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

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.

“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.

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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.

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.

Local Congressman Jordan responds to political threat from President Trump

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2017 @ 9:35 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 30, 2017 @ 11:10 AM

President Donald Trump

Days after conservative Freedom Caucus members including local Reps. Jim Jordan and Warren Davidson stopped President Donald Trump’s health care plan, the president issued a threat to the group.

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“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump posted on Twitter Thursday morning.

Congressman Jordan says “The Freedom Caucus is trying to change Washington,” Jordan said Thursday morning on Fox News.

“We’re trying to help the president,” Jordan said. 

Jordan says he is not looking to future political challenges in 2018. He says the group fought Trump’s health care plan because “it’s not what we promised we would do.”

Jordan says “we need to take a little bit more time” to get health care right.

Davidson, R-Troy, the newest member of Ohio’s congressional delegation said he is concerned about the tone.

“I am concerned because I think the status quo in politics is to do power politics and blame. I don’t know that when it becomes personalized that people get helpful and problem solving. It tends to harden everyone’s position,” Davidson said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans have to keep working together to find a solution on health care.

“I understand the president’s frustration,” Ryan said at a press conference Thursday.

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Trump threatens to “fight” Freedom Caucus over legislative agenda

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2017 @ 9:33 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 30, 2017 @ 9:33 AM

For the fourth time in the past six days, President Donald Trump has used his platform on Twitter to take a swing at a group of more conservative Republicans in the House, this time raising the specter of using the bully pulpit against them in the 2018 elections, if they don’t get on board with his legislative agenda.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump said on Twitter.

“We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” he added.

The Twitter jabs against the Freedom Caucus are becoming somewhat routine for Mr. Trump, who was frustrated that he was unable to convince those lawmakers to back a GOP health care bill last week.

Even before today, those type of tweets by the President have drawn frowns from some members of the Freedom Caucus, who say they’re not budging on their conservative principles, just to give Mr. Trump a legislative victory.

“I disagree with him,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) said earlier this week, after Mr. Trump signaled his displeasure with the Freedom Caucus opposition to the GOP health bill.

“My conscience was to get rid of Obamacare; this doesn’t do it,” Yoho said of the GOP plan that had the blessing of the White House.

“Some of the constant tweeting is at minimum distracting, and at maximum, counterproductive to a legislative agenda,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who also knocked the President for using Twitter to keep grousing as well about Hillary Clinton.

“You’re fighting yesterday’s story if you are fighting against a candidate you were once running against that is no longer the candidate you might be running against,” Sanford said.


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Air Force redirects more money to small businesses; area firms benefit

Published: Monday, February 27, 2017 @ 6:02 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 09, 2017 @ 5:59 PM

Small businesses got a huge boost from the Air Force last fiscal year, but uncertainty in the federal budget means no one is too sure yet if the trend will continue.

Spending on small businesses by the Air Force Materiel Command reached a record $5.4 billion nationally in the 2016 fiscal year, which provided a nice influx for some local companies.

“That is the most we have ever spent on small businesses, ever, and it’s almost a billion dollars more than we spent” the prior year, said Farris Welsh, AFMC small business director.

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Of that $5.4 billion, about 9 percent — or $494.8 million — was spent in Ohio, nearly all of it spent on firms with defense contracts in Montgomery and Greene counties, figures show.

Since fiscal year 2013, AFMC spending on small businesses nationwide rose nearly 50 percent and jumped nearly 70 percent in Ohio, Air Force figures show.

No accident

The emphasis on smaller firms was no accident. Officials say smaller companies can be more innovative and move quicker on some tasks. Among the targets were businesses in urban hub zones, those owned by women and small businesses owned by disabled veterans, according to Air Force documents.

Whether the emphasis continues — or how much money will be allotted — isn’t known yet. The Trump administration could boost defense spending as much as $54 billion in fiscal year 2018 and at least $20 billion this year, reports said Monday. But where that might be spent and how it could impact spending on small businesses isn’t detailed.

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With the federal government under a continuing resolution that kept spending levels in place after the fiscal year started Oct. 1, the government faces a late April deadline to pass a budget before funding runs out.

“Until they do that, we’re kind of in limbo,” Welsh said.

More agility sought

Manufacturing, research and development and engineering services were key investment areas, officials said.

