Tuesday ReadsPosted: January 23, 2018
Good Day Sky Dancers!!
There’s lots of news this morning and it’s not all about the #TrumpShutdown.
Michael Schmidt at The New York Times: Sessions Is Interviewed in Mueller’s Russia Investigation.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week by the special counsel’s office as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and whether the president obstructed justice since taking office, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.
The meeting marked the first time that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, are known to have interviewed a member of Mr. Trump’s cabinet….
Mr. Sessions, who was accompanied by the longtime Washington lawyer Chuck Cooper to the interview, had been among a small group of senior campaign and administration officials whom Mr. Mueller had not yet interviewed. Two weeks ago, Mr. Mueller subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, to testify before a grand jury. Mr. Mueller is expected to forgo the grand jury appearance for now and will have his investigators interview Mr. Bannon in the coming weeks.
I wonder if Sessions managed to be more truthful in this interview than he was in testimony before Congress?
Meanwhile, Sessions has been busy trying to hobble the FBI for Trump.
Last night, Johnathan Swan broke this story at Axios: Scoop: FBI director threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
— Wray’s resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.
— Sessions told White House Counsel Don McGahn about how upset Wray was about the pressure on him to fire McCabe, and McGahn told Sessions this issue wasn’t worth losing the FBI Director over, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: Power and Integrity at the FBI: Chris Wray Stands Up to the President and the Attorney General.
Jonathan Swan of Axios reported Monday night, based on “three sources with direct knowledge,” that FBI Director Chris Wray “threatened to resign” if FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “was removed” from office. The threat apparently came in response to pressure on Wray by “Attorney General Jeff Sessions—at the public urging of President Donald Trump” to fire McCabe. Swan also reported, based on one source “familiar with the situation,” that “Sessions told White House Counsel Don McGahn about how upset Wray was about the pressure on him to fire McCabe, and McGahn told Sessions this issue wasn’t worth losing the FBI Director over.” It isn’t entirely clear from the story when these events took place—that is, whether the controversy that led to Wray’s threat of resignation is ongoing or if it occurred sometime earlier and has since subsided.
Either way, this reveals a great deal about power and integrity in Washington.
First, we should underscore what a difficult situation Wray is in. As Jack wrote in a related context, Wray is in the extraordinary position of “dealing with a president who is attacking the integrity of the Justice Department and the FBI in a truly unprecedented fashion at a time when many of the president’s associates, and probably the president himself, are under investigation by the Justice Department and FBI.”
As the leader of the FBI, Wray must maintain his credibility with both the White House and, more importantly, the FBI workforce. He is also supervised in an immediate sense by an attorney general who is evidently trying to placate the president’s anger at him for having recused himself from the Russia investigation—and who is doing so by facilitating the president’s demands for a house-cleaning at the bureau. In other words, Wray is wedged, on the one side, between a president who is demanding McCabe’s scalp and an attorney general who is pushing the knife into Wray’s hand, and on the other side by an FBI workforce that is demanding he defend the institution.
Read the rest at Lawfare.
The Washington Post: Tensions swell between Sessions and FBI over senior personnel from Comey era.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has been resisting pressure from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to replace the bureau’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of criticism from President Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
The tension over McCabe and other high-level FBI officials who served during James B. Comey’s tenure has reached the White House, where counsel Donald McGahn has sought to mediate the issue, these people said.
As Sessions tried to push Wray to make personnel changes, Wray conveyed his frustration to the attorney general, these people said. Sessions then discussed the matter with McGahn, who advised him to ease off, which he did, these people said.
According to the article, much of the tension took place in December when Trump tweeted about McCabe’s announcement that he would retire in March. A bit more:
Wray has sought to avoid the drama and personal confrontations that sometimes flare inside the Trump administration. In public comments and private remarks to FBI personnel, Wray has signaled that staffing decisions are his to make, and that he intends to wait for an ongoing inspector general’s investigation to reach some conclusions before making major personnel decisions involving people under scrutiny — a category that includes McCabe.
Sessions, Republican lawmakers and some members of the Trump administration have argued for weeks that Wray should conduct some kind of housecleaning by demoting or reassigning senior aides to his predecessor, Comey, according to people familiar with the matter. These people added that Sessions himself is under tremendous political pressure from conservative lawmakers and White House officials who have complained that the bureaucracy of federal law enforcement is biased against the president.
More at the WaPo link.
