kushner as occupying a “daunting role flying close to the sun.”
Recently, a former teaching fellow from Kushner’s undergraduate days at Harvard recalled that Kushner took a popular class on the American Presidency, taught by Roger Porter, who had advised Ronald Reagan when he was President. At the end of the semester, Porter read aloud from “The Inner Ring,” a 1944 oration by C. S. Lewis. It was Porter’s warning to his ambitious students about the temptations that haunt higher office, and the allure of favor-seekers. “You will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.”
U.S. President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China (officially the People's Republic of China or PRC) was an important strategic and diplomatic overture that marked the culmination of the Nixon administration's rapprochement between the United States and China. The seven-day official visit to three Chinese cities was the first time a U.S. president had visited the PRC; Nixon's arrival in Beijing ended 25 years of no communication, nor diplomatic ties, between the two countries and was the key step in normalizing relations between the U.S. and China.
When the communists took over in China in 1949 and exiled the nationalists to the island of Taiwan, the United States allied with, and recognized, the Republic of China as the sole government of China. Before his election as president in 1968, former Vice President Richard Nixon hinted at establishing a new relationship with the PRC. Early in his first term, Nixon, through his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, sent subtle overtures hinting at warmer relations to the PRC government. After a series of these overtures by both countries, Kissinger flew on secret diplomatic missions to Beijing in 1971, where he met with Premier Zhou Enlai. On July 15, 1971, the President shocked the world by announcing on live television that he would visit the PRC the following year.
A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. In that period, he extended the policy of détente. This policy led to a significant relaxation in US–Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. The talks concluded with a rapprochement between the United States and the People's Republic of China, and the formation of a new strategic anti-Soviet Sino-American alignment. He was jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Lê Đức Thọ for helping to establish a ceasefire and U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. The ceasefire, however, was not durable. Thọ declined to accept the award and Kissinger appeared deeply ambivalent about it (donating his prize money to charity, not attending the award ceremony and later offering to return his prize medal). As National Security Advisor, in 1974 Kissinger directed the much-debated National Security Study Memorandum 200.
While Kissinger's diplomacy led to economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides and the establishment of Liaison Offices in the Chinese and American capitals, with serious implications for Indochinese matters, full normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China would not occur until 1979, because the Watergate scandal overshadowed the latter years of the Nixon presidency and because the United States continued to recognize the government of Taiwan.
In September 1989, the Wall Street Journal's John Fialka disclosed that Kissinger took a direct economic interest in US-China relations in March 1989 with the establishment of China Ventures, Inc., a Delaware limited partnership, of which he was chairman of the board and chief executive officer. A US$75 million investment in a joint venture with the Communist Party government's primary commercial vehicle at the time, China International Trust & Investment Corporation (CITIC), was its purpose. Board members were major clients of Kissinger Associates. Kissinger was criticised for not disclosing his role in the venture when called upon by ABC's Peter Jennings to comment the morning after the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown. Kissinger's position was generally supportive of Deng Xiaoping's clearance of the square and he opposed economic sanctions.
HAS JARED KUSHNER BEEN TARGETED BY CHINESE SPIES?
Intimate meetings with Chinese officials have raised concerns that Kushner is the subject of an influence operation.
JANUARY 22, 2018
Earlier this month, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal published a curious article about Wendi Deng Murdoch, Murdoch’s ex-wife. According to the paper, United States counter-intelligence officials had warned White House senior adviser Jared Kushner that Deng might be using her friendship with him and his wife, Ivanka Trump,to advance Chinese interests in the U.S. Of particular concern was a planned $100 million construction project in Washington, D.C., which would have included a 70-foot tower that officials worried could be used for surveillance. The warning, reported the Journal, was part of a larger effort in early 2017 by national-security officials to alert Kushner that Chinese nationals and other people linked to China, like Deng, might target him as part of an influence operation. (A spokesperson for Deng told the Journal that she “has no knowledge of any F.B.I. concerns or other intelligence agency concerns relating to her or her associations” and no knowledge of the D.C. project. Neither she, nor Kushner, have been accused of any wrongdoing.)
