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Wednesday
Sep192018

Trump directs release of declassified surveillance warrant on Russia probe

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Here's what you need to about FISA warrants, some of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government.

What is FISA

FISA, which stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is the law that governs how the U.S. government can collect foreign intelligence using its considerable surveillance capabilities.

To conduct foreign intelligence surveillance, the FBI must submit a FISA warrant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and obtain approval. The FISC is made up of 11 federal judges who work on a rotating basis in a secure area of the Justice Department and can authorize applications for these secret surveillance warrants.

How does the process work?

The FISA process differs from ordinary criminal wiretap warrants in that the underlying reason for the surveillance does not have to involve a criminal violation. For a FISA warrant to be approved, the FISC must find there is probable cause that the subject of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power.

What happened with the FBI FISA application?

In October of 2016, the FBI did just that with regards to Carter Page, an energy consultant and former foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign. In a partially declassified FISA application, the FBI stated it believed Page was “an agent of a foreign power” and “the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government.”

FISA warrants have limitations and expire after 90 days unless they are renewal. A new FISA application must be submitted to the FISC for approval for every renewal.

At the urging of Republicans in Congress, President Trump authorized the declassification of the Carter Page FISA application and its three subsequent renewals.

A redacted version of those applications, numbering more than 400 pages, was released last July.

What happens now?

Now that President Trump has ordered the declassification of other previously redacted parts of the Carter Page FISA application, what happens now?

According to sources familiar with the process, the intelligence community will conduct an equities review. That means all the intelligence agencies that contributed to the relevant portions of the FISA applications that have been ordered to be declassified will have the opportunity to make recommendations for redactions.

Those recommendations will be compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and will be presented to the White House.

The President of the United States is the declassifier-in-chief. He has the final say on whether to accept the recommendation of the intelligence community or ignore it.

It is worth noting, this FISA has previously gone through the declassification process and the pages the president has ordered declassified were previously withheld after that review.

What is the deadline? When will all of this work be completed? It’s not clear. As the ODNI said in a statement, Monday, they are working “expeditiously” with interagency partners to conduct the review. A source familiar with the process say they are working quickly but are not wed to any particular timeline.

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Wednesday
Sep192018

Congresswoman, first to talk to Kavanaugh accuser, calls her 'honest person'

U.S. House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Anna Eshoo, the California Democrat who was first approached by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser over the summer, describes Christine Blasey Ford as a “gentle, honest person who may change people’s minds.”

Eshoo told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast host Jonathan Karl that she met with the college professor for almost two hours face-to-face over the July Fourth holiday when she wanted to share her story.

“My constituent is not a creature of Washington, D.C.," Eshoo said. "That's not who she is.”

Eshoo, who said Ford discreetly called her district office, recounted how she wanted to make sure the alleged victim felt comfortable, and that her privacy would be respected. “I think that, you know, her soft-spoken nature but the power of her story, and her honesty and her intelligence will certainly be on display," Eshoo said of possible public testimony by Ford.

“She is I believe a very honest person. And what was so apparent to me was how this the effect it had on her in her in her adult life," Eshoo said. "That's why I think she has courage she's demonstrated an enormous amount of courage to come forward to tell her full story to the American people.”

The Democratic congresswoman said she believes Ford understands the risks of coming forward.

“She certainly waived her privacy and the consequences to herself and her family, and she's demonstrated her willingness to risk these factors to present the truth. This is a terrifying experience to move from living in the neighborhood of going to work every day.

Eshoo continued, saying “She really is your next door neighbor a professor that lives next door. You know she's involved in her in her children's lives from you know all their sports undertakings in that. And there will be in my view they'll be the American people will see a real contrast between the two given where they come from.”
 
Eshoo says that once Ford relayed her story, she decided Eshoo should move the revelations forward. “I subsequently shared with her that a letter should be written to Senator Diane Feinstein. She represents her as well.”

The California congresswoman said she wants to make sure there is no rush to judgment. “I believe that my constituents should be received in that hearing room with the utmost respect -- number one -- and with a presumption of honesty.”

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Tuesday
Sep182018

Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation before testifying: Lawyer

Holton Arms School Yearbook(WASHINGTON) -- The woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when both of them were in high school will not testify before the FBI investigates the matter, one of her lawyers, Lisa Banks, said Tuesday night.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, reported first on CNN and obtained by ABC News, lawyers for professor Christine Blasey Ford, said "a full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions."

Grassley had invited both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify before the committee on Monday.

“There's no reason to have a public hearing Monday. This is being rushed through. It's too important. It's not a game. This is a serious situation,” Banks said on CNN.

The letter to Grassley says, "As you know, earlier this summer, Dr. Ford sought to tell her story, in confidence, so that lawmakers would have a fuller understanding of Brett Kavanaugh’s character and history. Only after the details of her experience were leaked did Dr. Ford make the reluctant decision to come forward publicly."

