Senate panel questions Lynch over ‘political interference’ in Clinton probe

The Senate Judiciary Committee has formally asked ex-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and others to respond to allegations of “political interference” in the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email probe, according to a letter released Friday.

The inquiry was prompted, in part, by a series of media reports raising questions about whether Lynch tried to stifle the investigation into former Secretary of State Clinton’s use of a private email server. Fired FBI Director James Comey also suggested in recent Senate testimony that Lynch sought to downplay the investigation.

“The reports come amidst numerous allegations of political inference in controversial and high-profile investigations spanning the current and previous administrations,” Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office said in a statement.

While Democrats have questioned whether President Trump tried to interfere in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, Republicans have countered by stepping up scrutiny of Lynch’s actions.

The letters released Friday, though, were bipartisan. Grassley, R-Iowa; ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., penned letters to Lynch and others seeking documentation and other details.

Graham already had expressed interest in Lynch testifying before the committee in the wake of Comey’s testimony.

In the latest letters, the senators sought information that might determine the veracity of media reports suggesting Lynch may have offered assurances to the Clinton campaign about the probe.

Those articles are based on hacked documents whose authenticity has not been confirmed.

The letter cited an April New York Times article about a batch of hacked files obtained by the FBI, including one reportedly authored by a Democratic operative who voiced confidence Lynch would keep the Clinton probe from going too far.

Lynch and others who received the committee’s letters have until July 6 to comply with the request.

The senators also refer to concerns stemming from Comey’s testimony about being uncomfortable with Lynch’s tarmac meeting last summer with Bill Clinton.

Comey also told Congress “the attorney general directed me not to call it an investigation and call it a matter — which confused me.”

Judicial Watch seeking documents ‘unlawfully removed’ by Comey

Brooke Singman

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, penned a letter to McCabe on June 14 warning of a potential violation of the Federal Records Act, which is the basis for the federal government’s policies regarding the “creating, maintaining, and disposing” of federal records.

“As you may be aware, the Federal Records Act imposes a direct responsibility on you to take steps to recover any records unlawfully removed from the FBI,” Fitton wrote in the letter, claiming Comey unlawfully removed memos that could contain contents regarding the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “Upon learning that records have been unlawfully removed from the FBI, you then are required to initiate action through the Attorney General for the recovery of records.”

The FBI told Fox News that they have no comment on the letter from Fitton.

“We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Fitton told Fox News.

The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

Earlier this month, Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he gave one of his memos regarding a meeting with President Trump to a friend, Columbia University Professor Daniel Richman, who then leaked the contents of the memo to the New York Times.

“I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter—I thought that might prompt the appointment of special counsel,” Comey said in his testimony.

Fitton said that the case of Comey removing documents from the FBI is “the Hillary Clinton email scandal all over again.”

But retired FBI special agent and former national FBI spokesman, John Iannarelli, told Fox News that he didn’t see “the case.”

“The things Comey allegedly took are not classified,” Iannarelli said. “The issue is not him taking documents, but the matter of how he released them—classified or not, there is a procedure in doing that which he did not follow.”

But Fitton insisted Comey’s memos and other related documents he may have were federal records which the Justice Department and FBI are “obligated” to get back.

“The former FBI director isn’t above the law and current leadership of the FBI should stop protecting him and take action,” he said.

The letter said that if McCabe and the FBI do not respond by June 26, Judicial Watch will file a lawsuit in federal district court “seeking that you be compelled to comply with the law.”

Brooke Singman is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Comey testimony: Ex-FBI boss says Trump team lied, but stops short of obstruction charge

Barnini Chakraborty

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before a Senate panel on Thursday could have President Trump’s legal team breathing a sigh of relief since he stopped short of alleging obstruction of justice – but his otherwise scathing comments guarantee the political controversy and Russia-related investigations are far from over.

“This is nowhere near the end of our investigation,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said moments after the hearing’s conclusion.

Comey, in his high-profile appearance before the committee, accused the administration of defaming him and said comments made about his competency “were lies, plain and simple.”

Comey also told lawmakers he decided to document meetings he had with Trump because he was “honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature” of their discussions.

“I knew there might come a day when I might need a record of what happened not only to defend myself but to protect the FBI,” he added.

Comey also said bluntly he believes he was fired because of the Russia investigation — and that in a now-famous February meeting, Trump directed him to ease off an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump’s team denied the claims. “I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz directly disputed the account of the Flynn discussion and the former FBI official’s claim that Trump demanded loyalty from him.

At the same time, Comey told lawmakers that Trump did not ask him to end the Russia investigation as a whole — a key piece of testimony that Kasowitz seemed to flag when he said Comey affirmed Trump never sought to “impede” the probe.

“Not to my understanding, no,” Comey testified, when asked by Burr whether Trump tried to get him to end the investigation. He also said he could not say whether Trump’s conversations with him amounted to obstruction of justice.

