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Weapons sale to Ukraine – Google Search
House Probe Looks Into Corruption, Criminal Behavior at FBI, DOJ – The New American
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Andrew McCabe, F.B.I.s Embattled Deputy, Is Expected to Retire
Using Billions in Government Cash, Mexico Controls News Media
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Trump administration approves lethal arms sales to Ukraine

Washington PostDec 20, 2017
Correction: A previous version of this blog post incorrectly reported that the Trump administration had approved the first-ever commercial sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine. It stated that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had publicly supported arms sales to Ukraine; Mattis did not explicitly do so. This post has …
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Trump Sends Tank-Killing Missile To Fight Russia in Ukraine, But …

Newsweek12 hours ago
The decision to sell the Javelin missiles also comes not long after the Trump administration approved a limited weapons sale between American manufacturers and Ukraine of Model M107A1 sniper systems, ammunition and associated equipment. “The United States has decided to provide Ukraine …
House Probe Looks Into Corruption, Criminal Behavior at FBI, DOJ – The New American

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House Probe Looks Into Corruption, Criminal Behavior at FBI, DOJ
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The ongoing witch hunt of Trump/Russia collusion just took an interesting turn. A group of Republicans in the House of Representatives frustrated with the Justice Department’s refusal to explain its use of the now-discredited Trump dossier has 

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At Least Four Dead As Bus Crashes Into Moscow Underpass

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At least four people have been killed and 13 others injured after a bus careered off a road and onto steps leading into an underground passageway in the Russian capital, Moscow, police said. Authorities said that passengers and pedestrians were among the victims of the December 25 incident. Footage …
5 Dead as Bus Plows Into Moscow Pedestrian Underpass
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At least five dead after Moscow bus ploughs into underground …

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A passenger bus swerved off course and drove into a busy pedestrian underpass in Moscow on Monday, killing at least four people, Russian news agencies reported. Video from the scene posted on social media showed a bus veering off the road and plunging down the steps of a pedestrian underpass, …
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BREAKING: At least 5 killed as bus drives down underground station …

Daily Star10 hours ago
15 people were also injured in the crash, police told local media. Cops are at the scene and the driver has reportedly been detained. Horrifying footage shows the bus driving down the passage as helpless pedestrians are crushed underneath. Moscow bus crash INSTAGRAM. AT THE SCENE: It occurred at …
Andrew McCabe, F.B.I.s Embattled Deputy, Is Expected to Retire

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He dealt with the F.B.I. investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information when she used a private email server. Republicans, including Mr. Trump, have relentlessly criticized the F.B.I. for the way it handled that investigation. Mrs. Clinton was not charged, nor were any of her aides. Mr. McCabe has also been deeply involved in the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the potential involvement of the Trump campaign.

The Russia investigation is being led by a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who has already charged four people associated with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. One of them, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russians, while another pleaded guilty to lying about his conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has infuriated the president, who has called the investigation a witch hunt and has pressed repeatedly for a shake-up at the F.B.I. Mr. McCabe was deputy director when the F.B.I. opened the investigation in July 2016.

The president crowed on Saturday that James A. Baker, the F.B.I. general counsel, who was seen as an ally of Mr. Comey’s, would soon step down from that post, although he will remain at the bureau.

Mr. McCabe became a political piñata after his wife decided to run as a Democrat for a Virginia State Senate seat. As part of her campaign, she accepted nearly $500,000 in contributions from the political organization of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Pressure on Mr. McCabe and Mr. Wray intensified this month after The New York Times reported that a top F.B.I. lawyer and counterintelligence agent traded disparaging text messages about the president. Both the agency and the lawyer had worked closely on the Clinton and Russia investigations. However, Mr. Mueller decided to pull the agent off the Russia investigation. The lawyer, who was close to Mr. McCabe, had already left Mr. Mueller’s team by the time the texts were discovered.

Republicans seized on the texts to claim that the F.B.I.’s leadership was politically slanted. Agents have rejected that assertion, calling it insulting and untrue.

Mr. McCabe, who is seen as highly intelligent, rose quickly through the ranks of the F.B.I., eventually running national security, then the bureau’s second-largest field office, before moving back to headquarters, where he was put on track to be deputy director. He has many supporters in the F.B.I. who consider him beyond reproach.

His defenders say he has done his job admirably in the face of intense partisan attacks while navigating crisis after crisis.

“The political hit job on McCabe — his supposed ideological bias, the fact his wife ran for office as a Democrat, the attacks on his competence — are way out of line,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a former senior F.B.I. official who retired in 2016 and worked closely with Mr. McCabe. “The people who are making these baseless accusations don’t know McCabe. I do. The guy’s a total pro. His only motivation is to support and defend the Constitution.”

His detractors see Mr. McCabe as an ambitious creature of Washington who did not spend enough time as an agent working with informants and making cases. Those critical of Mr. McCabe believe he lacked the operational experience to become director and needed to spend more time in the field.

But even among some of those who dislike Mr. McCabe, he earned their grudging respect when he stood up to Mr. Trump and defended the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey’s tenure during a heated congressional hearing in May while he was acting director.

Mr. McCabe’s plan to retire at some point after he was eligible to retire was first reported by The Washington Post. Mr. McCabe will most likely follow the path of other highly qualified F.B.I. senior officials eligible to retire who leave after securing a lucrative job in the private sector.

Officials say that Mr. Wray is considering David L. Bowdich, currently the third-ranking official in the bureau, to replace Mr. McCabe. Mr. Bowdich ran the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles field office before coming to Washington. He is best known for being the public face of the F.B.I. in California after the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

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Using Billions in Government Cash, Mexico Controls News Media

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Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as the PRI, pioneered this system during its 70 years in power. Former President José López Portillo explicitly laid out the government’s expectations decades ago — he was even quoted as saying that he did not pay the media to attack him — and the practice continued when the opposition claimed the presidency in 2000, then again in 2006.

