On the same day that President Trump went on Twitter to renew his claim that the focus on Russian hacking was “a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election,” his two top intelligence officials told the Senate on Thursday that Russian cyberactivities were the foremost threat facing the United States and were likely to grow only more severe. The officials delivered the warning as the nation’s intelligence agencies released their annual worldwide threat assessment, which described the Kremlin’s “aggressive cyberposture,” evidenced by “Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election.” Dan Coats, Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence, repeated and endorsed, almost word for word, the Obama administration’s conclusion that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 U.S. election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets.”
Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has been “well documented,” but it’s still in the interests of the U.S. to attempt to improve relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “I don’t think there’s any question that the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes,” Tillerson said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” on Sunday. He added that the impact of that meddling was “inconclusive.” Even so, “it’s in the interest of the American people, it’s in the interest of Russia, the rest of the world, that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world,” Tillerson said.
The premonition came in a Winston-Salem conference room, on an otherwise happy election night in 2004, before Richard M. Burr of North Carolina had even declared victory in his bid to join the Senate. News outlets had begun calling the race. A watch party was waiting for him. But his mind was elsewhere, at least for a moment. “He said, ‘I hope they don’t put me on the Intelligence Committee,’” recalled Paul Shumaker, a top strategist for Mr. Burr who sat with him to follow the returns. “‘It’s hard enough to sleep at night the way it is.’” Mr. Burr’s present sleep habits are unknown, particularly as he tiptoes at last toward criticism of a president he had generally praised — until the firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director. This much is less ambiguous: Now the committee’s chairman as it investigates ties between President Trump’s associates and Russia, the unobtrusive Mr. Burr is shrugging into a spotlight he never expected and does not especially seem to relish.
President Trump on Thursday launched a long-promised commission on “election integrity,” rekindling a controversy over the prevalence of voter fraud at U.S. polls. The commission, established by executive order, is the upshot of Trump’s unsubstantiated claim shortly after taking office that more than 3 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in November’s election. White House aides said the scope of the commission, chaired by Vice President Pence, will reach beyond allegations of voter fraud to include voter suppression and other suspect election practices, and would include members of both major political parties.
President Trump on Thursday named Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has pressed for aggressive measures to crack down on undocumented immigrants, to a commission investigating vote fraud, following through on his unsubstantiated claim that millions of “illegals” voted for his Democratic rival and robbed him of victory in the national popular vote. Mr. Kobach, who has championed the strictest voter identification laws in the country, will be the vice chairman of the commission, which will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and is expected to include about a dozen others, including state officials from both political parties, said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary.
National: Firing Fuels Calls for Independent Investigator, Even From Republicans | The New York Times
President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, immediately fueled calls for an independent investigator or commission to look into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election and any connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government. Calls to appoint an independent prosecutor have simmered for months, but until now, they had been voiced almost entirely by Democrats. Mr. Comey’s insistence that he was pressing ahead with the Russia investigation, and would go wherever the facts took him, had deflected those calls — especially because he was in such open defiance of a president who said the charges were “fake.” Mr. Comey’s firing upended the politics of the investigation, and even Republicans were joining the call for independent inquiries.
National: U.S. Census director resigns amid turmoil over funding of 2020 count | The Washington Post
The director of the U.S. Census Bureau is resigning, leaving the agency leaderless at a time when it faces a crisis over funding for the 2020 decennial count of the U.S. population and beyond. John H. Thompson, who has served as director since 2013 and worked for the bureau for 27 years before that, will leave June 30, the Commerce Department announced Tuesday. The news, which surprised census experts, follows an April congressional budget allocation for the census that critics say is woefully inadequate. And it comes less than a week after a prickly hearing at which Thompson told lawmakers that cost estimates for a new electronic data collection system had ballooned by nearly 50 percent.
Let’s be clear at the outset. There is no evidence of a massive voter fraud problem in the United States. There is no evidence of even a modest voter fraud problem in the United States. There is no statistical evidence. There is no anecdotal evidence. There is no more evidence that we need national protections from voter fraud than there is that we need to wear personal lightning-rod suits so that we avoid the 30-odd deaths each year from electrical storms. For any other president, then, an executive order establishing a “presidential advisory commission on election integrity” such as the one Donald Trump signed on Thursday would prompt a flurry of questions about why such a commission was needed. For Trump, though, it’s part of the package: Directing government resources, however modest, to bolster a faulty political argument that he’s embraced despite being repeatedly shown that it’s false.
