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PA ARRESTS FIVE JOURNALISTS FOR “LEAKING” SENSITIVE INFORMATION

 

Five Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority security forces in what a human rights monitoring group has termed a “serious blow to freedom of opinion and expression.”

All five were arrested at or near their homes on Tuesday night by the General Intelligence Service, according to Shireen al-Khatib, monitoring and documentation associate at the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (Mada).

A senior security source quoted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said four journalists were being held on suspicion of “leaking sensitive information to hostile authorities.” The source said an investigation was under way.

Khatib identified the journalists as Tariq Abu Zayd and Ahmad Halaika of Al-Aksa television, a Hamas-run station, Qutaiba Kasem who writes for the Asdaa website, Mamdouh Hamamreh of the pro-Hamas al-Quds television and Amer Abu Arafa of the Shehab news agency. The Wafa report mentioned all the journalists except for Halaika.

Abu Arafa was arrested after his home was searched and his computer and mobile phone seized, Khatib said.

A West Bank journalist who requested anonymity said “this is not the first time journalists are being arrested but it is the first time five are arrested in one night.”

In the view of the journalist who spoke with The Jerusalem Post the arrests might be aimed at pressuring Hamas to release Fouad Jaradah, a reporter for the PA’s Palestine TV, who was arrested in Gaza on June 8 and was later accused of collaborating with the authority.

“Journalists are paying the price of the Fatah- Hamas conflict,” the West Bank journalist said.

Of the accusation that the five journalists arrested on Tuesday had leaked sensitive information, he said: “No one believes that.”

The Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights, which monitors rights abuses in the PA, demanded the immediate release of the journalists and called on the authority to “stop the persecution of journalists for their journalistic work.” It termed the arrests a “serious blow to freedom of opinion and expression.”

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights termed the arrests a “dangerous development.”

In a statement it criticized both the PA and the Hamas government.

“PCHR follows up with concern the measures taken by the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and warns of the arbitrary use of legal texts or fabricating charges to beat their political rivals. This results in serious consequences on the legal system, rights and freedoms in general.

“PCHR calls for releasing the six journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the validity of the charges against them will be proven in accordance with proper and transparent procedures.”

The human rights group al-Haq, which is also based in Ramallah, said the arrests “come in the wake of a dangerous regression in the condition of rights and liberties in the West Bank and Gaza, especially freedom of opinion and expression and journalistic work.” It said that authorities had blocked journalists from covering peaceful gatherings.

PA government spokesman Yusuf Mahmoud said he could not comment on the arrests since they were under the purview of the security apparatus. But he took issue with the criticism that the PA was harming freedom of expression.

“The authority in all manners respects freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” he said. “This is guaranteed in the agreements signed by the national authority and in the law.

The authority adheres to the freedom of journalists and citizens and greatly respects that.”

In June, the PA blocked access to 11 websites that back Hamas or Muhammad Dahlan, a bitter rival of President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Trump’s Son Met With Russian Lawyer After Being Promised Damaging Information on Clinton

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and the Russians, the episode at Trump Tower is the first such confirmed private meeting involving his inner circle during the campaign — as well as the first one known to have included his eldest son. It came at an inflection point in the campaign, when Donald Trump Jr., who served as an adviser and a surrogate, was ascendant and Mr. Manafort was consolidating power.

It is unclear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton. But the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.

When he was first asked about the meeting on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said that it was primarily about adoptions and mentioned nothing about Mrs. Clinton.

President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the meeting last year at Trump Tower.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

But on Sunday, presented with The Times’s findings, he offered a new account. In a statement, he said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which his father took to Moscow. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.

“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

Two people briefed on the meeting said the intermediary was Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the president of a company called Oui 2 Entertainment who has worked with the Miss Universe pageant. He did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, said on Sunday that “the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

Lawyers for Mr. Kushner referred to their statement a day earlier, confirming that he voluntarily disclosed the meeting but referring questions about it to Donald Trump Jr. Mr. Manafort declined to comment. In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said he asked Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner to attend, but did not tell them what the meeting was about.

