Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. As an adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and later one of Mr. Trump’s top aides in the White House, Mr. Flynn was privy to some of the most sensitive foreign-policy deliberations of the new administration and was directly involved in discussions about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He has made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees through his lawyer but has so far found no takers, the officials said.
National: Three White House officials tied to files shared with House intelligence chairman | The Washington Post
At least three senior White House officials, including the top lawyer for the National Security Council, were involved in the handling of intelligence files that were shared with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and showed that Trump campaign officials were swept up in U.S. surveillance of foreign nationals, according to U.S. officials. The White House role in the matter contradicts assertions by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and adds to mounting concerns that the Trump administration is collaborating with the leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Though White House officials have refused to answer questions about the documents shared with Nunes, the White House said in a letter to the House committee Thursday that it had “discovered documents” that might show whether information collection on U.S. persons was mishandled and was prepared to show them to lawmakers.
National: Russian deception influenced election due to Trump’s support, senators hear | The Guardian
Donald Trump’s willingness to embrace Russian disinformation was one of the reasons Russia’s interference in the 2016 election worked, the Senate panel investigating the president’s alleged ties to the country heard on Thursday. Decades of Russian covert attempts to undermine confidence in western institutions, including planting or promoting false news stories or spreading doubt about the integrity of elections, will accelerate in the future unless the US confronts so-called “active measures”, several experts testified to the Senate intelligence committee. “Part of the reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at time [sic] against his opponents,” said Clint Watts of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Those active measures have migrated online with alacrity in recent years. Watts, a former FBI special agent and army officer who came under personal siege from Russian-backed hackers, told the panel’s first public hearing that social media accounts associated with spreading pro-Russian fake news were visible as far back as 2009.
National: FBI Director Comey sought to reveal Russian election meddling last summer: report | The Hill
FBI Director James Comey sought to publish an op-ed as early as last summer about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, but was barred from doing so by the Obama White House, Newsweek reported Wednesday. In a White House meeting in June or July, Comey reportedly brought with him a draft of the proposed op-ed and presented it to top administration officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “He had a draft of it or an outline,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told Newsweek. “He held up a piece of paper in a meeting and said, ‘I want to go forward, what do people think of this?'”
National: Senate Intelligence Committee to start Russia probe interviews next week | The Washington Post
The Senate Intelligence Committee will begin as soon as Monday privately interviewing 20 people in its ongoing investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election as well as potential ties to the Trump campaign, its leaders said Wednesday. Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said that “if there’s relevance” to those and other interviews that he and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) anticipate scheduling, “they will eventually be part of a public hearing.” The two leaders stood side by side to update reporters about their investigation in a rare joint news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill, called just as the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation appeared to be grinding to a halt. #url#
National: White House stopped Yates testimony about Russian meddling in presidential election, lawyer says | Los Angeles Times
A lawyer for former deputy Atty. Gen. Sally Yates wrote in letters last week that the Trump administration was trying to limit her testimony at congressional hearings focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The hearing was later canceled by the House intelligence committee chairman. In the letters, attorney David O’Neil said he understood the Justice Department was invoking “further constraints” on testimony Yates could provide at a committee hearing that had been scheduled for Tuesday. He said the department’s position was that all actions she took as deputy attorney general were “client confidences” that could not be disclosed without written approval. “We believe that the Department’s position in this regard is overbroad, incorrect, and inconsistent with the Department’s historical approach to the congressional testimony of current and former senior officials,” O’Neil wrote in a March 23 letter to Justice Department official Samuel Ramer.
The embattled House intelligence committee chairman, Devin Nunes, has refused to recuse himself from the committee’s investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, despite calls from Democrats. “Why would I?” asked Nunes, who has lost the confidence of the Democrats on the intelligence committee after a series of allegations that they consider a cover-up for the White House. “It’s the same thing as always around this place: a lot of politics, people get heated, but I’m not going to involve myself with that.” The speaker of the House gave Nunes his full confidence on Tuesday. Asked at a press conference whether he should step down, Paul Ryan, the most senior Republican in Congress, responded simply: “No.” With the Republicans generally united in defense of the inquiry, chances are diminishing for its work to be accepted as definitive. The Republicans are also blocking the establishment of an independent commission into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
National: House Democrats Ask Devin Nunes to Recuse Himself From Russia Inquiry | The New York Times
Top House Democrats on Monday called on the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, thrusting the entire inquiry into jeopardy amid what they described as mounting evidence he was too close to President Trump to be impartial. The demands followed revelations that the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, had met on White House grounds with a source who showed him secret American intelligence reports. The reports, Mr. Nunes said last week, showed that Mr. Trump or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
The new revelation that the information actually came from a meeting held on the grounds of the White House intensified questions about what prompted Mr. Nunes to make the claim about the intelligence gathering, and who gave him the information. Representatives Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, and Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, suggested that Mr. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, was simply too close to the White House to run an independent, thorough inquiry.