Asked again if Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, Comey said, “I don’t know. That’s Bob Mueller’s job to sort that out.”

The Justice Department appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, as special counsel in mid-May to oversee the investigation into Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Comey didn’t reserve his criticism just for Trump. He also took a shot at former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, revealing she had told him to describe the Clinton email probe as a “matter,” not an investigation. He suggested she was trying to align the DOJ’s comments with those of the Clinton campaign.

Comey had not spoken publicly since his dismissal on May 9. He was four years into a 10-year term when Trump fired him. The timing fueled claims that Trump was trying to kill the investigation into Russia and obstruct justice.

Comey was asked Thursday why he thought Trump fired him. The former FBI director said he didn’t know for sure but added, “I take the president at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.” Comey was referring to an interview Trump had given NBC News in which he contradicted the narrative his aides had floated as to why Comey was let go.

Comey later added he believed he was fired to “change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

Surprisingly, Comey also admitted he helped orchestrate a media leak of his private conversations with Trump because he thought that by doing so, it would put pressure on the administration and result in the appointment of a special counsel.

The public got its first glimpse of Comey’s side of the story Wednesday after the Senate committee released his written statement. The seven-page statement provided details about uncomfortable conversations and silent standoffs between the former FBI director and Trump.

Comey not only laid out details about the Russia investigation but also took aim at Trump’s preoccupation with having his name publicly cleared as well as the president asking him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Flynn.

Comey claimed the conversations became so awkward that he took steps to avoid any one-on-one time with Trump.

Comey said he spoke directly with Trump a total of nine times — three in person and six over the phone. According to his written testimony, Comey “felt compelled” to keep a detailed log after each conversation, something he hadn’t done with former President Barack Obama.

Comey’s dramatic statement detailed five separate exchanges he had with Trump, beginning with a meeting at Trump Tower in New York before Trump was sworn in as president. That briefing focused on the investigation into Russia’s election meddling as well as lascivious claims Trump had been involved with prostitutes in 2012 – a claim the White House has strongly denied.

The second meeting took place Jan. 27 at the White House. According to Comey, during a one-on-one dinner, Trump asked him if he wanted to keep his job – a question that the former FBI director found strange because in two prior conversations he had had with Trump, Comey assured him he intended to stay.

At that same dinner, Comey says Trump demanded loyalty from him.

“I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Comey recalled Trump saying.

During a Feb. 14 face-to-face meeting at the White House, Comey said Trump asked him to drop the FBI investigations into Flynn.  Comey said the president told him: “‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey testimony: Trump team denies accusations, tries to turn tables on ex-FBI boss

Cody Derespina

President Trump’s legal team shot back Thursday at James Comey’s Senate testimony, defending the president in a brawny statement against the fired FBI director’s more damaging claims and asserting Comey himself could now be in legal jeopardy for his admission he’d leaked details of “privileged” conversations.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also said Comey’s testimony backed up Trump on key points — affirming that the president “never sought to impede” the Russia probe, and that while he was FBI director, Comey told Trump several times he wasn’t the subject of an investigation.

The president’s lawyer issued the rebuttal in a written statement that he read to reporters during a brief post-hearing appearance.

The statement sought to shield Trump and shift scrutiny onto Comey, who on Thursday delivered dramatic testimony that stopped short of accusing Trump of obstruction of justice but made numerous other allegations.

Kasowitz tried to rebut them one by one.

Despite Comey’s claims to the contrary, he emphasized Trump “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested” that Comey drop an investigation into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Kasowitz also denied Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, contradicting Comey’s story and setting up a “he said-he said” between the former FBI boss and the president.

Kasowitz also cast doubt on Comey’s explanation as to why he decided to leak a memo describing the Flynn conversation after Trump had fired him as FBI director.

“Although Mr. Comey testified he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that the New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr. Comey’s excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information and appears to be entirely retaliatory,” the statement said.

The New York Times wrote its first story about private conversations between Comey and Trump on May 11, though the Times made no mention of a memo existing to allegedly substantiate the encounter. The following day Trump sent an infamous tweet implying he had recorded the discussion himself: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Comey suggested that tweet prompted him to leak his notes. Four days later the first story appeared in the press citing an alleged Comey memo.

Kasowitz, meanwhile, pointedly raised the question Thursday of whether Comey’s leak amounts to a legal problem for him: “We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leak should be investigated along with all those others being investigated.”

Though Trump did not tweet or make a direct statement about Comey’s testimony, he did reference fighting back during a speech he gave to religious conservatives as Comey’s testimony was wrapping up.

“They will lie, they will obstruct, they will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right,” Trump said. “We will fight and win, and we will have an unbelievable future. An unbelievable future. And it’s going to be together.”