But the government’s influence over the media goes well beyond the advertising spigot, with officials sometimes resorting to outright bribery. In Chihuahua, the former governor spent more than $50 million on publicity, officials say, in a state saddled with huge public debts. Yet that was just the official figure.

Prosecutors have also collected signed receipts for bribes to local journalists — payoffs so common that some reporters were even listed as government contractors, documents show. With so much government money circling around, entire news websites sprang up with a single purpose, prosecutors contend: to support the former governor’s agenda.

“The relation between the media and power is one of the gravest problems in Mexico,” said Javier Corral, the new governor of Chihuahua. “There is collusion, an arrangement, in terms of how the public resources are managed to reward or punish the media. It’s carrot and stick: ‘Behave well, and I’ll give you lots of money and advertising. Act bad and I’ll get rid of it.’”

RELIANCE ON PUBLIC ADVERTISING

Pick up a newspaper, tune into a radio station or flip on the television in Mexico and you are greeted with a barrage of government advertising. In some papers, nearly every other page is claimed by an ad promoting one government agency or another. At times, as much airtime is dedicated to venerating the government’s work as it is to covering the news.

The extraordinary spending comes at a time when the Mexican government is cutting budgets across the board, including for health, education and social services. The federal government spent as much on advertising last year, about $500 million, as it did to support students in its main scholarship program for public universities.

The co-opting of the news media is more fundamental than any one administration’s spending on self-promotion, historians say. It reflects the absence of the basic pact that a free press has with its readers in a democracy, where holding the powerful accountable is part of its mission.

“It’s a common problem in the developing world, but the problem is much, much graver in Mexico,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special representative for freedom of expression. “It’s remarkable what the government spends.”

Most news outlets have relied on public advertising for so long that they would not survive without the government, giving officials tremendous leverage to push for certain stories and prevent others, analysts, reporters and media owners say.

“This is an economic problem,” said Carlos Puig, a columnist at the newspaper Milenio, which receives substantial government funding. “The classic American model does not exist here.”

Last year, a public outcry erupted after a top official in the Peña Nieto administration went to Milenio’s offices to complain about a story. The article, criticizing a national anti-hunger initiative, was taken down from the newspaper’s website right after the visit.

The piece later went back up, with a far less damning headline. The newspaper says the reason was simple: The article was “deplorable,” an inaccurate and “vulgar” attempt to smear an official, requiring an apology to readers. But journalists and democracy advocates, citing the power of government advertising, cried foul and the reporter resigned in protest, claiming to have been censored. Eventually, the original headline was restored.

Overt government interference is often unnecessary. Sixty-eight percent of journalists in Mexico said they censored themselves, not only to avoid being killed, but also because of pressure from advertisers and the impact on the company’s bottom line, according to a three-year study by Mexican and American academics.

Francisco Pazos did. He worked for years at one of the largest papers in Mexico, Excélsior. One of his most frustrating moments came in late 2013, he said, when the government was in the throes of a fight with commuters over a transit fare increase.

Mr. Pazos said he tried to explore the commuters’ anger in detail, until an editor stopped him, telling him the paper was no longer going to cover the controversy.

“I came to understand there were issues I simply couldn’t cover,” Mr. Pazos said. “And eventually, I stopped looking for those kinds of stories. Eventually, you become a part of the censorship yourself.”

Many media owners and directors say they have so few independent sources of income outside the government that they face a stark choice: wither from a lack of resources, or survive as accomplices to their own manipulation.

“Of course, the use of public money limits freedom of expression, but without this public money there would be no media in Mexico at all,” said Marco Levario, the director of the magazine Etcétera. “We are all complicit in this.”

The model means that some media outlets in Mexico can scarcely afford their own principles. Twenty years ago, the newspaper La Jornada was one of the most beloved in the nation, a critical voice and a must-read for intellectuals and activists who carried the tabloid around town, tucked under their arms.

But the years have not been kind to the paper. A few years ago, it was on the cusp of financial ruin. Then the government intervened, rescuing the publication with more than $1 million in official advertising and, critics say, claiming its editorial independence in the process.

“Now they own them,” Mr. Levario said. “The paper has been like a spokesman for the president.”

Other business ties link news outlets to the government. Many media companies are part of larger conglomerates that build roads or other public projects. The same person who owns Grupo Imagen, which includes radio, television and print media, also owns a major construction firm, Prodemex. It has earned more than $200 million in the past five years building government facilities, and will play a role in the construction of the new Mexico City airport.

La Jornada, Excélsior and Excélsior’s parent company, Grupo Imagen, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The nation’s Supreme Court recently took up the issue of official advertising, ruling in November that the government must act on the president’s promise to regulate the flow of public money in an unbiased way.

“The absence of regulation in official publicity allows for the arbitrary use of communications budgets, which restricts indirectly freedom of expression,” said Arturo Zaldívar, a Supreme Court justice.

In a statement, the president’s office referred to its official advertising as a form of constitutionally backed publicity that enables it to inform and educate the public about its work. But it rejects the assertion that such spending skews the media’s coverage of important issues or stifles free speech in any way.

“Every day journalists in Mexico question, with absolute freedom, the government’s actions and those of our representatives, including the president,” it said. “There is a permanent criticism from Mexican journalists toward the government. Just by opening any newspaper, turning on the television and going to social media, you can verify this.”

When he came to office in 2012, the president vowed to more fairly distribute the government’s advertising dollars. Shortly after his election, Mr. Peña Nieto’s team came up with a plan to regulate media spending, according to three people familiar with the proposal.

But Aurelio Nuño, the president’s former chief of staff, said the effort never got far enough to produce a draft of any legislation that could yield action. The effort was subsumed by other campaign promises and left behind, he said.

‘HEATING THEM UP’

As the editor for recruiting at the newspaper Reforma, Diana Alvarez has grown accustomed to the flexible definition of journalism in Mexico.

