No staff shakeup imminent despite reports, White House says

iStock/Thinkstock (WASHINGTON) -- Despite reports that President Donald Trump was poised to fire cabinet members and other top officials as soon as Friday, the White House tamped down expectations and insisted the jobs of some thought to be on the chopping block were secure.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted to reporters that chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster were not at imminent risk of losing their jobs, counter to some headlines suggesting otherwise.

Sanders said Kelly reassured a number of staff members Friday morning that there would be no immediate personnel changes. “People shouldn't be concerned," Sanders said Kelly told staffers.

Regarding McMaster’s fate, Sanders referenced a tweet she sent last night that said she spoke to both the president and McMaster, and that they have a "good working relationship" and there "are no changes" at the National Security Council. She also noted during the briefing that the president had asked her to relay to McMaster that his job was safe.

McMaster himself was cryptic when ABC caught him walking out of the White House West Wing Friday afternoon.

“Sarah set it straight yesterday. Everybody has got to leave the White House at some point,” he said. Asked whether he was leaving sooner or later, he responded, "I'm doing my job.”

During the briefing, Sanders also denied that the president himself has been fomenting rumors of a staff shakeup when making suggestive statements as he did Thursday, when he said, “There will always be change, and I think you want to see change.” Earlier this week, when asked about his firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump said he was "close" to having the cabinet he wanted.

"Taking two sentences out of the thousands of remarks that the president makes and making it look like that's the entire focus of his administration,” Sanders said, before being reminded by a reporter that he was simply quoting what the president has said recently.

Sanders responded that the president was referring to the two people he had just nominated -- Pompeo and his replacement, CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel -- not a broader changing of the guard.

Sanders did not answer directly when asked whether Trump has given similar assurances about job security to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Veterans Affairs Secretary Dave Shulkin.

The White House tried to steer the staff shakeup narrative toward the lack of presidential nominees being confirmed, with legislative director Marc Short addressing reporters to talk about what he called Democrats’ record levels of obstruction. But when Sanders retook the podium, a reporter pointed out that the White House added to the backlog when Trump fired Tillerson and opened up two new cabinet positions.

Sanders said that was a matter of changing policy priorities.

"That's not different for this administration as it has been for any other administration, and we're going to add new staff regularly," she said.

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Michael Flynn campaigning for California congressional candidate 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(LA QUINTA, Calif.) -- Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser, made his first public appearance since agreeing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller at an event Friday night for California congressional candidate Omar Navarro.

Flynn made remarks and announced his endorsement of Navarro for Congress with the candidate and Joy Miedecke, the president of the East Valley Republican Women Federated -- the organization that hosted Friday night's event in La Quinta, California.

"What I'm not here to do is complain about who has done me wrong, or how unfair I've been treated, or how unfair the entire process has been -- it is what it is, and my previous statements stand for themselves," Flynn told the small group of attendees. "I'm here to talk about the future -- your future, our future, the future of this country. If you feel passionate about something, and feeling sorry for yourself will keep you from achieving that destiny, then I can't be a part of that. That's partly why I'm here today, because I saw that passion in the eyes of Omar."

A source close to Flynn had confirmed to ABC News earlier Friday that Flynn would be in attendance.

"He's endorsing me," Navarro, a small business owner, told ABC News earlier in the day Friday.

Navarro, who’s challenging longtime Rep. Maxine Waters, said he and Flynn had been communicating online and via email. They met in person in February when Navarro was in Washington, D.C. to attend Conservative Political Action Conference.

"We talked to each other for two hours. We got along really well,” he said, adding that Flynn agreed to endorse him at that time.

This is the first public appearance by Flynn since he left the White House, was charged with lying to federal authorities and began cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Despite agreeing to cooperate with Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 president election, Flynn was supportive of President Donald Trump on Friday.

"My passion and my destiny changed when I saw our country taking a fundamentally different direction, in a world filled with challenges and challengers, and we see them out there all over the world today, and I decided to do something about it in a different capacity. If I'm paying the price for that decision, so be it. God can and will judge me at some point," Flynn said, apparently referring to his legal problems. "I got involved in the national political process of our country to help our president get elected. All of us are imperfect. I used to introduce our current president -- then presidential candidate Trump -- during our various campaign appearances as an imperfect candidate. I mean, clearly he is a non-traditional politician. But his "Make America Great Again" philosophy energized the country enough to get him overwhelmingly elected. Whether we like it or not, that's what happened."