Political campaigns collect opposition research from many quarters but rarely from sources linked to foreign governments.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Donald J. Trump, in part by stealing and then providing to WikiLeaks internal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails that were embarrassing to Mrs. Clinton. WikiLeaks began releasing the material on July 22.

Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 in Cleveland. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

A special prosecutor and congressional committees are now investigating the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians. Mr. Trump has disputed that, but the investigation has cast a shadow over his administration.

Mr. Trump has also equivocated on whether the Russians were solely responsible for the hacking. On Sunday, two days after his first meeting as president with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion……”

On Sunday morning on Fox News, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, described the Trump Tower meeting as a “big nothing burger.”

“Talking about issues of foreign policy, issues related to our place in the world, issues important to the American people is not unusual,” he said.

But Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, one of the panels investigating Russian election interference, said he wanted to question “everyone that was at that meeting.”

“There’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or with Mr. Kushner or the president’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” Mr. Schiff said after the initial Times report.

Ms. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act.

The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the act. Ms. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit the man after whom it was named, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in 2009 in mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr. Putin’s rule.

Ms. Veselnitskaya’s clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official.

Ms. Veselnitskaya said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed at the Trump Tower meeting. She recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr. Kushner or Mr. Manafort left the room.

She said she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

The Trump Tower meeting was disclosed to government officials in recent weeks, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a confidential form required to obtain a security clearance.

The Times reported in April that he had not disclosed any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the head of a Russian state bank. Failure to report such contacts can result in a loss of access to classified information and even, if information is knowingly falsified or concealed, in imprisonment.

Mr. Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error, and that he had immediately notified the F.B.I. that he would be revising the filing.

Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events. Neither Mr. Manafort nor Mr. Kushner was required to disclose the content of the meeting.

Since the president took office, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric have assumed day-to-day control of their father’s real estate empire. Because he does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, Donald Trump Jr. was not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts.

But in an interview with The Times in March, he denied participating in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals. “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way.”

In addition to her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, Ms. Veselnitskaya represents powerful players in Russia. Among her clients is Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of Prevezon Holdings, an investment company based in Cyprus. He is the son of Petr Katsyv, the vice president of the state-owned Russian Railways and a former deputy governor of the Moscow region. In a civil forfeiture case in New York, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon had helped launder money linked to the $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Mr. Magnitsky by putting it in real estate and bank accounts. Prevezon recently settled the case for $6 million without admitting wrongdoing.

Ms. Veselnitskaya and her client also hired a team of political and legal operatives in the United States. The team included Rinat Akhmetshin, an émigré to the United States who once served as a Soviet military officer and who has been called a Russian political gun for hire. Fusion GPS, a consulting firm that produced an intelligence dossier that contained unverified allegations about Mr. Trump, was also hired to do research for Prevezon.

The F.B.I. began a counterintelligence investigation last year into Russian contacts with any Trump associates. Agents focused on Mr. Manafort and a pair of advisers, Carter Page and Roger J. Stone Jr.

Among those now under investigation is Michael T. Flynn, who was forced to resign as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser after it became known that he had falsely denied speaking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over the election hacking.

Congress later learned that Mr. Flynn had been paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia, and that he had failed to disclose those payments when he renewed his security clearance and underwent an additional background check to join the White House staff.

In May, the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who days later provided information about a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. According to Mr. Comey, the president asked him to end the bureau’s investigation into Mr. Flynn; Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied making such a request. Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, was then appointed as special counsel.

The status of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not clear, but he has assembled a veteran team of prosecutors and agents to dig into any possible collusion.

Putin Interview: Did Russia Interfere in the Election, Collect Info on Trump?

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/putin-interview-did-russia-interfere-election-collect-info-trump-n768126?cid=eml_nnn_20170605

 

Did the Russian government interfere in the U.S. election? Did Russian President Vladimir Putin collect damaging information on President Donald Trump?