Some government officials also flagged Kushner’s meetings with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., according to The New Yorker. Ever since Henry Kissinger introduced the two during the election campaign, they have met multiple times, reportedly raising concerns that Beijing has attempted to use Kushner’s ready access to his father-in-law, Donald Trump, to sway policy. In past administrations, such meetings were attended by “a retinue of China specialists and note-takers.” Kushner’s meetings, however, were more intimate. On at least one occasion, he met with Cui alone. Other encounters with Cui included ex-national-security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guiltyto lying to F.B.I. agents about his contacts with Russian officials.
From Cui’s perspective, the meetings seem to have been fruitful. Following a discussion on February 1, 2017 (the same day Ivanka took their daughter, Arabella, to a lunar New Year celebration at the Chinese Embassy), Kushner persuaded Trump to drop his threats to abandon the “One China” policy, which affirms mainland control over Taiwan. He also passed along proposals from Cui to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who made his first official trip to Beijing in March.
Kushner’s decision to exclude top China specialists from the meetings was met with misgiving because his lack of political experience was thought to make him vulnerable to Chinese demands. “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map. It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant,” a former member of the National Security Council told The New Yorker. Some officials who were uninvited to the meetings apparently resorted to scouring intelligence reports to see how Chinese diplomats detailed their dealings with Kushner. (A spokesperson for Kushner told the outlet that none of the specialists in the region told him “he shouldn’t be doing it the way he was doing it at the time.”)
Others worried that even if Kushner was well prepared for the meetings himself, the unusual setup might have given the Chinese unnecessary leverage. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,” a former senior U.S. official who was briefed on the meetings said. “I’m sorry, Jared—do you think your background is going to allow you to be able to outsmart the Chinese ambassador?” Kushner, the official explained, “is actually pretty smart. He just has limited life experiences. He was acting with naïveté.”
The New Yorker report has raised new questions about Kushner’s continued inability to acquire security clearance, despite receiving the top-secret President’s Daily Brief. Kushner has been forced to update his application multiple times, after repeated failures to divulge all of his foreign contacts during the Trump campaign and transition period. He was also present at the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, with Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, in which the Trump campaign had been promised compromising information about Hillary Clinton from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Concern about Kushner’s business ties to China could also be an obstacle. During the transition period, when he was still C.E.O. of the family business, Kushner met with multiple foreign officials to discuss the incoming administration. At the same time, he needed to find an investor for a building Kushner Companies had bought for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. In November 2016, he had dinner with Wu Xiaohui, chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu’s possible investment. When the meeting was revealed months later, and Bloomberg reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as $400 million from the agreement, lawmakers criticized it as a possible conflict of interest, and the negotiations were discarded. This month, it emerged that New York federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Kushner Companies, after they reportedly told potential Chinese investors that they would be eligible for green cards through the E.B.-5 visa program if they invested half a million dollars each in a development in New Jersey. Kushner’s White House role was mentioned in pitches. Although the family denies it was using his position to attract investment, Axios notes that Kushner reported receiving between $1-5 million in capital gains from the development.
In March 2017, Bill Priestap, the F.B.I.’s chief of counter-intelligence, reportedly warned Kushner that he was among the top intelligence targets worldwide—not only for China, but for every other major spy agency, too. They discussed some of Kushner’s contacts, including Deng Murdoch, whom some U.S. officials suspect has ties to the Chinese government. Kushner, however, was frustrated by the implication. “Why do I have more of a risk of telling her state secrets than anyone else?” Kushner said, according to The New Yorker. “Either I’m qualified to handle state secrets or I’m not qualified to handle state secrets. I think I understand my responsibilities.”
Attorney general Jeff Sessions questioned in Trump-Russia inquiry
Robert Mueller interviewed Sessions for several hours last week
Sessions was first sitting member of Trump’s cabinet to be interviewed
The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has been interviewed by Robert Mueller, as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a justice department spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
Sarah Isgur Flores confirmed to the Guardian that the meeting took place. The New York Times first reported the meeting on Tuesday morning.