The crowd clapped at the suggestion.

"Despite the madness that you see, I mean, darn near every day, I still believe standing up here today that this is a great thing for our country," Flynn added of Trump's election.

Navarro brushed off concerns about the investigation earlier Friday.

“I was very happy” to have the endorsement, he said “because I have a lot of respect for the man. It was an honor and it’s great to have the support for my campaign.”

He added: “I’m more than honored to have his endorsement.”

 In December, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador before president-elect Trump took office. Flynn faces one count of lying to federal authorities and his sentencing hasn't been set yet pending his successful cooperation with Mueller's investigation.

Navarro challenged Waters in 2016 and received 24 percent of the vote to her 76 percent.

The 43rd Congressional District is rated by the Cook Political Report as plus-29 for Democrats and considered a safe seat for the party.

Flynn targeted Democrats in general in his speech, rattling off and criticizing labels such as liberal, left and progressive.

"It's a dangerous thing to put these labels on something to make it sound cool, but it really isn't. It really isn't," Flynn said. "My judgment, they have trained a generation of young people to remain poor while blaming the rich, and to remain obsessed over the past while blaming those of us who are optimistic for the future. Blame, blame, blame. What a miserable existence. I don't know how you can get up everyday and feel that way. God, it's like, quit whining."

Navarro spent his time on Twitter Friday evening retweeting all of the various news stories about his endorsement by Flynn.

Navarro has not been endorsed by the California Republican Party.

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Al Franken's replacement in the Senate said she wishes 'ethics process' had run its course

ABC(WASHINGTON) -- The Minnesota senator who replaced Al Franken when he resigned after facing allegations of sexual misconduct said she believes he should have had the benefit of an ethics investigation before he stepped down.

“I would have liked for the Senate ethics process to run its course, but, you know, that didn’t happen,” Democratic Sen. Tina Smith told hosts on The View. “It was an extraordinary moment, and it was a really tough moment too.”

Smith, previously her state's lieutenant governor, was appointed to Franken's seat when he left office in early January.

Franken announced his plan to resign in December, a day after a number of his Democratic colleagues called for him to step down amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that included groping and improper advances. He has steadfastly denied some of the allegations and said he did nothing to dishonor the Senate.

Smith said on The View that she is friends with Franken and his wife.

“Al was a champion for Minnesota, and he was a champion for progressive issues around the country,” Smith said.

As one of only 22 women now in the Senate, Smith said she feels a great responsibility.

“Women have all sorts of responsibilities and obligations in any job that we have. Whether it's in the state Senate, whether it is being in the news or wherever it is, I think we always have extra obligations. That's just the way it is. In my career, I've spent a lot of time working on women's health issues and women's economic issues, so I feel that responsibility really strongly,” she said.

Smith is running for re-election to a full term as senator this year, and she said she believes voters in her state will decide the race based on which candidate they want rather than on whether they support or oppose President Donald Trump.

She also commented on the victory this week of Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election for Congress in a district that went heavily for Trump in 2016. Smith said Lamb won by “talking about base economic issues” and “what matters to people in their economic lives” such as child care and college debt.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke greets Japanese American congresswoman with 'Konnichiwa'

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is receiving heat from some lawmakers for greeting a Japanese American congresswoman with the phrase "Konnichiwa" after being asked a question Thursday about continuing funds for the Japanese American Confinement Sites program.

The program preserves confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.

"Will we see it funded again in 2018?," asked Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, whose grandfathers during World War II were among the estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans sent to U.S. confinement camps.

"Oh, Konnichiwa," Zinke replied with a phrase often used in the afternoon.

"I think it's still 'ohayo gozaimasu,' but that's okay," Hanabusa corrected him with a phrase typically used in the morning.

Zinke's comment quickly raised eyebrows as one audience member's jaw dropped immediately after his remark.

Lawmakers quickly came to Hanabusa's defense - rebuking Zinke for his remarks.

"My colleague asked Sec. Zinke a serious question about gov't funding and received the response "Konnichiwa." This blatantly insensitive remark by @secretaryzinke is uncalled for and is not behavior that a cabinet secretary should exhibit," Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. tweeted.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also responded to Zinke's comments calling them "flippant and juvenile."
"The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke," she tweeted.

ABC News reached out to the Interior Secretary's office, but did not receive a response.

Zinke said to the congresswoman that the issue "probably got caught up in the priorities of fixing" other agency matters.

