Mueller asking if Trump knew about hacked Democratic emails before release

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking witnesses pointed questions about whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release, according to multiple people familiar with the probe. Mueller’s investigators have asked witnesses whether Trump was aware of plans for WikiLeaks to publish the emails. They have also asked about the relationship between GOP operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and why Trump took policy positions favorable to Russia. The line of questioning suggests the special counsel, who is tasked with examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, is looking into possible coordination between WikiLeaks and Trump associates in disseminating the emails, which U.S. intelligence officials say were stolen by Russia. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion and has described the special counsel’s investigation as “illegal” and a “witch hunt.”

In one line of questioning, investigators have focused on Trump’s public comments in July 2016 asking Russia to find emails that were deleted by his then-opponent Hillary Clinton from a private server she maintained while secretary of state. The comments came at a news conference on July 27, 2016, just days after WikiLeaks began publishing the Democratic National Committee emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. Witnesses have been asked whether Trump himself knew then that Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, whose emails were released several months later, had already been targeted. They were also asked if Trump was advised to make the statement about Clinton’s emails from someone outside his campaign, and if the witnesses had reason to believe Trump tried to coordinate the release of the DNC emails to do the most damage to Clinton, the people familiar with the matter said.

The White House spokesman at the time, Sean Spicer, would later say that then-candidate Trump had been “joking” when he called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails.

Investigators are also asking questions about Trump’s longtime relationship with Stone, the Republican operative, according to witnesses. Investigators have asked about Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks during the campaign and if he’s ever met with Assange. “They wanted to see if there was a scheme. Was Stone working on the side for Trump?” after he officially left the campaign, one person interviewed by the special counsel’s office said, adding that it seemed investigators wanted to know, “Was this a big plot?” Russia stole emails from the DNC and Podesta, according to U.S. intelligence officials, and released batches of them through WikiLeaks starting in July 2016 and up until the election. As part of his plea agreement with the special counsel, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos revealed that in a conversation in late April 2016, he was told by a professor with ties to Russian officials that they had “dirt’ on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” A 10-page memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released Saturday noted that the Justice Department’s October 2016 application for a FISA warrant on another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, included the fact that Russian agents had previewed their hack and dissemination of stolen emails to Papadopoulos. Investigators were interested in statements Stone made in the final month of the 2016 campaign that strongly suggested he was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released. In one instance, he wrote on Twitter that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Weeks later Podesta’s stolen emails were released by WikiLeaks. As WikiLeaks was strategically publishing stolen emails in the closing months of the campaign, Trump also publicly said he loved the group. In 2017, President Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, would label the group a hostile nonstate actor.

Investigators also have shown interest in any connections Stone has to WikiLeaks and Assange, its founder. Stone has said he communicated with Assange and WikiLeaks through an intermediary he described as a journalist. The Atlantic reported this week that Stone exchanged direct messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks. Mueller’s team has asked witnesses if Stone ever met with Assange. Stone has denied ever communicating directly with Assange. Stone served briefly on the Trump campaign in 2015, leaving in August of that year. At the time he said he quit, while the campaign said he was fired. Investigators have asked witnesses about Stone’s time on the campaign and what his relationship was like with Trump after he left. “How often did they talk? Who really fired him? Was he really fired?” a witness said, describing the line of questioning. In a statement, Stone said he had “no advance knowledge of the content or source of information published by WikiLeaks.” “I have not been interviewed by the special counsel,” wrote Stone. “I never discussed WikiLeaks, Assange or the Hillary disclosures with candidate Trump, before during or after the election. I have no idea what he knew about them, from who or when. I have never met Assange.” Stone appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for four hours last September. In his prepared opening statement, which he also delivered publicly on the InfoWars YouTube channel, Stone denied that he ever engaged “in any illegal activities on behalf of my clients, or the causes which I support.” He denied having direct contact with Assange and called any exchanges with Guccifer 2.0, which took credit for hacking the DNC, “innocuous.” And he said his tweet predicting that Podesta would spend time in the “barrel” was in the context of the coverage of the resignation of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whom he called his “boyhood friend and colleague,” over allegations about business activities in Ukraine. At that same July 2016 news conference where he referenced Clinton’s missing emails, candidate Trump said he was open to lifting sanctions on Russia and possibly recognizing its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. The U.S. and its European allies had sanctioned Russia because of its intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, which the Obama administration refused to recognize. Investigators have asked witnesses why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the probe. Investigators have also inquired whether Trump met with Putin before becoming president, including if a meeting took place during Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant. Trump has given conflicting responses on when he first met Putin.

