Tensions are building inside the Justice Department

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Tensions are building inside the Justice Department as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein contemplates whether he will become a witness in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections.

Rosenstein, in office for less than two months, is the top Justice official overseeing the probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself.
But Rosenstein could end up recusing himself, too, Justice officials say, in part because he played a role in President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The Comey dismissal could become part of a widening investigation into whether the President tried to interfere with the ongoing Russia probe.
Officials familiar with the matter describe friction on the Justice Department’s fourth and fifth floors, home to the suite of offices belonging to the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, respectively, in part because of Rosenstein’s handling of the Russia matter.
Rosenstein was among those who advised Sessions to recuse himself, according to officials briefed on the matter. But then Rosenstein made the surprise move to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia investigation, a development that people close to Sessions and Trump believe has worsened matters for everyone involved.
Sessions learned of the Mueller appointment at about the same time that the press was told, according to people briefed on the matter. The attorney general was at a White House meeting when the notification came from Rosenstein, prompting the enraged President to scold the attorney general for the turn of events. Trump had viewed Sessions’ recusal as unnecessary, even though Justice Department regulations made it almost impossible to avoid.
The focus on Rosenstein sharpened Friday because the President attacked the deputy attorney general in a tweet, blaming him for what he terms a “witch hunt.”
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the President tweeted.
The President’s tweet — seeming to confirm the probe based on news reports — came as a surprise to the President’s own legal team, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Mueller continues to hire a team of lawyers, and with FBI investigators is gathering information that is widely expected to lead to a formal investigation into whether President Trump attempted to interfere in the investigation. Comey’s firing likely will be part of that probe.

Special counsel members donated to Dems

Special counsel members donated to Dems 02:26
Rosenstein told the Associated Press earlier this month that when he hired Mueller he discussed the possibility of having recuse himself “if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation” and if recusal is necessary.
The strain on Rosenstein has increasingly become visible in recent weeks, according to Justice officials.
At a ceremony last month to welcome Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s third-ranking official, Rosenstein joked awkwardly about being at the center of criticism since taking office, according to people who were in the room.
If Rosenstein recuses himself, Brand, a Trump appointee, would become the top Justice official overseeing Mueller’s work.
On Thursday night, he issued a statement lashing out at news stories sourced to anonymous officials and that he believes are causing the President and Republicans to attack the Justice Department, the FBI and Mueller for alleged leaks.
Rosenstein’s unusual statement, which he issued over the objections of some advisers, said in part: “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials.'”
A Justice official said Rosenstein was motivated in part because of frustration that recent news stories have unfairly brought on a torrent of “leak” accusations against the FBI and Mueller’s team.

Senate Intelligence Committee: AG Sessions Flip-Flops And Lies His Way Throughout

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to have his cake and eat it too when it came to his explanations during congressional testimony Tuesday for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

