Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey

Under alleged plan, ex-Trump adviser and his son were to be paid millions to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen from U.S. and deliver him to Turkish custody

Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn already faces military, congressional and criminal investigations into allegations that he improperly concealed his financial ties to Turkey and Russia, and into whether the ties played any role in his decisions as the president’s adviser.
Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn already faces military, congressional and criminal investigations into allegations that he improperly concealed his financial ties to Turkey and Russia, and into whether the ties played any role in his decisions as the president’s adviser. PHOTO: CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn’s alleged role in a plan to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported on efforts by Turkish officials to get Mr. Gulen to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, an effort that included an earlier meeting with Mr. Flynn in September 2016.

The investigation is being handled by Mr. Mueller as part of his probe of Trump campaign advisers and Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to those familiar with the investigation.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.

But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.

After this article was published, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, called the plot allegations “outrageous and prejudicial,” adding, “they are false.” A lawyer for Mr. Flynn Jr. declined to comment.

Before entering the Trump administration as the president’s national security adviser, Mr. Flynn was lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests in the U.S., including on the Gulen issue. He didn’t disclose that work until March of this year, after he was forced out of the White House for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Flynn served as national security adviser for just 24 days.

He is now facing military, congressional and criminal investigations into allegations that he improperly concealed his financial ties to Turkey and Russia, and into whether the ties played any role in his decisions as the president’s adviser, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.

One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Turkey has pressed the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in a compound in Saylorsburg, Pa.
Turkey has pressed the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in a compound in Saylorsburg, Pa. PHOTO:SASHA MASLOV FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Gulen’s legal residency in the U.S. became a major irritant in American and Turkish relations during the Obama administration, and Turkish officials pressed for Mr. Gulen’s extradition so that he could face charges. Mr. Erdogan’s government has accused the cleric of masterminding a failed coup and have called him and his supporters a terrorist network. Mr. Gulen denies both accusations.

The alleged meeting in New York in December, which came after Mr. Flynn was tapped as national security adviser, was a follow-up to an earlier discussion, on Sept. 19, where Turkish officials first raised the possibility of forcibly removing Mr. Gulen. That September meeting, held in a hotel and attended by former CIA Director James Woolsey,was reported earlier by the Journal.

Ex-CIA Head Woolsey on Flynn, Covert Plan

WSJ Exclusive: Ex-CIA Head Woolsey on Flynn, Covert Plan
In an exclusive WSJ interview, former CIA Director James Woolsey describes a meeting where Mike Flynn and others discussed a covert plan to move Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey and avoid the U.S. extradition process. (March 27, 2017)

Mr. Gulen’s removal was discussed as “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” according to Mr. Woolsey, who said he attended the meeting at the request of one of Mr. Flynn’s business associates.

Also present at the September meeting were Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show. The Turkish Embassy has previously acknowledged that Turkish officials met with Mr. Flynn but declined to discuss the conversation.

A White House spokesman deferred all questions to a spokesman for the Trump transition process.

“We don’t have any evidence that such a meeting took place,” that spokesman said, referring to the December meeting. “And if it did take place it happened not withstanding the transition.”

At the time the plan was discussed, Turkey had been lobbying Obama administration officials for months to release Mr. Gulen to Turkish custody and wanted to avoid a legal extradition proceeding, according to a former official with direct knowledge of Turkish and American discussions. The Obama administration rebuffed those requests, the official said.

In Mr. Flynn, the Turks found a more sympathetic ear. Mr. Flynn wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on the day of the presidential election in which he praised Mr. Erdogan’s government and called the cleric “a shady Islamic mullah” and “radical Islamist” who may be running “a dangerous sleeper terror network” in the U.S.

“We should not provide him safe haven,” Mr. Flynn wrote.

Mr. Woolsey said he informed the U.S. government about the September meeting by notifying Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend.

The mutual friend confirmed to the Journal that he told Mr. Biden about the meeting. Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, other than to say Mr. Biden felt the Gulen matter should be handled through the courts.