After a week of partisan rancor that threatened to bring down the House’s probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election, the Senate is quickly realizing it may be the only chamber left that can produce findings free of the cloud of White House meddling. “You don’t have the kind of blow-ups [in the Senate] you had at the House,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Politico. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been able to avoid the partisan fissures that have weakened its House counterpart, and began conducting private interviews with intelligence officials last week. Sources say it also plans to interview Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, who had met in December with the Russian ambassador.
… “This isn’t how democracy works,” said Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a nonprofit that works with progressive ballot campaigns. “You don’t get to pick and choose when you like a process and when you don’t.” Sarver sees a trend of legislatures trying to restrict voters’ ability to make laws and amend state constitutions around the country. The popularity of initiatives has ebbed and flowed across the years, and the roles of defender and critic have been fluid. But there are a few factors that make the present moment especially ripe for such conflicts. First, Republicans dominate state legislatures around the country, thanks to favorable redistricting maps drawn after the 2010 Census, even in states with sizable Democratic-leaning voter bases that want more progressive policies. Second, while ballots sometimes function to deal with purely state-level concerns, policy fights are increasingly nationalized. Groups like BISC and the Fairness Project are working to coordinate state-level pushes around the country on liberal reforms like paid sick leave, minimum-wage hikes, or recreational marijuana. Their opponents are working at the national level too. In November, ProPublica and The New York Times reported on how major corporate lobbies, some convened under the auspices of the Koch brothers’ political network, have sought to push back on ballot measures.
President Donald Trump should discuss Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the U.S. election in November in an effort to fill intelligence gaps, Senator John McCain said. “I would very much like to see the president address this issue including the issue we continue to wrestle with that is the Russian interference in the last election,” McCain said Saturday at a German Marshall Fund forum in Brussels. “There are a lot of answers that are required.” FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee this week that the bureau is probing Russian efforts to “interfere” in the Nov. 8 election, as well as potential ties between Trump’s associates and Moscow during the campaign. The president’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired for making misleading statements about contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a few weeks before the inauguration.
National: Schiff: Nunes needs to decide if he wants to lead a credible investigation on Russia | The Hill
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Sunday said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) needs to decide if he wants to conduct a credible investigation into the Russian meddling in the presidential election. “We can’t have a credible investigation if one of the members, indeed the chairman, takes all the information he has seen to the White House and doesn’t share it with his own committee,” Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” Schiff was further pressed on whether he believes the chairman of the committee is a “tool of the White House he’s investigating.”
National: Chairman and partisan: The dual roles of Devin Nunes raise questions about House investigation | The Washington Post
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was on his way to an event in Washington late Tuesday when the evening’s plans abruptly changed. After taking a brief phone call, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) swapped cars and slipped away from his staff, congressional officials said. He appears to have used that unaccounted-for stretch of time to review classified intelligence files brought to his attention by sources he has said he will not name. The next morning, Nunes stepped up to a set of microphones in the Capitol complex to declare that he had learned that U.S. spy agencies had “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” Within hours President Trump was declaring that he had been vindicated for his tweets alleging that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Public attention on the revelation that the FBI was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow had shifted to questions about whether Trump officials were victims of spying abuse. And by week’s end, a congressional probe capable of threatening Trump was consumed in partisan fighting and scheduling turmoil.
Key U.S. lawmakers appear locked into a war of words over halting progress in their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign. The latest skirmish was sparked by the abrupt cancellation Friday of an open hearing set to feature top former intelligence officials. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, argued that it was instead necessary to hear closed-door testimony from the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency. “The committee seeks additional information … that can only be addressed in closed session,” Nunes told reporters during a hastily arranged news conference. Word of the change ignited criticism from congressional Democrats, who pointed out FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers had already testified on Monday.
Of the 860,000 Nebraskans who cast ballots in last fall’s election, only two are suspected of casting fraudulent votes. But while the actual number of illegal voters may be minuscule, State Senator John Murante says, there is an even better reason for Nebraska’s Legislature to crack down on fraud at the ballot box. “First and…
The top Democrat on one of the congressional committees investigating ties between Donald Trump and Russia has raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after its Republican chairman shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues. In the latest wild development surrounding the Russia inquiry that has created an air of scandal around Trump, Democrat Adam Schiff effectively called his GOP counterpart, Devin Nunes, a proxy for the White House, questioning his conduct. “These actions raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work,” Schiff said late Wednesday afternoon after speaking with Nunes, his fellow Californian, before telling MSNBC that evidence tying Trump to Russia now appeared “more than circumstantial”. Two days after testimony from the directors of the FBI and NSA that dismissed any factual basis to Trump’s 4 March claim that Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance, Nunes publicly stated he was “alarmed” to learn that the intelligence agencies may have “incidentally” collected communications from Trump and his associates.