Kris Kobach, who as Kansas secretary of state repeatedly made unsubstantiated voter-fraud allegations, will co-chair President Donald Trump’s new Commission on Election Integrity, igniting outrage from civil rights groups and top Democrats. Critics ridiculed the very creation of the commission Thursday, as well as Kobach’s role, saying it’s all intended to perpetuate the president’s false claim that millions voted illegally in November. The 12-member bipartisan commission will review claims of improper registrations and voting, fraudulent registrations and voter suppression, White House officials told McClatchy. Members will provide the president with a report in 2018 and may issue recommendations to the states. It’s a sham, charged critics.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena on Wednesday demanding documents related to Russia from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, ramping up its monthslong investigation of Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. In a joint statement, Senators Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, said the committee had first requested the documents from Flynn in a April 28 letter, but the retired lieutenant general had declined, through counsel, to cooperate with the committee’s request. It was the first subpoena announced by the committee in its investigation.
The acting director of the F.B.I. contradicted the White House on two major issues on Thursday: the support of rank-and-file agents for the fired F.B.I. chief James B. Comey and the importance of the agency’s investigation into Russian election interference. In a striking repudiation of official White House statements, the acting director, Andrew G. McCabe, said the inquiry was “highly significant” and pledged to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the F.B.I. would resist any attempt to influence or hobble the investigation. “Simply put,” he said, “you cannot stop the men and women of the F.B.I. from doing the right thing.” That Mr. McCabe felt compelled to assert the F.B.I.’s independence was itself remarkable, a byproduct of the unusually public effort by Mr. Trump and his aides to take focus off the investigations into Russia’s election meddling. He also said the F.B.I. investigation had the resources it needed, partly disputing an account that Mr. Comey had sought more aid. Mr. McCabe did not hesitate to make clear where Mr. Comey stood in the eyes of F.B.I. agents and employees.
Three-thousand Wisconsinites were chanting Donald Trump’s name. It was Oct. 17, 2016, just after the candidate’s now-infamous “locker-room” chat with Billy Bush became public knowledge. But the crowd was unfazed. They were happy. And they were rowdy, cheering for Trump, cheering for the USA, cheering for Hillary Clinton to see the inside of a jail cell. The extended applause lines meant it took Trump a good 20 minutes to get through the basics — thanks for having me, you are wonderful, my opponent is bad — and on to a rhetorical point that was quickly becoming a signature of his campaign: If we lose in November, Trump told the supporters in Green Bay, it’ll be because the election is rigged by millions of fraudulent voters — many of them illegal immigrants. That night wasn’t the first time Trump had made this accusation, but now he had statistics to support it. His campaign had recently begun to send the same data to reporters, as well. In both cases, one of the chief pieces of evidence was a peer-reviewed research paper published in 2014 by political scientists at Virginia’s Old Dominion University. The research showed that 14 percent of noncitizens were registered to vote, Trump told the crowd in Green Bay, enough of a margin to give the Democrats control of the Senate. Enough, he claimed, to have given North Carolina to Barack Obama in 2008.
National: ACLU Files FOIA Request for Voter Fraud Evidence After Trump Orders Election Commission | Law News
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday to learn why President Donald Trump thinks there is voter fraud. This comes after POTUS signed an Executive Order to implement a commission to examine voter fraud in federal elections. “The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections,” it says. When done, they’d report to Trump on relevant policies, and vulnerabilities in voting systems. The ACLU’s FOIA request targets our head-of-state’s public comments on voter fraud, citing a Jan. 25 interview with ABC. It is old news that Trump has claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, but he didn’t provide his sources. The ACLU’s stance: Prove it.
The Department of Commerce announced on Tuesday that Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson will step down at the end of June, creating the possibility of a leadership void at the bureau in the run-up to undertaking the 2020 Census. In a statement, Thompson, who will retire on June 30, said he plans to “pursue opportunities in the private sector.” Thompson was sworn in as census director in 2013, and had reportedly been expected to remain in the role through the end of 2017. The results of the United States census, which takes place every decade, are crucial for determining the allocation of government resources for schools, law enforcement, and housing. Information collected by the census also has a direct bearing on how American citizens are represented in federal government since the population count serves as the basis for how congressional districts are carved out.
National: Lawyers who said Trump has no ties to Russia named Russian law firm of 2016 | The Guardian
The law firm that said Donald Trump has no financial ties to Russia “with a few exceptions” was recognized in 2016 as Russia law firm of the year. In the letter released on Friday – but dated 8 March – Morgan Lewis tax partners Sherri A Dillon and William F Nelson said a review of Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years did not find income from Russian sources during that period, save for “a few exceptions”. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, a break with decades of tradition. The law firm did not release copies of the returns, rendering its assessment of the documents impossible to verify independently. Morgan Lewis was honored by Chambers Europe, a division of publisher Chambers & Partners that ranks law firms based in the region. According to a press release dated 2 May 2016: “The prestigious honor was announced at the publication’s recent annual awards dinner in London, where firms from 24 countries were recognized.”