Mr. Woolsey, who served briefly as an adviser to the Trump campaign, said he turned down a consulting fee from Mr. Flynn’s company because of what he heard at the meeting.

Federal records show that the company, Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 for advocacy work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Federal investigators are currently looking at whether Mr. Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose when they are acting in the U.S. on behalf of foreign powers, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been indicted by the special counsel on charges stemming from his work for the former government of Ukraine, which he didn’t properly disclose to U.S. authorities, according to federal charges disclosed last month. Mr. Manafort’s attorney has entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The Journal reported in March that Mr. Flynn had sought immunity from investigators probing Russia’s interference in the presidential election in exchange for his testimony. Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Mr. Kelner, wouldn’t comment at the time on details of his discussions involving Mr. Flynn, but said “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”

Mr. Flynn, who was fired in 2014 as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is a central figure in the sprawling special counsel investigation, which is examining whether Trump campaign or business associates coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to steal private emails from political groups and campaigns and expose them publicly. Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, have been scrutinized as part of that probe, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

President Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia. The Russians have consistently denied interfering in the election.

Write to Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com and Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

Courtesy: The WALL STREET JOURNAL

In the headlights: Key targets of the Russia interference probe

AFP
1 / 8

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse after a bail hearing on November 6, 2017

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse after a bail hearing on November 6, 2017 (AFP Photo/MARK WILSON)

Washington (AFP) – One year after Donald Trump stunned the United States by winning the presidential election, the probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russian meddling continues to cloud that victory.

Investigations by special prosecutor Robert Mueller and three congressional committees have unveiled many more links between the campaign and Russia than were originally known, and charges against three figures at the end of October raised expectations of more revelations.

Where the investigation’s key targets stand:

– Donald Trump –

Nothing yet has linked the president directly to the Russians. But his firing of FBI director James Comey smells like obstruction of justice to investigators. Analysts expect Mueller won’t go after Trump until he has finished with most everyone else on his radar.

– Paul Manafort –

Trump’s one-time campaign chairman was arrested on October 30 on money laundering and tax-related charges in relation to his work for Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort could be looking at a heavy jail sentence, unless he cooperates with Mueller on the Russia side of the investigation.

– Rick Gates –

Manafort’s partner in Ukraine and a Trump campaign deputy chair, Gates was also arrested on October 30. Analysts say he could be expected to offer evidence against others related to Russia collusion in exchange for lighter treatment.

– George Papadopoulos –

The first person convicted in Mueller’s investigation, Papadopoulos was one of the campaign’s foreign policy advisors. He developed his official Russian contacts and tried to arrange a Trump trip to Russia or a meeting with Putin. He also told his supervisors that he was offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Emails indicate his work drew the attention and support of top campaign officials. In a deal that made clear Papadopoulos is actively assisting Mueller, he pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI.

– Michael Flynn –

According to NBC, the former White House national security advisor and his son, Mike Flynn, Jr, could be Mueller’s next targets. Flynn drew suspicion for his repeated discussions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, his paid appearances for Russian firms and his unreported lobbying for Turkey. NBC said initial charges could be linked to the lobbying and money laundering.

– Carter Page –

Another member of the campaign’s foreign policy team, Page has a long association with Russia that raises suspicions. He says trips he made to Moscow before and after the election were for personal and academic reasons. But in a July 2016 email to top campaign officials, he indicated he had contacts with Russian legislators and senior members of President Vladimir Putin’s administration. He also proposed a Trump trip to Moscow.

– Jared Kushner –

Trump’s son-in-law is believed to be a major target of the Mueller probe for his contacts with Kislyak, with a powerful Russian banker and with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton. His possible role in firing Comey and other White House moves also likely interest investigators chasing obstruction suspicions.

– Donald Trump, Jr –

Trump’s son helped arrange and then attended the Veselnitskaya meeting and has been involved in the Trump organization’s Russia-related real estate projects.

– Jeff Sessions –

The former senator and now attorney general has aroused suspicion with his lack of candor about meetings with Kislyak. He was also responsible for the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisors, whose Russian contacts and meeting proposals likely came to his attention.