The meeting lasted several hours and took place last week, and was the first time the special counsel’s office has interviewed a sitting member of Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Former FBI director James Comey was also reportedly interviewed by the special counsel’s office. That interview reportedly took place last year and pertained to a series of memos Comey wrote, while he was FBI director, about his conversations with Trump about the Russia investigation. Trump fired Comey in May 2017, raising concerns that he tried obstruct the FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russians.
The special counsel’s office is investigating a Kremlin campaign to meddle in the 2016 election, including the hacking of Democratic party members’ emails and their release to the public. Led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, the team is also investigating interactions between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians potentially involved in those efforts.
Sessions has long been a flashpoint in the Russia investigation. He announced in March 2017 that he would recuse himself from any role in it after it was revealed that he had two meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during the 2016 campaign. The former Alabama senator endorsed Trump in February 2016 and was a key surrogate during the campaign.
The attorney general’s decision to recurse himself angered Trump, who has since repeatedly criticized Sessions. In a July 2017 interview with the Times, Trump called his attorney general “very weak” and said his decision was “very unfair to the president”. Before Sessions announced he would not be involved in investigations “related in any way to the campaign for president of the United States”, Trump dispatched the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to lobby Sessions against this decision.
The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice by the Trump administration. After the president fired Comey, he told NBC he did so because, “I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
Comey later testified that Trump had privately demanded loyalty from him, and that he had only promised “honesty”. Sessions was part of discussions around Comey’s firing, but because of his recusal the decision of a special counsel fell to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Muller.
Mueller recently interviewed a former member of Trump’s cabinet, his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. His investigation has so far led to charges against Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI, and against Trump’s former campaign chairman and one of his aides, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates respectively, on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. Another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and admitted to early knowledge that the Russian government possessed hacked Democratic emails.
Mueller seeks to question Trump about Flynn and Comey departures
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seeking to question President Trump in the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with his plans.
Mueller’s interest in the events that led Trump to push out Flynn and Comey indicates that his investigation is intensifying its focus on possible efforts by the president or others to obstruct or blunt the special counsel’s probe.
Trump’s attorneys have crafted some negotiating terms for the president’s interview with Mueller’s team, one that could be presented to the special counsel as soon as next week, according to the two people.
The president’s legal team hopes to provide Trump’s testimony in a hybrid form — answering some questions in a face-to-face interview and others in a written statement.
Those discussions come amid signs of stepped-up activity by the special counsel. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed for several hours by Mueller’s investigators, according to Justice Department officials.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office, Peter Carr, declined to comment. A White House spokesman referred questions to the president’s legal team. Two attorneys for Trump, Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, declined to comment
Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the two central subjects that investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings.
Flynn resigned last February after The Washington Post reported that he misled Vice President Pence and other administration officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Late last year, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Trump then tweeted that “he had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.” Previously, the White House had cited only the false statements to Pence as a rationale for dismissing Flynn.
Trump fired Comey in May, several days after the then-FBI director told Congress he could not comment on whether there was evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Comey later testified that the president had asked him several months earlier whether he could see a way to “letting Flynn go.”
Mueller has also expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, according to a person familiar with the probe who said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a “pattern” of behavior by the president.
Earlier this month, Trump declined to say whether he would grant an interview to Mueller and his team, deflecting questions on the topic by saying there had been “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly about meeting with the special counsel.
Behind the scenes, Trump has told his team of lawyers that he is not worried about being interviewed, because he has done nothing wrong, according to people familiar with his views. His attorneys also support a sit-down, as long as there are clear parameters and topics.
However, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole.
People close to Trump have tried to warn him for months that Mueller is a “killer,” in the words of one associate, noting that the special counsel has shown interest in the president’s actions.
Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.”
“I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview.”
Comey and Sessions Are Questioned for Hours in Russia Inquiry
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week as part of the special counsel investigation, and the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, was interviewed by the office last year, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
The interview with Mr. Sessions marked the first time that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, are known to have questioned a member of President Trump’s cabinet.