A few years back, she said, she interviewed one young woman from a large paper in Mexico City. The woman, who had a master’s degree in journalism, said her job at the paper consisted of creating files of negative press clippings on governors across the country.

Those files were turned over to the paper’s sales department, which then approached the governors to sell them “coverage plans” to improve their public image, the young woman explained.

Mrs. Alvarez rattled off more examples. One applicant, an editing candidate, boasted that he knew how to work his relationships with politicians to score more advertising money.

He called it “heating them up,” which involved showing the target a critical story that his newspaper was planning to publish. Then, as he explained to Mrs. Alvarez, an advertising contract with his paper would help “put out the fire.”

Yet another applicant, a former state government employee, said he knew how to “deal with the press,” Mrs. Alvarez recalled. He told her how he had been in charge of distributing envelopes filled with cash for reporters as bribes.

“I wish I could say these are isolated cases, or just a few, but it isn’t the case,” Mrs. Alvarez said. “There have been many like these, where they come and speak about these practices in a way that makes you realize they have normalized them.”

Daniel Moreno, the director of the digital publication Animal Político, says he receives almost nothing from the federal government, and relatively small amounts from state governors.

It’s not because he doesn’t want the money, Mr. Moreno says. It’s just that the kind of critical coverage his news team does is not rewarded with government contracts, he contends.

Recently, Mr. Moreno said he received a call from officials in the state of Morelos, which spends about $3,000 a month with him on advertising. The governor’s wife was going through a rough period over claims that she was politicizing aid for earthquake victims — an accusation she rejected — so a state official suggested that Animal Político do a few positive stories on her.

Mr. Moreno politely declined.

“They were pretty offended,” he said with a shrug. “And I’m pretty sure that money is gone.”

Still, that was better than it is with most states, Mr. Moreno said. As a policy, Animal Político publishes a banner on pieces that are paid advertising, so readers know the work is not independent journalism, he said.

But officials in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Sonora have refused to pay for content unless it is published without the banner, he said. Mr. Moreno refused.

“I’ve lost more money than I’ve earned that way,” he said with a laugh.

This month, news organizations came together to denounce the violence against the press in Mexico, where the murders of journalists hit a record this year. Thirty-nine media groups signed on.

But a few, including Animal Político, were missing — on purpose. They had insisted on some extra lines in the announcement about the damage that official publicity does to free speech.

A small uproar ensued, they said. Some large newspapers that rely heavily on government money objected.

Ultimately, the letter was sent without the lines — and without the signature of Mr. Moreno and his compatriots. The news media, it appeared, would not challenge its livelihood.

AN EXPOSÉ RAISES QUESTIONS

On Aug. 23, Ricardo Anaya, the president of the opposition National Action Party and now a candidate for president in next year’s election, woke up to find his name and family splashed across the front page of El Universal, a major newspaper.

The story went into details about his father-in-law’s real estate empire and, more pointedly, the ways in which Mr. Anaya’s political career had helped propel that fortune.

The narrative was a familiar one in Mexico: A political leader had used his influence to enrich himself and his family. El Universal laid out the addresses and values of the various properties, and even published head shots of his entire extended family, 14 people in all. News outlets across the country carried the story.

The only thing missing, a court ultimately decided, was accuracy. Mr. Anaya managed to show that much of the information was flawed, skewed or simply wrong. While his in-laws clearly owned a number of properties, many had been in their possession before his political career began, public deeds showed.

Even more puzzling, Mr. Anaya said, were the photographs of his family. They had not been public before, as far as the family knew. In fact, they looked an awful lot like passport pictures.

Given that such photos were held by the foreign ministry, which issues passports, Mr. Anaya suspected that his rivals in the government had leaked the pictures to the newspaper.

“They are trying to destroy my political career with this campaign,” he contended. “You can’t compete with a government that pays $500 million a year to the media.”

For the next two months, the newspaper dedicated more than 20 front pages to Mr. Anaya, accusing him of misusing public funds, benefiting financially from his position and fracturing his party.

Mr. Anaya filed suit. In October, the court found that El Universal had misrepresented his in-laws’ wealth and wrongly accused Mr. Anaya of using his office to benefit them.

El Universal claimed that it was entitled to publish the story under the right to freedom of expression, an argument the judge questioned because the paper “had not based its investigation in facts.” The newspaper has appealed the court’s decision.

The case raises national questions of trust in a country where the news media receives so much money in government advertising.

El Universal receives more government advertising than any other newspaper in the nation, about $10 million last year, Fundar found. Critics argue that the newspaper has become something of an attack dog for the government ahead of presidential elections next year.

The suggestion is “false and offensive,” the newspaper says. Government advertising “does not affect in any way the editorial line of the newspaper,” it says, adding that “thinkers of all political parties” are represented in its pages.

Not all its journalists agree. In July, a half-dozen columnists announced their resignations in protest over what they called biased coverage, saying the owners had destroyed the institution’s credibility.

Salvador Frausto, an investigative editor who earned the paper many awards, also left. Colleagues said he was clearly uncomfortable with how close the paper was becoming to the PRI and its new presidential candidate, José Antonio Meade.

The person who replaced Mr. Frausto as the new investigative editor was most recently a press officer at the foreign affairs ministry, according to his LinkedIn profile.

And the news director of El Universal had close ties with the new candidate: His wife was Mr. Meade’s international press chief at the finance ministry.

The paper says that there is no conflict of interest, and that it does not tolerate biased coverage of any kind.

But it isn’t the first time the paper’s journalists have challenged its independence. Writers said that in 2012, when Mr. Peña Nieto was running for office, editors and news directors began changing columns critical of the candidate, sometimes at the last minute, without warning them.

“The reason I resigned is because I no longer felt like I was guaranteed a free space,” Andrés Lajous, now a doctoral student at Princeton University, wrote in an article recounting the events.