Courtesy: AFP/Yahoo

Trump is hoping Mueller will do the one thing Comey didn’t

Sonam Sheth
Business Insider
Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller
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(Robert Mueller.Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s lawyers have adopted a new legal strategy of cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller in the hopes that he will do the one thing former FBI director James Comey did not: confirm publicly that Trump is not being investigated as part of the FBI’s Russia probe, according to The New York Times.

Mueller was appointed special counsel after Trump fired Comey in May. Initially, the White House said Trump’s dismissal of Comey was based entirely on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation and because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Shortly after, however, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision, and that he was going to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation.

Comey also told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June that before firing him, Trump had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which included examining whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favor.

Though Comey privately told Trump that he was not under investigation, he did not do so publicly in case he had to amend or retract his statement down the road, and it’s likely Mueller will make the same call because of that reason.

Mueller is reportedly investigating Trump for obstruction of justice based on his decision to fire Comey. The special counsel is also examining Trump’s role in crafting a misleading statement his son, Donald Trump Jr., issued in response to reports that he met with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton last June.

Trump’s advisers reportedly urged more transparency in the initial statement, but he overruled them and the statement had to be amended several times as new details about the meeting emerged.

Trump’s legal team at first contemplated undertaking an aggressive strategy meant to discredit Mueller and the Russia investigation, but they reportedly switched gears after white-collar criminal defense attorney Ty Cobb took over the White House’s response to the probe.

Cobb has reportedly advocated being as cooperative and responsive as possible to the special counsel’s requests in an effort to speed up the investigation and prove Trump’s innocence.

White House counsel Don McGahn, on the other hand, has resisted being too forthcomingbecause he thinks Trump will be able to assert executive privilege over many of their interactions.

But it appears that the White House is leaning towards Cobb’s strategy — The Times reported that officials are “strongly considering” allowing McGahn to speak to Mueller’s team about his private conversations with Trump.

McGahn is one of several West Wing staffers the special counsel wants to interview, presumably because he was witness to certain critical events that are of importance in the investigation, including the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing, as well as those surrounding the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is also a key subject in the investigation.

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Mueller makes extensive request to White House for Trump documents

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House to provide a wide variety of documents related to his investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election, Fox News has confirmed.

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Mueller’s office has provided a list of documents requested from the White House counsel’s office, a legal source says. The broad request covers multiple White House staffers and includes actions Trump has taken as president.

The request was expected, a source said.

The president’s legal team declined to comment.

“Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, the White House does not comment on any specific requests being made or our conversations with the special counsel,” White House attorney Ty Cobb said in a statement. “I can only reaffirm that the White House is committed to cooperating fully with Special Counsel Mueller.”

MUELLER RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON PAUL MANAFORT, BUT WHO IS LEAKING THESE DAMAGING DETAILS?

Mueller wants documents from 13 different areas including Trump’s firing of former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former FBI director James Comey, a source said.

He also wants documents related to Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials and Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney.

A source also told Fox News that the scope of the request shows that Mueller is operating well within the parameters of his mandate to look into Russian interference in the election – and has not strayed outside the lines.

The New York Times, which first reported the request for documents, said Trump’s attorney has told Mueller’s office he will turn over many of the documents this week.

Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and Kristin Brown contributed to this report.

Courtesy, Fox News

‘The simplest things’: Ex-Russian Ambassador Kislyak opens up on what he discussed with Flynn

Now-retired Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak said that the main topic of his conversation with former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was counter-terrorism. The talks were transparent and never touched upon sanctions, he added.

“I do not comment on our daily contacts with our colleagues. Secondly, I had instructions not to discuss sanctions. We never discussed sanctions with anybody. And I assure you, I have honestly followed the instructions,” Kislyak told Rossiya-24.

“Sanctions aren’t our thing,” the retired diplomat said. “We don’t discuss or bargain about sanctions, because we believe they were implemented in an illegal, politically aggressive way to begin with.”