"In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has received a stunning amount of support from her community and from fellow citizens across our country. At the same time, however, her worst fears have materialized. She has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats. As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online," the letter continues.

"While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident. The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is “mistaken” and “mixed up.” While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials," the letter says.

"As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before, an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations," the letter continues. "A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions."

The letter ends with the lawyers saying, "We would welcome the opportunity to talk with you and Ranking Member Feinstein to discuss reasonable steps as to how Dr. Ford can cooperate while also taking care of her own health and security."

ABC has reached out to Grassley for comment. The White House had no immediate response.

Shortly after the letter was revealed, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, released a statement saying, “The decision to come forward or not come forward has always been Christine Blasey Ford’s, and that includes her participation in a hearing."

"I agree with her 100 percent that the rushed process to hold a hearing on Monday has been unfair and is reminiscent of the treatment of Anita Hill, Feinstein continued. "I also agree that we need the facts before senators—not staff or lawyers—speak to witnesses."

“We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing. A proper investigation must be completed, witnesses interviewed, evidence reviewed and all sides spoken to. Only then should the chairman set a hearing date."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep182018

Sen. Mazie Hirono's message to American men: 'Just shut up and step up'

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Back in 1991, when Anita Hill came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, it was an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee that grilled her as the nation watched.

On Tuesday, reporters asked Sen. Mazie Hirono, one of only four women on the current Senate Judiciary Committee, if having women on it now will shape the way the recent allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is handled.

The Democrat from Hawaii sighed, and then laughed.

"Of course it helps that there are women on that committee, but you know what?"

"Guess who's perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It's the men in this country, and I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change," Hirono said.

She said she expected the men on the committee, who are the majority of the 21 members, to do the same.

On Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers. She'd told a congresswoman earlier in his confirmation process about the experience, and the information was passed along to ranking member Sen. Diane Feinstein, who didn't make the letter from Ford public because Ford asked that she remain anonymous, Feinstein said in a statement last week.

In the Washington Post article published Sunday, Ford claimed a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a house party when she was 15 years old. Kavanaugh, who she described as laughing with another friend in the room, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream, Ford told the Washington Post.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a public hearing on Monday to hear from both Kavanaugh and Ford, but whether they will -- or whether the hearing goes forward -- is uncertain.

Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time," he said in his first statement on Friday. Senate Republicans followed Kavanaugh's denial by releasing a letter from 65 women who say they knew Kavanaugh in high school and attested that "he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect."

"Brett attended Georgetown Prep, an all-boys high school in Rockville, Maryland. He was an outstanding student and athlete with a wide circle of friends. Almost all of us attended all-girls high schools in the area," the letter reads. "Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect."

The White House stood by Kavanaugh but didn't go on the attack against his accuser. "As the story notes, we are standing with Judge Kavanaugh’s denial," White House spokesperson Raj Shah told ABC News in response to Kavanaugh's accuser coming forward to the Washington Post.

Though Democrats and Republicans on the committee have both said they believe Ford deserves to be heard, they're at odds over the way to do so.

Some Democrats argue that the Kavanaugh allegation should be investigated by the FBI and then resubmitted as part of his background check file for committee review before any testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep182018

Trump 'dossier' stuck in New York, didn't trigger Russia investigation, sources say

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump and his allies have long insisted that what he calls the “fake dirty dossier” was wholly “responsible for starting the totally and discredited witch hunt” by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But, beginning in July 2016, that so-called “dossier” actually sat for several weeks inside an organized crime unit at the FBI’s New York field office, even as counterintelligence agents in Washington, D.C. – unaware of the new allegations – were already investigating Russian efforts to hijack American democracy.

Trump doubled down on his “dossier” accusation this week, ordering the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence community to release a bigger slice of the classified information used to investigate one of his advisers, New York business consultant Carter Page, insisting again Tuesday that “what will be disclosed is that there was no basis” for the surveillance.

Despite what Trump and like-minded politicians have said, sources told ABC News the “dossier” was plainly not the initial basis for the federal investigation.

The following account, relayed to ABC News by several sources familiar with the federal probe, reflects how the FBI’s investigation into contacts between Russian operatives and Trump’s campaign team, including Page, was well underway in the summer of 2016 by the time a former British spy handed the FBI a packet of startling and salacious allegations tied to Trump.

In fact, the FBI already had an open counterintelligence case on Page when he became a volunteer on Trump’s foreign policy team in January 2016, according to sources familiar with the matter.

By then, Trump had publicly claimed to have “a good instinct” about Russian’s ruthless president, Vladimir Putin, had praised how Putin was “running his country,” and had compared the Kremlin’s assassinations of dissidents to the “plenty of killing” that happens inside the United States.

Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin – even in private – “mystified” then-FBI Director James Comey, he later recalled to ABC News.