National: Comey stands by U.S. intelligence assessment that Putin wanted Trump to win election | Los Angeles Times
Two of the nation’s top counter-intelligence officials stood by the U.S. intelligence assessment in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government sought to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election. Under questioning from Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), FBI Director James Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, said nothing has changed since they issued their Jan. 6 report on Russian interference in the election. The report found that senior Russian officials, including Putin, wanted to undermine the U.S. democratic process, hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump’s campaign. Comey and Rogers declined to provide details on how the intelligence community reached that assessment.
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, took the extraordinary step on Monday of announcing that the agency is investigating whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Mr. Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee created a treacherous political moment for Mr. Trump, who has insisted that “Russia is fake news” that was cooked up by his political opponents to undermine his presidency. Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said officers would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.” Joined by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, Mr. Comey also dismissed Mr. Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign, a sensational accusation that has served as a distraction in the public debate over Russian election interference. Taken together, the two provided the most definitive statement yet that Mr. Trump’s accusation was false.
National: Russian hackers were likely surprised by blowback from cyberattacks on U.S. elections, analysts say | Los Angeles Times
The Russian cyberattacks that targeted last year’s U.S. presidential elections were as much about wanting to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House as about proving to the world that the Kremlin was capable of pulling off this feat, a leading Russian expert on cybersecurity said Monday. “Russian hackers deliberately tried to weaken positions of Hillary Clinton,” said Andrei Soldatov, author of a 2015 book on the Kremlin’s cyberwars against its critics. “She was seen as Russia’s enemy No. 1, a person who inspired Moscow protests [against President Vladimir Putin], a person who would harm Russia the most.” But Moscow may have miscalculated the fallout of its intrusion, which has so far led to resignation of a high-ranking U.S. official, congressional investigations and a bipartisan circling of the wagons around the need to protect the integrity of America’s democracy, several leading Russia experts said.
Future U.S. elections may very well face more Russian attempts to interfere with the outcome, the FBI and the National Security Agency warned on Monday. “They’ll be back,” said FBI director James Comey. “They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018.” Comey made the comment during a congressional hearing on Russia’s suspected efforts to meddle with last year’s presidential election. Allegedly, cyberspies from the country hacked several high-profile Democratic groups and people, in an effort to tilt the outcome in President Donald Trump’s favor. Although Russia has denied any involvement, the FBI expects the country to strike again. “One of the lessons they [Russia] may draw from this is they were successful,” Comey said. “Because they introduced chaos and division and discord.” NSA director Michael Rogers agreed: “I fully expect them to continue this level of activity.”
Between outdated technology, Russian hacking threats, tight budgets, the president’s promises to investigate voter fraud and incomplete information about federal assistance for securing voting systems, local elections officials have their hands full. In Bexar County, Texas, which is saddled with the oldest elections technology in the state, officials scour eBay for Zip disks, the storage media the county’s system uses to help merge results.”I’d be dead in the water without our technical support people looking online to buy the pieces and parts to keep us going,” Jacque Callanen, the county’s elections administrator told the Associated Press. Similarly outdated systems are common across the country, but municipalities probably will not be able to foot the bill for new systems without help from their state legislatures, which are also strapped for cash.
A new bill from three House Democrats would codify elections as critical infrastructure. Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Hank Johnson (Ga.) introduced the Securing America’s Future Elections (SAFE) Act, which would launch several cybersecurity programs, including codifying the decision from former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to reclassify elections as critical infrastructure. Designating a sector as critical infrastructure gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) additional leeway to provide assistance and training toward its security. The label currently applies to 16 sectors, including power, telecommunications and emergency services. “One thing Democrats and Republicans should agree on is that we should be doing everything in our power to guarantee the sovereignty of our county and the integrity of our elections. This bill will do just that,” said Pocan in a written statement.
National: Lessons from 2016: Try same-day voter registration, rethink Electoral College, report says | Philadelphia Inquirer
States with the highest voter turnout in 2016 offered same-day registration or were targeted battlegrounds in the tight presidential election, according to an analysis released Thursday by Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. The six highest-ranking states have rules that allow eligible voters to register at the polls or update their information there before casting a ballot. In order, they were: Minnesota (74.8 percent), Maine (72.8 percent), New Hampshire (72.5 percent), Colorado (72.1 percent), Wisconsin (70.5 percent), and Iowa (69 percent). All but Minnesota, the leader for the second presidential election in a row, also were targeted by the presidential candidates. This was the first report on 2016 turnout to be based on certified election returns.