On the one hand, Sessions didn’t feel like he needed to stay in the Oval Office on February 14 when President Trump said he wanted to speak privately with Comey. And he didn’t feel the need to do anything following a meeting the two men had in the days that followed in which Comey expressed his discomfort with these one-on-one conversations with the president.
Sessions’ justification in both instances was that Comey was a total pro, that he knew his stuff and that Sessions trusted him to handle his business.
“I felt (Comey), so long in the department — former deputy attorney general, as I recall — knew those policies probably a good deal better than I did,” said Sessions at one point. At another, Sessions said: “Our Department of Justice rules on proper communications between the department and the White House have been in place for years. Mr. Comey well knew them, I thought and assumed, correctly, that he complied with them.”
On the other hand, Sessions told the Senate intelligence committee that he and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had discussed removing Comey as FBI director and agreed that it was time for a “fresh start” at the bureau before either man was confirmed to their current positions.
Huh?
Either Comey was the ultimate pro who could be trusted to handle his business or he was someone who Sessions had decided months before needed to go because he had badly mismanaged his role in the 2016 election. Comey can’t simultaneously be highly competent and a bungling, bumbling fool depending on what image suits Sessions’ needs at the moment.
But, time and again, Sessions tried to hold those totally oppositional thoughts in his head — and insisted that they weren’t at all contradictory.
As Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, noted in Tuesday’s hearing, in July and again in October — following Comey’s initial announcement that Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of her private email server and his decision to re-open the case in October — Sessions praised the then FBI director.
This exchange between Reed and Sessions is telling:
REED: So, in July and November, Director Comey was doing exactly the right thing. You had no criticism of him. You felt that in fact he was a skilled professional prosecutor. You felt that his last statement in October was fully justified. So how can you go from those statements to agreeing with Mr. Rosenstein and then asking the President, or recommending he be fired?
SESSIONS: I think, in retrospect, as all of us begin to look at that clearly and talk about it, as perspectives of the Department of Justice, once the director had first got involved and embroiled in a public discussion of this investigation, which would have been better never to have been discussed publicly, and said he — it was over. Then when he found new evidence that came up, I think he probably was required to tell Congress that it wasn’t over, that new evidence had been developed.
Uh, what?
If you get what Sessions is driving at in his response to Reed, you are a better — and smarter — person than me.
(Also worth noting: Comey testified, under oath, that Trump called him several times in the first part of this year to tell him how great a job he was doing.)
Then there was the fact, revealed in Sessions’ testimony yesterday, that he had never met with Comey to discuss what he took to be his poor performance.
This back and forth with Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, gets at that oddity:
WARNER: So you were his — his superior, and there were some fairly harsh things said about Director Comey. You never thought it was appropriate to raise those concerns before he was actually terminated by the President?
SESSIONS: I did not do so. A memorandum was prepared by the deputy attorney general, who evaluated his performance and noted some serious problems with it.
Take one giant step back. We know, because Donald Trump told us, that the real reason he fired Comey was because of the former FBI director’s approach to the Russia investigation. Trump said that after his administration had tried to sell the same case Sessions was selling on Tuesday: That Comey was removed because of a memo from Rosenstein.
That’s the fact. Everything else — including Sessions’ attempts to spin his views on Comey and the circumstances surrounding his firing — are simply post-action spin.

AG Jeff Sessions: Seems He Can’t Remember Anything Except How To Lie To Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AND REUTERS)

AG Jeff Sessions says he can’t recall more meetings with Russian officials before admitting he ‘possibly’ had one

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had “no recollection” of any additional meetings with Russian diplomats during the 2016 presidential campaign, before acknowledging that he “possibly” had one.In testy testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election on Tuesday, Sessions also defended his role in firing FBI Director James Comey while repeatedly refusing to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump.

The attorney general acknowledged that Trump hadn’t evoked “executive privilege” — legalese for an ability to protect private conversations with the President — but still refused to answer any questions from senators regarding his conversations with Trump, including whether he and Trump had discussed the Russia investigation when talking about firing Comey.

Sessions’ repeated dodges and refusals to answer questions led to building frustration from Democrats throughout the hearing.

Columbia professor turns over James Comey documents to FBI

“You’re not answering questions. You’re impeding the investigation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said. “You are obstructing the congressional investigation by not answering questions.”

“I’m protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses” to executive privilege in the future, Sessions said.

Sessions also insisted he had every right to be involved with Trump’s decision to fire Comey, even though the FBI head was leading the Russia investigation Sessions had been forced to step away from.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“The scope of my recusal, however, does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI,” he said.

In aftermath of Comey’s bombshell testimony, Trump goes golfing

Sessions refused, however, to offer further explanation for his support in firing the former FBI director even though he’d recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

And he used carefully selected language to give himself an out about a potential unreported third meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., saying only that he did not “have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials” during a Trump event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the campaign.

Later, he muddied up that denial even further.

“I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it,” he said.

Senators had asked Comey to investigate Sessions’ Russia talks

“I don’t recall” was his favorite phrase of the day, as Sessions fell back on the pat answer time and again throughout the day.

While he was evasive in his answers, Sessions was fiery off the bat in defending his character against what he painted as “scurrilous and false allegations.”

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” he said.

He claimed that he’d planned to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the start, even though he had refused to commit to do so during his confirmation hearing, saying he “not aware of a basis to recuse myself,” and made no moves towards recusal until after he’d been caught in a lie about his previous contacts with Russian officials.

Trump says he’d testify on Comey claims, but won’t talk tapes

“If merely being a supporter of the President during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving him, then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions said in his January confirmation hearing. “I am not aware of a basis to recuse myself from such matters. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.”

Sessions even waited days to announce his recusal after the news of his previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador came to light.