And three years earlier, when the FBI in 2013 was tracking two Russian spies in New York, agents secretly recorded one of the spies saying he wanted to “recruit” Page “as an intelligence source.” Page had previously lived in Moscow for three years.

Page was never charged with any crimes and says he cooperated with that previous investigation, but sources told ABC News his file, like many counterintelligence files, was never closed.

So, two months after Page started advising Trump’s campaign, the FBI paid him a visit in New York, asking about contacts with Russian intelligence, according to a government document.

“An act of war?”

At the time, in the spring of 2016, the U.S. intelligence community had no clue the Russian government was about to launch one of its most sophisticated and effective operations ever against the United States. Russian hackers stole hundreds of thousands of emails from Democratic institutions, and a global battalion of bots armed with “fake news” was deployed across social media.

“Under what circumstances is a hack considered an act of war?” a reporter asked the State Department spokesman on June 14, 2016, the day the Democratic National Committee revealed its systems had been breached. The government spokesman declined to answer.

Three weeks later, Carter Page showed up in Moscow. He was giving the commencement address at the New Economic School, tied to some of the Kremlin’s top officials, and the event was being broadcast live online.

“I am particularly grateful for my relationship with the faculty and staff at the New Economic School,” he said at the start of his remarks, insisting he was there “as a private citizen.”

The date was July 7, 2016. Page’s name wouldn’t first appear in the “dossier” for another two weeks.

The “dossier,” in fact, was not one single document but a series of 17 separate reports, compiled over six months by former British spy Christopher Steele.

Steele was working for someone he knew well in Washington, Glenn Simpson, whose firm, Fusion GPS, was hired by the DNC to conduct opposition research on Trump.

By mid-July 2016, Steele wanted to flag his findings to the U.S. government. He reached out to two old friends: Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department official whose wife worked for Fusion GPS and who, like him, closely tracked organized crime, and Jonathan Winer, an aide to then-Secretary of State John Kerry who has since spoken publicly about his contact with Steele.

It’s unclear if Ohr relayed Steele’s reporting to anyone at the time – no public evidence suggests Ohr passed it on then. But the State Department’s response to Steele was blunt: If you’re so concerned, take it to the FBI.

So that’s what Steele did.

The "dossier" goes to the FBI, but to "the wrong person"

In July 2016, Steele already had a long-term contact in the FBI, and he had a reputation for digging up solid, verifiable information, sources told ABC News.

He had been a reliable U.S. government informant, providing the State Department alone with nearly 120 documents about Russian efforts overseas with no connection to Trump.

A few years earlier, Steele helped an FBI agent in Rome piece together a massive web of corruption within international soccer. The case against FIFA made international headlines.

Trying to take advantage of that relationship in July 2016, Steele sent the FBI agent in Rome the opposition research on Trump he generated working for Fusion GPS.

The Rome-based agent then forwarded the reports to an agent he worked with in the FBI’s New York field office – an agent with expertise in criminal organizations and organized crime, not counterintelligence, sources told ABC News.

That was “the wrong person” to send the reports to, according to one source briefed on the Russia probe.

Steele’s research sat for weeks in the FBI’s New York field office, hundreds of miles away from the agents in Washington scrutinizing ties between Trump’s associates and the Russian government, sources said.

“It took a long period of time for the New York field office to see it and realize what it was,” another source told ABC News, referring to the "dossier.”

An account of the FBI investigation released in February by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee reflected the delay.

“Steele's reporting did not reach the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the FBI opened its investigation, because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI,” the memo by House Democrats said.

“By then, the FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into [multiple] individuals linked to the Trump campaign,” including Carter Page,” the memo noted.

In particular, the FBI was also already taking a close look at Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Manafort had spent years working pro-Russia projects in Ukraine, and the FBI actually interviewed him in 2013 and 2014 about those business dealings overseas. Then in September 2016, the Justice Department’s National Security Division sent Manafort a letter notifying him that he was in their crosshairs once again.

But what really prompted alarm within the FBI in the summer of 2016 was a tip from an Australian diplomat: Before the DNC hack ever became public, a low-level campaign staffer, George Papadopoulos, told him that the Kremlin had collected “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, namely thousands of emails.

The "dossier" reaches Washington -- and the news media

In mid-September 2016, Peter Strzok, the now former FBI agent who was helping to lead the Russia probe, received an “initial batch” of Steele’s reports.

“The first time I am aware of the FBI having that information – the first time I saw it – was in mid-September,” he recently told lawmakers under oath.

In the days afterward, Comey himself was briefed on Steele’s findings, according to Comey’s public statements.

Steele, meanwhile, was meeting with reporters in Washington, looking to share with them some of what he had already given to the FBI. Steele did not show them copies of his reports, but he shared “indications” of “possible coordination of members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian government officials,” as Steele would later describe it in British court filings.

Within days, news outlets started publishing what Steele told them. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill then pressed Comey on the reports during a hearing on Sept. 28, 2016.

