Posts tagged with "House Intelligence Committee"

Invisible man: House Dems consider extraordinary steps to conceal whistleblower’s identity from GOP

October 9, 2019

House Democrats are weighing extraordinary steps to secure testimony from the whistleblower whose complaint prompted their impeachment inquiry—considering masking his identity to prevent President Donald Trump’s congressional allies from exposing him, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

As the GOP continues its political posturing and plotting, as well as obstruction of witness testimony, Democrats deem it imperative to have the whistleblower testify from a remote location; and to conceal his appearance and voice, these officials told the DC-based news outlet. Two other possibilities include having the whistleblower sit behind a screen or partition or conducting audio-only testimony.

“Schiff does not want to burn his identity,” a senior congressional official told the newspaper.

“There are lots of different protocols and procedures we’re looking into to find out what works and doesn’t work to protect the identity of the whistleblower,” a person familiar with the talks told the news outlet. “That is paramount.”

The whistleblower’s complaint centered on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressed the new leader eight times to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee was told that the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had been blocked b y the State Department. The whistleblower said that Sondland met with Zelensky to give “advice” about how to “navigate” Trump’s demands, working behind the scenes to carry out the president’s wishes in a country that’s not a member of the European Union.

In text messages provided to Congress, Sondland insisted that Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was not a quid pro quo—as diplomat William B. “Bill” Taylor had said he feared.

Trump told Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, to hold back the military aid for Ukraine shortly before his July call. Trump has repeatedly denied that there was a “quid pro quo” between the military assistance and the request to investigate the Bidens.

At the White House on Monday, Trump lashed out at Democrats over their impeachment inquiry.

“You can’t impeach a president for doing a great job. . . . This is a scam,” he said at an event on trade with Japan.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Out of sight, top of mind: Whistleblower complaint squelched by Trump or an associate, Schiff says

September 23, 2019

It’s an open secret inside the Beltway that President Donald Trump is intent on blocking every point of access to the “credible and urgent” whistleblower report received by Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire earlier this month.

And while the House Intelligence Committee refuses to be deterred, a closed-door meeting on September 19 with the intelligence community’s Inspector General, Michael Atkinson—who received the report in August and intended to act upon it—yielded little to nothing.

Indeed, according to a report by The Daily Beast members of Congress told reporters that they learned no substantive details about the whistleblower’s complaint during their hearing with Atkinson.

The only facts divulged to date are that the president made a “promise” during a phone call to an unknown foreign leader—and that the subject of the complaint “relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”

Only minutes after the conclusion of the closed-door session,  The New York Times reported that the IG told members of the House Intelligence Committee that the complaint related to “multiple acts”—far exceeding the scope of a single alleged conversation with a foreign leader.

But specifics of the complaint—and even public confirmation that it concerns actions by the president—are still being withheld from Congress, committee members said.

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) told reporters after the briefing that he believes the details of the complaint—which would normally be shared with Congress—are being suppressed, either by President Trump himself, or by someone “close” to him and “above the pay grade” of Maguire.

“I don’t think this is a problem of the law,” Schiff said, according to The Daily Beast, adding, “The problem lies elsewhere. And we’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is, to make sure that the national security is protected and to make sure that this whistle-blower is protected.”

Fellow House Intelligence member Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) told reporters that “we’ve got a very grave situation on our hands. The standard that has to be met by the IG… urgent, is talking about fire, as he referred to it.”

“This whistleblower has done everything according to the book,” Speier said. “And the potential for reprisals for this whistleblower are great”

In the five weeks preceding the complaint’s filing, The Daily Beast said, Trump had conversations with at least five foreign leaders, including President Vladimir Putin of Russia, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar.

Legally, such a complaint must involve mismanagement, waste, abuse, or a danger to intelligence operations or public safety, or relate to an intelligence activity that violates U.S. law.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Whistleblower complaint remains in White House hands, despite demands by House Intel panel

September 19, 2019

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire—who took over the post just over a month ago, on August 15, when Dan Coats stepped down— has refused to comply with a deadline to hand over a whistleblower complaint to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, CNN reports.