‘IT WAS THE FEDS’

Witnesses were calling it an execution.

In January 2015, Laura Castellanos, an award-winning reporter, was sent by editors at El Universal to cover a pair of shootouts involving the federal police.

At the time, self-defense groups had taken up arms to fight against organized crime, and Ms. Castellanos, who had written extensively on the subject, was considered an expert.

She spent 10 days reporting the story, tapping old sources and interviewing witnesses in the state of Michoacán, where 16 had been killed and dozens wounded.

The issue was especially delicate because a close ally of the president, Alfredo Castillo, who had been appointed to oversee the security situation in Michoacán, claimed that the deaths came from a shootout with armed assailants.

Ms. Castellanos said she recorded interviews with 39 people — victims, bystanders, hospital workers — and came to a different conclusion. The federal police had summarily executed unarmed suspects, including some as they surrendered on their knees with their arms in the air, she said her reporting showed.

After days of editing and fact-checking, she said the story was ready to run. Only it didn’t.

Ms. Castellanos and her editors were not surprised. Mr. Peña Nieto was already under heavy public pressure for his handling of the disappearance of 43 college students, as well as his wife’s purchase of a multimillion-dollar home from a major government contractor.

But after two and a half months — during which time one of her sources was tortured and killed, she said — Ms. Castellanos worried her story would never run.

Working with lawyers, she said she discovered a loophole in her contract — one that allowed her to publish the material elsewhere.

One of the few publications willing to take the story was a new website founded by Carmen Aristegui, another award-winning reporter, who had lost her radio station job after breaking the story about the president’s wife.

But the morning the Michoacán story was scheduled to publish, under the headline “It Was the Feds,” Ms. Aristegui’s website went dark.

Eventually, they figured out what happened: The website had been hacked.

The two eventually published the story, but the case again raised questions about independence in a country awash in government advertising.

Neither the killings, nor the hacking, have been fully resolved. El Universal said it had not published Ms. Castellanos’s story because it did not meet the newspaper’s standards.

The next year, Ms. Castellano’s article was awarded Mexico’s most coveted journalistic prize: the national award for investigative reporting.

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FBI searches for evidence of Russia’s meddling in US election in liquidated Cyprian bank

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American intelligence has requested information about the bank FBME. According to the documents of the Cyprus Central Bank, about half of its clients were Russians.

The FBI requested data on the previously closed FBME bank, which the US Treasury had previously accused of money laundering, from the Cypriot authorities. Intelligence suspects the bank of servicing influential customers from Russia, according to The Guardian, citing its sources.

The Guardian‘s interlocutors suggest that the inquiry may be related to the investigation into a matter of possible interference of Russia in the election of the US President in 2016. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller subordinates this case. Previously, the US Central Bank requested information on FBME from the Central Bank of Cyprus.

In the documents of the Central Bank of the republic, which were at the disposal of the newspaper, it appears that about half of FBME clients were Russians. In particular, these are member of the Federation Council of Russia Alexander Shishkin and businessman Vladimir Smirnov. It was also reported that the bank housed 23 accounts of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

FBME bank was liquidated in 2017. A year earlier, it was under Washington’s sanctions, and in 2014 the US Treasury had accused the organization of money laundering.

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Couple killed after warning daughter of boyfriend’s suspected neo …

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Buckley Kuhn-Fricker recently discovered private tweets on her daughter’s phone that concerned her. The tweets, which she believed were connected to the boyfriend, included one that responded to a photo of a candy shop featuring a Jewish dreidel with the comment “ima run in there with my swastika …
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Parents Killed After Warning Daughter About Boyfriend’s Racist …

New York Times9 hours ago
A husband and wife were shot dead in their Virginia home three days before Christmas by a 17-year-old boy they had warned their daughter not to date because of his racist views, according to officials and news accounts. The teenager shot Scott Fricker, 48, and his wife, Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, 43, around 5 …
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5 people died in small plane crash in Bartow, fog investigated as a …

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BARTOW, Fla. – The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk County Fire Rescue investigators are on the scene of a fatal, twin-engine plane crash at the Bartow Airbase. The crash occurred at the end of a runway near Ben Durrance Road in Bartow in heavy fog, a Polk County sheriff’s release said. Irving Smith …
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Homeland Security says chain migration let terrorism-related suspects into U.S.

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A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that two recent terror suspects made their way into the U.S. via chain migration.  (Reuters)

The Department of Homeland Security said chain migration is the common element in two cases allegedly tied to terrorism activities, according to a statement released Saturday.

In the statement on Twitter, Acting Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said DHS “can confirm the suspect involved in a terror attack in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and another suspect arrested on terror-related money laundering charges were both beneficiaries of extended family chain migration.”

Chain migration is when an immigrant gains legal entry into the U.S. via sponsorship by a family member who’s already a legal resident or citizen. The Trump administration launched a campaign against the immigration system, in favor of a more merit-based structure, favoring education and job potential as factors.

WHITE HOUSE TO PUSH MERIT-BASED IMMIGRATION IN NEW CAMPAIGN

The memo referred to Ahmed Aminamin El-Mofty, 51, who it said was a naturalized U.S. citizen admitted to the U.S. from Egypt on a family-based visa. El-Mofty went on a shooting spree Friday in Harrisburg and was reportedly targeting police officers.

The gunman, carrying two rifles and a shotgun, fired at officers in multiple locations.

“He fired several shots at a Capitol police officer and at a Pennsylvania state police trooper in marked vehicles,” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said. The state trooper was injured but is “doing well,” he said.

El-Mofty pursued the trooper to a residential neighborhood and encountered law enforcement officers, who ultimately killed him after he fired “many shots” at them.

The statement also mentioned Zoobia Shahnaz, who DHS said was a naturalized U.S. citizen who entered from Pakistan, also on a family-based visa. Shahnaz was indicted on Dec. 14 after she allegedly laundered more than $85,000 through Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies overseas to the Islamic State.

