Former CIA chief Brennan had concerns about Russian contacts with Trump campaign

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former CIA Director John Brennan told Congress that U.S. intelligence found contact between Russian officials and people involved with the Trump campaign at a time in 2016 when the Russians were "brazenly" interfering in the presidential election.

"I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals," Brennan said Tuesday at an open session of the House Intelligence Committee. "And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals,"

Brennan added, however, that he did not know whether any collusion existed as a result of those contacts. The president has dismissed such a possibility, saying there is no evidence of collusion.

Brennan testified that there was a "sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation" by the FBI to determine whether or not U.S. citizens were "actively conspiring, colluding" with Russian officials.

"I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons," he said.

The former CIA chief said he was concerned because of tactics that Russians are known to use, including trying to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf. Russian intelligence operatives won't identify themselves as Russians or as members of the Russian government; they will try to develop personal relationships with individuals and then over time, they will try to get those people to do things on their behalf, said Brennan.

"By the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf," he said.

When asked if Russia's contacts were with official members of the Trump campaign, Brennan repeatedly declined during the hearing to identify specific individuals because of the classified nature of the information.

Warning to the Russians

"It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process and that they undertook these activities despite our strong protests and explicit warning that they not do so," Brennan during his opening remarks at Tuesday's hearing.

He further testified that on Aug. 4, 2016, he warned the head of Russia's intelligence service that any continued interference would destroy near-term prospects for improvement of relations between Washington and Moscow and would undermine the chance of their working together on matters of mutual interest.

During that meeting with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Securities Bureau (FSB), Brennan said he warned that if Russia had such a campaign of interference underway, which had already been reported in the press, it would be "certain to backfire."

"I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption," said Brennan.

The head of the FSB said Russia was not doing anything to influence the presidential election and claimed that Moscow is a traditional target of blame by Washington for such activities. Russia has since repeatedly denied any interference in the election.

Despite his denial, Bortnikov said he would inform Russian President Vladimir Putin of Brennan's concerns, Brennan said.

The former CIA chief said his meeting with Bortnikov was primarily focused on Syria, but that he also told the Russian official that Moscow's continued mistreatment of U.S. diplomats there was "irresponsible, reckless, intolerable, and needed to stop."

Several months after that meeting, in January of this year, a declassified U.S. intelligence report was released which found that Putin "ordered" a campaign to influence the election in an attempt by Russia to "undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process."

Russia also sought to denigrate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and harm her election prospects and potential presidency, U.S. intelligence agencies found at the time.

Trump's Oval Office meeting with the Russians

Brennan said it is not unprecedented to share intelligence with Russia or other partners. But he said if reports are true that Trump shared information with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a White House meeting on May 10, it would have violated two protocols.

The first is that classified intelligence of this nature is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors, but rather through intelligence channels so that it's handled the "right way" and to make sure it is not exposed, Brennan said.

Secondly, before sharing any classified intelligence with foreign partners, it is important to go back to the originating agency to make sure that sharing the language and substance is not going to reveal sources and methods, potentially compromising future collection capability, said Brennan.

"So, it appears as though, at least from the press reports, that neither did it go in the proper channels, nor did the originating agency have the opportunity to clear language for it. So, that is a problem," said Brennan.

During the meeting, the president reportedly shared with the Russians intelligence information about ISIS that came from Israel.

Trump has defended his disclosure, arguing he has the right to share such information with Russia.

On Monday, while visiting Israel, Trump told reporters, "I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned it during our conversation."

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President Trump expected to retain attorney for Russia inquiry

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is expected to retain lawyer Marc Kasowitz as his private attorney representing him on matters related to the Russia investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a source close to Kasowitz and sources familiar with the Trump’s decision confirmed to ABC News.

Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week to lead the investigation into interference in the presidential election and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Mueller, a 12-year director of the FBI, was selected a week after his successor James Comey was fired by Trump, who later admitted he was thinking about the bureau's inquiry into the matter when he took action on Comey.

Kasowitz has represented Trump "on a wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years" according to his biography on his law firm's webpage. The firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, publicizes a number of its partner's representations of the president on its website, including in the restructuring of business debt, defamation cases and the effort to keep Trump's divorce records sealed as he campaigned last year.

The firm also employs former Senator Joe Lieberman as senior counsel, whom Trump said last week was his top choice to follow Comey as FBI director, though no nomination has yet been made.

The White House has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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Michael Flynn risks being held in contempt of Congress, Senate Intelligence Committee members say

Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee has announced two new subpoenas against former national security adviser Michael Flynn to compel him to turn over documents related to his contact with the Russians, adding that Flynn risks being held in contempt of Congress if he does not comply with the requests.

Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment and rejected the committee's subpoena request for documents relating to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election earlier this week. The Fifth Amendment gives an individual the right to avoid self-incrimination.

Briefing reporters following a closed-door intelligence meeting on Tuesday, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said all options are on the table.

The Senate Intelligence Committee originally subpoenaed Flynn's personal documents on May 10, after he declined to cooperate with its April 28 request in relation to the panel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump associates.

Before the April request, Flynn said through a statement from his lawyer that he wouldn't submit himself to questioning from the committee "without assurances against unfair prosecution."

The committee leaders are directing the two new subpoenas at Flynn’s Virginia-based businesses because businesses don’t have a right to plead the Fifth, Warner said.

“… While we disagree with Gen. Flynn's lawyers' interpretation of taking the Fifth, it's even more clear that a business does not have the right to take a Fifth if it's a corporation. One subpoena has been served, one is in the process of being served," Warner said.

The committee also sent a letter to Flynn's lawyer Tuesday addressing concerns that their original subpoena lacked specificity.

"We've been very specific in the documents now that we've requested from Gen. Flynn," Burr said.

A contempt charge is still a possibility.

"If in fact there is not a response, we will seek additional counsel advice on how to proceed forward. At the end of that option is a contempt charge and I've said that everything is on the table," Burr said. "That is not our preference today. We would like to hear from Gen. Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said 'I've got a story to tell.' We're allowing him that opportunity to do it."

But immunity is not on the table.

“It's a decision that the committee has made that we're not at the appropriate avenue in a potential criminal investigation. As valuable as Gen. Flynn might be to our counterintelligence investigation, we don't believe that it's our place today to offer him immunity from this committee,” he added.

With regard to former CIA Director John Brennan’s shocking testimony Tuesday morning that he confronted a Russian counterpart about election meddling last summer, Warner said the committee is now looking into it.

“We have to make sure we don’t see it coming forward again in the future. And what we're looking at now is to look at those contacts that Mr. Brennan spoke about and see what they were, how extensive they were and what they led to if anything," he said.

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Trump budget faces criticism, indifference from some Senate Republicans

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Many Republican senators who weren’t outright condemning President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget made sure to acknowledge a universal truth of budgeting in Washington: The spending bills Congress eventually passes don’t always bear much resemblance to the president’s list of priorities.

“We'll be taking into account what the president's recommending, but it will not be determinative in every respect,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters Tuesday.

In written statements, several other Senate Republicans asserted Congress’ lead role in government spending, emphasizing that the White House can suggest spending but that it’s the Capitol that has the final say.

“We will take a close look at his budget, but Congress is mandated by the Constitution with key spending responsibilities and will ultimately decide what the nation’s fiscal priorities will be,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, said.

“The president proposes and Congress disposes. Congress has the power of the purse strings. I’ve never seen a president’s budget proposal not revised substantially,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said.

“The president's budget request is always subject to significant revision by Congress, and this budget will be no exception. Throughout my time in the Senate, I have never seen a president's budget make it through Congress unchanged,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added.

Trump’s first budget proposal to Congress includes $1.7 trillion in entitlement spending cuts over 10 years, including $800 billion from Medicaid and other benefits programs. It also includes a boost to military spending, $25 billion over 10 years for a paid family leave proposal spearheaded by Ivanka Trump and $1 billion for border wall construction. Foreign aid, except for Israel and Egypt, also takes a hit.

Some foreign policy-minded senators decried the president’s proposed cuts to diplomatic programs.

“This budget, if fully implemented, would cause us to retreat from the world diplomatically or put people at risk. You have a lot of 'Benghazis' in the making if this thing becomes law,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, known for his hawkish stances, said Trump wasn’t proposing enough additional funding for the military to amount to a buildup, calling it “inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law, and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress.”

McCain called the budget “illegal” because it exceeds spending caps set up in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which led to across-the-board spending cuts to most federal agencies and programs.

Just as most presidents’ budgets are more reflections of their policy priorities than documents they expect to get turned into law, so too are some senators’ criticisms as much about provincial concerns rather than sweeping critiques of presidential policies.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, called the budget “anti-Nevada” for its proposed funding to re-start the development of a nuclear waste depository on top of Yucca Mountain in his state.

And Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, criticized the proposal’s cuts to programs that fund restoration projects for his state’s coastline.

“Our state’s future depends on this funding to rebuild our coastline. However, this budget is a guideline; Congress must now hold hearings and do the necessary work to ensure the bill protects American taxpayers and families.”

Past presidents from both parties have also come under friendly fire for including provisions in their budgets that weren’t universally praised. Former President Barack Obama was panned by liberal Democrats for seeking changes to the way Social Security payments are calculated.