At least one witness was asked about Trump’s business interests in Moscow and surmised afterward that the special counsel investigation may be focused on business dealings that took place during the campaign.

Witnesses also have been asked about Stone’s connections to Manafort. At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

Officials from four countries discussed exploiting Jared Kushner

WaPo: Officials from 4 countries discussed exploiting Kushner 

Kushner security clearance is downgraded

Washington (CNN)Officials from at least four countries have discussed ways they could use Jared Kushner’s intricate business arrangements, lack of experience and financial woes to manipulate President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The paper reported that it is unclear, based on current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter, that the countries — – Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates — acted on the conversations. The revelation is the latest in a series that call into question Kushner’s ability to work in the White House given his complex business ties. Kushner security clearance is downgraded CNN reported earlier on Tuesday that Kushner has been stripped of his access to the nation’s top secrets after chief of staff John Kelly mandated changes to the security clearance system. Kushner had been working on a temporary clearance, but, under the new system, aides who previously had “top secret” interim clearances saw their access downgrade to the less sensitive “secret” designation. According to the Post, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told his deputies in spring of 2017 that he wanted all the intelligence reports on conversations where foreign leaders discussed interactions with senior Trump officials, including Kushner. The order came after McMaster learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials without coordinating with the National Security Council.

Top White House officials were worried Kushner was “naive and being tricked” by foreign officials, one former White House official told the Post.

The news of foreign interest in Kushner’s business ties and financial woes comes after CNN reported special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his probe beyond Kushner’s contacts with Russia into his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition.

A source familiar with the matter says the FBI is expected to wrap up the Kushner background check within a month, but the source said the FBI would hand the findings to the White House for it to make the ultimate decision on his clearance.

Mueller team asks about Trump’s Russian business dealings as he weighed a run for president

Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him 

(CNN)Investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller have recently been asking witnesses about Donald Trump’s business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 presidential campaign as he considered a run for president, according to three people familiar with the matter. Questions to some witnesses during wide-ranging interviews included the timing of Trump’s decision to seek the presidency, potentially compromising information the Russians may have had about him, and why efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through, two sources said. The lines of inquiry indicate Mueller’s team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was discussing deals in Moscow and contemplating a presidential run. Two of the sources said they do not know from the questions asked whether Mueller has concrete evidence to indicate wrongdoing.Investigators asked one witness when Trump became serious about running for President, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that investigators seemed very interested in when Trump actually decided to run and how that coincided with his business ventures.  The source said the witness told Mueller’s team his impression was that Trump was serious about running back in 2014. Trump tweeted earlier this month that he “didn’t know” that he was going to run for president in 2014. This witness was also asked whether Russians had been seen in the office at Trump Tower New York prior to 2015. The answer was no. Questions have also touched on the possibility of compromising information that Russians may have or claim to have about Trump, according to two sources familiar with the matter. That subject matter echoes claims in a controversial dossier written by a former British spy who was paid by an opposition research firm underwritten by Trump’s Democratic opponents. Several lines of questioning to witnesses have centered on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow, and unsuccessful discussions to brand a Trump Tower Moscow, two sources said. For the pageant, Trump partnered with Aras Agalarov, and his son, Emin Agalarov, billionaire real estate developers in Russia. In congressional testimony last year, Donald Trump Jr. said that “preliminary discussions” to build a tower in Moscow began between the Trump Organization and the Agalarovs after the Miss Universe pageant. Trump tweeted with excitement about the potential project, saying “Trump Tower-Moscow is next.” But the plans fell through. Rob Goldstone, a publicist for pop star Emin Agalarov, told Yahoo News last year that the Trump Tower deal was scrapped because “the economy tanked in Russia” from harsh sanctions imposed by Western countries.