Putin provided his perspective in the exclusive inaugural episode of “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” after NBC News’ Megyn Kelly posed both of those questions to the Russian president.

Kelly met Putin in St. Petersburg, the Russian president’s hometown and his nation’s onetime capital, after sharing a contentious discussion about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 election at the St. Petersburg World International Economic Forum. Putin, a former KGB agent, has been painted as the puppet master behind the challenge on November’s voting.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin ordered the disruption of the election. During the interview, Putin tried to dismiss the evidence by claiming that the United States has a history of meddling in foreign elections.

“Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world, and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal electoral processes,” he said.

Kelly pushed back at the assertion, saying it sounded like Putin’s attempt to justify his government’s attempts to influence elections.

Putin demurred.

Related: Vladimir Putin Tells Megyn Kelly: U.S. Hacker Could Have Framed Russia

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” he said. “But, I repeat, we don’t even have to do that. Presidents come and go, and even the parties in power change, but the main political direction does not change.”

Putin claimed that Russia has a preference in an election but only reacts to the “political direction” that the United States seems to be heading in.

“It wouldn’t make sense for us to interfere,” he said.

The conversation later turned to a pre-campaign dossier that was purportedly collected on Trump.

Asked whether “you have something damaging on our president?” Putin — who once worked as a KGB recruiter — replied: “Well, this is just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from?”

“Why, did we have some special relationship with him?” Putin asked. “We didn’t have any relationship at all. There was a time when he used to come to Moscow. But you know, I never met with him. We have a lot of Americans who visit us.”

The well-known spin master then attempted to turn the tables.

“Right now, I think we have representatives from a hundred American companies that have come to Russia,” Putin said. “Do you think we’re gathering compromising information on all of them right now or something? Have you all lost your senses over there?”

Related: Vladimir Putin on Dinner With Michael Flynn: ‘I Didn’t Even Really Talk to Him’

Kelly concluded by asking Putin about and the Russian Federation’s recent history of corruption, repression and silencing of dissidents. He dismissed the allegations and again told the United States to avoid moralizing.

“Why do you feel you have the right to ask us these kinds of questions? And do it all the time? To moralize and to give us lessons on how to live?” he said. “We’re ready to listen to comments when it is done constructively, with the goal of establishing a relationship, creating a common environment. But we will absolutely not accept when these sorts of things are used as an instrument of political conflict.”

Jewish group gets information on mass graves with appeal on radio station accused of anti-Semitism

(JTA) — A Jewish group’s appeal led hundreds of radio listeners to provide information about mass graves and burial sites of Jews to a Catholic radio station that has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism.

Some 300 calls have been received by the call center at Poland’s Radio Maryja with information about sites of mass executions of Jews, stolen tombstones and unknown hiding places of Jews during the Holocaust, according to the From the Depths group, which made the appeal for information last week and again Wednesday on Radio Maryja.

The hosting at Radio Maryja’s studios of Jonny Daniels, the London-born Israeli Jew who founded the From the Depths group in 2013, follows a controversy over a visit last year by the station’s director, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, to the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw.

Rydzyk spoke there with Ambassador Anna Azari in a meeting that liberal watchdog groups said was inappropriate in light of accusations that Radio Maryja and Rydzyk personally promote anti-Semitic hate speech.

According to a U.S. State Department report from 2008, “Radio Maryja is one of Europe’s most blatantly anti-Semitic media venues.” A Council of Europe report stated that Radio Maryja has been “openly inciting to anti-Semitism for several years.”

In July 2007, Rydzyk was recorded making “a number of anti-Semitic slurs,” the report also stated. Rydzyk said Jews were pushing the Polish government to pay exorbitant private property restitution claims, and that Poland’s president was “in the pocket of the Jewish lobby,” according to the report.

Daniels disagrees with individuals and groups that believe this background should preclude cooperation by Jewish groups with Radio Maryja.

