27 May 2017

Trump and Russia

The New York Times has an article by Matt Apuzzo, with Emmarie Huetteman, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mark Mazzetti contributing reporting, about testimony damning Trump:

John O. Brennan (photo), the former CIA director, described a nerve-fraying few months last year, as American authorities realized that the presidential election was under attack and feared that Donald J. Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight.
Brennan, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned by a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Trump’s associates. The CIA learned about those meetings just as it was beginning to grapple with Russian hackers and propagandists trying to manipulate the presidential race.
His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of an FBI investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration.
“I know what the Russians try to do,” Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including American individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.”
When he left his post in January, he said that “I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting US persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”
Brennan acknowledged that he did not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives, and said the contacts might have been benign.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, tried to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump. On 4 August 2017, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Brennan warned Alexander V. Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, not to meddle in the election. Not only would such interference damage relations between the countries, he said, but it was also certain to backfire. “I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election.”
Brennan’s prediction proved inaccurate. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered in the election, it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion. Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and has tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.
He has also tried repeatedly to beat back news reports about his campaign’s ties to Russia. White House officials tried to enlist the FBI and C.I.A. to dispute stories early this year. Then, after the F.B.I. publicly confirmed its investigation, Mr. Trump asked Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny any collusion between Russia and his campaign, according to two former American officials. The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump’s entreaties.
On the day of the FBI’s confirmation, a call from the White House switchboard came in to Coats’ office with a request to speak to the director, a former intelligence official said. Calls from the switchboard are usually from the highest-ranking officials at the White House — the President, the Vice President, or the National Security Adviser.
Coats took the call, but would not confirm what was discussed. Coats, who testified on Tuesday in a separate congressional hearing, declined to discuss his conversations with the president.
The White House regarded Brennan’s testimony as the latest example of a former official from the Obama administration describing great concern, but offering no public proof of wrongdoing.
“This morning’s hearings back up what we’ve been saying all along: that despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion,” the White House said in a statement.
During the campaign, a spokeswoman for Trump declared that “there was no communication” with foreign entities. In January, Vice President Mike Pence flatly denied that there had been any contacts with Russians. Journalists have since reported repeated undisclosed meetings with Russians. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign over misstatements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak.
A Justice Department special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating whether any collusion took place. A grand jury in Northern Virginia has issued subpoenas for information related to Flynn’s lobbying and businesses. That investigation is separate from multiple congressional investigations into Russian meddling. Flynn has declined to be interviewed or provide documents to Congress, citing his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas for documents from two businesses owned by FlynnFlynn Intel LLC and Flynn Intel Inc.— escalating efforts to learn more about his potential business ties to Russia.
Senator Richard M. Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and the committee’s chairman, left open the possibility of holding Flynn in contempt of Congress.
“At the end of that option is a contempt charge,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And I’ve said that everything is on the table.” But the committee’s members are not ready to take that step, Burr said, adding that they want to give Flynn the opportunity he requested to tell his story.
During his testimony, Brennan described Russia’s efforts around the world to use politicians to further Moscow’s objectives. “I certainly was concerned that they were practicing the same types of activities here in the United States,” he said. He added that American targets were often unwitting in such efforts. “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” he said.
In late July, officials established a group of NSA, CIA, and FBI officials to investigate the election interference. The information was tightly held, and the FBI took the lead on investigating potential collusion, Brennan said. “I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau,” he said.
That investigation was on Trump’s mind this month when he fired James B. Comey, the FBI director, the president has said. And the next day, Trump told Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that firing Comey had eased pressure on him. Such comments, in addition to Trump’s efforts to publicly undermine the FBI investigation, have fueled suspicion among Democrats and some Republicans that Trump is trying to obstruct the case.
Brennan said Russia was trying to capitalize on the turmoil in Washington. “Even though the election is over,” he said, “I think Putin and Russian intelligence services are trying to actively exploit what is going on now in Washington to their benefit and to our detriment.”
Rico says this is far from over...

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