The attorney general blamed his false testimony that he hadn’t met with Russian officials, when it turned out he did at least twice, on a misunderstanding of what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was asking him at the time, though he went much further to declare that he hadn’t met with any Russians when that wasn’t what Franken had asked.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Sessions said he has “confidence” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI probe into Russia. He said that he hadn’t talked to Trump about him after one of Trump’s friends said he was considering firing the special counsel on Monday, but stated he didn’t “think it would be appropriate” to fire Mueller.

While he defended his role in firing Comey and claimed there were performance issues, he repeatedly refused to discuss whether he’d recommended it or if Trump had asked him to come up with a rationale for a decision he’d already made, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t talk about any private conversations with the President.

“I’d come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing,” he said, though he admitted he didn’t discuss any job performance problems with Comey before the firing.

And he said while it “appears” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said he’d never asked about it at the DOJ, a stunning disinterest in the attack on democracy.

He returned to a favorite answer when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked him whether he’d confronted Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about Russia’s meddling in the election when they met twice last year: “I don’t recall.”

Tags:
JEFF SESSIONS
JAMES COMEY
RUSSIA
FBI
CONGRESS
DONALD TRUMP
2016 ELECTION
ROBERT MUELLER
AL FRANKEN
MARTIN HEINRICH

Amid Historically Low Turnout, Puerto Ricans Vote for Statehood

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

JUN 11 2017, 6:00 PM ET

Amid Historically Low Turnout, Puerto Ricans Vote for Statehood

Amid historically low turnout, residents of Puerto Rico voted Sunday for statehood in a non-binding vote, but almost eight out of ten voters did not participate.

Puerto Rican resident Maria Quinones votes during the fifth referendum on the island’s status, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017. Carlos Giusti / AP

As of 5:30pET, the island’s election commission (CEE in Spanish) had reported that about 23 percent of the island’s eligible voters had cast ballots, about 500,000 votes. About 97 percent of the votes were for statehood.

The island’s’ governor, Ricardo Rosselló from the New Progressive Party (PNP in Spanish) and his government had been pushing for a “yes” for statehood as the best way to grapple with Puerto Rico’s crippling $73 billion debt.

But the island’s other two main political parties had pushed for a boycott of the plebiscite, and it showed in the numbers. About 1.3 percent voted for the current commonwealth status and about 1.5 percent voted for independence.

The president of the Popular Democratic Party, (PPD in Spanish), which favors the current commonwealth status, said after the vote that “statehooders shot themselves in the foot.”

“Eight out of ten voters went to the beach, went to the river, went to go eat, went to go hang out, went to church, but they sure didn’t go out to vote,” said PPD president Héctor Ferrer at a San Juan press conference. “Governor Rossello is now going to go to Washington and say this (statehood) is what people wanted. But we’re going too to say no, that’s not true and the numbers speak for themselves.”

In this Oct. 2, 2012 photo, U.S. And Puerto Rico’s flags fly as tourists walk along the dock where a cruise ship anchors in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP

Puerto Rico historically has had high turnout in most elections. This one was unusually low. In the last plebiscite held in 2012, more than 1.9 million voted, and 800,000 chose statehood. In 1993, nearly 2 million Puerto Ricans voted.

But following the results, Gov. Roselló said “An overwhelming majority voted for statehood. Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens. This was a democratic process and statehood got a historic 97 percent of the vote. The federal government cannot ignore the results of this plebiscite and the will of our people,” said the governor. “It would be quite ironic to demand democracy in other parts of the world but not in their own backyard. This is our home.”

RELATED: Puerto Rico Holds Vote Sunday on Statehood Amid Criticism Over Timing, Costs

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico does not elect members of Congress. But the island’s representative in Congress, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, is pro-statehood, and she said Sunday in San Juan that she is creating a “Friends of Puerto Rico Caucus” in Washington to advocate for statehood and push the process along once the results are certified.

“As Resident Commissioner I will take this to Congress and defend it,” said González. “I am taking it not just to Congress but to other forums, such as the Organization of American States,” she told reporters.

Ultimately, it is up to the U.S. Congress to decide whether to take up the issue of Puerto Rico’s status.

Emilio Martínez, a retiree and statehood supporter, told NBC Latino that he was glad that he was able to vote. “If you don’t vote, you don’t participate and you don’t have a say. There weren’t too many people voting when I went this morning, but I live in a town outside of San Juan controlled by one of the opposition parties and they had urged people to boycott the plebiscite, so many people stayed away. But that doesn’t matter to me. Voting is our right and I am exercising my right,” said Martínez.