Zinke concluded his response by telling Hanabusa he'd work on the issue with her.
"I will look at it and I'll work with you on it, because I think it is important," he added.

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Stormy Daniels' lawyer: She was 'threatened' to keep alleged affair with Trump secret

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A lawyer for Stormy Daniels says his client was threatened to keep her alleged 2006 affair with Donald Trump a secret.

Michael Avenatti, who represents the adult film star, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that his client had even been threatened with “physical harm.” He did not provide any details or evidence of the alleged threat.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing President Trump, claiming that a nondisclosure agreement she signed precluding her from speaking publicly about their alleged affair is invalid because Trump failed to sign the document as well.

Daniels is expected to deliver her version of the story of their encounter in a highly anticipated taped interview scheduled to air March 25 on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

“The American people can judge for themselves on who is telling the truth and not and, again, we're not trying to silence anyone,” Avenatti said. “We want both sides to lay out their version of the facts so the American people can decide for themselves what happened.”

Buzzfeed reported last week that Trump’s legal team was weighing a legal challenge to stop CBS from broadcasting the interview, but they have not yet filed a lawsuit.

The story has continued to gain momentum ever since the Wall Street Journal reported in January that Trump’s longtime personal attorney had arranged a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump spokespersons have said that he denies Daniel’s allegations of an affair, and Cohen has said that he was never directly or indirectly reimbursed by Trump for the payment.

One of the outstanding questions that Aventatti wants answered is what role, if any, Trump played in arranging the payment to Daniels. A nonpartisan watchdog group called Common Cause has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about the payoff arguing that it amounted to an unreported in-kind campaign contribution, which would be a violation of campaign finance laws.

"Did [Trump] have anything to do with this payment?” Aventatti asked. “Did he reimburse Mr. Cohen? Did he have a surrogate reimburse Mr. Cohen?"

If the contract is upheld, Daniels stands to face a $1,000,000 penalty for every breach of the nondisclosure agreement, but Aventatti said that he does not think that any court will uphold the terms.

"If the plan by Mr. Cohen and the administration is that they're going to pursue millions of dollars of damages against a private citizen who wants to exercise her First Amendment right, bring it,” Aventatti said. “That's our position. Bring it. Because our position is that the agreement was never signed.”

Cohen's company, Essential Consultants, filed notice on Friday to move the case to federal court. The document also alleges Daniels broke the NDA 20 times and therefore owes $20 million.

Avenatti fired back at the new filing on Twitter late Friday, calling the damages claim "bogus" and saying they would continue to fight in court.


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Rep. Louise Slaughter dies at 88

Bill Clark/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Louise Slaughter, who served more than 30 years in the House of Representatives, died Friday following a fall last week, her chief of staff announced in a news release.

Slaughter died early Friday morning surrounded by family at George Washington University Hospital after sustaining an injury in her Washington, DC residence last week, according to longtime aide Liam Fitzsimmons.

She was 88.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Slaughter "a giant in the people's House."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also took office in 1987, said she was "heartbroken" by Slaughter's death.

"In her lifetime of public service and unwavering commitment to working families, Congresswoman Slaughter embodied the very best of the American spirit and ideals. With her passing, the Congressional community has lost a beloved leader and a cherished friend," Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement. "Louise was a trailblazer."

A senior aide said that Pelosi visited Slaughter at the hospital on Thursday.

“It was my great privilege to serve with her and to benefit from her friendship and wise counsel for 30 years," Pelosi stated. "Her loss will be deeply felt."

Slaughter was the first woman to chair the powerful House Committee on Rules and served as the Ranking Democrat in the 115th Congress.

Slaughter was the dean of the New York congressional delegation, serving her 16th term in Congress.

“She was a strong and respected leader in the House of Representatives and a passionate advocate for the community she represented and loved,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-New York, said. “The nation has lost a fervent defender of righteous policies and Western New York has lost a champion.”
Slaughter often boasted she was the only microbiologist in Congress.

She served in the New York State Assembly from 1982 to 1986 and the Monroe County Legislature between 1976 and 1979. While holding elected office, she was the regional coordinator to Mario Cuomo from 1976 to 1982 during his tenure as secretary of state and lieutenant governor, according to her office.

This is a breaking news story please check back for updates.

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Donald Trump Jr., wife are separating: 'We will always have tremendous respect for each other'

Chris Kleponis/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump Jr. and his wife, Vanessa Trump, are separating.