“More often than not this so-called Polish anti-Semitism is based on a lack of knowledge and openness,” Daniels said.

He was interviewed on Radio Maryja, which has millions of listeners, for the first at the end of 2016. Daniels’ group has received some 200 emails and phone calls with information on execution and burial sites, which the group attempts to preserve.

In a statement, Rydzyk claimed the airing of content that is deemed anti-Semitic by his radio station represents its commitment to free speech.

“After 50 years of communism, our radio is the only live radio in Poland where whoever wants can call and be put on air, every opinion is welcome. This creates an honesty and openness,” he said. “Sometimes there are controversial opinions, but we still let people talk.”

Israeli intelligence source: We must reassess what info we share with US – report

Israeli intelligence is reassessing what information they choose to share with the country’s “greatest ally,” the United States, according to a Wednesday report in the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

“We can’t hand over our crown jewels,” an intelligence source warned following Monday’s bombshell Washington Post story revealing that US President Donald Trump had disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russians officials in the White House last week.

The country supplying the intelligence to the US was identified in the Post story only as “an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.” Sources told The New York Times on Tuesday that Israel was that country.

The Yedioth source assessed that the “highly sensitive” information disclosed by Trump to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and its US ambassador Sergey Kislyak was handed over recently in several meetings with US officials on the situation in Syria. The intelligence officials speculate that Trump presented this information as a reprimand to the Russians.

A handout photo made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry on May 10, 2017 shows US President Donald J. Trump (C) speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak during a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC. (HO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP)

As a result of the information leaked by Trump, an Israeli spy’s life is believed to be at risk, according to a Tuesday ABC news report.

The spy is said to have tipped handlers off about an Islamic State plan to blow up a passenger plane headed for the US by hiding a bomb in a laptop, said the station, quoting current and former US officials.

The US already prohibits 10 mainly Middle Eastern airports from allowing laptops on board US-bound flights. US and European officials were set Wednesday to discuss plans to broaden the ban to include planes from Europe.

They added that the intelligence provided by the spy was so sensitive that it was shared only with the US and was conditioned on the source remaining secret.

Trump acknowledged in a series of tweets that he passed on the information to Russia. “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

While not commenting directly on the Post and Times reports, Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer stood by the US president in a Monday statement.

US President Donald Trump sits in the driver's seat of a semitrailer as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House in Washington, DC, to discuss healthcare, March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jim Watson)

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Dermer said.

BuzzFeed quoted what it described as two unnamed Israeli intelligence officers saying that the incident represented Israel’s “worst fears confirmed.”

“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country,” said one officer.

“There is a special understanding of security cooperation between our countries,” he said. “To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed.”

A report earlier in the year foreshadowed just such an incident as well as the growing concerns within the intelligence community regarding the new US president.

In January, Yedioth revealed that US intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts that Trump’s ties to Russia could pose a security threat, and described a meeting between US and Israeli intelligence officials in which the Americans indicated to Israel they should be cautious in sharing information with Trump’s White House. The paper reported that the Americans had assessed that Russia had some kind of leverage over Trump, but did not go into details.

Trump Defends Sharing Information on ISIS Threat With Russia

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to share sensitive information about an Islamic State threat with Russian officials as the White House once again struggled to reconcile seemingly conflicting accounts of the president’s actions.

A day after his advisers disputed a news article about the conversation, the president focused instead on justifying what he did and blaming those who disclosed it. In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, he said he had the “absolute right” to give “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador.

Asked about the conversation by reporters during a later appearance with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Mr. Trump again did not deny providing the information, but he instead cast it as an attempt to collaborate with Russia in the war against the Islamic State. “We’re going to have a lot of great success over the coming years, and we want to get as many to fight terrorism as possible,” he said.