Comey wouldn’t answer specific questions, saying it would require him to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. But he offered this: “We are doing an awful lot of work through our counterintelligence investigators to understand just what mischief is Russia up to in connection with our election.”

It’s unclear if at that time the FBI was already drafting the application it would file with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to secretly monitor Page’s communications. Two sources, however, said it takes “weeks” to put an application like that together.

On Oct. 21, 2016, the FBI and Justice Department formally filed their application with the court. It was more than 50 pages long.

Based on a heavily redacted version since released by the FBI, five pages covered “Page’s connections” to Russian intelligence services, at least five pages summarized news reports about Page’s suspected connections to Russia, and as many as six pages covered information provided by Steele.

In particular, the application detailed Steele’s allegations that Page met with two of Putin’s closest associates while in Moscow two months earlier. Page has denied ever meeting them, and no evidence has publicly surfaced to support that portion of Steele’s reporting.

However, Page would later acknowledge that while in Moscow, he sent an email to Trump campaign staffers saying he had “a private conversation” with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich who “expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together” on “current international problems.”

Nevertheless, with the presidential election less than three weeks away, the FBI didn’t take any overt steps to move its investigation along.

As Comey later explained to internal investigators, he believed in a “take no action” rule so close to an election.

“[We] avoid taking any action that could have some impact, even if unknown, on an election, whether that’s a dogcatcher election or President of the United States,” he told the investigators.

Ohr becomes Steele's conduit


While the FBI was holding off on taking any public steps in its investigation, Steele was becoming increasingly anxious about Trump in the late fall of 2016.

He even told Ohr he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected,” as Ohr later recalled in notes.

But Steele lost his direct line to the FBI in the final days of October 2016, after the FBI realized he was talking to the press about his findings and his secret relationship with the U.S. government.

A week before the presidential election, the FBI suspended its relationship with Steele and told him “not to operate to obtain any intelligence whatsoever on behalf of the FBI,” according to FBI records since released.

Steele, however, was sharing his findings with Ohr, who became an avenue for the FBI to continue receiving the information that Steele was gathering.

In fact, according to congressional documents, in the month after Trump won the presidency, Ohr met twice with officials from the FBI, including FBI attorney Lisa Page and Strzok, the senior agent working the Russia probe who privately expressed his own misgivings about Trump.

Ohr notified other senior colleagues in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about his contacts with Steele, but he did not notify his superiors in the deputy attorney general’s office, whom he reported to as associate deputy attorney general, sources with knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

In a private interview with lawmakers, Ohr said he didn’t inform his bosses because he was simply relaying information from a trusted source and didn’t believe he had to do so, according to one source familiar with Ohr’s congressional testimony.

By Thanksgiving 2016, it still “was not clear to us whether anyone at a high level of government was aware of the information that Chris had gathered and provided to the FBI,” Simpson later told congressional investigators.

So Steele and Simpson decided they would give Steele’s reports to Ohr – someone “higher up,” as Simpson described Ohr.

On Dec. 10, 2016, Simpson met Ohr at a coffee shop in Washington and handed Ohr at least one thumb drive. Ohr did not look at the contents of the thumb drive, though he suspected it might relate to Steele’s work on Trump, Ohr later told congressional investigators, according to a source familiar with the testimony.

The day before, the late Sen. John McCain hand-delivered his own copy of Steele’s reporting to Comey, according to sources familiar with the exchanges.

Separately, Ohr passed his newly-obtained material to the FBI.

“[Our FBI colleague] met with Bruce and got more stuff today,” Strzok told Lisa Page in a text message on Dec. 20, 2016.

“Yeah, lots to read, but it all stressed me out too much,” the FBI attorney responded.

Three weeks later, on Jan. 9, 2017, Steele’s reports became public when Buzzfeed published them online.

The FBI investigation heats up

“Hey let me know when you can talk,” Strzok texted Lisa Page on Jan. 10, 2017. “We’re discussing whether, now that this is out, we use it as a pretext to go interview some people.”

The cat was out of the bag, and the public release of Steele’s reports gave the FBI a basis for taking more overt action.

Three days after first texting Lisa Page about it, Strzok started contacting people that the FBI identified as sources for Steele’s reports.

“[W]e just want to talk to him quietly,” Strzok recalled telling an attorney representing one of Steele’s sources.

“It’s about the stuff in the news, isn’t it?” Strzok quoted the attorney as responding.

Indeed, it was.

The FBI, meanwhile, was starting to focus on others completely unassociated with Steele’s reporting. For the first time, agents approached two key Trump associates for interviews: then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos, the adviser who was told early on that Russia had stolen “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

In those interviews, later confirmed in their guilty pleas, Flynn lied about his contacts with Russian officials, and Papadopoulos lied about his own interactions with individuals tied to the Kremlin.

Those false statements in January 2017 “impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the [Trump] Campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” Flynn and Papadopoulos would each later admit in court.