President Donald Trump has fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, smack in the middle of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into potential ties between the Trump administration and Russia. But while whomever Trump appoints to take Comey’s place could shut down the Russia probe eventually, Comey’s removal won’t make it skip a beat. According to press secretary Sean Spicer, the decision to terminate Comey had nothing to do with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties but rather Comey’s handling—including controversial public statements—of the Clinton email case. In a statement, Trump said that he relied on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ guidance that “a fresh start is needed” to restore confidence in the FBI. In a letter to the president, Sessions wrote, “It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions.”
National: Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry | The New York Times
Days before he was fired as F.B.I. director, James B. Comey asked the Justice Department for more prosecutors and other personnel to accelerate the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. It was the first clear-cut evidence that Mr. Comey believed the bureau needed more resources to handle a sprawling and highly politicized counterintelligence investigation. His appeal, described on Wednesday by four congressional officials, was made to Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, whose memo was used to justify Mr. Comey’s abrupt dismissal on Tuesday.
President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey on Tuesday, at the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who said he had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly and in doing so damaged the credibility of the FBI and the Justice Department. The startling development comes as Comey was leading a counterintelligence investigation to determine whether associates of Trump may have coordinated with Russia to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last year. It wasn’t immediately clear how Comey’s ouster will affect the Russia probe, but Democrats said they were concerned that his ouster could derail the investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, would be the acting director of the FBI. As a presidential candidate, Trump explicitly criticized Comey and McCabe for their roles in the Clinton probe while at other points praising Comey for his “guts.”
President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey throws a cloud of doubt over the bureau’s investigation into allegations of Trump campaign ties to Russia. The FBI and three congressional committees have been investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump connections. As head of the FBI, Comey had been leading the complex counterintelligence investigation that has dogged the Trump White House since Inauguration Day. The White House said Tuesday its search for a new FBI director had already begun. And the person Trump appoints will likely have a huge impact on how the investigation moves forward and whether the public will accept its outcome. But given concerns by members of Congress in both parties over Comey’s dismissal, it’s unlikely a permanent director will be in place soon. A new director chosen by Trump could decide to drop the FBI investigation altogether, or not pursue it as aggressively as Comey has. He or she could also decide not to fully cooperate with the congressional investigations, which rely on information from the FBI.
National: Democrats Call for an Independent Investigation Into the Election After Trump Fires FBI Director | The Atlantic
Democrats are calling for an independent investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election following the news that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. The White House announced Comey’s dismissal on Tuesday evening. So far, reaction in Congress to Comey’s removal has split along partisan lines. Some high-ranking Republican lawmakers appeared supportive of the president’s decision to dismiss the head of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, which has been investigating potential connections between the Trump campaign and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. A number of Democrats, on the other hand, expressed shock and outrage over the dismissal, renewing calls for an independent investigation into the matter. Comey’s exit raises questions about the future of the FBI’s politically charged investigation into the 2016 election, since Trump has the power to nominate the director’s replacement, and thus the official charged with overseeing that inquiry.
National: ‘Terrifying, Nixonian’: Comey’s firing takes democracy to dark new territory | The Guardian
Donald Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director, James Comey, who was investigating links between the president’s associates and the Russian government, has taken US democracy into dark and dangerous new territory. That was the assessment of Democratic leaders, legal observers and security experts last night, with some drawing direct comparisons to Watergate and tinpot dictatorships. FBI directors are given 10-year terms in office, precisely to insulate them from politics. It is very rare to fire them. The last time it happened was 24 years ago, when Bill Clinton sacked William Sessions, who had clung to office despite a damning internal ethics report detailing abuse of office, including the use of an FBI plane for family trips. Comey’s sacking has taken place in very different circumstances. It came on a night when CNN reported that a grand jury had issued subpoenas in the investigation of the Trump camp’s contacts with Russian officials, and after had confirmed to Congress that more than one person connected to the Trump campaign was the subject of an FBI counter-intelligence investigation. He had also indicated that he was investigating leaks from inside the FBI to the Trump campaign in the course of the election.