END CHAIN MIGRATION, AS TRUMP WANTS, AND SWITCH TO MERIT-BASED IMMIGRATION

Acquiring the money through fraudulently obtained credit cards and a bank loan, Shahnaz laundered the funds to people in Pakistan, China and Turkey and “planned to travel to Syria and join ISIS,” federal officials said.

Shahnaz was charged in federal court with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In the DHS statement Saturday, Houlton said, “These incidents highlight the Trump administration’s concerns with extended chain migration.”

“Both chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program have been exploited by terrorists to attack our country,” Houlton said. “Not only are the programs less effective at driving economic growth than merit-based immigration systems used by nearly all other countries, the programs make it more difficult to keep dangerous people out of the United States and to protect the safety of every American.”

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‘Anyone can be attacked for partisan gain’: Comey issues rare statement in defense of top FBI lawyer – Business Insider

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‘Anyone can be attacked for partisan gain’: Comey issues rare statement in defense of top FBI lawyer
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“James Baker, who is stepping down as FBI General Counsel, served our country incredibly well for 25 years & deserves better. He is what we should all want our public servants to be.” Since making his Twitter presence publicly known in recent months 

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The problem, of course, is that the FBI’s mission and the tools it uses to accomplish it often collide with the privacy protections guaranteed to Americans by the Fourth Amendment. We know, for instance, that the FBI has engaged in questionable, if not 

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A few years ago, not long after Jeanine Pirro paid a visit to Donald J. Trump at his Trump Tower office, a box arrived at her home in Rye, N.Y.. Inside was a gift: a selection of shoes from the latest Ivanka Trump footwear collection. Ms. Pirro, the 

Trump-Russia Steele Dossier: FBIs Insurance Policy for Clinton Campaign?

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The FBI’s deputy director Andrew McCabe testified Tuesday at a marathon seven-hour closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. According to the now-infamous text message sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok to his paramour, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, it was in McCabe’s office that top FBI counterintelligence officials discussed what they saw as the frightening possibility of a Trump presidency.

That was during the stretch run of the 2016 campaign, no more than a couple of weeks after they started receiving the Steele dossier — the Clinton campaign’s opposition-research reports, written by former British spy Christopher Steele, about Trump’s purportedly conspiratorial relationship with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia.

Was it the Steele dossier that so frightened the FBI?

I think so.

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There is a great deal of information to follow. But let’s cut to the chase: The Obama-era FBI and Justice Department had great faith in Steele because he had previously collaborated with the bureau on a big case. Plus, Steele was working on the Trump-Russia project with the wife of a top Obama Justice Department official, who was personally briefed by Steele. The upper ranks of the FBI and DOJ strongly preferred Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, to the point of overlooking significant evidence of her felony misconduct, even as they turned up the heat on Trump. In sum, the FBI and DOJ were predisposed to believe the allegations in Steele’s dossier. Because of their confidence in Steele, because they were predisposed to believe his scandalous claims about Donald Trump, they made grossly inadequate efforts to verify his claims. Contrary to what I hoped would be the case, I’ve come to believe Steele’s claims were used to obtain FISA surveillance authority for an investigation of Trump.

There were layers of insulation between the Clinton campaign and Steele — the campaign and the Democratic party retained a law firm, which contracted with Fusion GPS, which in turn hired the former spy. At some point, though, perhaps early on, the FBI and DOJ learned that the dossier was actually a partisan opposition-research product. By then, they were dug in. No one, after all, would be any the wiser: Hillary would coast to victory, so Democrats would continue running the government; FISA materials are highly classified, so they’d be kept under wraps. Just as it had been with the Obama-era’s Fast and Furious and IRS scandals, any malfeasance would remain hidden.

The best laid schemes . . . gang aft agley.

Why It Matters
Strzok’s text about the meeting in McCabe’s office is dated August 16, 2016. As we’ll see, the date is important. According to Agent Strzok, with Election Day less than three months away, Page, the bureau lawyer, weighed in on Trump’s bid: “There’s no way he gets elected.” Strzok, however, believed that even if a Trump victory was the longest of long shots, the FBI “can’t take that risk.” He insisted that the bureau had no choice but to proceed with a plan to undermine Trump’s candidacy: “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that, “according to people familiar with his account,” Strzok meant that it was imperative that the FBI “aggressively investigate allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.” In laughable strawman fashion, the “people familiar with his account” assure the Journal that Strzok “didn’t intend to suggest a secret plan to harm the candidate.” Of course, no sensible person suspects that the FBI was plotting Trump’s assassination; the suspicion is that, motivated by partisanship and spurred by shoddy information that it failed to verify, the FBI exploited its counterintelligence powers in hopes of derailing Trump’s presidential run.

But what were these “allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia” that the FBI decided to “aggressively investigate”? The Journal doesn’t say. Were they the allegations in the Steele dossier? That is a question I asked in last weekend’s column. It is a question that was pressed by Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) and Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee at Tuesday’s sealed hearing. As I explained in the column, the question is critical for three reasons:

(1) The Steele dossier was a Clinton campaign product. If it was used by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department to obtain a FISA warrant, that would mean law-enforcement agencies controlled by a Democratic president fed the FISA court political campaign material produced by the Democratic candidate whom the president had endorsed to succeed him. Partisan claims of egregious scheming with an adversarial foreign power would have been presented to the court with the FBI’s imprimatur, as if they were drawn from refined U.S. intelligence reporting. The objective would have been to spy on the opposition Republican campaign.

(2) In June of this year, former FBI director James Comey testified that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.” While still director, Comey had described the dossier the same way when he briefed President-elect Trump on it in January 2017. If the dossier was still unverified as late as mid 2017, its allegations could not possibly have been verified months earlier, in the late summer or early autumn of 2016, when it appears that the FBI and DOJ used them in an application to the FISA court.