Around the same time, the FBI submitted another application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, asking a federal judge for permission to continue monitoring Carter Page’s communications. The application noted that the FBI had suspended its relationship with Steele, but said his information was still deemed “reliable as previous reporting from [him] has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings.”

The FBI’s latest submission was 66 pages long – nearly 16 pages longer than the initial application.

Meanwhile, FBI officials continued to meet with Ohr – speaking with him at least eight more times in the months after Trump’s inauguration, including twice after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 and took over the broader investigation, according to congressional documents.

In June 2017, a month after Mueller’s appointment, the FBI filed yet another application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to continue tracking Carter Page. The application was 77 pages long.

A fourth – and final – application was filed three months later.

Heavily-redacted versions of the applications were released in July.

Trump issues an order

On Monday, Trump ordered that more portions of the application from June 2017 be released.

It’s unclear why Trump did not order the release of sections from the other applications, but the first application in October 2016 was based on information Steele provided himself, not information provided by Ohr, according to congressional investigators and public evidence presented so far.

Trump also ordered the release of the FBI’s notes from Ohr’s meetings with the agency about what Steele was telling him. The Justice Department and Director of National Intelligence are now undertaking a review of the documents covered by Trump's order and could request redactions.

Trump’s move to release more classified information came just days after several Republican House members held a press conference calling on him to declassify the documents, with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, saying it’s time for the FBI and Justice Department “to come clean” about “the wrongdoing that took place.”

But Democrats swiftly condemned what they called Trump’s “clear abuse of power.”

"[He] has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative,” the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement on Monday.

Trump’s order came three days after Manafort – in a case with no link to Steele’s reporting – pleaded guilty to financial-related crimes and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

“President Trump’s actions … are a direct and frantic response to the dramatic events that unfolded last Friday,” the top Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees -- Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md. – said in a statement on Monday.

Having previously pleaded guilty to lying to authorities, Papadopoulos was recently sentenced to two weeks behind bars. His case also was not connected to Steele’s reporting.

Flynn, who also pleaded guilty to lying to authorities and agreed to cooperate with Mueller, is expected to be sentenced in the coming weeks – another case not tied to Steele’s reporting.

The broader federal probe, meanwhile, continues.

The FBI declined to comment for this article.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep182018

Senators united that Kavanaugh accuser should be heard; divided on how and where

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senators on both sides of the political aisle seemed to agree Tuesday that the sexual assault allegation from Professor Christine Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh ought to be discussed and included as part of the body of information lawmakers will use to inform their vote on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

But Republicans and Democrats also appear divided on how to proceed, with Republicans asserting that a Judiciary Committee hearing, scheduled for Monday, is the best venue, and some Democrats calling for the FBI to open and complete a full investigation before the Senate proceeds.

“We don’t know what the facts are and that’s the reason why you have an open hearing like this and you allow individuals to make up their own minds,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told reporters.

Monday’s event is slated to feature two back-to-back solo interviews for both accuser and accused, with all committee members able to ask questions.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, neither Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, nor ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had confirmed with Ford that she would attend on Monday. Feinstein accused Senate Republicans of not working hard enough to get in touch with Ford and confirm her attendance at Monday’s hearing.

“As I understand it she’s been emailed hopefully by now the majority who regretfully is not working with us on this will pick up the phone and call and talk with her, and I think that’s the appropriate thing to do,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was asked if it was poor optics for an all-male panel of Judiciary Committee Republicans to be questioning Ford about her allegations (there are four women, all Democrats, also on the committee).

“We have to see if people are earnestly telling the truth or there to advance a political agenda. My guess is it will be an equal mix of both,” Tillis responded.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., suggested he wanted more witnesses present than just Kavanaugh and Ford, although Grassley said Monday there will only be the two.

“Both parties seem to suggest that they have memories of what happened so I hope that they will do a good job of making the way that they remember the events clear for us. I think it’d also be helpful to have the eyewitness that doctor spoke about available as well,” he said, presumably referring to Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford, according to the Washington Post, says was in the room during the alleged assault.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge said he does not remember Kavanaugh acting "in the manner Dr. Ford describes."

He added that he has "no memory of this alleged incident" and that he does not "wish to speak publicly regarding the incidents described in Dr. Ford's letter."

Asked if the allegations being true would be disqualifying, Scott responded, “Well if the allegation is proven to be true, of course.”

If Ford does not attend Monday’s hearing, at least one Senate Republican said he didn’t know why it would be necessary to hold it at all.

“This is mainly an opportunity to accommodate her. We look forward to giving her a chance to tell her story,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Senate Republican whip, told reporters.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has not yet announced how she will vote, said Ford deserved her day before the committee. “We have a woman that has come forward, she deserves to be heard, it's important that her voice and story is shared and determinations will be made at that point.”

Unlike Republicans, some Democrats were calling for the FBI to launch a full investigation into the matter before proceeding with additional witness testimony. On Monday, all ten Judiciary Committee Democrats signed a letter urging President Donald Trump to request a follow-up inquiry from the FBI.

