Congressman Turner hints intelligence agencies may have spied on Trump

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 11:21 AM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 11:23 AM

Turner Comey

Rep. Mike Turner hinted Monday that the intelligence community may have inadvertently spied on President Donald Trump last year, wiretapping the conversations of those overseas only to find that those people were talking with Trump and his associates.

Hours after FBI Director James Comey confirmed he had “no information” confirming President Donald Trump’s tweets alleging that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election, Turner questioned Adm. Mike Rogers, National Security Agency director and U.S. Cyber Command Commander and FBI director James Comey whether it was possible that the intelligence community picked up Trump’s conversations because of their surveillance with others.

FBI Director Comey

“The reason why this is important is because intuitively we would all know the incoming administration would have conversations with those that the intelligence community may be collecting against either by making phone calls to them or receiving phone calls from them,” Turner said.

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Rogers said that the agencies would “not automatically” stop recording those conversations if they discovered that the conversations involved Trump or a member of his team.

Turner also questioned whether former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ever briefed Obama “concerning the possible inadvertent or incidental collection or interception by the U.S. intelligence community of any communication of members of the incoming Trump administration.”

“That’s not something I can comment on,” Comey said.

The exchange occurred during a rare open hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in which Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign and administration.

Earlier Comey said any wiretapping of Trump would have had to go through an application process and be approved by a judge. “No president could” order such surveillance unilaterally, he said.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said during a rare open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.

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Comey also said the investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign will include an assessment of whether any crimes have been committed.

But he didn’t say who they were investigating, how they were conducting the investigation or provide other details, saying that such information is classified. Comey was authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm the investigation, saying that Justice had deemed the information in the public interest.

“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” he said.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., asked Comey and Rogers whether they had evidence that Russia had tampered with vote tallies in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states. Both witnesses said they had no evidence.

RELATED: FBI Director confirms probe

In their opening statements, both Nunes and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California dismissed Trump’s claims that Obama had wiretapped him, with Nunes saying there was “not physical wiretapping of Trump Tower,” and Schiff saying there was “no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous claim.” Nunes, however, did not rule out “other methods of surveillance” being used on Trump or his associates.

Trump weighed in via Twitter throughout the day, encouraging Republicans to look into the leaking of classified information and saying “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign” and arguing “there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia.” He also weighed in via his “POTUS” Twitter account, posting clips underscoring his arguments that Russia did not weigh in.

RELATED: Adam Schiff’s opening statement: There is ‘direct evidence of deception’ between Trump’s campaign and Russia

Disparities between the parties became apparent early on, with Nunes focusing his attention on whether or not classified information had been leaked and Schiff questioning links between Trump aides and Russia.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questioned whether reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information. “Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?” he asked Comey. Comey replied that he didn’t think a reporter had been prosecuted for publishing classified information “during my lifetime.” Still, he admitted, the only way that the media would get classified information is if someone told them who shouldn’t have, he said.

FBI Director Comey

Neither side dismissed the idea that Russia had tried to intervene in the electoral process, be it via hacking or sending out misinformation. Schiff said while it would be no crime for the Trump campaign to be in contact with the Russians, “if the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetta Russia, not only would it be a serious crime, it would represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history. “

Schiff called for an independent commission, complementary of the committee’s and the intelligence agencies’ work that would be “completely removed from any political considerations.”

“We cannot do this work alone,” he said.

$300M for Great Lakes cleanup moves forward in Congress

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 11:47 AM


            Congress
Congress

A wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup program would receive $300 million next year under a spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The measure cleared the committee this week and now goes to the full Senate. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative focuses on the region’s most longstanding environmental problems, such as toxic pollution, farm and urban runoff, invasive species and declining wildlife habitat.

President Donald Trump’s budget called for eliminating the program’s funding. But lawmakers in both parties from the Great Lakes region fought to retain the $300 million it has received most years since 2010.

Todd Ambs of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition says he’s happy about the funding, but worried that the bill cuts spending for the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments that administer the program.

U.S. slaps new sanctions on North Korean, Chinese firms

Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @ 5:45 PM


            In this undated photo provided on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the the Sungri Motor Complex in Pyeongannam-do, North Korea. The Trump administration is due to announce new sanctions on North Korea on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, after declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism in the latest push to isolate the pariah nation. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this undated photo provided on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the the Sungri Motor Complex in Pyeongannam-do, North Korea. The Trump administration is due to announce new sanctions on North Korea on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, after declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism in the latest push to isolate the pariah nation. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on a slew of North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies Tuesday in its latest push to isolate the rogue nation over its nuclear weapons development and deprive it of revenue.

The Treasury Department also designated a North Korean corporation involved in exporting workers overseas. The action came a day after the United States returned North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“These designations include companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are also sanctioning the shipping and transportation companies, and their vessels, that facilitate North Korea’s trade and its deceptive maneuvers.”

Among the companies targeted were four Chinese-based companies and one Chinese individual said to have deep commercial ties with North Korea. The sanctions were imposed under a September executive order that opened the way for the U.S. to punish foreign companies dealing with the North. It bars those sanctioned from holding U.S. assets or doing business with Americans.

The Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Ltd., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., Ltd., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd. are alleged to have exported about $650 million worth of goods to North Korea and imported more than $100 million from North Korea since 2013. The goods included notebook computers, anthracite coal, iron and other commodities and ferrous products.