(3) The dossier appears to contain misinformation. Knowing he was a spy-for-hire trusted by Americans, Steele’s Russian-regime sources had reason to believe that misinformation could be passed into the stream of U.S. intelligence and that it would be acted on — and leaked — as if it were true, to America’s detriment. This would sow discord in our political system. If the FBI and DOJ relied on the dossier, it likely means they were played by the Putin regime.

How Could Something Like This Happen?
We do not have public confirmation that the dossier was, in fact, used by the bureau and the Justice Department to obtain the FISA warrant. Publicly, FBI and DOJ officials have thwarted the Congress with twaddle about protecting both intelligence sources and an internal inspector-general probe. Of course, Congress, which established and funds the DOJ and FBI, has the necessary security clearances to review classified information, has jurisdiction over the secret FISA court, and has independent constitutional authority to examine the activities of legislatively created executive agencies.

It appears that the FBI corroborated few of Steele’s claims, and at an absurdly high level of generality.


In any event, important reporting by Fox News’ James Rosen regarding Tuesday’s hearing indicates that the FBI did, in fact, credit the contents of the dossier. It appears, however, that the bureau corroborated few of Steele’s claims, and at an absurdly high level of generality — along the lines of: You tell me person A went to place X and committed a crime; I corroborate only that A went to X and blithely assume that because you were right about the travel, you must be right about the crime.

Here, the FBI was able to verify Steele’s claim that Carter Page, a very loosely connected Trump-campaign adviser, had gone to Russia. This was not exactly meticulous gumshoe corroboration: Page told many people he was going to Russia, saw many people while there, and gave a speech at a prominent Moscow venue. Having verified only the travel information, the FBI appears to have credited the claims of Steele’s anonymous Russian sources that Page carried out nigh-treasonous activities while in Russia.

How could something like this happen? Well, the FBI and DOJ liked and trusted Steele, for what seem to be good reasons. As the Washington Post has reported, the former MI-6 agent’s private intelligence firm, Orbis, was retained by England’s main soccer federation to investigate corruption at FIFA, the international soccer organization that had snubbed British bids to host the World Cup. In 2010, Steele delivered key information to the FBI’s organized-crime liaison in Europe. This helped the bureau build the Obama Justice Department’s most celebrated racketeering prosecution: the indictment of numerous FIFA officials and other corporate executives. Announcing the first wave of charges in May 2015, Attorney General Loretta Lynch made a point of thanking the investigators’ “international partners” for their “outstanding assistance.”

At the time, Bruce Ohr was the Obama Justice Department’s point man for “Transnational Organized Crime and International Affairs,” having been DOJ’s long-serving chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. He also wore a second, top-echelon DOJ hat: associate deputy attorney general. That made him a key adviser to the deputy attorney general, Sally Yates (who later, as acting attorney general, was fired for insubordinately refusing to enforce President Trump’s so-called travel ban). In the chain of command, the FBI reports to the DAG’s office.

To do the Trump-Russia research, Steele had been retained by the research firm Fusion GPS (which, to repeat, had been hired by lawyers for the Clinton campaign and the DNC). Fusion GPS was run by its founder, former Wall Street Journal investigative journalist Glenn Simpson. Bruce Ohr’s wife, Nellie, a Russia scholar, worked for Simpson at Fusion. The Ohrs and Simpson appear to be longtime acquaintances, dating back to when Simpson was a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. In 2010, all three participated in a two-day conference on international organized crime, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (see conference schedule and participant list, pp. 27–30). In connection with the Clinton campaign’s Trump-Russia project, Fusion’s Nellie Ohr collaborated with Steele and Simpson, and DOJ’s Bruce Ohr met personally with Steele and Simpson.

The Department of Justice and FBI were favorably disposed toward Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS.


Manifestly, the DOJ and FBI were favorably disposed toward Steele and Fusion GPS. I suspect that these good, productive prior relationships with the dossier’s source led the investigators to be less exacting about corroborating the dossier’s claims.

But that is just the beginning of the bias story.

At a high level, the DOJ and FBI were in the tank for Hillary Clinton. In July 2016, shortly before Steele’s reports started floating in, the FBI and DOJ announced that no charges would be brought against Mrs. Clinton despite damning evidence that she mishandled classified information, destroyed government files, obstructed congressional investigations, and lied to investigators. The irregularities in the Clinton-emails investigation are legion: President Obama making it clear in public statements that he did not want Clinton charged; the FBI, shortly afterwards, drafting an exoneration of Clinton months before the investigation ended and central witnesses, including Clinton herself, were interviewed; investigators failing to use the grand jury to compel the production of key evidence; the DOJ restricting FBI agents in their lines of inquiry and examination of evidence; the granting of immunity to suspects who in any other case would be pressured to plead guilty and cooperate against more-culpable suspects; the distorting of criminal statutes to avoid applying them to Clinton; the sulfurous tarmac meeting between Attorney General Lynch and former President Clinton shortly before Mrs. Clinton was given a peremptory interview — right before then–FBI director Comey announced that she would not be charged.

The blatant preference for Clinton over Trump smacked of politics and self-interest. Deputy FBI director McCabe’s wife had run for the Virginia state legislature as a Democrat, and her (unsuccessful) campaign was lavishly funded by groups tied to Clinton insider Terry McAuliffe. Agent Strzok told FBI lawyer Page that Trump was an “idiot” and that “Hillary should win 100 million to 0.” Page agreed that Trump was “a loathsome human.” A Clinton win would likely mean Lynch — originally raised to prominence when President Bill Clinton appointed her to a coveted U.S. attorney slot — would remain attorney general. Yates would be waiting in the wings.

The prior relationships of trust with the source; the investment in Clinton; the certitude that Clinton would win and deserved to win, signified by the mulish determination that she not be charged in the emails investigation; the sheer contempt for Trump. This concatenation led the FBI and DOJ to believe Steele — to want to believe his melodramatic account of Trump-Russia corruption. For the faithful, it was a story too good to check.