The committee had announced its intent to issue a subpoena on September 13, noting that the complaint had been deemed by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, to be “credible and urgent.”

At that time, Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee put out a statement that read: “A month ago, a whistleblower within the intelligence community lawfully filed a complaint regarding a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law, or deficiency within the responsibility or authority of the Director of National Intelligence. The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community found that complaint not only credible, but urgent. More than ten days since the Director was obligated to transmit the complaint to the intelligence committees, the Committee has still not received the disclosure from the Director, in violation of the law.

“A Director of National Intelligence has never prevented a properly submitted whistleblower complaint that the IC IG determined to be credible and urgent from being provided to the congressional intelligence committees. Never. This raises serious concerns about whether White House, Department of Justice or other executive branch officials are trying to prevent a legitimate whistleblower complaint from reaching its intended recipient, the Congress, in order to cover up serious misconduct.

“After Watergate exposed significant intelligence abuses, a critical bargain was struck: In exchange for the Intelligence Community’s willingness to reveal closely guarded national security secrets, the congressional intelligence committees and leadership promised to handle that information responsibly.  It was also of vital importance that intelligence officials have a lawful and protected means of bringing misconduct to the attention of Congress and the public. By withholding a credible whistleblower complaint that potentially deals with executive branch wrongdoing, the DNI is in violation of the applicable statute and has made itself a party to the concealment of potentially serious misconduct.”

However, on the night of September 17, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent letters to committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Ranking Republican Devin Nunes of California, saying the complaint “does not meet the definition of ‘urgent concern’ because it does not relate to ‘intelligence activity,’ “ CNN reported.

The complaint “involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the Executive Branch,” a copy of the letter, obtained by CNN, says, adding that complying with the committee’s requests “will necessarily require appropriate consultations.”

In the letter, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reveals that the complaint does not involve anyone in the intelligence community but rather “stakeholders within the Executive Branch.” As a result, its lawyer argues, the complaint is not of “urgent concern” to the committee.

The office says it plans to work with the House intelligence Committee but given that executive branch members are involved, there are “confidential and potentially privileged matters” that “will necessarily require appropriate consultations.”

What’s more, Maguire has indicated that he will not appear at a scheduled congressional hearing on Thursday; his office says he “is not available on such short notice.”

In response, Schiff said: “The IC IG determined that the complaint is both credible and urgent, which is why the Committee must move quickly. The Committee’s position is clear—the Acting DNI can either provide the complaint as required under the law, or he will be required to come before the Committee to tell the public why he is not following the clear letter of the law, including whether the White House or the Attorney General are directing him to do so. He has yet to provide the complaint in response to the Committee’s subpoena, so I expect him to appear on Thursday, under subpoena if necessary.”

According to CNN, Schiff also argued that Maguire had acted outside the authority of his post by consulting with the Department of Justice about the complaint as he involved “another entity within the Executive Branch in the handling of a whistleblower complaint.

Schiff declined to say whether he has been contacted by the whistleblower or their legal representation, saying he wouldn’t want to jeopardize them.

However, a source familiar with the situation told CNN on Tuesday that legal counsel for the unknown individual is discussing next steps.

However, the options appear to be limited.

A source familiar with the case told CNN that the Intelligence Community Whistleblowers Protection Act likely only offers one real path forward: circumventing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and giving the complaint directly to the committee.

That route is not likely to be taken, CNN said: At the end of the day, the statute doesn’t clearly allow the whistleblower to go straight to Congress.

Research contact: @CNN

Despite chilling warnings from Mueller, GOP blocks election security bills

July 26, 2019

America is under attack. That was the biggest takeaway from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill on July 24—not that President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice, although that’s what most people continue to argue about, CNN reported this week.

“In your investigation,” Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) of the House Intelligence Committee asked Mueller, “did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election? Or did you find evidence to suggest that they will try to do this again?”

Mueller responded, with a chilling effect:  “No, it wasn’t a single attempt.” And he was quick to note that the Russians still are working to influence U.S. elections—predicting that their influence will be felt when Americans go to the polls in 2020.