Also sanctioned was Chinese national Sun Sidong and his company, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., said to have exported more than $28 million worth of goods to the North.

The targeting of Chinese companies is a potential sore point with Beijing, whose help Trump is counting on to put an economic squeeze on Pyongyang. China recently sent its highest-level envoy to North Korea in two years to discuss the tense state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula.

As part of its effort to stymie North Korean transportation networks, Treasury sanctioned North Korea’s Maritime Administration and its transport ministry, six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their vessels, which are all North Korean-flagged.

It accused North Korea of deceptive shipping practices, including ship-to-ship transfers, which is prohibited under U.N. sanctions that have been imposed in response to Pyongyang’s rapid tempo of nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The Treasury statement included aerial photos of what it said was Korea Kumbyol Trading Company’s vessel Rye Song Gang 1 possibly transferring oil to evade sanctions that have restricted fuel exports to the North.

Also sanctioned was the Korea South-South Cooperation Corporation said to have exported North Korean workers to China, Russia, Cambodia and Poland to generate revenue for the government.

When President Donald Trump announced the terror designation of North Korea on Monday, he promised to intensify the “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang with the “highest level” of sanctions yet — part of a rolling effort to compel it to negotiate over its nuclear program which poses an emerged threat to the U.S. mainland.

An editorial Tuesday in North Korea’s ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, called Trump a “heinous criminal” who had insulted the dignity of the country’s supreme leadership and its socialist system during his recent visit to South Korea. The editorial, carried by the state-run news agency, threatened “merciless punishment.” It did not mention the terror designation or the threat of new sanctions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Monday a two-month pause in the North’s nuclear and missile tests and said there was still hope for diplomacy. With tougher sanctions in the offing, he warned Kim, “This is only going to get worse until you’re ready to come and talk.”

The terror designation, however, is likely to exacerbate sour relations between Washington and Pyongyang that have turned uglier with name-calling between Trump and Kim. North Korea shows no interest in talks aimed at getting it to give up its nukes.

North Korea has joined Iran, Sudan and Syria on America’s terror blacklist, a position it has occupied on and off the terror list over the years. It was designated for two decades because of its involvement in international terror attacks in the 1980s, then taken off in 2008 to smooth the way for nuclear talks that soon failed.

Portman, Brown back hard line on North Korea

Published: Monday, November 20, 2017 @ 3:33 PM
Updated: Monday, November 20, 2017 @ 3:33 PM


            Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. President Trump officially designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
            Kevin Dietsch
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. President Trump officially designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)(Kevin Dietsch)

Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown hailed President Donald Trump’s decision Monday to designate North Korea a state of sponsor of terrorism, a move they both advocated last month.

In a statement after Trump’s announcement, Portman, R-Ohio, said “this designation will serve as an important tool to exert peaceful pressure on the North Korean regime.”

“North Korea was removed from the list nearly a decade ago with promises from the regime to limit their nuclear program,” Portman said. “That clearly hasn’t happened and they have continued their destabilizing actions in the region.”

Brown, D-Ohio, said the “decision is the direct result of bipartisan efforts this summer to require further sanctions on North Korea. We have recently offered another tough, new sanctions package that makes it clear we are serious about ramping up pressure on North Korea, to force its leaders to end its nuclear weapons program and halt its continuing human rights abuses.”

RELATED: Defense experts divided on how to handle North Korea

In addition, Portman and Brown, like Trump, cited the death this summer of Otto Warmbier, the Cincinnati-area student who died this summer in Cincinnati shortly after his release from a North Korean prison.

Speaking to reporters before a cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said “as we take this action today, our thoughts turn to Otto Warmbier, a wonderful young man, and the countless others so brutally affected by the North Korean oppression.”

“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons, and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime,” Trump said.

RELATED: Boehner criticizes Trump over North Korea policy

“The North Korean regime must be lawful,” Trump said. “It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development, and cease all support for international terrorism — which it is not doing.”

In a letter last month to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Portman, Brown and 12 other senators wrote that since former President George W. Bush in 2008 dropped North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the Pyongyang regime has continued to develop its nuclear weapons program along with the missiles to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Hatch to Sherrod Brown: ‘Don’t spew this stuff at me’

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 10:26 AM

Sen. Hatch Shouting Down Sen. Sherrod Brown on Tax Bill. Video courtesy of CNN

Sen. Sherrod Brown and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch are garnering attention today for a yelling match they had last night a hearing over the tax reform bill working its way through the Senate.

Hatch, a Utah Republican, took umbrage at comments by Brown saying the tax bill will help the rich at the expense of the poor.

“This tax cut is really not for the middle class,” Brown said. “It’s for the rich.”

Calling it “a nice political play,” Hatch told Brown “I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich.”

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, meanwhile, shot back that the public believes that the bill primarily benefits the wealthy. “I get sick and tired of the richest people in the country getting richer and richer,” he said over shouts calling for regular order. “We do a tax cut for the rich and the middle class loses.”

Hatch said that he came from the lower-middle class. “We didn’t have anything,” he said. “So don’t spew this stuff at me. I get a little tired of that crap.”

“I like you personally very much but I’m telling you, this bullcrap you throw out really gets old after awhile,” he said.

The fight came during the final day of the Senate Finance Committee debate over the tax overhaul bill. The committee later approved the bill on a party line vote 14-12.