The White House tried to clarify, sending out Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, for the second time in less than 24 hours. General McMaster stood by his Monday night statement, when he said the original Washington Post article about the conversation “as reported” was “false.” And while he would not confirm that Mr. Trump disclosed classified information, General McMaster said the president did not expose the source because he was not told where it came from.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the information about the Islamic State plot came from Israel and was considered so sensitive that American officials had not shared it widely within their own government or among allies. Intelligence officials worried that Mr. Trump, in his meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, provided enough details to effectively expose the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected.

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” General McMaster said.

General McMaster suggested that Mr. Trump did not violate any confidentiality agreement with the country that provided it, which he did not name. In fact, General McMaster said: “The president wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.”

Moreover, he said, the president did not give away secrets by discussing the city the information came from, as reported, because it would have been obvious. “It was nothing that you would not know from open source reporting in terms of a source of concern,” General McMaster said. “And it had all to do with operations that are already ongoing, had been made public for months.”

While General McMaster did not deny that White House officials had reached out to intelligence agencies after Mr. Trump’s revelations to contain any potential damage, he said he could not explain why. “I would say maybe for an overabundance of caution,” he said. “I’m not sure.”

The general’s briefing came hours after Mr. Trump went on Twitter to defend his actions. “As president,” Mr. Trump wrote, “I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

The news was first reported by The Post, and many organizations — including BuzzFeed, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and The New York Times — quickly published their own accounts of the disclosure.

Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts on Tuesday morning appeared to undercut the carefully worded statements made by his advisers Monday night to try to dispute the original news reports without taking issue with specific facts in them. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said in a statement that the president “did not discuss sources, methods or military operations” with the Russians.

But The Post and the other news organizations did not report that he had done so. Instead, they focused on the breach of espionage etiquette, and on the possibility that American allies might be discouraged from sharing intelligence with the United States. They also noted Mr. Trump’s tendency to go off script, at times to the chagrin of his advisers.

In his briefing on Tuesday, General McMaster suggested that there was no distinction between his quasi denial and the president’s seeming confirmation. “I stand by my statement I made yesterday,” he said. “What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false.”

This has become something of a pattern: On Thursday, Mr. Trump told NBC News that the F.B.I.’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia had been a factor in his decision to fire the bureau’s director, James B. Comey, and that the decision was not related to a recommendation from the deputy attorney general. Those comments undercut the accounts provided by his vice president and other advisers.

In his Tuesday posts on Twitter, Mr. Trump tried to turn attention away from whether he had leaked information to finding those who had disclosed what he had done. “I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community,” he wrote.

Administration officials were blindsided by the president’s messages early Tuesday and scrambled to reconcile the gap between them and General McMaster’s comments. Mr. Trump’s aides realized that not having General McMaster answer questions Monday night was going to prolong the story into a new day. But they believed they had been hamstrung by administration lawyers about exactly what could be said.

The firestorm comes at a challenging time for Mr. Trump’s besieged team. His national security and foreign policy staffs have been spending much of their time planning for his coming eight-day trip to the Middle East and Europe — his first overseas trip as president, and an opportunity, they thought, to reset the narrative of his presidency after the lingering controversy of Mr. Comey’s sudden dismissal last week.

That came to a crashing halt with the revelations on Monday, with staffers being forced, yet again, to go into damage-control mode. At least one member of Mr. Trump’s team assigned to defend him said the president’s shifting stories and impulsiveness were making it hard to recruit talented outsiders needed to staff the still short-handed West Wing.

The story touched off a flurry of condemnations from Democrats who recalled how Mr. Trump had called for Hillary Clinton to be imprisoned for mishandling classified information by using a private email server. Even a number of Republicans expressed varying levels of concern and called for an accounting of what had happened.

“If the reporting is accurate, in one fell swoop, the president could have unsettled our allies, emboldened our adversaries, endangered our military and intelligence officers the world over, and exposed our nation to greater risk,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said on the Senate floor.

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC that General McMaster’s statement was not actually a denial. “When I look at McMaster’s quote, it’s a pretty technical quote,” Mr. Sasse said. “I think it’s actually something quite different from a full rebuttal of the story.”