“After 12 years of marriage, we have decided to go our separate ways," the couple said in a joint statement. "We will always have tremendous respect for each other and our families. We have five beautiful children together and they remain our top priority."

The couple, who married in 2005, went on to ask for privacy.

The news was broken by The New York Post, which reported Wednesday that a divorce could be imminent.

At 40, Trump Jr. is President Donald Trump's eldest child. He serves as executive vice president of the Trump Organization.

Vanessa Trump, also 40, is a former model who made news last month after opening a piece of hate mail addressed to her husband dusted with suspicious powder. The NYPD concluded that the substance was nonhazardous.

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Soviet-born Donald Trump adviser Felix Sater: 'Send 'em to jail' if Robert Mueller finds collusion

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Felix Sater is a lot of things. One of them, he says, is misunderstood.

The Soviet-born American businessman, who once billed himself as a “senior advisor to Donald Trump,” has become known for his supporting role in the unfolding drama that is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Sater is often referred to as the convicted felon and onetime stock scammer who promised to “get all of Putins team to buy in” on a proposed plan to build “Trump Tower Moscow” in the heat of the presidential campaign.

“I know how to play it, and we will get this done,” Sater wrote to Trump attorney and confidant Michael Cohen, his childhood friend, in emails published by The Washington Post and The New York Times. “Buddy, our boy can become president of the USA, and we can engineer it.”

The project was abandoned, but as federal investigators launched a wide-ranging probe of alleged Russsian interference in the 2016 election including possible connections to Trump’s campaign and personal businesses, Sater quickly found himself caught in the dragnet. Now, in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos airing Friday morning on Good Morning America, Sater tells ABC News that there is much, much more to his life story.

And he’s right.

“I don’t think if a screenwriter was trying to write this movie that they could make this up,” Sater said.

Sater, 52, says that for the past two decades he has served as a high-level intelligence asset for the DIA, CIA and the FBI. As first reported this week by Buzzfeed News, Sater has helped bust mafia families, capture cybercriminals and pursue top terrorists — including Osama bin Laden — earning praise from some of the country’s top law enforcement officials.

He won’t say whether or not he’s been interviewed by the special counsel, but it’s almost certain that Mueller knows his body of work well. He served as FBI Director for much of Sater’s clandestine career.

As questions have swirled about his supposed loyalty to Russia, Sater is speaking out, recasting himself as an unheralded protector of the United States.

“I am a patriot,” Sater said. “Having the opportunity to serve my country and do anything in its defense was a no brainer. It was, ‘Where do I sign up?’”


Sater says he was recruited as an intelligence asset in perhaps the unlikeliest of places — the bathroom.

He was a young man living in Russia, where he was born, trying to rebuild a business career derailed by what he calls “a bad, stupid, drunken night in a bar.” He had been convicted of felony assault charges and spent a year in prison following a bloody bar fight in which he stabbed a man in the face with a margarita glass.

He needed money so desperately upon his release, he says, that he started working on what he calls “the dark side of Wall Street,” a reference to a so-called “pump-and-dump” stock scheme that reportedly defrauded investors of nearly $40 million.

He was at a dinner party in Moscow when he says one of the guests followed him into the bathroom and identified himself as an agent of the U.S. government. He told Sater that he had unwittingly gained access to a group of high-level Russian intelligence operatives who had valuable information about Russian defense technology.

“They seem to like you,” Sater recalls being told. “You speak Russian. You blend in there. And your country needs you.”

So began, Sater says, career in espionage. He says he developed assets in several different countries by cultivating cover as a corrupt businessman offering access to illicit schemes and passed information to U.S. agents tasked with handling a variety of threats to national security.

“They used to come to me with cases that had nothing to do with me and ask for my assistance, in which I would enthusiastically and wholeheartedly dive in and try to help,” he said.

He says he tipped off law enforcement to potential assassination attempts on Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush; obtained information and photographs about North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program; lured Russian cybercriminals hacking the U.S. financial system out of hidings so that they could be unmasked and captured.

And, he says, he was even tasked with hunting for Osama bin Laden and managed to turn Mullah Omar’s personal secretary into a key source that provided intelligence about al-Qaeda hideouts.

The information he had obtained was so valuable that when his past caught up with him and he finally faced his sentencing in connection with that multimillion-dollar fraud, the judge let him off with a mere $25,000 fine.

That work, he says, continues in some unspecified capacity to this day. He said as recently as last year he was asked for “assistance in making evaluations of various foreign governments [and] foreign individuals.”