Welsh said AFMC launched more community outreach and showed businesses how to find and apply for contracts.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has posted similar hikes in small business spending. Figures show a rise in spending from $890.5 million in fiscal year 2013, to $1.3 billion last fiscal year.

The Dayton region snared virtually all the AFRL small business spending in Ohio, receiving $258.3 million in fiscal year 2016, compared with $169.1 million three years earlier.

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“It has been steadily increasing,” William E. Harrison, AFRL small business director, said of the emphasis on working with smaller firms. “Small businesses have a lot of great innovation (and) they can be more agile. Sometimes in the innovation space, they are the cutting edge of innovation and connecting them with our solicitations, our announcements is key and that’s what’s driving the numbers up.”

In recent years, AFRL has emphasized developing and funding dual-use technologies that could be spun off in the commercial market while meeting the demands of warfighters.

Small business innovative research funds are part of that push, Harrison said. “We have really tough, vexing problems that we really like innovative companies to work with us with.”

Joseph Sciabica, president of Beavercreek-based Universal Technology Corp. and a former AFRL director, said generally the science and research agency looks to small businesses for new and fresh perspectives to solve problems.

“Small business, especially those that are working with the (Defense Department), have some good insights into the areas that the defense systems and platforms have to operate in,” he said. “It has to work every time.”

Broadened footprint

Air Force small business contracts are the “lifeblood” of companies like UTC, Sciabica said. AFMC listed UTC as the second highest contract recipient at $37.6 million in fiscal year 2016 based on vendor location. The 240-employee company has added about 30 workers the past three years.

RELATED: Defense contractor UTC aims to get more products into market

Sawdey Solution Services Inc. of Beavercreek also credits Air Force small business contracts with helping it grow from 100 employees four years ago to 350 now.

“We’ve really broadened our footprint over the last couple of years,” company President Connie Sawdey said. “I think all of the services have been putting a significant focus on meeting their small business goals and we have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

With contracts in 22 states, the company provides consulting and management services, such as engineering and cyber security.

AFMC listed Sawdey Solution Services within the top five for small business vendors with $22.3 million in contracts last fiscal year.

Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association, said her organization has reached out to technology companies that would be a good fit in the defense industry.

“Many times the advancement and technologies being made in those areas are being made by small businesses,” she said.

Gross said the federal government must do more to speed up acquisitions to help businesses that win contracts, however.

“It can be a very long process just to figure out who to talk to,” she said.


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House, Senate go different ways on probe of election meddling by Russia

Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 3:20 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 3:20 PM

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections vowed at a joint news conference on Wednesday to conduct a thorough and bipartisan probe, clearly setting themselves apart from their House counterparts, who are locked in a bitter, partisan struggle over the course of their review.

“The committee will go wherever the intelligence leads us,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“We’re here to assure you – and more importantly the American people who are watching and listening – that we will get to the bottom of this,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on that panel.

Without going into much detail on who might be in for questioning when by the committee, Burr and Warner set out the basics of their probe, saying seven full-time staff members are spending weeks going through documents of the Intelligence Community on what Russia did in 2016.

Burr described the review as, “challenging to say the least,” as both men made clear this was turning out to be maybe their most important duty – ever – in the Congress.

“This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here,” said Burr, who was first elected to the Congress in 1994.

The cooperation among members on the Senate Intelligence Committee stands in stark contrast to the infighting and finger pointing going on across the Capitol on the House Intelligence Committee.

“Our investigation is stalled,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), as he blamed panel chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) for canceling a variety of meetings set for this week.

“I think he needs to recuse himself,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said of Nunes, as Democrats furiously contend that the sprint by Nunes to brief President Trump last week on intelligence – which he still has not shared with his committee – signals something is wrong.

On the other side in the House, Republicans don’t see anything wrong with the work of Nunes, and argue Democrats are pushing conspiracy theories that have no evidence behind them.

“This is media speculation being fueled by Democrats,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

But over on the Senate side of the Capitol, some fellow Republicans have made clear their displeasure with the actions of Nunes over the last week – and at today’s news conference – Burr and Warner made clear they were running a different operation.

“We’re not asking the House to play any role in our investigation, and we don’t plan to play any role in their investigation,” Burr told reporters.

Thursday will bring a public hearing for the Senate Intelligence Committee that will focus on what Russia has been up to on the internet, using the opportunity to warn European nations what they may face when they hold elections in coming months.

“I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections,” Burr said, giving one example.