The interview with Mr. Comey focused on a series of memos he wrote about his interactions with Mr. Trump that unnerved Mr. Comey. In one memo, Mr. Comey said that Mr. Trump had asked him to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
After the president’s request was revealed publicly, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, appointed Mr. Mueller as the special counsel to lead the Russia investigation and examine whether the president obstructed justice.
The disclosure about Mr. Comey’s interview came hours after the Justice Department spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, confirmed that the interview with Mr. Sessions occurred. Mr. Sessions was accompanied by the longtime Washington lawyer Chuck Cooper to the interview.
The attorney general announced in March that he had recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 election, including the Russia inquiry. The disclosure came after it was revealed that Mr. Sessions had not told Congress that he met twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, during the campaign.
Mr. Sessions, an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s presidential run, had been among a small group of senior campaign and administration officials whom Mr. Mueller had been expected to interview.
Mr. Mueller’s interest in Mr. Sessions shows how the president’s own actions helped prompt a broader inquiry. What began as a Justice Department counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference is now also an examination of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry, and the nation’s top law enforcement officer is a witness in the case.
For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Mr. Mueller can question Mr. Sessions about his role as the head of the campaign’s foreign policy team. Mr. Sessions was involved in developing Mr. Trump’s position toward Russia and met with Russian officials, including the ambassador.
Along with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where one of the campaign’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, pitched the idea of a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Mr. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to federal authorities about the nature of his contacts with the Russians and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office.
As attorney general, Mr. Sessions was deeply involved in the firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the president has repeatedly criticized Mr. Sessions publicly and privately for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
When Mr. Trump learned in March that Mr. Sessions was considering whether to recuse himself, the president had the White House’s top lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, lobby Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the Russia investigation.
Mr. Sessions instead followed the guidance of career prosecutors at the Justice Department, who advised him that he should not be involved with the investigation. When Mr. Trump was told of this, the president erupted in anger, saying he needed an attorney general to protect him.
After Mr. Mueller was appointed in May, Mr. Trump again erupted at Mr. Sessions and Mr. Sessions offered to resign. Several days later, Mr. Trump rejected Mr. Sessions’s offer.
Mr. Trump insisted to reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon that he was not troubled that Mr. Sessions had spoken to Mr. Mueller’s investigators.
“No, not at all,” Mr. Trump said.
The president was also asked whether Christopher A. Wray, the director of the F.B.I. who replaced Mr. Comey, had threatened to resign because Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions were pressuring him to clear the bureau of loyalists to Mr. Comey, as reported by the website Axios late on Monday.
“He didn’t at all,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Wray. Asked again, the president added: “He did not even a little bit. Nope. He’s going to do a good job.”
Mr. Wray’s tenure has been fraught as the president has repeatedly fanned suspicion about whether the F.B.I.’s work is politically motivated. But he stopped short of threatening to quit, a person familiar with the events said. Mr. Wray told Mr. Sessions that he needed to move at his own pace to make changes within the F.B.I., and that if the president and the attorney general wanted replacements made more quickly, someone else would have to do it, the person said.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Mueller subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, to testify before a grand jury. Mr. Mueller is expected to forgo the grand jury appearance for now and will instead have his investigators interview Mr. Bannon in the coming weeks.
Get ready for the GOP/NRA Russians to fight this. There is a reason that Russian com intercept ship sits off NC lol.
It's probably looking for the 50,000 deleted texts that disappeared in the lead up to the Mueller appointment.
Exactly, not the Russian tax evasion or Chinese buying Kushner. Most likely text messages and buttery emails.
However, I think if you were to tell Oleg Deripaska that Paul Manafort doesn't owe him money because of his illegal practice in tax evasion that the republicans say doesn't exist, he might let you in on a secret.
I think the GOP should tell that to Oleg in person, individually.
Mueller Is Asking Questions. He Knows the Answers.