‘American exceptionalism is the problem’

While it would be difficult to lift the newly-imposed restrictive measures, Kislyak does not believe the US and Russia are back to the Cold War.

“No, it’s not the Cold War,” he said. “The problem in our relations, as I have tried to say, is in the sense of absolute exceptionalism of the Americans and their purported right to tell everyone else what is good and what is bad.”

The former Russian envoy to Washington blasted the sanctions, which he believes are aimed at impeding normal economic cooperation between Russia and the US.

“The economic sanctions, which we have been lately discussing a lot, were designed so that it will be very difficult to cancel them under the current conditions in America,” Kislyak said.

“The whole mechanism is made so that the US law would not give the opportunity to develop normality in economic relations with our country,” he added.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (L) and ranking member Senator Mark Warner © Kevin Lamarque

‘No secrets on our part’

Commenting on his conversation with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Kislyak said they were openly discussing “the simplest things.”

“We spoke about the simplest things… But the communication was completely specific, quiet, absolutely transparent. There were no secrets, at least on our part,” he stated.

After Flynn’s resignation in February, media outlets speculated over the content and consequences of his phone call with the Russian ambassador, which he had failed to report. Some claimed the main topic of the conversation was economic sanctions against Russia, though Flynn did not confirm it.

Kislyak declined to comment on the resignation, saying it is an American domestic issue.

The US never invited Kislyak to speak in front of a grand jury investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Kislyak called the procedure “far-fetched” and said that the US government has “jumped at a litigation built around false information,” wasting time that could be used on issues that really matter to Americans.

Meeting foreign officials is what diplomats do

While the Trump election campaign team has been repeatedly accused of having links with Russia, Hillary Clinton’s representatives refused to meet with the Russian ambassador.

“I can give you a long list of those from Clinton’s team who I wanted to visit, and they shied away from it. It’s quite a big list,” Kislyak said.

He added that, like any professional diplomat, he used every opportunity to build normal bilateral relations, trying to meet with different people, including those from the Democratic Party.

Near the end of Kislyak’s tenure in the US, he faced allegations of working for Russian intelligence and was even called a “top spy and recruiter of spies” by CNN. The diplomat believes that even implying such things shames the US.

“I believe that all the talks about the fact that I, the ambassador of the Russian Federation, am a spy, are shameful for a country like America,”Kislyak said.

“What has become normal to talk about now – how the Russian ambassador is wiretapped, how bugs were installed into his phone – it is becoming normal for America. It is an unhealthy society,” he said, adding that the FBI finally acknowledged that he was a diplomat, not a spy.

A heavy distrust of all things Russian is contributing to the paranoid atmosphere around the Kislyak-Flynn meeting, according to Russia author and historian Martin McCauley.

“The problem is that in Washington there’s a very, very strong anti-Russia caucus from the Democrat side, sometimes from the Republicans, and the liberal press. They will literally not accept anything that’s positive about Russia. If the Russians say something, they don’t believe it, and if President Trump says something positive about Russia they say ‘that’s treasonous, you shouldn’t be saying that! Russia is our enemy,’” McCauley told RT.

“Unfortunately, in Washington now you have an impasse. On the one side, President Trump and his people, they would like to improve relations with Russia and get things going and so on. But Congress is doing its best to ensure that relations with Russia deteriorate.”

Courtesy, RT

The many paths from Trump to Russia

TRUMP’S ASSOCIATES

Jared Kushner Michael Flynn Paul Manafort Carter Page Roger Stone Jeff Sessions JD GordonDonald Trump Jr. Michael Cohen Michael Caputo Erik Prince Rex Tillerson Wilbur Ross Betsy DeVosFelix Sater Aras & Emin Agalarov Alfa Bank Vitaly Churkin

Jared Kushner

Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009. He was a confidant to Trump during the campaign and now serves as a senior adviser to the President. Kushner gave closed-door interviews in July to Senate intelligence committee staff and House intelligence committee members as part of their Russia investigations. He says he “did not collude” with Russia and that all of his actions during the campaign “were proper.”

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Russia 

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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. 

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