But other Republicans said they were willing to reserve judgment. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday morning that he was inclined to believe the White House version of events over the news media, which he said had no way of knowing the entire story. “They were not in the room,” he said in an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.

“I suspect the administration will brief the Congress more fully on exactly what transpired,” Mr. Cotton said during the interview. “But I have much greater confidence in the word of H. R. McMaster on the record, in front of cameras, than I do anonymous sources in the media.”

Still, there was evident fatigue among Republicans with the latest episode. “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, said on Bloomberg Television.

The episode fueled questions about Mr. Trump’s relationship with Moscow at the same time that the F.B.I. and congressional committees are investigating whether his associates cooperated with Russian meddling in last year’s election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed such suspicions as false stories spread by Democrats to explain their election defeat. But his friendly approach toward President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in spite of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and other actions has stirred controversy.

The Post reported that Mr. Trump had described details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

Last week, American officials said they might move to ban laptops from carry-on baggage on all flights from Europe to the United States — a change that would inconvenience many business travelers, who would be forced to check computers in their luggage.

The issue is scheduled to be the subject of a closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon in Brussels between Elaine C. Duke, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, and Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union’s commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship.

Russia dismissed the reports on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that Mr. Trump had given classified information to Russian officials, and she denigrated American news reports of the disclosure as “fake.”

“I just landed in Madrid,” the spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, wrote on Facebook during a work trip to Spain. “I turned on the phone, and there were dozens of messages. ‘Maria Vladimirovna, is it true Trump revealed the most important secret?’”

Ms. Zakharova called the report “the latest fake” and disparaged the newspapers that published it: “Guys, you are again reading American newspapers? You should not read them. They can be used in various ways, but there’s no need to read them — lately, this is not only harmful, but dangerous.”

FBI has info indicating possible coordination between Trump associates, Russia — report

Information held by the FBI indicates associates of President Donald Trump may have coordinated with Russian officials the release of documents which were damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 elections, CNN reported Wednesday night.

US officials told the network the evidence included human intelligence and travel and phone records. They noted that the investigation was continuing, and stressed that the information was not conclusive.

Meanwhile the House intelligence committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said he had seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that Trump associates colluded with Russia.

In an interview with MSNBC, Schiff said evidence “that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation” exists of Trump associates colluding with Russia as it interfered in last year’s election. He did not outline that evidence.

Ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (R) speak during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan

The chairman of the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that private communications of Trump and his presidential transition team may have been scooped up by American intelligence officials monitoring other targets and improperly distributed throughout spy agencies.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’ comments led Schiff to renew his party’s calls for an independent probe of Trump campaign links to Russia in addition to the GOP-led panel’s investigation.

In back-to-back news conferences at the Capitol and then the White House — where he had privately briefed the president — Nunes said he was concerned by officials’ handling of the communications in the waning days of the Obama administration.

He said the surveillance was conducted legally and did not appear to be related to the current FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia or with any criminal warrants. And the revelations, he said, did nothing to change his assessment that Trump’s explosive allegations about wiretaps at Trump Tower were false.

Still, the White House immediately seized on his statements in what appeared to be a coordinated public display.

Moments after Nunes spoke on Capitol Hill, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer read his statements from the White House briefing room podium. The California congressman quickly headed up Pennsylvania Avenue to personally brief the president and to address reporters outside the West Wing. Nunes’ decision to brief the president was particularly unusual, given Trump almost certainly has access to the information from his intelligence agencies.

“This is a bizarre situation,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview on MSNBC. “I’m calling for a select committee because I think this back-and-forth shows that Congress no longer has the credibility handle this alone.”

US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the National Republican Congressional Committee March Dinner at the National Building Museum, March 21, 2017, in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Outside the White House, Nunes said, “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team.”

Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the Republican’s revelations. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” he said.

The disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the bureau’s own investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia and rejected Trump’s explosive claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election. Comey’s comments came during the intelligence committee’s first public hearing on Russia’s election interference, an investigation being overseen by Nunes.