Continue reading “Mueller team asks about Trump’s Russian business dealings as he weighed a run for president”

Top US diplomat QUITS as North Korea negotiator in major blow to peace talks

THE SHOCK resignation of a US diplomat responsible for paving the way to talks with North Korea has dealt a major blow to the chances of a peaceful solution to the standoff between the two nations, analysts have warned.
US special envoy to North Korea Joseph Yun
GETTY IMAGES

America’s special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, announced his shock resignation Joseph Yun announced he was retiring from his post as the US special envoy to North Korea just hours after President Donald Trump reiterated he would not open dialogue with the rogue state unless there were guarantees the talks would result in Kim Jong-un’s regime giving up its nuclear weapons.

South Korean-born Mr Yun has long advocated a diplomatic solution to the tense situation and has been pursing direct diplomacy with the hermit kingdom since 2016. His departure has prompted fears Washington will be left without an experienced expert as the chance of talks between two nations reaches a crucial point. Frank Januzzi, an East Asia expert who heads the Mansfield Foundation, said on Twitter: “This is exceptionally bad news.

“Joe Yun is the only senior official left at State who has experience dealing with the complexities of North Korea policy.”

And former deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia Abraham Denmark said on Twitter that Mr Yun’s retirement was “a huge loss for the US government at a critical moment.” However the US State Department has insisted it has a “deep bench” of senior people who can take on the job. Speaking with US network CBS News after announcing his retirement, Mr Yun said: “It is really my decision. The time, I thought, was right. Mr Yun has 32 years of experience in the foreign service “There is a bit of a lull in activity and I thought it would be a good time to get out.” North Korea has signalled it may be willing to talk with the United States after a series of diplomatic contacts with South Korea during the Winter Olympics. As the games began, hopes of a breakthrough between the rival nations were raised after Kim Jong-un’s younger sister led a delegation from the North to meet with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in. The meeting ended with the prospect of a summit in Pyongyang. Nick Bit: That’s OK we have Ivanka… She can throw a fashon show…….

CNN Poll: 6 in 10 concerned Trump isn’t doing enough to protect US elections

Washington (CNN)About 6 in 10 Americans say Donald Trump is not taking seriously enough the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election, and about the same share lack confidence the president is doing enough to prevent foreign interference in future elections, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Almost three-quarters (72%) say they are concerned about foreign government interference in US elections generally, including 90% of Democrats, 68% of independents and 53% of Republicans, and 60% say they are not confident the president is doing enough to prevent foreign countries from influencing future American elections. The poll followed a stretch in which special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including spreading false information on social media, organizing political events, and communicating with “unwitting” people tied to the Trump campaign and others in order to coordinate political activities. Trump responded to the indictments with a string of tweets emphasizing that his campaign did not collude with Russian operatives, and suggesting that Russia had created discord by prompting an investigation after the election was over, writing, “they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.” Trump’s handling of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election continues to garner negative reviews: Just 30% approve of his handling of it in the new poll, the lowest level in CNN polling by one point. And most, 55%, now say they think the President has attempted to interfere in the investigation, up from 51% saying so in January. Overall, 61% say the Russia investigation is a serious matter that should be fully investigated, while 34% say it’s mainly an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency. As has been the case for some time, there’s a broad partisan gap on this question, with 89% of Democrats calling it a serious matter and 71% of Republicans saying it’s mainly an effort to discredit Trump. Partisan gaps are quite wide on concern about several aspects of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 elections. Overall, 66% are concerned about Russian operatives’ contacts with people involved in Trump’s campaign, that includes 91% of Democrats and 63% of independents but just 36% of Republicans. Likewise, Democrats and independents express greater concern than Republicans on Russian-backed campaigns to spread disinformation to US voters (88% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 47% of Republicans) and to steal and release politically meaningful information (88% of Democrats, 67% of independents and 55% of Republicans). The gap in concern is narrower, however, on the political motivations behind investigations into that Russian interference, as majorities across party lines express concern about those motivations: 78% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 56% of Republicans concerned about that. Trump’s approval rating for handling national security more generally is also low: 40% approve, 50% disapprove.