Though Trump, a well-established prolific tweeter, has not sent a message from his account since Wednesday morning, he was certainly represented on the social media network. The Republican National Committee tweeted from its @GOP account, often hashtagging posts “#bigleaguetruth.”

“So according to Comey, @POTUS never asked to stop the investigation and Russia didn’t change a single vote. Good to know. #BigLeagueTruth,” one message read.

One of Trump’s children, Donald Trump Jr., was also tweeting a rapid-response defense of his dad.

Writing about Comey’s assertion that Trump intimated Comey should drop the Flynn investigation, Trump Jr. wrote: “Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means.”

Comey to testify that Trump sought ‘loyalty,’ asked to lift Russia ‘cloud’

Judson Berger

James Comey plans to testify Thursday that in the months before he was fired as FBI director, President Trump sought his “loyalty” while also pressing him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation and lay off Michael Flynn, according to written testimony released ahead of his Senate committee appearance.

The prepared remarks for his opening statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, also make clear that Comey repeatedly assured Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Comey’s statement detailed several meetings he had with Trump dating back to January.

He extensively described a Jan. 27 dinner where he said Trump told him: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

READ COMEY’S STATEMENT

Comey plans to say as well that Trump sought help ending any probe of former national security adviser Flynn, reiterating previously published reports about such claims.

Comey’s testimony will mark his first Capitol Hill appearance since his firing a month ago. Lawmakers are eager to hear his side, amid a raft of reports suggesting Trump had pressured Comey over investigations of Russian meddling in the election and coordination with his associates.

Trump has denied pressuring Comey as well as any collusion with Russia.

If Comey’s opening statement is any gauge, Thursday’s testimony will be explosive.

The seven-page document, however, began with a piece of good news for the president — confirming his past claims that Comey assured Trump “we were not investigating him personally.” Comey first gave the assurance during their first meeting at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, during a discussion about a salacious and widely contested anti-Trump dossier, and reiterated the statement in subsequent conversations.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel highlighted those passages, tweeting Wednesday, “Comey’s testimony reconfirmed what @POTUS has been saying all along: The President was never under investigation.”

Comey went on to say he and the president later dined on Jan. 27 at the White House. This is when the conversation allegedly turned to “loyalty.” He said Trump asked whether he wanted to stay on at the FBI, but after he made clear he was not on anyone’s side politically, Trump pressed him on loyalty.

“I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey said in the statement.

Comey admitted that when Trump later said he wanted “honest loyalty,” Comey assured, “You will get that from me.” He later wrote in a personal memo he may have interpreted that term differently from Trump.

The testimony went on to describe a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting, which concerns a key moment that later leaked into press reports and has fueled Congress’ interest in hearing from Comey post-firing.

Comey said that when he and Trump were alone, Trump asked to speak about Flynn, who had just resigned as national security adviser over misleading Vice President Pence over his contacts with the Russian ambassador. According to Comey, Trump said Flynn is a “good guy” and, “I hope you can let this go.”

Comey said he later prepared a memo about the conversation, noting that he understood Trump to be referring only to Flynn and not the broader Russia investigation:

“I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.”

However, Comey said Trump called him on March 30 and complained that the Russia probe was a “cloud” over his administration. Comey claimed Trump asked what could be done to “lift the cloud.”

They last spoke on April 11.

Trump fired him a month later, with officials citing in part Comey’s controversial handling of the Hillary Clinton email case.

Late Wednesday, multiple Congressional sources from both sides of the aisle told Fox News that Comey’s statement contained a level of detail, granularity and “puffery” of the sort that had “aggravated” them in previous encounters with the then-FBI director.

“Several of the sources have said that Comey’s statement was laced with “theatrics” in an effort to make certain events “appear more dramatic than they were.”

“It’s too cute,” said one source who has had multiple dealings with Comey behind closed doors. “I have never been so angry at a witness as I was at him.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

Donald Trump and Richard Nixon: Parallels between Russia and Watergate

Former FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged Russia connections. Similarities with the Watergate scandal are hard to miss.

Bild-Kombo Donald Trump & Richard Nixon (Reuters/J. Roberts - picture-alliance/CNP/AdMedia/Arnie Sachs)

James Clapper has served in various government intelligence functions for decades, starting under President George H. W. Bush. Now Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence has put Watergate, arguably the greatest domestic political scandal in modern US history, and current events concerning President Donald Trump’s connections to Russia side-by-side – and Trump doesn’t come away favorably.

“I think if you compare the two Watergate pales … compared to what we’re confronting now,” Clapper said in a speech to the National Press Club of Australia on Wednesday.

Comey to testify before the Senate

USA ehemaliger FBI-Chef Comey (Reuters/K. Lamarque)Comey is at the center of Trump’s Russia scandal

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey will testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. On the agenda: the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, possible connections between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign and what exactly went down between Trump and Comey before the president fired him on May 9.