President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey amid the agency’s investigation of Russian interference in last year’s election, saying the bureau needed new leadership to restore “public trust and confidence.” Trump’s decision Tuesday means that he will get to nominate Comey’s successor while the agency is deep into the Russia inquiry, including whether any of Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. Democrats condemned Comey’s dismissal, calling it an effort to cut short the Russia probe and demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to carry it forward. According to the White House, though, it wasn’t the Russia investigation that led to Comey’s dismissal. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Comey was fired because of his handling of the probe into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server — even though the facts of that inquiry were well-known at the time Trump took office and asked Comey to stay on the job.
Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey. The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.
National: James Clapper: Russia Is ‘Emboldened’ to Interfere in Elections After 2016 | Associated Press
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Russia is now “emboldened” to interfere in elections in the U.S. and around the world. Clapper testified Monday before a Senate judiciary subcommittee about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He says Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election amounted to a “high-water mark” in its decades-long efforts to interfere in political contests. Clapper says he hopes Americans recognize the severity of the threat posed by Russia and that the U.S. moves to counter Moscow before it “further erodes the fabric of our democracy.”
Less than a week into the Trump administration, Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, hurried to the White House with an urgent concern. The president’s national security adviser, she said, had lied to the vice president about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. “We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible,” Ms. Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday. “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” But President Trump did not immediately fire the adviser, Michael T. Flynn, over the apparent lie or the susceptibility to blackmail. Instead, Mr. Flynn remained in office for 18 more days. Only after the news of his false statements broke publicly did he lose his job on Feb. 13.
President Trump has headlined four big rallies in the first months of his presidency to tout his agenda and savage his foes. A new $1.5 million television ad campaign promotes his accomplishments and attacks the media. The flurry of activity to build support for Trump’s policies isn’t organized by the White House but springs from his re-election campaign, which filed paperwork allowing him to begin raising and spending money on Jan. 20 — the same day he took the oath of office. By contrast, both President Obama and President George W. Bush had been in office for more than two years before they filed for re-election. Traditionally, presidents use federal money to push their policies and refrain from overtly political activity until later in their terms. But Trump’s unorthodox move to immediately start fundraising allows him to capitalize on federal election laws to push his agenda in new ways. He can rally his supporters, openly denounce his political enemies and pressure recalcitrant lawmakers in Congress — all without running afoul of rules that bar using taxpayer money for politics.
National: Sally Yates to testify about her discussions with the White House on Russia | The Washington Post
Sally Yates was the attorney general for only 10 days — an Obama administration holdover whose role was to quietly manage the Justice Department until the Trump administration could quickly replace her. Instead, her brief time in the job has fueled months of fierce political debate on the White House and Russia. On Monday, Yates is to testify before a Senate subcommittee about her discussions with the White House, testimony that was delayed for more than a month after a previously scheduled appearance before a House committee was canceled amid a legal dispute over whether she would even be allowed to discuss the subject.
National: After promising to cooperate, ex-Trump adviser Carter Page turns inquiry back on Senate panel | The Washington Post
Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser whose interactions with Russia are under FBI investigation, has repeatedly said he wants to cooperate with Congress’s Russia probes to clear his name. But in a letter this week to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Page appeared to initially duck specific questions regarding his interactions with Russian officials, suggesting that the panel seek that information from inside the U.S. government instead. In an email to The Post, Page characterized the letter as a “preliminary response” to a Senate request that he begin providing detailed information no later than May 9, leaving open the possibility he will release more information to the committee in coming days. But he titled the letter a response to “request for even more irrelevant data” and asked that the committee first release to him information the government has collected through surveillance “as a starting point.”
National: Senate Asks Trump Associates for Records of Communication With Russians | The New York Times
The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked a number of high-profile Trump campaign associates to hand over emails and other records of dealings with Russians as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and is prepared to subpoena those who refuse to cooperate, officials said. The requests for the materials were made in letters sent by the committee in the past 10 days, said two officials with knowledge of the contents of the letters. The move is designed to accelerate the committee’s investigation, and represents a new bipartisan challenge to the Trump administration, which has sought to use Republican allies in Congress to blunt the inquiries.
After months of trying to move the political needle in favor of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, American far-right activists on Saturday threw their weight behind a hacking attack against her rival, Emmanuel Macron, hoping to cast doubt on an election that is pivotal to France and the wider world. The efforts were the culmination of an extended campaign against Mr. Macron after his candidacy began to gain steam this year, with digital activists in the United States and elsewhere sharing tactics, tips and tricks across the English- and French-speaking parts of the internet. It is unclear whether the leaked documents, which some experts say may be connected to hackers linked to Russia, will affect the outcome of the election on Sunday between Ms. Le Pen, the far-right candidate from the National Front, and Mr. Macron, an independent centrist. But the role of American far-right groups in promoting the breach online highlights their growing resolve to spread extremist messages beyond the United States.