Plus not all Senate Republicans criticized Trump’s budget proposal. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the party whip, praised its broad strokes.

“I think it’s worth pointing out several aspects of the president's budget that are encouraging and a welcome change from the previous administration. For one, it balances in 10 years,” Cornyn said. “The president's budget reflects a better understanding of the threat environment ahead, and for that I am grateful.”

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Trump asked NSA director to knock down FBI's Russia investigation

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers was asked by President Donald Trump to publicly push back against the FBI probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump associates, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.

According to the source, Rogers rebuffed the president's request, deeming it inappropriate. The encounter between Rogers and Trump was documented in a contemporaneous memo.

The White House told ABC News in response to the story that it "does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals. The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people."

Trump’s request to Rogers is not the first time he has made such an appeal to a top intelligence official.

Following Trump's firing of James Comey on May 9, it was revealed that the former FBI director reportedly wrote a memo detailing a request Trump made to him in February to drop the FBI’s investigation of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

Rogers is set to testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday.

The Washington Post was the first to report that Trump made the appeal to Rogers back in March. The Post also reported that Trump made the same request to the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Asked about the Post report when he appeared Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Coats declined to comment, saying it would not be appropriate.

"I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information which we share it's not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that," Coats said. "So on this topic, as well as other topics, I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president."

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Trump writes in Holocaust memorial guestbook: 'So amazing'

ABC News(JERUSALEM) -- President Trump’s message in a guestbook at Israel’s main Holocaust memorial and museum has drawn some ridicule for its failure to demonstrate sensitivity to the atrocities memorialized at the site.

“It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends - so amazing + will never forget!” Trump wrote during his visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Tuesday.

Israeli media gave contrasting characterizations of Trump's guestbook note. The Jerusalem Post said Trump signed “in enthusiastic fashion,” while left-leaning newspaper Haaretz said Trump described the visit “as only he can.”

Raoul Wootliff, a reporter for the right-wing Times of Israel, posted on Twitter, “He forgot: ‘See you next summer.’”)

Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem, told ABC News that he did not think what Trump wrote was insensitive, as the president signed the guestbook after he made remarks at the museum that Shalev called “very meaningful.”

“He touched all the essential elements that should be touched,” including remembering the victims as human beings and the importance of not just standing by in the face of evil, Shalev said.

Trump's shaking hands with a Holocaust survivor during the visit was also particularly powerful, Shalev said.

When then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Yad Vashem in 2008, he wrote a significantly longer message in the guestbook.

“I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution,” he wrote. “At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so that they can add their voices to proclaim ‘never again.’ And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims, but also as individuals who helped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.”

Trump was in Jerusalem as part of his first international trip, which has also also taken him to Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.

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Trump stresses 'unshakable' bond between US, Israel during Jerusalem speech

MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- President Trump stressed the deep and longstanding ties between the U.S. and Israel during a speech in Jerusalem Tuesday morning.

"I make this promise to you: my administration will always stand with Israel," Trump said.

The president also talked about his visit to the Western Wall, where he said he prayed "for wisdom from God," and his visit to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem where he said that he vowed "never again."

Trump briefly commented on Monday night's deadly attack at a concert in Manchester, England, sending condolences to the families of those "innocent people, beautiful young people" who were killed.

The details about the Manchester attack have not been confirmed, but Trump went on to talk about terror attacks more generally, saying that we must "obliterate this evil ideology and protect and defend our citizens and people of the world."

Much of the speech was dedicated to affirming "the unshakable bond" between the U.S. and Israel.

"Iran's leaders routinely call for Israel's destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump," he said.

Trump went on to say that he is "personally committed" to helping Israel and Palestinians reach a lasting peace, acknowledging that promises for such a deal have been made but, in an apparent reference to his record of dealmaking in business, he said, "That's what I do."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Trump met with earlier Tuesday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both "reaching for peace," the president said.

"Making peace, however, will not be easy ... but with determination, compromise and the belief that peace is possible," he said.

Trump was introduced by Netanyahu, who thanked the U.S. leader for his "steadfast" support of the Jewish people.

"Over the years, Israel has had many friends, but Israel has never had and will never have a better friend than the United States of America," Netanyahu said.

He went on to thank Trump "for standing up for Israel at the United Nations and everywhere else."

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Trump calls out 'evil losers' behind deadly Manchester blast

Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(BETHLEHEM, West Bank) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday called out the "evil losers" who he said were behind a massive explosion that brought "death to innocent young people" who were attending a pop concert in Manchester, England Monday night.