Trump son-in-law, adviser Kushner loses access to top intelligence briefing: sources

 FILE PHOTO – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, has lost access to the most valued U.S. intelligence report, the President’s Daily Brief, as the White House imposes greater discipline on access to secrets, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Kushner, who has been operating under an interim security clearance for about a year, had his access to the highly classified briefing cut off in the past few weeks, said the sources.  A third official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently passed new information to White House Counsel Don McGahn that led to the slowing or stopping of Kushner’s pending clearance application. The nature of that information was not clear. It also is unclear if and when Kushner’s access to the briefing, known as the PDB, which requires clearance higher than the Top Secret level, would be reinstated. Kushner, a wealthy New York businessman married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has not received his full security clearance because of his extensive financial links, which have taken a long time to examine. He has revised his security clearance form, called an SF-86, several times.  New security clearance policies announced by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President,” Lowell said.Kelly, whose handling of the Porter case was heavily criticized, decreed on Feb. 16 that any interim security clearances for staffers whose background investigations had been pending since June 1 or before would be discontinued within a week. A source familiar with the matter said the situation had caused tensions between Kushner and Kelly.

New Fed chairman isn’t afraid to raise rates amid market turmoil

Powell, who was set to make his debut before Congress on Tuesday, takes the reins at the US central bank from predecessor Janet Yellen amid an improving economy and a stock market that’s been whipsawed by violent selloffs.

In his prepared remarks, however, he noted that he expects wages to rise and inflation to be higher this year than in 2017 — two conditions that would push the Fed to make borrowing money more expensive — in order to keep the economy from overheating.

“While many factors shape the economic outlook, some of the headwinds the US economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds: In particular, fiscal policy has become more stimulative and foreign demand for US exports is on a firmer trajectory,” he said in prepared remarks. In his coming out, he seemed to signal that turmoil in the stock market won’t have any effect on the trajectory of the Fed’s hiking interest rates. “Despite the recent volatility, financial conditions remain accommodative,” he said.

Loyal dog dies after protecting his master’s grave for a DECADE having REFUSED to leave

A COMMITTED dog who refused to leave his owner’s grave for a decade has died at the cemetery where the man is buried. Capitan, the 15-year-old German Shepherd, lived at the side of his master’s resting place for 10 years.

capitan loyal dog grave

Capitan, a German Shepherd, died at the cemetery where this owner was buried 10 years on