“They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller testified. “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

He then warned that America’s intelligence agencies must find a way to coordinate better in order to assure secure elections going forward.

In his report, the former special counsel disclosed that Russian hackers had compromised local election systems of two Florida counties in 2016—a development later confirmed by Florida’s Republican  Governor Ron DeSantis, although he said no votes were changed. And while Mueller did not bring conspiracy charges, it’s been well documented that Russians in 2016 were doing their best to help Trump, not Clinton, win.

“Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) of the Judiciary Committee entreated him.

“It did,” Mueller replied.

Lofgren then asked for specificity: “Which one?”

“Well,” Mueller said, “it would be Trump.”

Yet despite Mueller’s testimony, his report, and alarming statements from elsewhere in Washington, public urgency on addressing Russian interference for the 2020 election appears lacking.

Indeed, according to a report by The Hill, Senate Republicans blocked two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure on Wednesday, July 24,  in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller warning about meddling attempts during his public testimony before congressional lawmakers.  

Democrats tried to get consent to pass two bills that would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance, as well as a bill to let the Senate Sergeant at Arms offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

But Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) blocked each of the bills. She didn’t give reason for her objections, or say if she was objecting on behalf of herself or the Senate GOP caucus. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Under Senate rules, any one senator can ask for consent to pass a bill, but any one senator is able to object.

What’s more,  election interference bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Republicans aren’t expected to move legislation through the Rules Committee, the panel with primary jurisdiction, and have warned about attempts to “federalize” elections. 

Democrats cited Mueller as they tried to get consent on Wednesday evening to pass their bills.

Mr. Mueller’s testimony should serve as a warning to every member of this body about what could happen in 2020, literally in our next elections,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Virgina), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

He added that “unfortunately, in the nearly three years since we uncovered Russia’s attack on our democracy, this body has not held a single vote on stand-alone legislation to protect our elections.” 

Research contact: @thehill

Dems vow to ‘get to the bottom’ of allegations that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress

January 21, 2019

President Donald Trump directed his longtime former personal  attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter, BuzzFeed reported late on January 17.

The story, which invalidates Trump’s ongoing claim that he had no business deals with Russia—and apprehends him in a maneuver to mislead federal legislators—exposes the president to criminal culpability, like he has never been before.

Indeed, according to The Washington Post, Democrats in Congress vowed on January 18 to thoroughly investigate the new report—with Representative Jerry Nadler (D-New York), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,  vowing that his panel would “get to the bottom” of the allegations.

Early on Friday, Nadler tweeted, “We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-California), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released a formal statement, asserting, ““It is now alleged that the president … directed Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress about these matters in an effort to impede the investigation and to cover up his business dealings with Russia. These allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice.

“Our committee,” said Schiff, “is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters. As a counterintelligence concern of the greatest magnitude, and given that these alleged efforts were intended to interfere with our investigation, our Committee is determined to get to the bottom of this and follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”

In his first public comments on the report, Trump went on Twitter on Friday morning to quote a Fox News reporter, Kevin Corke, as saying, “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars….”

“Lying to reduce his jail time!” Trump added in his own words.

According to the BuzzFeed report, the special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and what BuzzFeed described as “a cache of other documents.”

Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with the special counsel’s office, BuzzFeed reported.

In a statement, Lanny J. Davis, a legal communications adviser to Cohen, said that both he and Cohen are declining to respond to reporters’ questions “out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation.”

Research contact: jason.leopold@buzzfeed.com

Americans see Trump as ‘impulsive’

March 9, 2018

Americans don’t perceive a lot of careful thought in President Donald Trump’s decision-making process—at least when it comes to his public statements—and there has been little, if any, improvement in this viewpoint since last July, based on the findings of an Economist/YouGov poll  released on March 7.

A total of 81% of voters—and more specifically, 66% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats—believe the POTUS should think before he speaks.

Indeed, the researchers established that a majority of Americans— Republicans and Democrats alike—believe that Donald Trump speaks without prior consideration most of the time; and often doesn’t listen to his advisers (49% total, 35% Republicans, 75% Democrats) .