"So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life,” Trump said early Tuesday morning, speaking just hours after a suspected terrorist attacker carried out a deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert, killing 22 people and injuring 59 others on Monday night.

"I won't call them monsters because they'd like that term. They'd think that's a great name," he added.

The comments were the president’s first on the bombing at the Manchester Arena, one of Europe’s largest indoor arenas. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier that Trump has been receiving updates from his national security team on the situation through the morning.

"I would like to extend my condolences to those so terribly injured in this terrorist attack, to the many killed and the families, so many families of the victims," Trump said. “We stand in absolute solidarity with people of the United Kingdom.”

The remarks came as Trump met with Palestinian President Abbas in Bethlehem, where the two are expected to discuss a possible peace deal in the Middle East.

"And interesting that our meeting took place on this horrible morning of death to innocent young people,” Trump said. “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.”

Revisiting remarks from his address to Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Trump again called for nations to “drive out” extremists and terrorists from their societies.

“We cannot stand a moment longer for the slaughter of innocent people and in today’s attack it was mostly innocent children,” Trump said. “The terrorists and extremists and those who give them aid and comfort must be driven out from our society forever.”

Trump is currently in the middle of his first foreign trip as president. He is also scheduled to meet with the European Union and Belgian leaders in Brussels and attend a NATO summit as a part of the eight-day trip.

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Michael Flynn appeared to have lied to federal investigators, top Democrat says

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee says he has new documents that appear to show former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn lied to investigators who were conducting his security clearance review.

In a letter Monday to the committee’s chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., urged the oversight chairman to subpoena the White House for documents that detail its process for vetting Flynn.

While the White House has largely blamed the Obama administration for failing to vet Flynn, Cummings, citing investigators' records, claims Flynn lied to officials who interviewed him in February of 2016 as part of his security clearance renewal.

Flynn appeared to tell investigators his trips to Russia and other countries were paid for by American companies. The former Trump adviser has publicly claimed he was paid by a speakers' bureau for his appearance at a Moscow gala for Russian television network RT, but documents previously obtained by the committee indicate the government-funded channel paid Flynn more than $45,000 for his 2015 appearance.

“General Flynn had a duty to be truthful on his security clearance renewal form and during his interview with security clearance investigators,” Cummings wrote in his letter to Chaffetz, which quoted the report.

According to the investigators' report, Flynn also claimed he had "insubstantial contact" with foreign nationals, though he sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It is difficult to understand how General Flynn could have believed that his dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin was 'insubstantial contact,'" Cummings wrote.

The letter from the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee comes hours after Flynn refused to comply with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The panel had requested documents from Flynn.

"While we recognize General Flynn’s constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, we are disappointed he has chosen to disregard the Committee’s subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation," Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement. "We will vigorously pursue General Flynn’s testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials pursuant to the Committee’s authorities.”

An aide to Chaffetz declined to comment on the letter.

Flynn's attorney declined multiple requests for comment Monday from ABC News.

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Trump's first budget calls for deep cuts to Medicaid, other safety net programs -- President Trump's first budget proposal to Congress includes $1.7 trillion in mandatory spending cuts over 10 years, including $800 billion from Medicaid and $193 billion from food stamps, in an effort to balance the federal budget.

The proposal for Fiscal Year 2018, called "A New Foundation for American Greatness," also includes sunny projections for economic growth and tax revenue, and factors in the passage of the GOP health care bill recently approved by the House.

"What Trumponomics is and what this budget is a part of, is trying to get to sustained three percent economic growth in this country again," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in a briefing with reporters on Monday. "We do not believe that is something fanciful."

In addition to the cuts, the proposal, set to be delivered to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, also includes a boost to military spending, $25 billion over 10 years for Ivanka Trump's paid family leave proposal -- six weeks for new/adoptive parents -- and $1 billion for construction of a border all on the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We’re not going to measure success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we help," Mulvaney said of the reduced spending, adding that the White House believes in the "social safety net."

Like every presidential budget proposal, Trump's first budget blueprint is expected to be dead on arrival in the House and Senate, with many members reluctant to approve deep cuts to Medicaid and foreign aid, among other programs.

Democrats are criticizing the White House proposal, and accusing Trump of going back on his promise to his campaign supporters not to touch Medicaid and Social Security.

"Candidate Trump campaigned as a populist," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said on the Senate floor Monday. "Since he has taken office he has governed like a hard-right conservative -- pushing policies that help the uber wealthy at the expense of the middle class."

"Based on what we know about this budget, the good news -- the only good news -- is that it’s likely to be roundly rejected by members of both parties here in the Senate -- just as the last budget was," Schumer said.

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