FBI Director James Comey looks on during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Nunes briefed reporters on the new information without consulting with Schiff, and that did not sit well with the top Democrat on the committee.

Schiff declared he now has “profound doubt” about the integrity and independence of the committee’s probe. He said that “a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”

Nunes said he believed the Trump team’s communications were caught “incidentally.” But he suggested the contents may have been inappropriately disseminated in intelligence reports. He left open the possibility the communications were spread for political reasons. Nunes would not disclose how he received the new information.

It was unclear whether Trump’s own communications were monitored. Nunes initially said “yes” when asked if Trump was among those swept up in the intelligence monitoring, but then said it was only “possible.”

It’s common for Americans to get caught up in U.S. surveillance of foreigners, such as foreign diplomats in the U.S. talking to an American. Typically, the American’s name would not be revealed in a report about the intercepted communications. However, if there is a foreign intelligence value to revealing the American’s name, it is “unmasked” and shared with other intelligence analysts who are working on related foreign intelligence surveillance.

Schiff disputed Nunes’ suggestions that there was improper “unmasking.” He said that after speaking with Nunes, it appeared that the names of Americans were still guarded in the intercepts though their identities could be gleaned from the materials.

Obama administration officials disputed the suggestion that the outgoing administration was improperly monitoring its successors. Ned Price, who served as spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, said Nunes’ assertions “were nothing more than an attempt to offer a lifeline to a White House caught in its own netting following President Trump’s baseless tweets.”

Matthew Waxman, a national security law professor at Columbia University, said Nunes’ actions “in this case are contributing to, rather than alleviating concerns, about politicization of intelligence.”

Nunes said the information on the Trump team was collected in November, December and January, the period after the election when Trump was holding calls with foreign leaders, interviewing potential Cabinet secretaries and beginning to sketch out administration policy. He said the monitored material was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports.

Asked whether he believed the transition team had been spied on, Nunes said: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”

Nunes did not identify any of the Trump associates he said were “unmasked,” but they are believed to include Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

GOP-sponsored bill (White Freemasons) may help companies obtain your genetic information

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/11/gop-sponsored-bill-may-help-companies-obtain-your-genetic-information.html

 

House Democrats and a number of privacy advocacy groups came out against a House GOP-sponsored bill that would reportedly make it easier for employers to gain access to genetic information about their employees and their families.

The New York Times reported Friday that the bill– called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act–  may also significantly increase the costs if someone chooses not to participate in a company wellness program that requires the genetic information.

Fortune magazine summed up the bill: it “would essentially allow companies with workplace wellness programs to demand your genetic information (or force you to pay a big penalty.)”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill reportedly passed its first test in a committee vote that went straight down party line. The bill is still under review by other House committees.

A spokeswoman for the House committee told The Times that “the legislation will reaffirm existing law and provide regulatory clarity so that employers can have the certainty they need to help lower health care costs for their employees.”

There is debate on the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs in general.

“We urge the Committee not to move forward with consideration of this bill,” Nancy J. Cox, PhD, the president of the American Society of Human Genetics, said in a statement. “As longtime advocates of genetic privacy, we instead encourage the Committee to pursue ways to foster workplace wellness and employee health without infringing upon the civil rights afforded by ADA and GINA.”

She said if enacted, the bill would “fundamentally undermine” the Genetic information Nondiscrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Trump Received Unsubstantiated Report That Russia Had Damaging Information About Him

WASHINGTON — The chiefs of America’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald J. Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Mr. Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.

The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.

The two-page summary, first reported by CNN, was presented as an appendix to the intelligence agencies’ report on Russian hacking efforts during the election, the officials said. The material was not corroborated, and The New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims. But intelligence agencies considered it so potentially explosive that they decided Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump and congressional leaders needed to be told about it and informed that the agencies were actively investigating it.