What’s more, American voters catch Trump out, at least some of the time, they claim—saying things that are incorrect. They believe that the POTUS either is wrong or is lying all of the time (25%), often (23%), or sometimes (28%). Only 12% say he rarely or never strays from the truth, while 8% are not so sure.

In the last week, the President has changed his public stance on gun control and the National Rifle Association (NRA), and has surprised GOP Congressional allies with his proposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

He also lost Communications Director Hope Hicks, one of his longest-serving staff members and confidants. Hicks, the fourth communications director in the Trump administration’s first year, admitted to the House Intelligence Committee that she sometimes had to tell “white lies” in her job. That is behavior the public finds inappropriate.

It is no surprise that Democrats are especially critical, but nearly half of Republicans agree Hicks’ statement that she told “white lies” was inappropriate. Where Republicans draw the line, however, is whether Hicks “lied about substantive issues on behalf of President Trump.” Twice as many Republicans say she did not as think she did, but more than a third say they aren’t sure what she did.

Public questioning of the President’s decision-making comes at a time when public opinions of his advisers— even some relatives—have declined since the start of his term.

The last week found two of the President’s most trusted advisers, his daughter and his son-in-law, slipping in public confidence. When Donald Trump’s term began, Ivanka Trump was viewed favorably by the public. Now, opinion is closely divided. As for her husband, Jared Kushner, he began 2017 with Americans divided in their opinion of him, but now evaluations of Kushner are decidedly negative.

Kushner’s lost his

Photo source: Alternet.org

top-secret security clearance last week, and the public isn’t sure he can do his job without it. Just 22% think he can, while 40% think he can’t.

Research contact: kfrankovic@yahoo.com

Most Americans think Trump should talk to Mueller under oath

February 7, 2018

Despite the declassified memo gambit carried out last week by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) and the White House—in order to show a “clear link” between the Democrats and Russia during the 2016 election—there is bipartisan agreement among U.S. voters that President Donald Trump should agree to an interview, under oath, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding the Russia probe, according to findings of a Monmouth University Poll.

According to the research findings, released on February 1, most Americans believe recent reports that Trump tried to fire Mueller last summer and they support requiring judicial review before the president could dismiss a special counsel.

An overwhelming majority of Americans (71%) say that Trump should agree to be interviewed by Mueller about the Russia probe. This includes 85% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 51% of Republicans.  If Trump agrees to talk, more than 8-in-10 (82%) say he should do so under oath, including 93% of Democrats, 85% of independents, and 67% of Republicans.

“Democrats and Republicans, alike, say the president should sit down with Mueller, although they probably have very different reasons for wanting Trump to do this,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A majority of the public (58%) believes that recent reports about Trump trying to fire Mueller last summer are likely true. Just 27% say these reports are not true.

There is partisan disagreement on this view, however. Most Democrats (84%) and independents (59%) put stock in these reports compared to just 30% of Republicans who believe they are true. Among those who have been following the news stories about Trump’s possible attempt to fire Mueller, 64% say the reports are true and 27% say they are not.

If Trump did in fact try to fire Mueller, 41% of the public feel this action rises to the level of an attempt to obstruct justice. while 44% say the president’s actions are less serious than that.

More than 6-in-10 Americans (62%) support requiring the approval of a panel of federal judges before any special counsel could be fired by the president or attorney general. Just 29% oppose this judicial check on the president’s ability to fire a special counsel.

This proposal is the basis of two bipartisan bills that have been introduced in Congress in response to the Russia probe. Most Democrats (76% support and 15% oppose) and independents (65% support and 27% oppose) favor this proposal. Republicans are divided at 44% support and 47% oppose.

“Bipartisan legislation to put a judicial check on the president’s ability to fire an independent investigator receives widespread support from Democrats and independents. However, Republicans are split down the middle, so it remains to be seen whether either of the special counsel protection bills will be brought to the floor for a vote,” said Murray.

Research contact: polling@monmouth.edu