“And this is just the beginning of a process to tell the United States how we feel and that we want to be a part of the States,” Martínez said. “We deserve to be treated equally like any other U.S. citizen. But nothing happens overnight. This is just the beginning.”

Federico de Jesús, with FDJ Solutions in Washington is a former Obama and Puerto Rico government official who says the plebiscite was unnecessary and costly.

Image: Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello greets supporters at a polling station
Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, center, greets supporters at a polling station, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, June 11, 2017. Thais Llorca / EPA

“This vote was a waste or precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints. Congress laid out a process through a provision in a 2014 law that said that if Puerto Rico wanted the federal government to pay attention to another status referendum, it had to follow certain rules. The current government of the Island entered the process and when it took longer than they wanted they decided to ignore the U.S. Justice Department’s plea for more time to evaluate the validity of the ballot language – which had already been rejected once before by DOJ. This begs the question: why would Congress act upon the results of a referendum that ignored the rules it required in federal law to address this issue? Sadly, today’s vote will thus go down in history as yet another non-binding glorified poll with no real effect on resolving Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.”

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So, The Habitual Lying President Says He Will Testify Under Oath That He Is Not A Liar

 

Folks, this is not an article that pleases me to have to write about, yet pretty much everyone in the ‘wired world’ will know that what I am going to say is the truth. Most everyone knows that it is a trait of almost all (I’m being nice) American politicians to have a forked tongue. Last November in the elections the American people were basically given a choice between two people that were well known for being very crooked and habitual liar’s. There really was no way to win if the voter was looking for an honest, non-habitual liar to be our leader. The DNC rigs their side of elections via using the so-called ‘Super Delegates’ to make sure that who they want and only whom their party leaders want will be their Candidate for President. I honestly believe that if the DNC leadership had acted in a Constitutional manner that Bernie Sanders would have not only beaten out Ms. Hillary, he would have quite easily beaten out Mr. Trump last November. So, in a sense I do blame the DNC for Mr. Trump sitting in Our Oval Office.

 

Today’s New York Times headline says that Mr. Trump will testify under oath that he is not a liar but that former FBI Director James Comey is. I personally believe that it is Mr. Trump who tells everyone, not just the people that he has surrounding him, but everyone, so many lies everyday that he has proven over and over again that he can’t remember what he lies about one day to the next. I am simply a person who would like to have all people in every government in the world to be honest with the people they govern, yet I think we all know that is just a fantasy. I personally believe that Mr. Trump is the most clueless, ignorant, lying, egomaniac’s that has ever set foot in Our Oval Office. I know that statement is really saying a lot, I never really thought that we could ever have a bigger idiot than George W. Bush as our President but then up steps Mr. Trump. To me it is still a debate which family is more crooked though, the Bush family, the Clinton family, or the Trump family.

 

I have no doubt that if Mr. Trump does go through with testifying under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee (if he isn’t also lying about doing it) that he will lie many times during that event. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Democrat or a Republican, but I am a voter. I like everyone else, under our current two-party system we voters can either not vote, or we can vote for one of the two main party candidates, or they can do like I did last November and vote for a third-party candidate whom we know in advance has no chance of winning. So, ‘We The People’ are put into the position of choosing which habitual liar we want as our ‘Leader.’ Over the last year or so I have been closely watching Mr. James Comey the now former Director of the FBI and I have found him to be one of the most honest, sincere and intelligent people I have ever come across. Mr. Trump on the other hand has totally proven to the whole world that he is basically clueless of real world realities which in part has shined a huge spotlight on his lack of basic knowledge and on his continues lying.

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

Clinton: I was on way to winning until Comey, Wikileaks

(CNN) Hillary Clinton’s ongoing struggle to deal with the revelation that she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state dominated the conversation about her presidential candidacy, and research suggests it might have doomed her campaign, according to a new study by a consortium of pollsters released over the weekend.
In the paper, presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference in New Orleans, pollsters and political scientists from Gallup, Georgetown University and the University of Michigan studied the daily Gallup tracking poll from July 10 to November 7, 2016. In particular, they zeroed in on one question: “Have you read, seen or heard anything about (Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump) in the last day or two?” They then zeroed in on the “yes” responses and categorized what, exactly, people said they had read, seen or heard.
Here’s what people had read, seen or heard about Clinton looks like in a word cloud (the bigger the word, the more often it was mentioned):

As you can see, “email” drowns out every other term mentioned about Clinton. It was, without question, the dominant narrative of the election for her — at least in the five months that this paper documents. And, according to the study, the mentions of email correlate directly to negative views of Clinton.
Now, check out Trump’s word cloud:

There’s nothing to match the Clinton “email” mentions. And although some of the most commonly mentioned words are negative storylines for Trump — “women,” most notably — there’s a lot of more neutral mentions: “debate,” “people” and “president.” This speaks to the theory that by throwing so many balls up in the air every day — via his stump speeches, Twitter, etc. — Trump made it impossible for anyone to follow all of them. Everything seemed like a molehill. Even the mountains.