Capitan’s owner, Miguel Guzman, died in 2006 and was buried in the Municipal Cemetery of Villa Carlos Paz – a city in the Argentinian state of Cordoba. The German Shepherd went missing from the family home after his funeral. Guzman’s family were shocked to discover Capitan had set up beside his owner’s graveside months later as they assumed the dog had run away.No one is sure how Capitan found the cemetery. At the time, director of the Municipal Cemetery, Hector Baccega, said: “He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master. “During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. “And every day, at six o’clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave and stays there all night.” Capitan lived in the cemetery for ten additional years and became something of a global phenomenon. Four years ago, Capitan was taken to the vet and diagnosed with kidney failure. The vet who treated the dog, Cristhian Sempels, told reporters: “Unfortunately, his age and this condition (kidney failure) meant he could not hold on. “We could have admitted him to the vet, but only so that he could die in the veterinary surgery, so we preferred to leave him and attend to him in the cemetery, where he lived and felt calm.” Mr Guzman bought Capitan as a present for his 13-year-old son Damian in 2005 but died unexpectedly in March the following year. It is not confirmed where Capitan is going to be buried. Reports say that local authorities suggested that the German shepherd should be cremated, with his ashes placed beneath a monument where locals could pay tribute. As the monument would be placed in a public space, this would need to be confirmed and passed on to local institutions. Members of the Foundation of Animal Protection (FUPA) requested Capitan’s remains to be buried next to his owner. Nick Bit: Now you know why you sometimes hear dogs barking in the background on my live shows. I love Shepard’s and they love me. If you don’t understand it forget it you never will. From one dog lover to another!

Wall St falls after Powell’s comments on strengthening economy

Fed’s Powell nods to “gradual” rate increases, close eye on inflation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, pledging to “strike a balance” between the risk of an overheating economy and the need to keep growth on track, told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that the central bank would stick with gradual interest rate increases despite the added stimulus of tax cuts and government spending.Fed policymakers anticipate three rate increases this year, and Powell gave no indication in prepared remarks to the House Financial Services Committee that the pace needs to quicken even as the “tailwinds” of government stimulus and a stronger world economy propel the U.S. recovery.  “The [Federal Open Market Committee] will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheating economy and bringing … price inflation to 2 percent on a sustained basis,” Powell said in prepared remarks for his first monetary policy testimony to Congress as Fed chief.“Some of the headwinds the U.S. economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds,” Powell said, noting recent fiscal policy shifts and the global economic recovery. Still, “inflation remains below our 2 percent longer-run objective. In the (FOMC‘s) view, further gradual rate increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.” The testimony sent Powell’s first signal as Fed chief that the massive tax overhaul and government spending plan launched by the Trump administration will not prompt any immediate shift to a faster pace of rate increases. “Gradual” has been the operative word since the Fed began raising rates under Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, in late 2015.The Fed is expected to approve its first rate increase of 2018 at the next policy meeting in March, when it will also provide fresh economic projections and Powell will hold his first press conference.  “This is a continuation of where this Fed was under Chair Yellen,” said Robert Albertson, principal and chief strategist at Sandler O‘Neill & Partners in New York.

Rick Gates Must Have Some Good Dirt for Mueller to Drop Charges

On Tuesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a motion to dismiss charges against former Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates that were part of an indictment filed in Virginia federal court. The indictment, filed last week, accused Gates and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of tax and bank fraud related to money earned for past work for the Ukrainian government. Days after that indictment, Gates cut a deal with Mueller where he pleaded guilty in a separate case in D.C. federal court. Gates is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, and if the dismissal of the other case is any indication, he could be helping a lot already. Gates is already talking, and Mueller likes what he’s hearing. Mueller’s main investigation is regarding the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian interference with the 2016 election, but it has taken some turns, as Gates’ cases show. The charges against Manafort still stand, and Mueller could be using Gates to get to him. If the Trump campaign was involved in any illegal activity, Manafort would know it, since he was the head of the operation, at least for a while. “The kinds of crimes Manafort is charged with … these are document-heavy crimes,” Abrams said. “Meaning, there’s a lot of evidence there. You don’t really need Gates to be able to prove the Manafort case.”

So if Mueller isn’t using Gates to get to Manafort, that means he’s probably talking to him about the Trump campaign itself. So far, there’s been a lot of smoke surrounding the campaign’s ties to Russia, but no fire.

We’ve seen emails from Donald Trump Jr. about meeting with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and we’ve had campaign members plead guilty to lying about their contacts with Russia. Whether Trump’s campaign truly did anything illegal still remains to be seen, but if they did, there’s a good chance Gates knows about it. With the dismissal of his case on Tuesday, Mueller might know about it too.