He reportedly told this story under oath when he testified recently before the House Intelligence Committee, at which point he said even “the Democratic aides who were there to question [me] regarding the Russia-Trump investigation stopped, paused and thanks me for my service to my country.”

“One of the few times in my life that I almost cried,” Sater said.


Sater says he made himself valuable to the U.S. government by knowing everything. When it comes to Trump, however, he says he knows next to nothing.

His company, Bayrock Group, began renting office space in Trump Tower. Sater says he introduced himself to Trump in 2000 and began funneling development proposals to Trump’s desk shortly thereafter.

“I would bring him deals,” Sater said.

Sater claims he has helped the Trump Organization secure financing on several major projects, but none has garnered more scrutiny than a failed proposal to build “Trump Tower Moscow” amid the launch of Trump’s controversial campaign for the presidency.

In 2015, Trump signed a non-binding letter of intent, which promised a $4 million initial payment to the Trump Organization, to build the tallest building in the world in Moscow. In emails sent to Cohen published by the Post and the Times, Sater appears to celebrate an apparent merger of Trump’s business and political fortunes.

Faced with questions about his boast that he and Cohen could “engineer” a Trump presidency using the deal to court Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support, Sater pleaded ignorance.

“I am not a political person,” Sater said. “I don't understand the implications of the politics or the various strings that get attached to it and how good or bad it may look.”

Any perceived alignment of Trump’s business and political interests, he said, was purely coincidental.

“I was trying to do a real estate transaction,” Sater told ABC News. “I clearly was not involved in the campaign, nor was I involved in any of the political end, and the hope that a large transaction like that would be built, if that was helpful to his run, that would be great.”

Asked if he knew certain key member of the Trump campaign, he claimed to have had “zero contact” with many of the Trump allies who have fallen under the spotlight. He denied knowing Michael Flynn. And Paul Manafort. And Rick Gates. And George Papadopoulos. And Carter Page.

Asked if then-candidate Trump could have softened his stance on Russia because he was simultaneously pursuing a business deal there, Sater demurred.

“I can’t speak for the president,” he said.

And asked if — given his extensive sources in the both the Russian foreign intelligence services and the Russian criminal underworld — he knew of the effort underway to influence the U.S. election, he paused before issuing a forceful denial.

“I was not aware of what they were doing,” Sater said. “I read about it, just like everyone else, in the newspapers.”

Sater called Trump’s claim that he couldn’t pick him out of a lineup “disappointing,” but says Trump has nothing to fear from his testimony to investigators. He is unaware, he said, of any Russian money in any of the Trump projects he worked on and unaware of anyone in Trump’s orbit who may have colluded with foreign powers during the campaign.

If Mueller finds any, Sater recommended stiff penalties.

“Send ‘em to jail,” he said. “Anybody who colluded with anybody-- with any other country against America -- is guilty of crimes against our country.”
But as for himself, Sater isn’t worried.

“Eventually, it will become known that I’m guilty of trying to build the world’s tallest building,” Sater said, “and that’s about it.”

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House Democrats: State Department staffers not considered loyal to Trump being pushed out

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Top House Democrats are accusing the White House and State Department of forcing out administration officials not considered sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Citing emails provided by a whistleblower, Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking members of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, wrote to White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan raising questions about what they see as an apparent effort to target career civil servants at the State Department.

The State Department confirmed that it had received the letter Thursday afternoon and "will comply with Congress' request," according to spokesperson Heather Nauert, who said she had never heard of outside groups pressuring the department to making staffing changes. "This is the first I've heard of it in this letter," she said.

A number of emails, reviewed by ABC News, focus on former State Department official Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career official who worked on the Iran nuclear deal under President Obama at the State Department and on the White House National Security Council.

Nowrouzzadeh was the subject of a March story from a conservative outlet describing her as a “trusted Obama aide” who was “burrowing into the government under President Trump.”

She wrote to Brian Hook, her supervisor and director of the secretary’s policy planning staff, to push back on the story from the Conservative Review.

“I am and have been a career civil servant for nearly 12 years now,” she wrote in her email to Hook. “I began government service in the Bush Administration at DOD/NSA after graduating college and have focused on Iran in various capacities ever since. I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I have worked for.”

Nowrouzzadeh asked to meet with Hook to discuss the story and said she was worried about her safety. Hook forwarded her note to other Trump appointees, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's deputy chief of staff Christine Ciccone; his deputy, Ed Lacey; and Matt Mowers.