To understand the weight of Clapper’s statement – and all the other Watergate comparisons that have sprung up recently – you have to know how exactly the Watergate scandal developed and led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

The Watergate break-in

At 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into and attempting to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington D.C. While the head of the Republican re-election campaign for Richard Nixon initially denied any connection to the five men, the Washington Post published several investigative reports that refuted this claim.

Re-election, staff resignations and investigation

Despite the brewing scandal, Nixon was re-elected in a landslide victory on November 7, 1972.

But in April 1973, mere months after the start of Nixon’s second term, several senior White House staffers had to resign over Watergate. White House counsel John Dean was fired.

In May 1973, Archibald Cox was appointed the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate – he was supposed to investigate how deeply the White House was involved with wiretapping the DNC.

On October 20, 1973, in what would become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Nixon fired Cox, the very man investigating him, and abolished the office of the special prosecutor altogether. Pressure mounted to start proceedings to impeach Nixon.

Obstruction of justice and resignation

During the investigation, it was revealed that Nixon had recorded all conversations and phone calls in his offices since 1971. He refused to hand over the tapes to the special prosecutor, but the Supreme Court ruled that some recordings had to be passed on to investigators. The tapes proved that Nixon was a part of his administration’s efforts to cover up their involvement with the Watergate Scandal.

That’s why obstruction of justice was among the articles of impeachment brought against the president in July 1974. To avoid impeachment, Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974. He’s so far the only US president to ever step down from office.

Back to the present: Virtual break-in

Even with this extremely simplified run-down of Watergate events, parallels to Trump’s presidency are obvious.

Russian hackers are accused of influencing the 2016 presidential election. In July 2016, they compromised the DNC’s email servers, leaking thousands of confidential emails to the media, many of which embarrassed senior Democrats – the 21st century version of breaking and entering.

Election win, Flynn resignation and investigation

Trump and his campaign team say they had nothing to do with this. The hack still worked out in his favor: Trump won the election and was inaugurated on January 20, 2017.

But on February 13, less than a month after Trump took office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign after having lied about his past meetings with Russian officials.

Flynn had claimed he never discussed US sanctions against Moscow with the Russian ambassador to the US, which was later proven false. The Justice Department, as well as former president Obama, had warned Trump’s White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

USA Donald Trump mit Michael Flynn im Wahlkampf (Getty Images/G. Frey)Trump can conveniently blame Flynn for many of the Russia-related problems his administration now faces

In March 2017, then-FBI director Comey confirmed that his agency had been investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and the possibility that it coordinated with people in Trump’s campaign since the hack in July.

Firing of Comey and obstruction of justice

Trump allegedly wasn’t happy with Comey and reportedly asked him to drop the FBI’s probing of Flynn. On May 9, the president fired Comey, the very man investigating his administration and campaign.

If the allegations against Trump turn out to be true, some legal experts say his behavior could constitute an obstruction of justice, which is defined as corrupt attempts to “influence, obstruct or impede” the “due and proper administration of the law” in pending proceedings.

Another parallel to Nixon’s case: Trump implied he taped conversations in the White House.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press,” Trump tweeted in May.

While the parallels between Nixon’s and Trump’s administration are there to see, it remains unclear whether the two stories will have similar endings.

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Trump nominates Christopher Wray as new FBI head

Donald Trump has announced that he will nominate former Justice Department official Christopher Wray to head the FBI. The announcement comes a day before former FBI Director James Comey is to testify to the Senate.

USA Washington - Christopher Wray bei Pressekonferenz (Reuters/M. Riley)Christopher Wray is a more traditional pick to lead the FBI.

US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter early Wednesday that he has selected former assistant attorney general Christopher Wray to lead the FBI, nearly a month after he controversially sacked former FBI Director James Comey.

I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow.

Wray, now a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, was assistant attorney general between 2003 to 2005 during George W. Bush’s tenure.

At that time he dealt with white collar crime and financial fraud, including leading the government task force investigation into energy giant Enron, according to the King & Spalding website.

While at King & Spalding, he represented Republican New Jersey Governor and former Trump campaign adviser Chris Christie in the “Bridgegate” scandal.  Christie was never charged, but two of his aides were convicted of plotting to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who had refused to endorse Christie.

Watch video00:27

US Media: Kushner focus of FBI probe

The announcement comes a day before James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate intelligence committee about allegations of Russian meddling in the US election and ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Comey is also expected to provide new details about the weeks leading up to his sacking on May 9. This includes allegations Trump asked the FBI director to drop an investigation into ties between Russia and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired for misleading the White House about conversations he had with Russia’s ambassador in Washington.

The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the federal investigation following Comey’s firing.

Wray’s appointment will require confirmation at a special Senate hearing.

cw/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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