The DOJ and FBI, having dropped a criminal investigation that undeniably established Hillary Clinton’s national-security recklessness, managed simultaneously to convince themselves that Donald Trump was too much of a national-security risk to be president.

The Timeline
As I noted in last weekend’s column, reports are that the FBI and DOJ obtained a FISA warrant targeting Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page). For a time, Page was tangentially tied to the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser — he barely knew Trump. The warrant was reportedly obtained after the Trump campaign and Page had largely severed ties in early August 2016. We do not know exactly when the FISA warrant was granted, but the New York Times and the Washington Post have reported, citing U.S. government sources, that this occurred in September 2016 (see herehere, and here). Further, the DOJ and FBI reportedly persuaded the FISA court to extend the surveillance after the first warrant’s 90-day period lapsed — meaning the spying continued into Trump’s presidency.

The FBI and DOJ would have submitted the FISA application to the court shortly before the warrant was issued. In the days-to-weeks prior to petitioning the court, the FISA application would have been subjected to internal review at the FBI — raising the possibility that FBI lawyer Page was in the loop reviewing the investigative work of Agent Strzok, with whom she was having an extramarital affair. There would also have been review at the Justice Department — federal law requires that the attorney general approve every application to the FISA court.

Presumably, these internal reviews would have occurred in mid-to-late August — around the time of the meeting in McCabe’s office referred to in Strzok’s text. Thus, we need to understand the relevant events before and after mid-to-late August. Here is a timeline.

June 2016
In June 2016, Steele began to generate the reports that collectively are known as the “dossier.”

In the initial report, dated June 20, 2016, Steele alleged that Putin’s regime had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.” (Steele’s reports conform to the FBI and intelligence-agency reporting practice of rendering names of interest in capital letters.) The Kremlin was said to have significant blackmail material that could be used against Trump.

In mid-to-late June 2016, according to Politico, Carter Page asked J. D. Gordon, his supervisor on the Trump campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to go on a trip to Russia in early July. Gordon advised against it. Page then sent an email to Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager until June 20, and Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign spokeswoman, seeking permission to go on the trip. Word came back to Page by email that he could go, but only in his private capacity, not as a representative of the Trump campaign. Lewandowski says he has never met Carter Page.

July 2016
Page, a top-of-the-class graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with various other academic distinctions, traveled to Moscow for a three-day trip, the centerpiece of which was a July 7 commencement address at the New Economic School (the same institution at which President Obama gave a commencement address on July 7, 2009). The New York Times has reported, based on leaks from “current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials,” that Page’s July trip to Moscow “was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump’s campaign.” The Times does not say what information the FBI had received that made the Moscow trip such a “catalyst.”

At a meeting in deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe’s office, it was discussed that the bureau needed something akin to an “insurance policy” even though Trump’s election was thought highly unlikely.


Was it the Steele dossier?

Well, on July 19, Steele reported that, while in Moscow, Page had held secret meetings with two top Putin confederates, Igor Sechin and Ivan Diveykin. Steele claimed to have been informed by “a Russian source close to” Sechin, the president of Russia’s energy conglomerate Rosneft, that Sechin had floated to Page the possibility of “US-Russia energy co-operation” in exchange for the “lifting of western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.” Page was said to have reacted “positively” but in a manner that was “non-committal.”

Another source, apparently Russian, told Steele that “an official close to” Putin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov had confided to “a compatriot” that Igor Diveykin (of the “Internal Political Department” of Putin’s Presidential Administration) had also met with Page in Moscow. (Note the dizzying multiple-hearsay basis of this information.) Diveykin is said to have told Page that the regime had “a dossier of ‘kompromat’” — compromising information — on Hillary Clinton that it would consider releasing to Trump’s “campaign team.” Diveykin further “hinted (or indicated more strongly) that the Russian leadership also had ‘kompromat’ on TRUMP which the latter should bear in mind in his dealings with them.”

The hacked DNC emails were first released on July 22, shortly before the Democratic National Convention, which ran from July 25 through 28.

In “late July 2016,” Steele claimed to have been told by an “ethnic Russian close associate of . . . TRUMP” that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between “them” (apparently meaning Trump’s inner circle) and “the Russian leadership.” The conspiracy was said to be “managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy adviser, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.”

The same source claimed that the Russian regime had been behind the leak of DNC emails “to the WikiLeaks platform,” an operation the source maintained “had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team.” As a quid pro quo, “the TRUMP team” was said to have agreed (a) “to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue,” and (b) to raise the failure of NATO nations to meet their defense commitments as a distraction from Russia aggression in Ukraine, “a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject.”

Late July to Early August 2016
The Washington Post has reported that Steele’s reports were first transmitted “by an intermediary” to the FBI and other U.S. intelligence officials after the Democratic National Convention (which, to repeat, ended on July 28). The intermediary is not identified. We do not know if it was Fusion, though that seems likely given that Fusion shared its work with government and non-government entities. Steele himself is also said to have contacted “a friend in the FBI” about his research after the Democratic convention. As we’ve seen, Steele made bureau friends during the FIFA investigation.

August 2016
On August 11, as recounted in the aforementioned Wall Street Journal report, FBI agent Strzok texted the following message to FBI lawyer Page: “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE SERIOUSLY LOOKING AT THESE ALLEGATIONS AND THE PERVASIVE CONNECTIONS.” The Journal does not elaborate on what “allegations” Strzok was referring to, or the source of those allegations.

On August 15, Strzok texted Page about the meeting in deputy FBI director McCabe’s office at which it was discussed that the bureau “can’t take that risk” of a Trump presidency and needed something akin to an “insurance policy” even though Trump’s election was thought highly unlikely.

September 2016
Reporting indicates that sometime in September 2016, the DOJ and FBI applied to the FISA court for a warrant to surveil Carter Page, and that the warrant was granted.