“I know she is, in fact, a career civil servant,” Lacey replied, adding that she served on the Obama National Security Council, and promoted and defended the Iran nuclear deal “with enthusiasm.” In another email, he refers to Nowrouzzadeh as one of a handful of "Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump's foreign policy agenda."

In a subsequent email, Julia Haller, formerly the State Department’s White House liaison, wrote that it would be “easy to get a detail suspended,” and claimed Nowrouzzadeh was born in Iran and “cried when the president won.”

The Connecticut-born Nowrouzzadeh, currently a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was later removed from her assignment on the State Department’s policy planning staff in a manner that was “not in accordance with that which was explicitly stated in my [memorandum of understanding]," she wrote to State Department officials in an email regarding a Politico story about her reassignment.

She did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The emails also appear to reveal that conservatives outside the administration were in touch with State Department and White House officials with concerns about career staff.

David Wurmser, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, emailed the Conservative Review story about Nowrouzzadeh to Trump adviser and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who forwarded it along to Margaret Peterlin, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff.

“I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote to Gingrich. “I hear Tillerson has been reasonably good on stuff like this and cleaning house, but there are so many that it boggles the mind."

The emails also identify several White House officials, including Deputy White House Counsel Makan Delrahim, who were aware of the story and communicating about Nowrouzzadeh. He had received a note with the story from a judicial strategy distribution list from Barbara Leeden, a conservative activist.

Nowrouzzadeh was one of several officials viewed with suspicion in the early days of the Trump administration.

In one email to himself titled “Derek notes” -- a reference to National Security Council Senior Director Derek Harvey, according to a congressional aide -- Hook listed several other officials and notes about their loyalty, and described one as a “turncoat” who is “fully political.”

In their letter, Cummings and Engel have asked the State Department and White House for transcribed interviews with White House and State Department officials regarding Nowrouzzadeh’s detail and reassignment, along with relevant documents and communications.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. During the briefing with reporters at the State Department, Nauert defended career employees as "extremely professional" and "almost blind to politics."

"They may not always like the policy that they are asked to advance on behalf of this administration and the American people, but my personal experience has been that people have done that and handled it in a very professional matter," she said.

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Senate Republicans call for special counsel to investigate DOJ's Russia probe  

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A group of influential Republican senators on Thursday called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the Department of Justice and FBI conducted a probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The demand came in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, from Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa; John Cornyn of Texas, a committee member and No. 2 in the Senate Republican leadership; and committee members Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

They requested that a special counsel assist the DOJ inspector general in digging into possible misuse of the foreign intelligence surveillance system to obtain warrants against a former Trump campaign aide, leaks of classified intelligence to the media and “potential improprieties in the FBI’s relationship with Christopher Steele.”

Grassley and Graham already made a criminal referral to the DOJ two months ago concerning former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele -- author of the so-called “Trump dossier” -- recommending that officials investigate possible false statements by Steele to federal officials.

One Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic source said, "They keep forgetting that the Russia investigation started with George Papadopoulos and his Russia-related contacts."

Buried in the list of more than 30 questions that the senators want investigated is an allegation by Grassley that former FBI Director James Comey may have lied to Congress.

“Chairman Grassley wrote to former Director Comey nearly a year ago requesting him to resolve apparent material discrepancies between information he provided in a closed briefing and information contained in classified documents,” the letter reads. “Specifically, what Mr. Comey disclosed in a private briefing to the Chairman and Ranking Member Feinstein about the timeline of the FBI’s interactions with Mr. Steele appeared inconsistent with information contained in FISA applications the chairman and ranking member later reviewed.”

Grassley goes on to say, “It’s unclear whether this was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Oversight Committee about whether the FBI’s communications with Mr. Steele about the Trump allegations began before or after the FBI opened the investigation.”

“No explanation for the inconsistencies has ever been provided,” the letter states.

The four GOP Judiciary Committee members also want to know more about the nature of the FBI’s interview of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser who is now cooperating in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have frequently lambasted Rosenstein, Mueller and the Russia investigation more broadly. Disagreements on the Senate Judiciary Committee have so fractured its own Russia investigation that Republicans and Democrats have been operating on separate tracks, with some members privately grousing that the whole thing is a waste of time.

Democrats often said Republicans, in attacking the Russia investigation, are merely trying to protect the president.

The DOJ inspector general is already investigating how the department and the FBI handled its probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The inspector general is expected to issue its report on that matter in April, according to sources.

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