Any morning when you wake up and discover that the sitting Attorney General of the United States has been questioned by a special prosecutor on the subject of the president*’s complicity with thugs, hoodlums, international brigands, and Russian ratfckers is a day begun well, at least for scurvy political blogging types. From CNN:
The interview, a major development in Mueller's investigation, took place last Wednesday. A source familiar with the discussion said it was the first time Sessions was interviewed and he was not under subpoena. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores confirmed the meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times. She declined to say if the attorney general turned over any documents or communications to Mueller's office. The White House said it is cooperating with Mueller's investigation and press secretary Sarah Sanders said she didn't know if Sessions and Trump discussed the interview on Monday when Sessions was at the White House. White House special counsel Ty Cobb did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This story emerged at just about the same moment as the exclusive Axios report that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III , at the urging of the president*, had been pressuring FBI director Christopher Wray to fire deputy director Andrew McCabe, only to have Wray discover his inner Eliot Richardson and tell both JeffBo and JeffBo’s boss to pound sand.
Trump and other Republicans have been hammering McCabe — who was selected by the White House as acting director after the Comey firing — for months on Twitter. On July 26, Trump tweeted: "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got...big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!"
And, of course, all of this takes place in the context of a general conservative assault on the FBI that runs from the incomprehensible toolhood of Devin Nunes and his magic memo to Sean Hannity’s nightly manic episodes. A good portion of the country already believes that James Comey was in the tank for Hillary Rodham Clinton, which she should find perpetually amusing. This frenzied activity on all fronts indicates to the casual observer that Mueller’s people are asking their witnesses a lot of unsettling questions for which Mueller and his team already know the answers. The question remaining is how many people will believe those answers when they finally are revealed.
UPDATE (3 p.m.)—Michael Schmidt of The New York Times has updated his story about the Sessions interview with the news that James Comey was interviewed, too.
The interview with Mr. Comey focused on a series of memos he wrote about his interactions with Mr. Trump that unnerved Mr. Comey. In one memo, Mr. Comey said that Mr. Trump had asked him to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
This does not sound good for JeffBo, either.
Sessions questioned in Russia probe, Trump may be up soon
WASHINGTON (AP) — After questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions as part of the Russia investigation, prosecutors are moving closer to a possible interview with President Donald Trump.
The interview with Sessions last week makes him the highest-ranking administration official known to have submitted to questioning.
It came as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Trump’s actions in office, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, constitute improper efforts to stymie the FBI investigation into contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The president and his lawyers are preparing for the prospect of an interview that would likely focus on some of the same obstruction questions.
In the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump said he was “not at all concerned” about what Sessions may have told the Mueller team.
I wish that went I opened this thread it didn't jump directly to the bottom of the page and then spend the next ~30 seconds lurching upward at odd intervals as the 50bajillion tweets and images load one by one
Flynn kept FBI interview concealed from White House, Trump
WASHINGTON — A year ago today, President Donald Trump’s newly sworn–in national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met privately in his West Wing office with FBI investigators interested in his communications with Russia's ambassador, without a lawyer or the knowledge of the president and other top White House officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Flynn's FBI interview on Jan. 24, 2017, set in motion an extraordinary sequence of events unparalleled for the first year of a U.S. presidency. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after 24 days on the job, the acting attorney general was fired 10 days after the president took office, the FBI director was allegedly pressured by the president to let go of an investigation into Flynn, and then eventually fired himself.
The attorney general recused himself from a federal investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with the sitting president's campaign, and a special counsel was appointed.
The developments ensnared the president in an obstruction of justice inquiry, which resulted in his top intelligence and law enforcement chiefs cooperating in some form with that probe.
By the end of 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had spoken with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency; former FBI Director James Comey; and numerous members of Trump’s campaign and White House inner circle. Flynn pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI during his Jan. 24 interview and is cooperating with the Russia investigation.
NBC News also has learned that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who informed the White House about Flynn’s interview two days after it took place, has cooperated with the special counsel. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was allegedly asked by Trump to lean on Comey to drop his investigation, has also been interviewed, according to people familiar with the inquiry.