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss
What’s more, the word “email” came up more and more in the final weeks of the election — particularly in the wake of then-FBI Director James Comey’s announcement in late October that he was re-starting an investigation into Clinton’s server.
Here’s the word clouds broken into a week-by-week timeline of the last month of the campaign. Again, the larger the word appears, the more it was mentioned as something people had seen, read or heard about Clinton or Trump.

Not only did “email” dominate the conversation around Clinton, it dominated the entire conversation in the race. From October 23 on, Trump is barely talked about — an amazing feat for someone so willing to make news.
This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election.
I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.
After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.
Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

Story highlights

  • House investigators are interest in diving into Russian meddling in the US election
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony isn’t the only high profile hearing Tuesday

Washington (CNN) Former CIA Director John Brennan told House Russia investigators Tuesday that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the US elections, including actively contacting members of President Donald Trump’s campaign — but he stopped shy of dubbing it “collusion.”

“I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion,” Brennan told Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying that he supported the FBI digging further. “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan was speaking to the House intelligence committee on the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign, where he was asked about how Moscow recruits sources “wittingly and unwittingly.”
“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.
Brennan said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling last summer and, in an August 4, 2016, phone call with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, warned him against further interference. Bortnikov, Brennan said, denied any active efforts in the election.
Brennan cautioned lawmakers that although he could not definitively say if those contacts amounted to “collusion,” he knew that Russians were actively cutivating US contacts and, very likely, did not present themselves as Russian spies.
Brennan also said Trump might have broken protocol if he revealed highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting earlier this month.
The panel will get two cracks at Brennan — the first in public at 10 a.m. ET and the second behind closed doors — almost two months after his first appearance was dramatically canceled amid the chaos sparked by House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ clandestine White House trip.
House investigators are particularly interested in finding out more about how Russia conducted its election attacks inside the US and who Russian spies attempted to recruit to their side, said a House intelligence committee source. Intelligence sources have previously told CNN that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivating as a source for a Russian spy — whether he knew it or not. Page has flatly and continually denied that charge.
But Brennan’s isn’t the only high-profile hearing Tuesday. The latest news most likely to hold the Capitol captive is word that Trump asked his own intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — to rebut Comey’s then-public statement that the FBI had opened a criminal probe into Russia’s meddling in July of last year.
Coats is testifying in the Senate and Rogers is expected to testify in the House on budget issues, but the blockbuster news of Trump’s attempt to curtail a federal probe, first reported by The Washington Post, has already come up.
Meanwhile, Brennan is also likely to face questions about a split among intelligence leaders last summer over the purpose of Russia’s meddling in the US election — whether it was designed to support Trump or merely spur chaos and confusion in the election. Brennan told senior lawmakers as early as last summer that the Russian operation was squarely designed to support Trump.
Brennan’s appearance comes as the Russia probes have escalated greatly since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and subsequently the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia.
On Monday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee left open the threat of holding former national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt if he continues to withhold documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

CHEERING AND DANCING

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.

BREAKING TABOOS

Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
He added, “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Trump’s dismissal of Comey was met with bipartisan derision. The move, which came after Trump asked Comey for his loyalty and, according to memos written by the former FBI director, requested he kill an investigation into Trump’s top national security adviser, was seen as a clear violation of protocol and had some Democrats calling for impeachment.
The President maintains he was surprised by the response to Comey’s firing.
“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said Thursday at a news conference. “When I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
The news broke shortly after Trump took off for his critically important five-country, eight-day foreign trip, the first of his presidency.
Even before Friday’s report, news about Comey and the newly named special counsel for the Russia investigation has threatened to overshadow Trump’s trip.
Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was controversial before news of talk about Comey ever came out. No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the gathering. The meeting was also personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

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