During a press conference Tuesday, Trump said it was up to the bureau to reopen the case, suggesting he would not request it.

“It wouldn't bother me other than the FBI said that they really don't do that. That is not what they do,” the president said.

The FBI has not commented on Trump's contention that the agency does not want to get involved. According to sources familiar with the FBI's background investigation process, the allegation was passed on to the White House, but the agency would take no further action unless ordered to do so by the White House.

Democrats who do not sit on the Judiciary Committee were also joining their colleagues’ calls for the FBI to investigate before proceeding to a committee hearing.

“I believe there should be a full investigation beforehand, conducted by the FBI and then I think we should have a full hearing so that all of the relevant witnesses are in and can describe what happened,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has said she was inspired to run for the Senate based on the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee treated Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill, told reporters she had Hill’s experience in mind when considering how much time and energy should be devoted to uncovering the facts behind Ford’s allegations.

“Committee members need to have the facts, that's why they're asking for an FBI background investigation and I believe that that would produce a much better hearing. It's serious. And I hope all the members on that committee take this seriously and do this in the right way because it wasn't done in the right way with Anita Hill,” Murray said.

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., a centrist Democrat, said the committee should slow down and allow for “a little bit more investigation” before it holds its hearing.

“I was a prosecutor, I've done these cases it takes a little time to try to sift through the facts and let whoever it is, the FBI to do some things and I think they need to let this play a little bit,” he said.

Feinstein, the top Democrat on Judiciary, would not say Tuesday afternoon whether she would participate in Monday’s hearing if the FBI does not plan to fully investigate Ford’s claims.

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Tuesday
Sep182018

Cruz tries to start beef, says Democrats will 'ban barbecue' in Texas if elected

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Locked in a tight re-election battle, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is casting the race for a U.S. Senate race in stark terms over one of Texas' most sacred foods: barbecue.

According to the Austin-American Statesman, Cruz was referencing recent protests at one of his campaign events over the weekend by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) when he claimed that Democrats would target Texans love for barbecue if elected.

"When I got here someone told me that even PETA was protesting and giving out barbecued tofu, so I got to say, they summed up the entire election: If Texas elects a Democrat, they’re going to ban barbecue across the state of Texas," said Cruz, who is facing Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke in one of this cycle's most high-profile U.S. Senate races.

Cruz later doubled-down on his comments on Twitter, saying that if O'Rourke wins "BBQ will be illegal!"

A spokeswoman for Cruz's campaign confirmed to ABC News that Cruz's tweet was "of course" a joke.

The tongue-in-cheek comments from the Texas Senator come amid an unexpectedly competitive challenge from O'Rourke, who has raised an impressive amount of money in his bid to unseat Cruz in a reliably Republican state. Cruz has consistently attempted to paint O'Rourke as too liberal for Texas' more conservative electorate that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.

A poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University showed Cruz with a nine-point advantage over O'Rourke with just 49 days to go until the November election.

A representative for O'Rourke's campaign did not respond to ABC News' request for comment on Cruz's assertion.

According to a spokesperson for PETA, the protesters gathered outside of Cruz's event, held about 90 miles outside of Austin, were handing out samples of barbecued tofu "in response to Cruz's recent comments that liberals want Texas 'to be just like California, right down to the tofu."

"Ted Cruz is cruzin' for a bruisin' because you don’t mess with Texas tofu-eaters. Texans will cross all party lines to stand in the buffet line for homegrown and tasty tofu," a spokesperson for PETA told ABC News in a statement Tuesday.

The comments the group is referring to came at a different campaign even last week, when Cruz told a gathering of supports that liberals want Texas "to be just like California, right down to the tofu and silicon and dyed hair."

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Tuesday
Sep182018

Trump says he doesn't think FBI should be involved in investigating Kavanaugh allegation

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the allegation against his embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh should go through a process.

There “there shouldn't even be a little doubt,” Trump said of the process.

“Hopefully the woman will come forward, state her case,” Trump said Tuesday. “He will state his case before representatives of the United States Senate. And then they will vote, they will look at his career, they will look at what she had to say from 36 years ago, and we will see what happens.”

And as he did earlier in the day, Trump said he didn't think the FBI should be involved, despite Democrats' insistence that, before any public hearing with the nominee and his accuser, the FBI should look into an allegation made by professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school decades ago in suburban Maryland.

Kavanaugh, who was back at the White House on Tuesday for the second day in a row, has repeatedly denied the alleged encounter ever happened.

The president said he has not personally spoken with Kavanaugh since the allegation surfaced, saying “specifically I thought it would be a good thing not to.”

Trump pointed out that Kavanaugh has had multiple background checks throughout his career and called his history "impeccable."

"I feel so badly for him that he is going through this," Trump said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The sexual assault allegation became public after the contents of a letter Ford sent to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, were disclosed to several media outlets.