One person familiar with the matter described Pompeo, Coats and Rogers as "peripheral witnesses" to the Comey firing. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who played a key role in Comey's departure and was a top adviser on the Trump campaign, was interviewed by Mueller last week as the special counsel's team inches closer to possibly questioning the president himself.
Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon is expected to meet with Mueller’s team by Jan. 31, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Unresolved is whether Trump will voluntarily agree to be interviewed by Mueller. So far, according to two people familiar with the discussions, Trump’s team has not reached an agreement with the special counsel for their client to meet with him.
Flynn's tenure in the White House and his firing by Trump are among the topics Mueller’s team has been asking witnesses to discuss, and they are likely to be part of any questioning of the president. Separately, Mueller is expected to want to ask Trump about his firing of Comey. The president told NBC News last year that his decision was connected to Comey’s dogged pursuit of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."
Two people familiar with the matter said Trump was unaware that Flynn had spoken with the FBI until two days after the interview took place. An attorney for Flynn did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
A brief phone call from the office of Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, to a scheduler for Flynn on Jan. 24 set the interview in motion, according to people familiar with the matter. The scheduler was told the FBI wanted to speak with Flynn later that day, these people said, and the meeting was placed on Flynn’s schedule. The scheduler didn't ask the reason for the meeting, and the FBI didn't volunteer it, one person familiar with the matter said.
Later that day, two FBI agents arrived at the White House to speak with Flynn. A lawyer for the National Security Council typically would be informed of such a meeting and be present for it, one person familiar with the procedures said. But that didn't happen in this instance, and Flynn didn't include his own personal lawyer, two people said. He met with the two federal agents alone, according to these people.
"No one knew that any of this was happening," said another senior White House official who was there at the time.
"Apparently it was not clear to Flynn that this was about his personal conduct," another White House official said. "So he didn't think of bringing his own lawyer."
White House counsel Don McGahn was the first senior official to learn of Flynn's interview during a meeting on Jan. 26 with Yates in which she warned him that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other top Trump officials about his conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and could be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government.
McGahn has sat for two days of interviews with Mueller's team, according to a person familiar with the matter, including one interview that was rescheduled after Flynn’s plea deal was announced the day it was supposed to take place. Yates spoke extensively with Mueller’s team last year, according to people familiar with the matter.
McGahn briefed Trump, Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who left the White House last summer and also has spoken with Mueller's team, on his meeting with Yates that same day including the news of Flynn's FBI interview, people familiar with the matter said. Yates has testified before Congress that McGahn asked her how Flynn did in his FBI interview, to which she said she replied that she could not comment on it.
McGahn did not later ask Flynn if he lied to the FBI, one person familiar with the matter said. This person said it was unclear if Flynn intended to lie and that McGahn did not conclude that Flynn had lied to the FBI until after he had been fired. It was at that time in late winter or early spring that the White House received a request from the FBI for phone records and other documents related to Flynn that McGahn and other top officials concluded he had lied in his interview and was otherwise under investigation, this person said.
The year since Flynn's FBI interview has seen only escalated tensions between Trump and his Justice Department.
In recent weeks Trump has taken aim at McCabe, whose office first arranged Flynn’s FBI interview.
This week, White House spokesman Raj Shah fanned reports of pressure from the White House to fire McCabe by saying in a statement that Trump "believes politically motivated senior leaders" of the FBI "have tainted the agency's reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice" and that the new director he "appointed" will "clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI."
And one of the two FBI agents who interviewed Flynn was Peter Strzok, whom Mueller removed from the Russia investigation last summer after the Justice Department’s inspector general's office found he'd written text messages to a colleague criticizing Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
For Trump opponents, his war with the FBI is an effort to undermine the Russia investigation. For Trump and his allies, he’s battling a conspiracy within the top ranks of the Justice Department to undermine his presidency.
Flynn was fired as Trump’s national security adviser on Feb. 13, after it became public that he had lied to Pence about his conversation with Kislyak.
The next day Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, according to Comey’s testimony before Congress. Trump has denied asking Comey to let the Flynn investigation go.
Separate names with a comma.