Rep Devin Nunes is still pushing his phony memo on supposed illegal spying by the Obama administration. The latest:
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) won’t #releasethememo. The now infamous document was prepared by Republican staffers for the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Nunes, and it supposedly details how the FBI and the Justice Department improperly conducted surveillance in connection with the Trump-Russia probe. Conservatives looking to discredit the Russia investigation have embraced the classified memo, though they haven’t seen it, and have called for its release. But Nunes has so far insisted on keeping it secret—even from the Justice Department.
“We requested to see the memo and have not been given access to read it,” a Justice Department source tells Mother Jones. The FBI has also been denied access to the document, the Daily Beastrevealed on Sunday.
The memo reportedly asserts that federal officials abused their power by seeking a warrant targeting a Trump campaign adviser under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) without disclosing that evidence cited in the application relied on research by former British spy Christopher Steele. The ex-MI6 officer, who once ran the spy agency’s Russia desk, was working for a firm that was paid by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The four-page memo has become a cause célèbre on the right, with assorted Trump backers, alt-righters, and congressional Republicans taking to Twitter with demands that someone “#releasethememo.” Donald Trump Jr. and Michael Flynn Jr., who have both come under scrutiny in the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s Russia ties, have joined the online chorus calling for the memo’s release. Also helping the #releasethememo campaign reach trending status: a network of Russian bots.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Republicans launch extraordinary new tactics to protect Trump on Russia.
In an interview with me this morning, Rep. Adam Schiff — who is Nunes’ Democratic counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee — pushed back hard, alleging that the memo presents a profoundly doctored picture of what the classified information actually shows.
“It’s highly distorted spin by Nunes,” Schiff told me. “The Nunes spin memo distorts the underlying materials and has presented Members with a very misleading impression of what those materials show.”
Schiff also made a striking claim: He said that in allowing the memo to be accessed in a classified setting by House Republicans, Nunes has violated an agreement with the FBI and the Department of Justice. Schiff added that its public release would also violate that agreement. The GOP leaders on the Intel Committee have allowed Members of Congress to access the document, but Democrats charge this is merely an effort to arm them with misleading talking points to attack the FBI on Trump’s behalf.
“The release of the materials by the Chairman violated an agreement he entered into with the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Schiff told me, in a reference to the release of the memo to the membership of the House for reading. “The agreement was because of the sensitivity of the materials to limit their distribution,” Schiff also said. “There were certain conditions attached to the viewing of the materials which have been violated.”
Asked if it would violate the agreement if the memo were to be released publicly, Schiff said: “Of course.” He added that this affair was revealing that there may be “no limit” to “how far Nunes and the majority are willing to go to protect the president from the Russia investigation.”
This is interesting from CNN: Melania Trump will no longer join the President in Davos.
First lady Melania Trump, in a change of plans, will not be joining President Donald Trump on his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this week.
East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham confirmed to CNN that the first lady’s decision to forgo the trip was based on “scheduling and logistical issues.
A week ago, Grisham told CNN the first lady would be attending the annual meeting of influential financial leaders and business titans in a show of support for her husband, who intends to give remarks during his visit.
I wonder if that has anything to do with the porn star payoff?
Finally, Trump’s attacks on CNN have borne fruit:
On Jan. 9, an operator in Atlanta manning the public contact number for CNN received a phone call. According to a federal arrest affidavit unsealed Monday, the male caller launched into a threat.
“Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down. F‑‑‑ you, f‑‑‑ing n‑‑‑‑‑s.” The caller then clicked off.
Three minutes later, the same caller, dialing from the same number, again rang the CNN line. “I am on my way right now to gun the f‑‑‑in’ CNN cast down. F‑‑‑ you,” the caller said. The operator asked the caller his name. “F‑‑‑ you,” he responded. “I am coming to kill you.”
Thirty minutes later, the caller again reached the CNN public switchboard. He whispered his threats. “I’m coming for you CNN. I’m smarter than you. More powerful than you. I have more guns than you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours.”
According to federal law enforcement, the man on the other end was Brandon Griesemer of Novi, Mich.
In an arrest affidavit released Monday, FBI agent Sean Callaghan wrote that Griesemer “made approximately 22 total calls to CNN” between Jan. 9 and Jan. 10. Four of the calls resulted in threats. In the last message, the caller made disparaging remarks about Jewish individuals, before stating: “You are going down. I have a gun and I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f‑‑‑ing gun every single last one of you. I have a team of people. It’s going to be great, man . . . You gotta get prepared for this one, buddy.”
More at the WaPo link.
Much more is happening, but I’m running out of space, time, and energy. I’m still struggling with sinusitis, but I was able to get a doctor’s appointment for tomorrow. I might have to break down and take an antibiotic.
What stories are you following today?