Intelligence officials were concerned that the information would leak before they informed Mr. Trump of its existence, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Trump responded on Twitter:

In an appearance recorded for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, said of the claims in the opposition research memos, “He has said he is not aware of that.”

Since the intelligence agencies’ report on Friday that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had ordered the hacking and leaks of Democratic emails in order to hurt his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and help Mr. Trump, the president-elect and his aides have said that Democrats are trying to mar his election victory.

The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.

The appendix summarized opposition research memos prepared mainly by a retired British intelligence operative for a Washington political and corporate research firm. The firm was paid for its work first by Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals and later by supporters of Mrs. Clinton. The Times has checked on a number of the details included in the memos but has been unable to substantiate them.

The memos suggest that for many years, the Russian government of Mr. Putin has looked for ways to influence Mr. Trump, who has traveled repeatedly to Moscow to investigate real estate deals or to oversee the Miss Universe competition, which he owned for several years. Mr. Trump never completed any major deals in Russia, though he discussed them for years.

The former British intelligence officer who gathered the material about Mr. Trump is considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia, American officials said. But he passed on what he heard from Russian informants and others, and what they told him has not yet been vetted by American intelligence.

The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Mr. Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as “kompromat,” or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Mr. Trump in the future.

The memos also suggest that Russian officials proposed various lucrative deals, essentially as disguised bribes in order to win influence over Mr. Trump.

The memos describe several purported meetings during the 2016 presidential campaign between Trump representatives and Russian officials to discuss matters of mutual interest, including the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta.

If some of the unproven claims in the memos are merely titillating, others would amount to extremely serious, potentially treasonous acts.

One of the opposition research memos quotes an unidentified Russian source as claiming that the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails was carried out “with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team.” In return, the memo said, “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” because Mr. Putin “needed to cauterize the subject.”

Michael Cohen, a lawyer and adviser to Mr. Trump, also went to Twitter to deny a specific claim in the opposition research involving him. One of the memos claims that Mr. Cohen went to Prague in August or September to meet with Kremlin representatives and to talk about Russian hacking of Democrats.

Mr. Cohen tweeted on Tuesday night:

In addition, in a recent interview with The Times, one of the Russian officials named in the memo as having met with Mr. Cohen, Oleg Solodukhin, denied that he had met with Mr. Cohen or any other Trump representative.

“I don’t know where that rumor came from,” Mr. Solodukhin, of the Russian organization Rossotrudnichestvo, which promotes Russian culture and interests abroad, said in a telephone interview.

The Times reported before the election that the F.B.I. was looking into possible evidence of links between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the investigation surfaced again at a Senate hearing on Tuesday in a series of questions from Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, to the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey.

Mr. Wyden, trying to draw Mr. Comey out on information he may have heard during a classified briefing, asked if the F.B.I. had investigated the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. Mr. Comey demurred, saying he could not discuss any investigations that might or might not be underway. Mr. Wyden kept pressing, asking Mr. Comey to provide a written answer to the question before Mr. Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 because he feared there would be no declassification of the information once Mr. Trump took office.

After the hearing, Mr. Wyden posted on Twitter:

The F.B.I. obtained the material long before the election, and some of the memos in the opposition research dossier are dated as early as June. But agents have struggled to confirm it, according to federal officials familiar with the investigation.

Allies of Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader from Nevada who retired at the end of the year, said the disclosures validated his call last summer for an investigation by the F.B.I. into Mr. Trump’s links to Russia.

Democrats on Tuesday night pressed for a thorough investigation of the claims in the memos. Representative Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called for law enforcement to find out whether the Russian government had had any contact with Mr. Trump or his campaign.

“The president-elect has spoken a number of times, including after being presented with this evidence, in flattering ways about Russia and its dictator,” Mr. Swalwell said. “Considering the evidence of Russia hacking our democracy to his benefit, the president-elect would do a service to his presidency and our country by releasing his personal and business income taxes, as well as information on any global financial holdings.”

Harriet Harman (White Feminist) and the Paedophile Information Exchange