Asked if he believes the allegation is political in nature, the president said: “I don't want to say that. Maybe I will say that in a couple of days, but not now,” Trump said earlier on Tuesday.

Trump, however, attacked Democrats for “holding” onto the allegation, saying it was “a terrible thing that took place” when the story surfaced over the weekend.

“It's a terrible thing that took place and it's frankly a terrible thing that this information was not given to us months ago when they got it,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing ahead with plans to hear testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford on Monday.

This, despite the numerous calls from Democrats to slow down the process and allow the FBI to re-open its background investigation into Kavanaugh so that they can determine the facts of what happened to Ford in high school, when she alleges Kavanaugh forced himself on her.

"She's been asking for the opportunity to be heard and she's being given the opportunity to be heard on Monday," McConnell told reporters.

"She could do it privately if she prefers or publicly if she prefers. Monday is her opportunity," he said.

Democrats have been writing to White House Counsel Don McGahn and to Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley to request the FBI re-open its investigation into Kavanaugh but to no avail.

Democrats are also crying foul over Grassley's decision to not allow other witnesses besides Kavanaugh and Ford to testify.

Grassley has said Ford has still not accepted his invitation to appear before the Judiciary Committee on Monday.

However, McConnell and GOP leadership are forging ahead with the hearing.

"There have been multiple investigations. Judge Kavanaugh has been through six investigations in the course of his lengthy public career. We want to give the accuser the opportunity to be heard and that opportunity will occur next Monday," McConnell reiterated.

"I think that gives her ample opportunity to express her point of view and Judge Kavanaugh of course has been anxious for days to discuss the matter as well," McConnell said.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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Tuesday
Sep182018

Trump defends order to declassify Russia probe documents, says he wants 'total transparency' in 'witch hunt'

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In his first on-camera comments since ordering the declassification of secret documents related to the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump on Tuesday argued his move was in the interest of “total transparency” while making clear his primary target is the “terrible witch hunt."

“What I want is I want total transparency,” Trump said. “This is a witch hunt. Republicans are seeing it. The Democrats know it's a witch hunt, too, but they don't want to admit it because that’s not good politics for them.”

Trump noted that his order was based on requests from lawmakers on the House Intelligence and Oversight committees, and wouldn’t answer directly if he plans to declassify even more items in the future.

On Monday, Trump directed that more of the FBI’s warrant application to secretly monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s communications be declassified and released to the public. The order followed a request from several Republican members of Congress seeking to discredit the Russia investigation.

In addition, Trump ordered the declassification of FBI documents detailing information provided by Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who has become a frequent target of the president’s Twitter attacks, in which he calls for Ohr to be fired and brands the investigation a politically biased “witch hunt.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who has been a leading GOP voice in urging Trump to use his legal authority to publicly release the documents, praised the president's unusual move. "As Congress has investigated, we've continued to see more and more troubling evidence suggesting multiple senior level FBI and DOJ officials acted in a deeply unethical fashion during the 2016 campaign and throughout the early stages of the Trump administration," Meadows said in a statement.

But Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, quickly denounced Trump’s move, calling it a “clear abuse of power” to “advance a false narrative.”

A Justice Department statement issued Monday evening suggested that the declassification was not a done deal, but that DOJ would try to comply with the president's order while reviewing for any potential harm.

“When the President issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America's national security interests,” the DOJ statement said. “The Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President's order.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would comply as well.

“As requested by the White House, the ODNI is working expeditiously with our interagency partners to conduct a declassification review of the documents the President has identified for declassification,” ODNI spokesperson Kellie Wade said.

After Carter Page joined Trump’s presidential campaign in early 2016, the FBI in New York paid a visit to Page, who years earlier had been targeted for recruitment by Russian spies.

In October 2016, after the FBI obtained a copy of a so-called “dossier”, written by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging cooperation between Page and Russian operatives, the FBI sought permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington to track Page’s communications. Steele was hired was hired by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Fusion GPS, an effort which was backed by money from Democratic operatives, to conduct research on Trump.

Trump and his allies insist the FBI’s application for that surveillance illustrates how politically tainted the entire federal probe of Russian interference has been. But much of the application has remained classified, and so have the subsequent applications the FBI filed to continue monitoring Page’s communications.

Now, Trump has directed the full release of sections of the third application filed by the FBI in June 2017. Those sections summarize Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, detail Page’s alleged connections to Russian intelligence services and “coordination with Russian government officials on 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Influence Activities,” and address his denials of those allegations.

“President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team,” Schiff, a California Democrat, said in a statement.

Trump “cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest,” Schiff added.

When the FBI began monitoring Page’s communications in late 2016, the agency based some of its application on information directly provided by Steele in his “dossier.”

Ohr did not provide the FBI with an updated copy of the dossier until months later, after the FBI broke off contact with Steele for sharing his findings with reporters, sources told ABC News. Steele and Ohr had known each other for years, having jointly tracked matters of organized crime around the world.