Lawmakers in nearly half the states want to add a requirement for presidential candidates: Show us your tax returns. The issue has dogged President Donald Trump, who became the first presidential candidate in modern times to refuse to make his returns public. It flared anew this week after MSNBC said it had obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal return, prompting the administration to release the documents preemptively. State lawmakers around the country, mostly Democrats, want to ensure transparency in future presidential campaigns so voters can evaluate candidates’ sources of income and any possible conflicts of interest. Most of the bills would require presidential contenders to release copies of their returns as a condition for appearing on that state’s ballot, although it’s unclear whether they could pass constitutional muster. The aim is to find out about potential conflicts that candidates might have before they take office, said Hawaii Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat who introduced one of the Hawaii bills.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee will press FBI Director James Comey to provide details of any investigation his agents are conducting over contacts between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russia, during or after the presidential campaign. Comey on Monday will testify publicly for the first time since Trump’s inauguration about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election and the web of conspiracies — or conspiracy theories — entangling Trump and those close to him. While the FBI and other intelligence agencies have already found that Russia hacked into Democratic emails and leaked them in an attempt to help Trump, members of intelligence panel want more information from Comey.
If the election results of 2016 were really about rejecting the political establishment, then Congress didn’t get the memo. After all, 97 percent of incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives seeking re-election won even as national polls show overwhelming disapproval of Congress. Advocates for redistricting reform hope voters are ready to pay more attention to the otherwise wonky issue of legislative districts are drawn, a system that’s helped send so many incumbents back to Washington and state capitols, year after year. One group trying to change that system is One Virginia 2021, a nonpartisan organization that’s challenging the constitutionality of 11 state legislative district boundaries.
At least once a year, staffers in one of Texas’ largest election offices scour the web for a relic from a bygone technology era: Zip disks. The advanced version of the floppy disk that was cutting edge in the mid-1990s plays a vital role in tallying votes in Bexar County, where like other places around the U.S., money to replace antiquated voting equipment is scarce. “I’d be dead in the water without our technical support people looking online to buy the pieces and parts to keep us going,” said Jacque Callanen, elections administrator in the county that includes San Antonio and had 1 million-plus registered voters in the 2016 election. Purchased in 2002, Bexar County’s voting equipment is among the oldest in Texas. The Zip disks the county uses to help merge results and allow paper ballots to be tallied with final election totals are no longer manufactured, so staff members snap them up by the dozens off of eBay and Amazon.
When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act four years ago, it gave the green light to state lawmakers eager to restrict access to the polls and eliminated the Justice Department’s role as traffic cop on whether those laws were necessary or appropriate. Activists then turned to the courts, with some success: Last year, federal judges struck down a North Carolina law mandating voters present a valid, government-issued photo ID at the polls, along with cutbacks on early voting, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal. While lawyers and civil rights leaders have won some big battles in fights over voter ID laws, diminished early voting and reductions in polling places, experts say the future of voting rights remains uncertain – due to changes in the political and legal landscape that swept in with President Donald Trump.
More voters cast ballots in November’s elections than when President Obama won reelection in 2012, though the number of Americans who showed up to vote remains well below all-time highs set half a century ago. About 139 million Americans, or 60.2 percent of the voting-eligible population, cast a ballot in November’s elections, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. That compares with 58.6 percent of eligible voters who turned out in 2012, but it’s below the 62.2 percent who turned out to help elect Obama for the first time in 2008. Last year, President Trump won just shy of 63 million votes — enough to secure a majority of the Electoral College, even though he fell almost 3 million votes shy of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The states where Trump and Clinton battled most fiercely also tended to be those where voter turnout was highest. Nine of the 13 states where voter turnout was highest were battleground states.
A Democratic senator is looking for answers on whether the Trump administration will keep in place the designation of election infrastructure as “critical” and, if so, how the new administration plans to implement it. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) directed a number of questions at Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in a letter this month in order to better understand the designation, which was made by his predecessor Jeh Johnson just weeks before Barack Obama left the White House. The designation was also made in timing with the release of the intelligence community’s report on Russian election interference, which assessed that Russian intelligence accessed elements of state and local electoral boards. In doing so, the Obama administration opened up election infrastructure—including polling places, vote tabulations locations, and technology such as voting machines and registration databases-–to federal protections upon request from state and local governments.