Interestingly, on September 23, 2016, Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff reported on leaks he had received that the U.S. government was conducting an intelligence investigation to determine whether Carter Page, as a Trump adviser, had opened up a private communications channel with such “senior Russian officials” as Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin to discuss lifting economic sanctions if Trump became president.

It is now known that Isikoff’s main source for the story was Fusion’s Glenn Simpson. Isikoff’s report is rife with allegations found in the dossier, although the dossier is not referred to as such; it is described as “intelligence reports” that “U.S. officials” were actively investigating — i.e., Steele’s reports were described in a way that would lead readers to assume they were official U.S. intelligence reports. But there clearly was official American government involvement: Isikoff’s story asserts that U.S. officials were briefing members of Congress about these allegations that Page was meeting with Kremlin officials on Trump’s behalf. The story elaborated that “questions about Page come amid mounting concerns within the U.S. intelligence community about Russian cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee.” Those would be the cyberattacks alleged — in the dossier on which Congress was being briefed — to be the result of a Trump-Russia conspiracy in which Page was complicit.

Isikoff obviously checked with his government sources to verify what Simpson had told him about the ongoing investigation that was based on these “intelligence reports.” His story recounts that “a senior U.S. law enforcement official” confirmed that Page’s alleged contacts with Russian officials were “on our radar screen. . . . It’s being looked at.”

Final Points to Consider
After his naval career, Page worked in investing, including several years at Merrill Lynch in Moscow. As my column last weekend detailed, he has been an apologist for the Russian regime, championing appeasement for the sake of better U.S.–Russia relations. Page has acknowledged that, during his brief trip to Moscow in July 2016, he ran into some Russian government officials, among many old Russian friends and acquaintances. Yet he vehemently denies meeting with Sechin and Diveykin. (While Sechin’s name is well known to investors in the Russian energy sector, Page says that he has never met him and that he had never even heard Diveykin’s name until the Steele dossier was publicized in early 2017.) Furthermore, Page denies even knowing Paul Manafort, much less being used by Manafort as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and Russia. Page has filed a federal defamation lawsuitagainst the press outlets that published the dossier, has denied the dossier allegations in FBI interviews, and has reportedly testified before the grand jury in Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation.

Even though the FISA warrant targeting Page is classified and the FBI and DOJ have resisted informing Congress about it, some of its contents were illegally and selectively leaked to the Washington Post in April 2017 by sources described as “law enforcement and other U.S. officials.” According to the Post:

The government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.

Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, officials said. Those contacts had earlier surfaced in a federal espionage case brought by the Justice Department against the intelligence operative and two other Russian agents. In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.

I’ve emphasized that last portion because it strongly implies that the FISA application included information from the Steele dossier. That is, when the Post speaks of Page’s purported “other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed,” this is very likely a reference to the meetings with Sechin and Diveykin that Page denies having had — the meetings described in the dossier. Do not be confused by the fact that, by the time of this Post report, the Steele-dossier allegations had already been disclosed to the public by BuzzFeed (in January 2017). The Post story is talking about what the DOJ and FBI put in the FISA application back in September 2016. At that time, the meetings alleged in the dossier had not been publicly disclosed.

Two final points.

First: The FISA application’s reliance on 2013 events as a basis for suspicion in 2016 that Page was a foreign agent of Russia is curious. The 2013 investigation involved Russian intelligence operatives who were trying to recruit business people, such as Page, as sources — i.e., Page was being approached by Russia, not acting on Russia’s behalf. In the 2013 investigation, Page met with a Russian agent, whom he apparently did not realize was an agent. They met at an energy symposium in New York and Page did networking-type things: exchanging contact information and providing his jejune assessment of the energy sector’s prospects. The Russian agent described Page as an “idiot” in a recorded conversation. According to Page, he cooperated with the FBI and helped prosecutors in the case against one of the suspects — claims that the government could easily disprove if he is lying.

Second: In reporting on the FISA warrant that targeted Page, the Washington Post asserted that “an application for electronic surveillance under [FISA] need not show evidence of a crime.” That is not accurate.

Under federal surveillance law (sec. 1801 of Title 50, U.S. Code), the probable-cause showing the government must make to prove that a person is an agent of a foreign power is different for Americans than for aliens. If the alleged agent is an alien, section 1801(b)(1) applies, and this means that no crime need be established; the government need only show that the target is acting on behalf of a foreign power in the sense of abetting its clandestine anti-American activities.

By contrast, if the alleged agent is an American citizen, such as Page, section 1801(b)(2) applies: The government must show not only that the person is engaged in clandestine activities on behalf of a foreign power but also that these activities (1) “involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States”; (2) involve the preparation for or commission of sabotage or international terrorism; (3) involve using a false identity to enter or operate in the United States on behalf of a foreign power; or (4) involve conspiring with or aiding and abetting another person in the commission of these criminal activities.All of these involve evidence of a crime.

The only known suspicions about Page that have potential criminal implications are the allegations in the dossier, which potentially include hacking, bribery, fraud, and racketeering — if Russia were formally considered an enemy of the United States, they would include treason.

The FBI always has information we do not know about. But given that Page has not been accused of a crime, and that the DOJ and FBI would have to have alleged some potential criminal activity to justify a FISA warrant targeting the former U.S. naval intelligence officer, it certainly seems likely that the Steele dossier was the source of this allegation.

In conclusion, while there is a dearth of evidence to date that the Trump campaign colluded in Russia’s cyberespionage attack on the 2016 election, there is abundant evidence that the Obama administration colluded with the Clinton campaign to use the Steele dossier as a vehicle for court-authorized monitoring of the Trump campaign — and to fuel a pre-election media narrative that U.S. intelligence agencies believed Trump was scheming with Russia to lift sanctions if he were elected president. Congress should continue pressing for answers, and President Trump should order the Justice Department and FBI to cooperate rather than — what’s the word? — resist.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.


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