It’s unclear if portions of the June 2017 court application that Trump has ordered be released include mention of Ohr, who likely did not appear in the initial application.

Meanwhile, Trump on Monday also ordered the Justice Department and FBI to fully release any and all text messages relating to the Russia investigation sent by then-FBI director James Comey, then-deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, and Ohr, according to a White House press release announcing the move.

It’s not clear when those messages were sent or what they might say.

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Monday
Sep172018

Kavanaugh, accuser set to testify at public hearing Monday

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a public hearing next Monday and expects to call Judge Brett Kavanaugh and professor Christine Blasey Ford to testify, according to a senior administration official and several top Republican lawmakers.

The expectation is that both would appear on the same day but not side-by-side on the same panel.

The development effectively delays a planned committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination that had been set for this Thursday.

Word of the public hearing came a couple of hours after President Donald Trump defended his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as "somebody very special" but said "we want to go through a full process ... and hear everybody out" on the sexual assault allegation against him.

"If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," the president said. "I'm sure it will work out very well."

In a statement late Monday afternoon, White House spokesman Raj Shah said, “Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”

Trump said he has not spoken to Kavanaugh about the allegation but called a reporter's question about whether the judge has offered to withdraw from consideration "ridiculous."

For his part, Kavanaugh on Monday again strongly denied in a new statement a woman's allegation that he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, saying "this never happened."

“This is a completely false allegation," Kavanaugh said in the statement released by the White House. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone."

He continued, "Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

Kavanaugh was responding to an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school in Maryland in the 1980s.

The accusation became public last week but Ford did not reveal her identity until Sunday in Washington Post story.

Some senators meanwhile called for both Kavanaugh and Ford to address the matter before lawmakers.

"Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee," Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a crucial vote on the nomination, said in a tweet Monday.

A senior White House aide also said Ford should be heard and should testify under oath.

“Absolutely,” Kellyanne Conway told reporters during a gaggle Monday morning when asked if Ford should testify. “She should not be insulted; she should not be ignored; she should testify under oath and she should do it on Capitol Hill.”

Conway, counselor to the president, did not directly characterize President Trump's thinking about Ford's allegation. But she made clear that she was speaking on behalf of the president in expressing an openness to Ford testifying.

“Let me be very clear on behalf of the president with whom I’ve spoken at length about this,” Conway said. “She should not be ignored or insulted; she should be heard.”

Conway said that in addition to Ford, Kavanaugh should get the chance to testify again in response to the allegations.

While the White House is supportive of the concept of additional testimony, Conway made clear that they will defer to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the best way to deal with the accusation, even as she also expressed a view that a vote on Kavanaugh should not be unduly delayed.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has to decide how each of them will testify,” she said.

Conway also offered a general defense of Kavanaugh’s character, pointing out that he’s been through six prior FBI vetting processes and that ultimately members of the Senate will have to weigh the late-breaking allegations by Ford against a “considerable body of evidence” pointing to the strength of Kavanaugh’s character.

Monday afternoon, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell referred to Collins' comments on the Senate floor, attacking how Democrats had handled the allegation, saying they about it for six weeks but chose to keep it "secret until the 11th hour."

"I can't explain the situation any better than the senior senator from Maine put it yesterday evening when she said if they believed judge Kavanaugh's accuser, why didn't they serve us this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it?" McConnell said. "And if they didn't believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it? It's really not fair to either of them the way it was handled."

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor not long after to respond, calling again on the FBI to investigate the allegation and that there should be no vote into that is complete.

"It is an insult -- insult -- to the women of America to rush this through after these serious allegations have been made," Schumer said.

In addition to Collins, another key Republican, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, issued a statement saying, “Allegations surrounding sexual assault must be taken seriously and the Judiciary Committee must look into this further. Despite the length of time since the alleged incident, Dr. Ford’s allegations should be heard and she must have an opportunity to present her story before the committee under oath, with Judge Kavanaugh having the opportunity to respond under oath as well,” her statement said,

Ford, 51, a psychology professor in California, told the Post that the incident occurred in the 1980s when the 53-year-old Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, and she was a 15-year-old sophomore at Holton-Arms School, an all-girls school in Bethesda, Maryland.

She said she believes the year was 1982 when Kavanaugh would have been 17.

Ford said she was at a teen house party when Kavanaugh and one of his male classmates -- both "stumbling drunk" -- cornered her in a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her on her back on a bed, the paper reported.

She said Kavanaugh's friend watched as Kavanaugh groped her over her clothes and attempted to remove her clothes and the one-piece bathing suit she was wearing underneath, according to the story.

Ford told the Post that when she tried to scream, Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.

"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," Ford said in the story. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."

She said she managed to escape when Kavanaugh's friend jumped on top of them on the bed and sent all three of them tumbling, according to the Post.

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